Obtaining visas for Germany

Visa requirements for Germany differ according to an expat’s nationality as well as their reason for being in the country. The situation is quite straightforward for nationals of EU-member states, who can enter the country with nothing more than a valid passport. Their citizenship allows them to live and work in Germany without a visa. They are, however, required to get a residency permit once they’ve arrived in the country.

Requirements for non-EU citizens are a more complicated. For short-stays, non-EU citizens may need to apply for a Schengen visa before travelling to Germany. If they are planning to live or work in Germany they will need the necessary work or residency permit.

Germany is signatory to the Schengen Agreement, so nationals of other Schengen member states won't need to apply for a tourist visa before they arrive. Their passports are stamped upon arrival and they can stay for 90 days.

Aside from the Schengen countries, citizens of the UK, US, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand can stay in Germany for 90 days or less without a visa.

Most non-EU citizens have to apply for a tourist visa at a German embassy or consulate ahead of time. It's best to apply well in advance.

Schengen visa holders can visit other Schengen states, but if they do plan on travelling to other countries, they should apply at the consulate of the country they arrive in or the one they plan to spend most of their time in. 

Anyone travelling to Germany for business purposes will need to apply for business visa. This requires a formal invitation from a Germany company. They'll also need to provide evidence of their visit, including the duration of their stay, and a guarantee for any costs involved.
 

Obtaining a work permit in Germany isn’t easy. Due to high levels of unemployment in much of the Eurozone, the government has had to take steps to protect local jobs by giving priority to locals or EU citizens who already have the right to work in Germany.

Expats from outside the EU will need to apply for one of three types of work permits for Germany. 
 

  • General employment permits (arbeit) are difficult to obtain because employers need to prove why a non-EU expat is more suitable for the position than either a German citizen or EU national. To apply for this type of work permit expats need a vocational qualification in addition to a firm job offer from a German company.
  • Specialist professional residence permits are granted to those with specific skills which are in high demand including graduates with specialist skills, university professors and managers with several years of experience. Expats will also need to show proof of sufficient funds to support themselves in Germany, have a firm job offer and submit degree certificates and proof of qualifications. Having German language skills is also beneficial.
  • Self-employed residence permits are reserved for expats who are self-employed or planning to set up a business in Germany. Applicants need to prove how their specific skills will benefit the economy of the particular area of Germany they plan on settling down in. Applicants need to have a clear business plan which shows how they intend on employing local staff and funding their business. Having established businesses elsewhere is likely to boost an application for this type of permit. Self-employed residence permits are usually granted for three years to give the business a chance to get off the ground and flourish. When it comes to renewal, the permit will be extended indefinitely if the applicant can prove it's been a success.
Regardless of nationality, any foreigner who wishes to live and work in Germany requires a residency permit (Aufaenhalt). These can either be applied for in person at a German embassy or consulate, or through the immigration authorities in Germany.

There are three different types of residency permits for non-EU citizens who intend to work in Germany. The first is for general employment (Arbeit), the second is for professionals with specialist skills and the third is for self-employed foreigners. In most cases, it's essential that non-EU expats have their residency permits approved before they arrive.

Expats will either be granted a limited or an unlimited residency permit once their residency application is approved, which will depend on their country of origin and reasons for being in Germany. Permits attached to a fixed-term contract are granted for the same length of time as the contract states. 
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