How to get permanent residency in Germany

by Erin McGann
September 03, 2021
Businessman holding a passport in an airport

Applying for permanent residency in Germany looks overwhelming, but the good news is, it’s generally a straightforward process once you get all your documents in order. Let’s look at what you need and how the permanent residency process works. 


How long can I stay in Germany?

When you first enter Germany, you are entering on a temporary visa. Not every country has to apply for these initial entry visas, but you do have a clearance to stay in the Schengen Area (most European Union countries as well as Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway, and Iceland) for 90 days within a period of 180 days

What is permanent residency in Germany?

To stay longer than 90 days or to hold a job, you need a different kind of visa, and after living in Germany for a while, you might want to switch to a more permanent type of immigration status. Think of permanent residency as a kind of status between having a work visa and citizenship, though in nearly all cases you need to have lived in Germany for a period of time first. It’s worth mentioning that German permanent residency doesn’t give you EU-wide freedom of movement though. 

EU citizens and German permanent residency

If you are an EU citizen, you don’t need to apply for a visa to work or study in Germany. However, if you stay longer than three months, you do have to prove you can financially support yourself and your family without recourse to public funds. After five years of living and working in Germany, you can apply for permanent residency documents, and you will be automatically approved as a European citizen. It makes it easier to deal with any government bureaucracy if you have German residency documents. 

How long does it take to get permanent residency in Germany?

This depends a bit on what route you’re taking to get permanent residency. Once all the documents have been submitted, it can take up to eight weeks to receive your card, depending on the complexity of your case. If you hold a university or college degree and have been living and working in Germany for four years, you can apply for permanent residency. There are some additional requirements, like completing your B1 or B2 level in German, passing the Life in Germany Test, and having an adequate living space for you and your family. If your degree or qualification is from a German institution, you can apply for permanent residency after only two years. In very particular circumstances, the language and time living in Germany requirements can be waived entirely if you’re a researcher with very specific qualifications or a high-level academic.

How to apply for permanent residency in Germany

The requirements are different depending on your work and marital status. If you already have a job in the country or are marrying a German national, it’s a fairly straightforward process though it will still take time, and of course, several forms. If you’re a freelancer, or self-employed, be prepared to do a bit more legwork.

If you are currently employed in Germany

If you have a degree or vocational certification, you can apply for permanent residency once you have held a job in Germany for four years and have been paying into the statutory pension insurance fund. Depending on which Bundesland (federal state) you live in, your German language level will need to be B1 or B2, and you will need to pass the Life in Germany Test. Your job does need to be related to any qualifications you hold, and your salary needs to cover living expenses for you and any dependents. 

If you are a freelancer or self-employed

This is a bit more challenging, but it’s definitely possible. You need to provide a lot of documentation about your business and your revenue to prove you are able to cover your living expenses and those of any dependents without recourse to public funds. This includes tax records, revenue forecasts, and more. Check the immigration site for your Bundesland (federal state) for the exact list of required documents, and consider hiring an immigration consultant or lawyer to ensure you get it right.

If you are marrying a German citizen

If your partner is a German national and you’ve lived in Germany for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. You will need to demonstrate an adequate level of German, depending on the Bundesland that can be B1 or B2 level German.

UK citizens and permanent residency in Germany after Brexit

If you lived in Germany before 1 January 2021, you have the right to continue to live in Germany without applying for another kind of residency. You do have to apply to your local immigration office to get the appropriate documentation, which involves a form, biometric photos, and a short interview. If you move to Germany after that date, however, you don’t have any rights to residency and need to apply for a work visa if you wish to live and work in the country.


Always check the most up-to-date rules

In all cases, check the German immigration website in English at to double-check the most up to date rules. To get your German up to the requisite B1 or B2 level, Lingoda offers online classes with trained native-speaking teachers with a flexible schedule you can fit around your work and family situation. 


Erin McGann is a Canadian freelance writer focusing on travel, living abroad, parenting, history, and culture. After nearly a decade living in the UK, Erin settled in Heidelberg, Germany with her husband and son. Dragging her family to every castle and open-air museum is a favourite activity, along with sewing, archery, and historical reenactment. You can check out her travel blog, and follow her obsession with half-timbered houses on her Instagram account.

Share this post on
Choose your language and take your free Lingoda placement test

Ready to start learning with Lingoda?

Customise your learning experience and enjoy the journey to fluency.