Types of German Work Permits and How To Get One

Ask any non-EU national about their experiences of the Ausländerbehörde or Foreigners’ Office and you’re likely to hear a litany of horror stories of Kafkaesque proportions. However, it’s really not as bad as all that as long as you have your ducks in a row… and are prepared to queue for a very long time.

Here’s the skinny.

If you’re from within the EU, Switzerland, or the EEA (European Economic Area), i.e. from Liechtenstein, Norway or Iceland

Whether you’re an employee, self-employed, or a business owner, if you’re from an EU country, you just have to book a flight, find a job, and show up. You’ll just need to carry a passport or valid ID in order to register your residence once you arrive in Berlin. Sweet deal.

Now, please spare a thought for those who have to apply for visas in order to live and work in Berlin.

If you’re from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand or the USA

If you’re from any of the above countries, you can enter Germany without a visa. However, if you intend to stay you must immediately register at the Ausländerbehörde or Foreigners’ Office to get a residence permit. Only people from this list of countries can enter Germany, take up residence and apply for a work permit before having been offered a job.

All other non-EU nationals

If you’re from a country other than those included above, you must have a visa before you step on German soil. Make sure you apply for the correct visa as a short stay visa cannot be converted into a longer term visa after it has been awarded. In order to apply for any visa, you’ll need to provide proof that a German company or institution has offered you a job, or a place on a study programme.

Different types of work permits in Germany

Temporary Residence Permit

A temporary or limited residence permit allows you to stay in Germany for usually up to one year. However, you have the opportunity to extend this permit provided there has been no major change to your situation and that you continue to fulfill the requirements. This visa is the most common one that foreign nationals receive upon arriving in Germany and creates the basis on which you can submit future, more long-term visa applications. This kind of visa is granted on the basis of a specific purpose. So, for example, if you’re granted a visa to complete your studies, you may not also work during that period, with some exceptions.

There are three different types of temporary residence permits:

  • Employment

The length of this visa usually aligns with the length of your contract. So, if your contract is for two years, your visa will also be for two years. Even if you already have been offered a job, you may not start working until you have this document.

  • Study

If you’re completing your education in Germany, you may apply for a visa that corresponds to the length of the programme. Students in Germany on this visa may not take on a long-term work contract. You may, however, engage in work-study programmes, or work full-time for 120 days, or part-time for 240 days. Once this degree is completed, this visa is usually extendable by 18 months for the purposes of finding work.

  • Marriage

If you are married to a German national, or to a person who has permanent resident status, then you may apply for this visa in order to stay with your partner. After 2 years of marriage, and 3 years spent in Germany, you will become eligible to apply for a permanent visa. You will need to have at least B1-level German to apply for this visa.

EU Blue Card

This is similar to a temporary residence visa, but it targets highly skilled professionals and is usually granted for a longer period. To apply for this type of permit, you must have a higher education degree (e.g. bachelor’s or master’s degree) and must apply only for roles that correspond with your field of study. You’re more likely to be granted this visa if your skills are in IT, engineering, or mathematics. Applicants should have a high level of German proficiency and your job should allow you to earn at least €50,800 per year. The Blue Card is valid for 4 years, and you may bring your spouse with you, even if they don’t meet the above requirements. Nice if you can get it!

German Permanent Residence / Settlement Permit

To be allowed to stay in Germany long-term, and to travel in and out of the country as you please, you’ll need a Settlement Permit. You can apply for this after having had a temporary residence permit for a few years, or if you’ve had a Blue Card. You need to prove that you have worked in Germany for at least 5 years and that you paid all the relevant taxes and contributions during that time. You’ll also need to pass a pretty difficult German test so make sure you spend your time making sure it’s up to scratch. If you’re granted a Settlement Permit, your spouse and children may come to live with you in Germany.

Applying for a visa as a freelancer / artist

If you’ve been in Berlin for a while, you might have heard whisperings of an “artist visa” but in truth, there is no specific visa category for creatives. You can, however, state your intention to work as a freelancer (Freiberufler) or as self-employed (Selbständiger) when you’re applying for one of the visas listed above and make sure to be specific about the field that you intend to work in or you may have to reapply. Visas for freelancers are only granted at the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde, not the Keplerstraße one.

Once you’ve been granted a visa, you’ll need to register with the Finanzamt before you can start working for yourself.

Application process for Germany Visa

What you’ll need in order to apply for a visa in Germany

  • A valid passport from another country
  • No criminal record
  • Minimum B1 German language proficiency (for Blue Card and Permanent Residence Permit)
  • German health insurance
  • A passed health check
  • Financial stability
  • If employed: a job offer from your employer
  • If a student: proof of university admittance
  • If joining a spouse: your marriage certificate

How to apply for a visa in Germany

  • Register your address at the Bürgeramt
  • Get German health insurance
  • Open a bank account
  • Fill in an application form at the Ausländerbehörde
  • Book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde
  • Show up
  • Cross your fingers

Good luck! 🤞