How to get a German permanent residence permit

For many of us expats, it has been a long and complicated road to build a stable situation in Germany. You should be proud of yourself for achieving all this. However, in the back of the mind, there is always the feeling that our lives are hanging onto a visa tied to a company, a job or a type of career.

To push this uneasiness away, it’s time to make it official and long-term: let’s get a our German permanent residence permit sorted! Only then are we able to think about the future, without any sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

German Permanent residence permit

This guide aims at giving you an overview on the topic. Brew yourself some coffee: it’s a long read!

Visa, residence permit, settlement permit… what’re the differences?

Here the problem is that many of these words are used interchangeably. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge / BAMF) differentiates between several residence titles – documents that state the terms under which you can visit, live in and work in the country. It’s more commonly known as a visa or limited residence permit. In Europe, you differentiate between the EU-level visas, such as the Schengen visa that you’ve likely heard of, and the national visas which are given by an individual country’s government. A settlement permit, on the other hand, is a long-term residence title which has fewer restrictions than temporary ones.

The Aufenthaltserlaubnis (limited residence permit) is your standard Germany visa, which is issued for a specific time period and has restrictions on the type of work the holder can have. In other articles on Settle in Berlin, we’ve covered visas for:

We’re going to focus on the two long-term settlement permits, namely the German permanent residence permit (unbefristete Niederlassungserlaubnis) and EU permit for permanent residence (Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU). If you want to live indefinitely in Germany and the EU, these are the two permits to research. And of course, there is the option of acquiring German citizenship. But that’s a story for another day.

The main difference between the permanent residence Germany provides and the one from the EU is the length of time you need to live in Germany before you qualify. Also, while the latter lets you move around the EU without restrictions, with the former you’ll need to keep your main address in Germany. Let’s look at both each of these options, starting with the EU-level permit.


What are the requirements for the EU permit for permanent residency?

According to Section 9a of the German Residence Act, as a non-EU national, you may apply for unlimited residency to live and work anywhere in the EU once you have lived at least five years in Germany. During this time, you need to have been paying into the health and pension systems (60 months in total) How these 60 months/5 years are calculated depends on your situation. For the permit for permanent residence Germany usually requires you to already have a visa that allows you to work, such as the permits for general employment, self-employment, and the EU Blue Card. If you’re currently a student, completing an internship, or just here to visit a language course, you don’t qualify.

When you apply, you’ll need to prove that you have enough money or a job that pays enough for you to support yourself and your family unit without the need for government assistance. Also, your living space must be big enough. This seems to mean a minimum of 13sqm per person. In addition to these requirements, you should enroll in an integration course or show proof that you speak German at a B1 or better level and that you have the necessary knowledge about German law and culture.

What are the requirements for the German permanent residence permit?

If you are a non-EU national and have lived in Germany for at least 5 years (60+ months of health and pension system contributions), then you meet the first requirement for the German permanent residence permit. The other requirements are the same as above for the EU permanent residence permit: enough money, visa that allows work, enough living space, enough German language and societal knowledge, and no criminal record.

But different from the EU permit, you might be able to get the Germany-issued permit sooner as long as you don’t have a criminal record and you fall under one of these categories as explained by the BAMF:

