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.


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.


  • 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!

  • Reply Erwin 14/10/2020 at 18:44

    Hi, I have a question. I have a residence permit of 5 years as a family member of a EU citizen, and I have been in Germany for 3 years now.

    – If my husband is unemployed by the time I request a permanent residence (after 5 years), would it affect me in obtaining the permanent residence?
    – On the Berlin office website, it does not mention anything about the German language skills for this case (it does state B1 is required for other cases. Info available here: Do I need to proof any language skills as well?

    Thank you for your help and advice.

  • Reply Kale 09/10/2020 at 16:33

    Hello, I have a question. I am married to an EU/ not a German citizen. I am here on the basis of family reunification. I have a 5 year visa, and I am half way through, with 2.5 years left. After it is over, I will apply for permanent residency. My partner is a freelancer, and will likely apply for ALG 2 or Hart 4. in the next months. I am worried that this will potentially disqualify me from applying from permanent residency or cause any troubles with my residency status in the future. Do you have any idea how this situation could be handed? Do you know any place I could ask to find real information on this question?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 13/10/2020 at 10:17

      Hey Kale. From my experience, if this situation is only temporary for your husband and you have a stable a situation at the time of application, it should not be an issue. If you want to double check this, ask this hotline,. Good luck with it all.

  • Reply Maruf 08/10/2020 at 22:11

    Hi, I have a question from this article that i have a EU Blue Card and i want to apply only after 33 months without “Deutschkenntnisser or B1 German Certificate exam” for German permanent residence permit? is that possible ??

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/10/2020 at 09:36

      Hey Maruf. A minimum of B1 is required to apply for permanent residency.

  • Reply Katy 07/10/2020 at 21:54

    Hi! I have a few questions:
    – Is there a way to secure getting EU permanent residence and not just German one? The application form is the same as well as the requirements, and it seems like there is no control over the process from the applicant side.
    – Assume I have lived and worked in Germany for 5 years and was qualified for permanent residence. However, I decided to change the job. Ausländerbehörde said that after 6 months of a new job I can proceed with the application further, however, I’m currently in the doubt: I have an opportunity to become self-employed or work for a company. In case I choose self-employment, can I still proceed with my application after 6 months? Or there are other requirements in this case?
    Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/10/2020 at 09:52

      Hey Katy. Not sure I understand the first question but from my experience, it doesn’t matter if you were self-employed or employed before your application. In case, you can double check by asking this hotline.

  • Reply Sarah 30/09/2020 at 16:16

    Hi! Thanks for this article. Do you know how to get “Proof that you (or your partner) are paying into the pension system.”

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 01/10/2020 at 09:48

      Hey Sarah. For this, you could send in a copy of your Sozialversicherungsausweis where your Rentenversicherungsnummer is.

  • Reply Hatim Rashid 27/09/2020 at 20:00

    Hi, I had a question regarding the blue card. I have been issued a Blue card on 20/08/2020. However, I have been working since 15/01/2020 and I applied for an appointment to get the Blue Card back in January 2020. At that time, I was given an appointment for October 2020. I told the Ausländerbehörde about my situation (new job, hence need to switch my visa) and they told that me that I will get a sooner appointment. Then the corona situation started and I was told that I am not a priority since my existing visa would last till September. Now given this situation, I want to know can I make a case that my time for the Blue card should start from January and not August when applying for permanent residency. I have emails constantly requesting for an earlier appointment. Please let me know based on our experiences, would be great if you could also advice on how to make the case stronger. Thanks in advance and looking forward.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/09/2020 at 09:29

      Hey Hatim. I don’t have a qualified opinion on this matter, only what my common sense would tell me: despite the current situation, there would not be an exception to the rule. I think only the issue date in August would count in your case. But again: just an opinion.

  • Reply Andrea Hunt 21/09/2020 at 22:45

    Can I freelance with this visa? or start a business? I thought that with unbefristet aufenhaltstitle I can no? I want to start life coaching freelance style next year while I work part time. Can I do that with this visa? or do I need to apply for the freelance one? Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/09/2020 at 13:46

      Hey Andrea. Yes, with a permanent residence title, it’s not tied to a particular job or occupation.

  • Reply Gordon Daniel Obeng 21/09/2020 at 11:02

    How much do I have to pay for a permanent residence for myself, my wife and two children 21 and 16years old?

  • Reply Minnaar 21/09/2020 at 07:33

    Hi, my wife and I have individual blue cards linked to our own employment contracts. Do we need to apply separately for PR or can we apply as a family ? We have a small boy, thanks

  • Reply Hung Phan 17/09/2020 at 16:05

    One thing that is not clear to me, is how to submit these required documents to Ausländerbehörde: some say by email, some say by mail, some say make an appointment and go there. Could you please help me here, especially in the current Corona situation?
    Thank you!

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