Once you have been living in Germany on a German residence permit for a period of time – typically five years although exemptions exist for shorter time requirements – you may apply for a German permanent visa. After eight years you are eligible to apply for German citizenship, although there are time reductions in cases of birth, parents and marriage to a German citizen.
This guides explains the processes and conditions for applying for a German permanent resident permit and German citizenship, and which option would be suitable considering your circumstances.
German citizenship or permanent residency?
There are three ways to live in Germany indefinitely: permanent EC residence, a settlement permit and naturalisation. The first two permanent residences are very similar, the main difference being that the former allows you to live and work elsewhere in the EU while a settlement permit is limited to Germany only. A settlement permit, however, can be obtained sooner than a permanent EC residence in certain cases, for example, highly skilled workers can apply for a settlement permit immediately.
Citizenship offers the same rights as a German citizen, including the right to vote, consular protection, free movement and unrestricted access on the labour market. As a German citizen, however, you must renounce your current citizenship – unless you are exempt to have a dual nationality – and are subject to citizen and social duties, for example, court or electoral services.
It is still unclear how the British ‘leave’ vote to exit EU will affect British expats in Germany. In any case, British expats are protected until EU negotiations are formalised, which will take a minimum of two years once the UK initiates the process. German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that the EU should consider offering dual nationality to young British citizens – who largely voted to remain – ‘who live in Germany, Italy or France, so that they can remain EU citizens in this country’. British expats may be asked in the future to apply for a Blue Card, an approved EU-wide work permit that allows highly skilled, non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark and Ireland.
Permanent EC residence requirements
If you have been living in Germany on a residence permit for five years, and satisfy certain other conditions, then you are entitled to stay living in Germany indefinitely on a permanent EC resident permit. Once you have this permit, whether it’s from Germany or another EU country, then you can live elsewhere in the EU permanently, too.
- have been living in Germany for five, uninterrupted, years;
- have a secure livelihood with health insurance and provision for retirement (pension);
- have adequate living space (at least 13sqm per person);
- possess adequate German language skills and a basic knowledge of German life, legal and social systems (by taking an integration course);
- not have a criminal record.
If you hold a permanent EC resident permit from another EU country, to stay in Germany longer than three months you’ll also need to have a valid passport or ID, and provide information on your planned employment or study.
Settlement permit requirements
A settlement permit is another way you can stay in Germany permanently. It is very similar to the permanent EC resident title except it does not allow you to move around the EU, and, in certain conditions, you can get it much sooner than five years.
Some examples of exemptions include:
- Highly qualified people may be issued with a settlement permit immediately.
- Graduates of a German higher education institute may be able to get a settlement permit after two years.
- EU Blue Card holders can apply after working 33 months (or just 21 months with a level B1 language certificate).
- Self-employed people, with an established business and secure livelihood, may be able to get a settlement permit after three years.
Depending on your own circumstances, you may have to prove that you have adequate German language skills, are able to support yourself financially, have health insurance, and do not have a criminal record.
For more information on these types of permits, and to apply, you’ll need to contact your foreign affairs office. To find yours, click here.
How to get German citizenship
Once you have been living permanently in Germany for eight years, you can apply to be a naturalised German citizen.
Becoming a German citizen not only means that you’re more fully integrated into, and accepted by, German society but it also gives you the same rights and legal status as other German citizens – which the permanent residence permits do not.
With German citizenship, you will have the inalienable right to live in Germany, have basic constitutional rights (such as the freedom of assembly and association), you can vote, move freely through the EU, have consular protection and be exempt from certain visa requirements – plus be eligible to become a civil servant.
German citizenship via naturalisation
If you want to be naturalised, most people will need to pass an hour-long naturalisation test – on legal and social aspects of life in Germany – and fulfill certain basic requirements, listed below.
- have right of residence at the time of naturalisation;
- have been living in Germany permanently and lawfully for eight years (seven if you’ve attended an integration course or six in special integration circumstances);
- be able to support yourself and dependent family members without the help of welfare or unemployment benefits;
- have adequate oral and written German language skills (equivalent to level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages);
- have no criminal convictions; and
- be committed to the constitutional principles of freedom and democracy.
If you do not fulfil every single condition, then you may be granted a discretionary naturalisation, if it is deemed that your naturalisation would be in the public interest.
If you are required to prove your adequate German-language skills, one option is to attend an integration course and obtain the ‘DTZ – German test for immigrants’ certificate. Part of the integration course also tackles several themes covered by the naturalisation test. Find the closest integration course venue. Other ways to prove your German language skills include showing a Zertifikat Deutsch certificate or equivalent language certificate, or presenting a high school certificate or university diploma from a German education institution.
Not everyone needs to take the naturalisation test. Exemptions occur if you:
- are under 16;
- have graduated from a German school or from German higher education in law, social, political or administrative sciences;
- don’t meet the testing requirements through illness, disability or age are exempt.