  • Specialist: In some cases, you might immediately qualify for a permanent residence permit if you are a well-educated specialist in your field. Generally, this translates to scientists, senior researchers, and instructors. You first need to get a job offer in Germany with a high enough salary to secure your livelihood.
  • Graduate of a German university: You now have the “right” degree to be successful here. When it comes to permanent residence Germany wants to keep the best and the brightest, so this will make it easier to get a temporary visa and only need to live 2 years in Germany to qualify for the long-term permit. More specifically, you need to have a job in your field that pays you enough money that you don’t need to rely on government assistance. In addition to working for 2 years in Germany (24 months contribution to the pension system), you’ll need to show B1 German language skills.
  • EU Blue Card holder: There’s a reason this is called the “golden ticket” visa. As long as you meet the standard requirements set for the German permanent residence permit, you can apply for it after only 33 months instead of 5 years. Even better, if you pass the B1 German language exam, you can already apply for the permit after just 21 months! Only those months will be counted when you had the EU Blue Card, lived in Germany and contributed to the social security system. Basically, the government wants to keep you in Germany because Blue Card holders get good salaries, are well-educated, and usually bring much-needed skills.
  • Self-employed: The official requirements are vague, but basically if you meet all of the standard requirements and your business is successful, then you can apply for the permanent permit after just 3 years This only applies to business owners (Gewerbetreibende). Freelancers (Freiberufliche) have to wait the usual 5 years.
  • Family member of a German citizen: In this case, the rules are less strict. If you have learned basic German, have held a temporary residence permit for at least 3 years, and still live together with the German citizen (spouse, partner, child, or parent) then you should qualify for the permit for the permanent residence Germany offers.
  • Asylum seekers and refugees: If you are a recognized asylum seeker or refugee in Germany, you qualify for a permanent residence title like everyone else after 5 years. This can be shortened to 3 years if you can show that you are well integrated and have learned German (C1 level).

More details on the requirements can be found here in English or by deciphering the German legalese.

Life of an expat in Germany: a romantic representation 😉

Permanent Residence Germany Application Process

For the application process for either permit, you’ll need to submit the following documents to your local Foreigners Office (Ausländerbehörde). For the purpose of this post, we will be using using the specific requirements for Berlin residents:

  • Application Form for a permit allowing Permanent Residence Germany or EU (Antrag auf Erteilung einer Niederlassungserlaubnis/Erlaubnis zum Daueraufenthalt-EU) – this mostly confirms that you’ve read the requirements.
  • Valid passport
  • Biometric photo
  • Proof of sufficient income: here they’ll want to see that you and/or your partner are earning enough money to avoid welfare assistance. Employees should bring their contract, a recent statement from the employer confirming they work there, pay slips of the last 6 months, and an overview of social security payments. Self-employed people and freelancers need the most recent tax return (Steuerbescheid) and an audit report (Prüfungsbericht) from a licensed tax consultant. If you’re no longer working due to retirement, you just need your pension statement (Rentenbescheid), but if you’re unable to work you need to bring a doctor’s statement (fachärztliches Attest), assessment from the employment office, or disability statement (Rente wegen Erwerbsunfähigkeit oder Erwerbsminderung).
  • Documentation for any additional funds that you receive, like child money (Kindergeld) or parental leave assistance (Elterngeld).
  • Proof you have health insurance, either through confirmation from the insurance (public) or showing the policy agreement and proof of payment (private).
  • Proof that you (or your partner) are paying into the pension system.
  • Registration confirming that this is your main address (Meldebescheinigung).
  • Rental agreement or purchase contract that shows the monthly costs and total square meters.
  • Integration course or German language certificate with the final exam’s grade listed. There may be alternative ways to prove these conditions are met – ask at your local Foreigners Office.
  • The fee varies depending on the situation, usually between €113 and €124. Note that you still have to pay half as a processing fee if you are denied the permit.

In some cases, you’ll need additional documentation, so check the requirements for your employment category. Here are the links to the Berlin service pages for:

If you’re missing documents or don’t meet the requirements, be ready to get denied the permit. This shouldn’t have an effect on your existing visa unless you no longer meet those requirements either. I highly recommend you find an immigration lawyer or talk to your local migration advisory center (Migrationsberatung).

If you’re missing documents or don’t meet the requirements, be ready to get denied the permit.

Once you get your little plastic card, celebrate! The permit for permanent residence Germany has finally awarded you with lets you live and work in Germany for as long as you like. Your permit is unlimited and won’t expire or need changing when you switch jobs. If you took the longer route and applied for the EU permit, you can now move to any other EU state. But if you live outside the EU for more than a year you may lose the permit. And you’ll want to stay on good terms with the local Foreigner’s Office, especially if you’re working towards citizenship.

FAQ

Is going through an integration course a requirement to apply for permanent residency in Germany?

