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.
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).
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), here 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.
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.