Before you can acquire German citizenship you must also renounce your former nationality, unless:
- you’re from an EU member state or the former Soviet Union;
- you’re the child of parents from the US;
- you’re from a country, such as Morocco, Syria or Iran, that does not allow their citizens to relinquish their citizenship. In these cases you can have dual citizenship.
German citizenship by marriage
If you are married to a German national, you don’t automatically become a German citizen yourself. Certain criteria have to be met, including having been married for two years and legally residing in Germany for three years. If you get married after arriving in German, the process for citizenship can take longer.
German citizenship by birth
A child is considered German by birth if they are born to at least one German parent, irrespective of whether the child was born in Germany or abroad. However, a child cannot claim citizenship if they were born to a German abroad and their German parent was also born abroad after 1 January 2000 (and have not yet returned to Germany), unless it would mean a child is stateless or the birth is registered with a German embassy or consulate within one year.
If neither parent is German, a baby born on German soil automatically takes German nationality, provided that at the time of birth at least one parent had been living in Germany for eight years and had a permanent right of residence or is Swiss. In these cases, a child is also entitled to take the nationality of the parents (dual nationality). This only applies, however, to children born after 1 January 2000; the claim period for children born before then has already closed.
Any child born to one foreign parent and one German parent, or to a parent holding dual nationality, acquire all nationalities respective to their descent, however, only temporarily. When the child reaches 18 years old, he or she has five years to choose between German nationality and the nationality of the parents.
If a child has a German father who is not married to the mother, acknowledgement or legal establishment of paternity is required before the child turns 23 in order to claim German citizenship.
How to apply for German citizenship
Parents can apply for children under 16 years of age; those aged 16 or over can submit an application themselves.
Depending on where you live, you’ll need to get an application form from your local immigration office, youth migration service or the town council or local authority. If you are located in an urban municipality, your local authority is the city council; if you live in an administrative district in Germany, you can contact your regional district office for help.
To find out which authority handles the citizenship process in your area, you can ask your local advice office, regional advice office or local foreign affairs office. Your local citizenship authority will provide you with the information and documents you need for your specific case.
If you are abroad when applying for German citizenship, you need to seek advice from your local German embassy or mission.
How to prepare for the German naturalisation test
The test, with an allocated time of one hour, consists of 33 multiple choice questions on different areas – ‘Living in a democracy’, ‘History and responsibility’ and ‘People in society’ – including some specific questions about the particular state in which you live.
You have to answer at least 17 questions correctly to pass the test, and you can re-sit the test if you don’t pass. If you pass, you’ll be given a certificate to present to the naturalisation authorities.
The cost is EUR 25, and the local naturalisation office in your area will tell you where your nearest test centre is so you can register. You need to bring a form of ID on the test day.
You can prepare using the government’s Online Test Centre, while some Federal Länder also offer naturalisation courses to help you prepare (ask your local naturalisation authority). The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has more information about the test including how to prepare, free online tests, and where to take it.
German settlement permits cost around EUR 260. To acquire citizenship via naturalisation costs EUR 225 (or EUR 51 for accompanying children), although low-income earners and large families might be offered to pay less or in installments. Fees are typically cheaper for citizenship via marriage or birth, although your local authority can advise you.
While most nationalities must denounce their nationality in order to get German citizenship, German law permits certain people to hold two citizenships if they fulfil any of the following:
- Children with one German and one foreign parent, or a parent who has two citizenships, automatically acquire all the citizenships of their parents.
- Resettlers of ethnic German descent and their family members (admitted along with them) do not have to renounce their previous citizenship when they acquire German citizenship.
- Germans who acquire citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland do not automatically lose their German citizenship.
Any child who acquires German citizenship by right of being born in German or naturalisation and who holds citizenship elsewhere must decide by age 23 whether to retain their German citizenship or give preference to the other citizenship.
Even if you hold dual citizenship, you are still wholly viewed as a German citizen by German law and have the same rights as any German citizen. However, if you chose to live in your home country (or any country where you hold citizenship) you will lose your right to claim German consular protection; instead, you will be viewed by your home country as one of its citizens and thus their services apply.
How to lose German citizenship
If you hold German citizenship and acquire another nationality (except the nationality of one of the EU member states or Switzerland) you will lose your German citizenship. If applicable, the only way to avoid losing your German citizenship is to obtain permission to retain your nationality by the German authorities before acquiring a new foreign citizenship. If you don’t notify your German municipal office or German mission abroad when you acquire another citizenship, you could risk a penalty. In general it is possible to get German citizenship again in future, if you still meet key conditions.
German nationals required to perform military service who voluntarily enter the forces or comparable armed groups of a country of which they are also a national without the consent of the district draft board lose their German nationality automatically.