As mentioned here, the integration course certificate can facilitate the processing of your file by the authorities and therefore improve your chances. However, it’s not compulsory: “You can furnish proof of an adequate command of the German language as well as of your basic knowledge of the legal and social system, but also other things when appearing in person.“, as per stated by the Foreigner’s office. So while a language course certificate is something you can’t not provide, the rest will be assessed during your interview.

Under which conditions can my permanent residency be terminated?

As mentioned by the German residence act, you residence title can end in a few different ways:

  1. Your permit has been revoked by the German authorities or if you have been deported from the country, in case of criminal behavior for example.
  2. In the case you are older than 60 years old and spend longer than 12 months abroad, you can lose your permanent residency. In this case, you should notify the immigration authorities so they may grant you an exception.

I hope this overview helped you to wrap your head around the different topics. Let me know in the comments if you have any remarks or questions.

156 Comments

  • Reply Ebunoluwa Odofin 25/01/2021 at 14:11

    Hey Bastein! I had a masters degree in germany and afterwards, got a paid phd degree and have paid into the pension scheme during the phd period for 2 years on a 16B.1. residence permit title. Do I qualify to apply for the permernent residency title?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/01/2021 at 17:18

      Hey there. Eligibility criteria are listed in the post. I don’t see any issue.

  • Reply Preyansha 23/01/2021 at 18:08

    Hey, I have a B2 Goethe Zertifikat for the language proof, is there a possibility that they ask for the integration course as well? I haven’t done the course and I’m afraid, I can only provide them with B2.
    Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/01/2021 at 17:09

      Hey Preyansha. B1 is the minimum required level OR an integration course.

  • Reply Mike 21/01/2021 at 14:49

    Hi I have few questions – Once after obtaining a PR in Germany now to maintain my German PR, online, I only see the obligation to not to stay over 6 months away from Germany; but does it also mean that
    – Do I have to keep working in Germany? Which also means..
    – Do I have to maintain a residential address?
    – Do I have to keep German insurance etc.

    – Can I NOT live in Germany and visit every 5months to maintain PR?
    Thanks for any help

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/01/2021 at 17:27

      Hey Mike. This source tells me it is possible in some conditions to retain PR & to avoid this 6 months rule.

  • Reply Michele 17/01/2021 at 17:58

    Hi Bastien,

    My husband and I (both non-EU citizens) have been living continuously in the EU for seven years. We were students in Germany for two years, then we moved to Spain where we stayed on student residence permits for four years, and now we are back in Germany on Blue Card/Family Reunification permits. Understandably, we would like to expedite getting permanent residency since we have been in the EU continuously for years. Based on what I’ve read, I’m almost certain that our time spent in Germany as students counts as half toward a German settlement permit. Does that mean, since my husband is on a Blue Card, the 21 months with a B1 certificate could be shortened to nine months? Thank you in advance for your help and time.

  • Reply Enid 15/01/2021 at 23:37

    Hi, what are the problems that i can face if i change my job in Germany before i make my 2 years that is written in Zusatz Blatt of Aufenthaltstitel. Can i change freely or i will have something to lose if i change the job earlier that 2 years

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/01/2021 at 12:06

      Hey Enid. Whether or not you can change jobs is stated on your current residence permit.

  • Reply Fardin 14/01/2021 at 23:35

    I’m a non-EU citizen holding EU permanent residence from Italy, I’m working as Truck driver, I’m planning to move to Germany for work. My question is should I wait another 5 years to be able to get a permanent residence in Germany or do I already have the right of permanent residence in Germany? And what happens to my wife who is holding a 5 years family permit residence?

    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/01/2021 at 15:11

      Hey Fardin. More relevant info for your situation on this pagee. Good luck with the move.

  • Reply Alice 11/01/2021 at 14:26

    Hello,
    Thanks for the information, I’ve just applied for my residence permit (working holiday visa- Australian) and I should receive it as I’ve provided all the extra information. Except now I’m going to change address and municipal, I will register a new address but does that matter for my application? I’m moving a 80km away, therefore I can return for any in-person meetings. Thanks and appreciate your experience and advice! Cheers,

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/01/2021 at 10:32

      Hey Alice. For the time being, i don’t think it matters much, as long as you can still receive letters from the Foreigners’ office at your old address for a while. Also make sure you do register in the new city/new address asap. If you are still unsure about the timing, I suggest calling this hotline to get the information from an official source.

