As an expat living in Germany coming from the U.S., understanding the German visa process was extremely complex. There are no cut and dry rules (ironic for Germany, right?) and the requirements for your visa can vary based on the city you live in, the foreigner’s office you visit, and even the individual you speak to at that office. Whatever the case, I absolutely recommend learning German for the visa process, because it will make everything immensely easier, no matter if you’re A2 or C2 level!
So, here’s an overview on when you might need to know German, and which learning level you should be, to apply for your visa.
What types of visas are there in Germany?
If you’re interested in coming to Germany, here is an overview on the different types of visas:
- Tourist & Visitor Visa – a visa for the purpose of visiting Germany for tourism.
- Family Reunion Visa to Join a Relative or a Partner – a visa where German residents invite a family member or spouse to reside with them in Germany.
- Job Seeker Visa – a visa for those who wish to work in Germany and need a visa to reside in Germany during their job search.
- Studying and Language Learning Visa – a visa for those who wish to learn the German language in a language school and later on study at a university in Germany.
- Work Visa – a visa for full-time employment in Germany.
- Freelance Visa – a visa for self-employment in Germany.
- Business Visa – a visa that allows for a stay in Germany of over 90 days within 6 months for business purposes.
- Airport Transit Visa – a visa for those who need to transfer flights at a German airport and require documentation to do so.
- Guest Scientist Visa – a visa given to scientists or other researchers invited to conduct research at a German institution.
- Training/Internship Visa – a visa to allow for the participation in a training or internship programme within Germany.
- Medical Treatment Visa – a visa that allows entrance for those who require medical treatment in Germany.
- Trade Fair & Exhibitions Visa – a visa that allows for the participation in a trade fair or exhibition in Germany.
- Visa for Cultural, Film Crew, Sports, and Religious Event Purpose – a visa for those who are coming to Germany for such events like a sports, religion, or other cultural events or festivals, as well as for film crews.
- Asylum seekers – a process allowing for German residency based on humanitarian, political, or other similar grounds for individuals, children, and families
Note: information taken from the German Federal Foreign Office. Please consult their website for more specific details on each type of visa.
Do any of these visas require German knowledge?
From the perspective of basic requirements, no starter visas in Germany require German knowledge. However, there are a few different situations where German knowledge may be required on a contextual basis. Here is a list of potential situations where your visa may require you to have some German knowledge, or at minimum, the intent to learn.
Language learning visa
A language learning visa is for those who wish to reside in Germany for the sole purpose of learning German with a language school. The requirements can vary per person, but generally speaking this means you need to attend at least 18 hours of German lessons from an intensive learning course. It lasts from anywhere from 3 to 12 months, but can also be extended. Though you don’t need German language (or a specific level) to obtain the visa itself, you will need to submit proof that you are consistently attending the minimum level of course hours to stay in Germany later on. This type of visa is useful if you’d like to change to a student visa later on to study at a German university in German.
Work visa (with German proficiency requirements)
Obtaining a work visa in Germany does not require German language proficiency. However, it can be the case that the job connected to your work visa does. Some German companies may require proof of a particular level of German knowledge to work for them and complete the work visa application process. This is on a case by case basis and entirely depends on the company.
Student visa (with German proficiency requirements)
There is a similar situation with the student visa regarding particular requirements. If you have applied for and plan to study at a university where the classes are in German, the university and individual program will likely require certain levels of German knowledge to officially attend the program and obtain a student visa. For some universities this means B2 German, for some it means C1. The requirements are entirely up to the university and can even vary on an individual basis. In many cases, there are specific requirements for certifications that confirm the particular level of German necessary.
In some cases, basic German language skills (A1) could be required for a foreign spouse to complete the Spousal Visa application process to live in Germany. This depends on the country of origin and a number of other factors. To inquire about whether prior German knowledge is required, this should be discussed with the foreigner’s office (Auslanderbehörde).
Other expat-related situations where you’ll need German
Permanent residency is a step up from a typical German visa, because it means you only need to renew your residence in German according to your passport validity (other types of visas can have a much shorter duration). Permanent residency can only be obtained after a prolonged time period spent in Germany and proof that you can consistently provide for yourself, your family (when applicable), and abide by German legal and tax regulations. When someone is eligible for permanent residence is on a case by case basis and must be discussed with the foreigner’s office (Auslanderbehörde) that handles your case about when you are eligible to apply. In the case of permanent residence, a B1 German level is likely required and should be confirmed with a proficiency certificate from an approved language school.
German citizenship is another step up from permanent residency. As a German citizen, you no longer need to renew any visas to reside in Germany, because you have obtained an official German passport. The requirements for German citizenship vary per person and can depend on many factors. Your particular eligibility should be discussed both with the foreigner’s office (Auslanderbehörde) and the citizenship office (Bürgeramt). In many cases, German citizenship applications require proof of B1 knowledge or higher with an official language proficiency certificate.
Speaking with the foreigner’s office during visa-related meetings
As an expat who has been through the process, I can’t stress this point enough for everyone coming to Germany who isn’t from the EU. Luckily when I moved to Hamburg, one of my good friends at the time was able to attend all the initial visa meetings with me. It’s absolutely certain that they wouldn’t have gone as well without my German native speaking friend there, because the officers never offered to speak English with me. I’ve heard that this has been the case for every single one of my friends who needed visas in Hamburg.
So, start learning German as early on as you can, even before moving to Germany if possible! You’ll need it not only for the foreigner’s office, but also for renting a flat, setting up your utilities, going shopping, sending and receiving post, and much more. Not to mention that German is actually a pretty fun language and will give you access to the German culture in a way that’s not possible without knowing the language. So it’s worth it!
Start brushing up on your German skills with our free 7-day trial. We have lessons specifically related to applying for visas and having those nerve-wracking meetings at the visa office!