If you want to live and work in Germany as an expat, you may need to apply for a residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel). The type of permit you apply for depends on both your nationality and on your reason for relocating to Germany, whether that be family, work, studies or something else. If you have a national visa, you can convert it into the corresponding type of residence permit.
Do I need a German residence permit?
Whether you need a German residence permit depends on your nationality and the amount of time you will spend in Germany.
EU and EEA citizens
Citizens of EU/EEA countries have open access to the German labour market. Expats from these countries can freely live and work in Germany without a visa or residence permit. Remember that if you stay in Germany for more than three months you need to register at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt).
Nationals of Switzerland also have freedom of movement within the EU, but if you want to live and work in Germany you need to apply for a special declaratory residence permit for Swiss nationals at your local Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde).
Non-EU / EEA citizens
Citizens from outside the EU and EEA may need to apply for a German residence permit.
Short stays (business and leisure): German residence permit not required
You do not need a residence permit for business or leisure stays in Germany of less than 90 days, although, depending on your nationality, you may require a Schengen visa.
Short stays (taking up employment): German residence permit required
If you plan on working in Germany, even if you are staying for less than 90 days, you will need to apply for a national visa and then convert it into a residence permit.
Longer stays: German residence permit necessary
If you will be staying in Germany for more than 90 days, you will need to apply for a residence permit. Residents of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America may enter Germany without a visa and then apply for a residence permit from inside Germany.
Citizens of other countries will need to apply for a national visa (which functions as a provisional residence permit) at the German mission in your country of residence before you travel to Germany. Once you have arrived in Germany, you can convert your visa into a residence permit at the Foreigners’ Office.
Types of German residence permit
For those wanting to live and work in Germany, there are three different types of residence permit.
Temporary residence permit (Aufenthalterlaubnis)
The temporary residence permit is the most common type of permit issued to expats in Germany. It is generally valid for one year and can usually be extended as long as your circumstances stay the same.
It is linked to the purpose of your stay and the information you provided in your visa application (if you submitted one). Visit our temporary residence permits page to learn about the types of temporary residence permits you can apply for.
Permanent settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis)
After residing in Germany for a certain amount of time, all expats possessing a residence permit are entitled to apply for a permanent settlement permit. This is usually five years but can be less for highly-qualified workers or graduates of German universities.
The settlement permit grants you the right to remain in Germany without time restrictions, making it an attractive option if you would like to stay indefinitely. See if you are eligible for the permanent settlement permit.
German residence permit application procedure
The application procedure for a German residence permit can seem daunting, especially if you don’t know what to expect. There are several steps, including registering and obtaining health insurance, that you must take before you can apply for a residence permit.
Visit our residence permit application procedure page to get all the information you need regarding the application process: the requirements for the different types of residence permit, the documents you will need and the costs involved.
Do I need a work permit as well as a residence permit?
As of December 2011, the application procedure for permits to work and reside in EU Member States has been simplified. Rather than having to apply to different entities for permission to live and work, a single permit now covers both.
Having a residence permit does not, however, automatically grant you the right to pursue economic activity. The type of residence permit you apply for will determine whether or not you are entitled to work. If for any reason you are unsure, the documents you receive with your residence permit will indicate explicitly whether you are permitted to work.
What happens if my German residence permit application is rejected?
If your application is rejected, you will receive a letter outlining the reasons for the refusal. The most common reason for a rejection is failing to provide the correct corroborating documents. The letter will explain the next steps to take, including how to lodge an appeal, if applicable.
How can I renew my German residence permit?
Temporary residence permits in Germany are usually valid for one year. Note that the foreigners’ office does not routinely notify you if your residence permit is due to expire. It is therefore wise to make note of the expiry date of your residence permit and take steps to renew it well in advance.
Extending your temporary residence permit in Germany is largely a formality as long as your personal circumstances are the same as when you originally applied. If your employment, marital or financial status changes significantly you should contact your local foreigners’ office to check how this impacts your residency status.
It is essential to renew your residence permit long before its expiry date to avoid an illegal stay which may mean you are banned from entering Germany in the future. The cost of renewing a residence permit is usually 50-80 euros, depending on location and the complexity of your case.