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German elections & Expat voting rights

German elections & Expat voting rights

German elections & Expat voting rights

The right to vote in Germany is generally reserved for those with German citizenship. However, local and EU elections are open to expats from EU member states. Non-EU citizens are not eligible to vote in Germany.

Expat voting rights in Germany

Expats from the European Union can take part in two kinds of elections in Germany.

Local elections (Kommunalwahlen)

You can vote in local elections (Kommunalwahlen or Bezirksversammlungswahlen) in Germany as long as you are an EU citizen and are registered at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt). If you are eligible to vote, you will automatically be added to the electoral register.

EU elections (Europawahlen)

If you are an EU citizen, you can choose to vote in the EU elections (Europawahlen) either in Germany or in your home country. You cannot vote in both. If you wish to vote for the European Parliament in Germany, you must register to vote with your local electoral office (Wahlamt). You need to submit this application no later than 21 days before the election in order to be added to the register in time.

German elections overview

There are three tiers of government in Germany: the municipalities, the federal states (Bundesländer), and the federal government (Bundesregierung). Each has its own separate election.  

General election (Bundestagswahl)

  • Takes place every four years.
  • 598 seats in Germany’s Bundestag (federal parliament) are distributed between the parties.
  • Federal states with larger populations send more representatives to parliament.
  • Uses a system of mixed member proportional representation (voters get two votes: one for a single candidate, and one for a specific party; 299 constituency seats are reserved for candidates who win them outright; the remaining seats are distributed among the parties with the highest share of the vote).
  • A party needs to get at least 5% of the vote to qualify for a seat.
  • To be eligible to vote, you need to be a German citizen over 18 years of age.

State elections (Landtagswahlen)

  • Known as a Landtagswahl (except in city-states Bremen and Hamburg, where it is a Bürgerschaftswahl, and Berlin, where it is a Wahl zum Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin).
  • Take place every four or five years.
  • Elect representatives to the Landtag (state assembly) in the 16 federal states: Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hesse, Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, North-Rhine Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia.
  • Use a system of mixed member proportional representation, like the general election.  
  • To be eligible to vote, you need to be a German citizen over 18 years of age.

Local elections (Kommunalwahlen or Bezirksversammlungswahlen)

  • Take place every four or five years.
  • Elect representatives for regional and local subdivisions, as well as mayors and other local representatives.
  • EU citizens are allowed to vote in local elections on most issues, but not for mayors.
  • To be eligible to vote, you need to be an EU citizen, at least 18 years old, who is registered in the local area.

EU Elections (Europawahlen)

  • Take place every five years.
  • 96 seats in the European parliament are distributed.
  • To be eligible to vote, you need to be at least an EU citizen, at least 18 years old, with a residential address in Germany.

Polling card (Wahlbenachrichtigung)

If you are registered to vote in Germany, you should receive your polling card (Wahlbenachrichtigung) in the post no later than three weeks before the election. If you have not received one, you should contact your local electoral office (Wahlamt) to make sure you are on the list of registered voters.

If you lose your card, it is still possible to vote without it; you just need to show up at your local polling station on the designated day with a valid form of ID, such as a passport (not a driving licence).

Largest political parties in Germany

Germany's system of proportional representation allows for a wide variety of political parties. Here are some of the biggest, who are currently represented in the federal parliament or the European Parliament: 

  • Christlich Demonkratische Union Deutschlands (CDU)
  • Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD)
  • Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)
  • Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP)
  • Die Linke
  • Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen
  • Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU)
  • Die blaue Partei
  • Liberal-Konservative Reformer
  • Freie Wähler

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