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Settlement, Residence and Citizenship for Expats in Germany

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: September 2013

Germany is one of the few countries in the world with a declining population. Perhaps it is partly because locals are aware of Germany’s declining population that attitudes towards immigrants are generally welcoming, more so than many other Western countries.

Generally, if you are a citizen of countries of the European Economic Area(EEA) or Switzerland, you are free to live and work in Germany. Citizens of all other countries will need a residence permit if they want to stay in Germany long-term, i.e. for more than 90 days. The residence permit is in fact a combined residence and work permit, so you will also require a residence permit if you want to do any paid work during your stay. In this case, your residence permit must specifically state that you are entitled to work in Germany.

To obtain a residence permit with permission to work, you must have been invited to take up employment by a registered German company. Normally, you will also be required to be educated up to degree level. There must also not be any German or EU nationals currently available who could take up your position. When applying for a residence permit, you will need to specify which skill category of work it is you are looking for: skilled, semi-skilled or unskilled. If it is the latter, bear in mind that your residence permit may be refused. Most residence permits have an initial validity period of one year, after which they can be renewed on a yearly basis.

Within three months of entering Germany, you will need to register your address in your town of residence. You will need to take a completed registration form, tenancy agreement or purchase contract and passport to the residents’ registration office (usually the town hall.) You will then be granted a registration certificate. Note that everybody, including German nationals, has to do this when they change their address. Until you have a registration certificate, you will not be able to get a German ID card or work in Germany.

Highly qualified persons may be entitled to apply for an EU Blue Card. To qualify for this scheme, you need to have a university degree and have been given a firm offer of a specific job. Your salary must be €36,192 for occupations where there is a labour shortage (doctors, engineers, IT experts, mathematicians and scientists) or €46,400 for all other occupations.

The Blue Card also enables residence permit applications to be fast-tracked, for you and your dependants. It also speeds up the process of gaining permanent residence; this is shortened to 33 months, or 21 months for those with a CEFR score of B1 or better in the German language.

To obtain a permanent residence permit, you need to prove that you have lived and worked in Germany for at least five years. During your application, you will be tested on your ability to speak German, and how well you understand German legal systems and society. If you are the spouse of a German citizen, you need to show your marriage certificate to the authorities when applying.

Roughly 55% of Germans can speak English competently. Business may be conducted in German or English, but everyday life in conducted in German. Hence learning German is a must if you are serious on living in Germany long-term. Besides, locals will react more warmly to you if you attempt to speak their language.

Germans are known for a certain punctiliousness, almost pleasure in the rigid observation of laws and the certainty they give. The most oft-quoted example of this is the refusal to cross the road even when there is no traffic in sight (but note that jaywalking is illegal in Germany.) Another example is Ruhezeit, ‘quiet time’. In most areas of Germany you are expected not to make unobtrusive noise between 10:00pm and 6:00am. You may have to get used to some of these peculiarities, especially if you are living in a small town.

To apply for citizenship by means of naturalisation, you need to have lived in Germany for eight or more years. To successfully gain citizenship, you must also have permanent residence in Germany, be working, be able to speak German, and pass a test. The test concerns knowledge about living in Germany. Additionally, you must swear a commitment to German democratic values and renounce your citizenship of any other country.



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