  • Reply Saj 06/01/2021 at 18:26

    Dear Bastien,

    Firstly, thank you so much for such an informative post. I have a couple of questions if you can guide me through would be thankful to you. I am in Germany on EU family member residence permit (my spouse is not German but Polish citizen). I have been working for last year and unfortunately, due to covid19, my contract cannot be extended. I am eligible for unemployment benefits but I am wondering if applying for unemployment benefits will affect my permanent residence application in future?
    Thank you in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/01/2021 at 13:36

      Hey Saj. Read this.

  • Reply Abdullah Tayyab 12/12/2020 at 03:46

    Hey Bastien,

    I have a question. I graduated from a german uni and worked for a year and paid the pension contribution. Now I have started my master’s degree and will also be contributing to the pension as a working student. If I hold the working student position for a year, will I be able to apply for a permanent residency card?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/12/2020 at 13:30

      Hey Abdullah. I’d say yes but do extra check and ask via this hotline.

  • Reply Krishan Kumar Tiwari 01/12/2020 at 19:05

    Can EU Permanent Residence be obtained in 33 months for EU Blue Card holders?

    What are the key differences between EU Permanent Residence and Germany Permanent Residence?

    Can Germany Permanent Residence be later converted to EU Permanent Residence?

  • Reply Joey 12/11/2020 at 09:07

    I studied in Germany and have fulfilled the 60 months requirement. I am co-founding a company with a base in the UK and branch office in Germany. How can I secure a permanent residence permit?

  • Reply Ashok Nelluri 02/11/2020 at 13:37

    I am living in germany since 11/2014 and paid pension insurance more than 60 months as a werkstudent. I have completed 2 Masters degree and currently looking for my full time job. I have my visa extension next week.
    My question is there any possibility for me to apply for Permanent residence?
    Otherwise i have to apply regular work permit and need to have full time job in my technical field? then only i am eligible to apply for permanent residence permit?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/11/2020 at 14:46

      Hey Ashok. You do need to show that you can support yourself yes, as stated here.

  • Reply Scott Agustin 21/10/2020 at 23:18

    I’m a US citizen married to German citizen.

    I have taken the integration Course and finished it with A2.

    Is that enough for me to get the permanent permit if not what are my possibilities, when my Aufenhaltstitel expires May 2021?

  • Reply Joshua 20/10/2020 at 11:39

    Hi, I want to know if one requires to stay continously in Germany for 5 years to qualify for Permenant residency (PR)? I have Master degree from German University (04.2014 – 04.2016). Thereafter I have worked for 3 and half years in Germany (05.2016 – 10.2019). Of which I had EU blue card for 18 months (04.2017 – 10.2019). last year in November I moved to the Netherlands and returned to Germany this month. So duration of stay in the Netherlands is 11.2019 – 09.2020. Now I have a job at DLR with a salary that qualifies me for EU Blue card. My question is, whether I can directly apply for permenant residence card since I have lived in Germany for 5 years or should I again apply for EU Blue card? And need to wait for 21 months with Blue card to apply for PR? I have also read somewhere that if one has German degree and has worked for 2 years he/she is eligible for PR. Do you have any knowledge about it.

  • Reply Nasim 19/10/2020 at 20:07

    Hi, we moved to Germany from Australia on July 2018 with work permit for my husband and family visa for me and my husband got blue card after 6 months, and I’ve received Aufenhaltstitel with a note “78a abs. 1 s.1 nr. 2 aufenthg” which allowed me to work. I started my job in Feb 2019 and I could apply for blue card as well, but I didn’t, because at that time it was just extra paperwork for me.
    Now my husband wants to apply for permanent residency when he completes the 33 month with A1 German. and my question is, can I be part of his application for permanent residency? or Im not qualified. If I can, should I also present the A1 certificate? or there are different requirement for me?

    Thank you!

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