Living abroad in Germany as an expat can be an exciting endeavor. The country is full of friendly people, beautiful architecture, and an exciting mix of forward-thinking modernity and rich history. In order to travel abroad to Germany from the U.S. or Canada, you’ll need to decide on a style of residence visa and complete the necessary steps to obtain this legal status.
Who needs documentation?
Any European citizens whose countries are part of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area (the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway), or Switzerland will not need to apply for any form of documentation to live, work, or study abroad in Germany.
For countries with good diplomatic relations with Germany (such as Australia, Canada, United States, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, and South Korea) a tourist visa can be obtained upon arrival in the country in the form of a passport stamp in the airport. This tourist visa is good for 90 days, after which visitors to Germany will need to leave the Schengen Zone for at least 90 days before being able to return.
While this tourist visa is a great way to travel for short stints within Europe, those looking to actually live abroad long-term in Germany will need to apply for a German residence permit. If you decide that you want to live in Germany while on a tourist visa, you’ll usually need to return home and begin the process at your local embassy or consulate.
German Residence Permits
Regardless of whether you’re looking to work, retire, or study while living abroad in Germany, you’ll need to apply for the standard German residence permit (which will then be detailed to show your reason for being in the country, such as working or studying). This document is valid for one year and can be renewed as long as your reason for being in Germany (employment, schooling, etc.) is still valid.
If you’re looking to join a family member or spouse who is already living (with an approved German residence permit) in Germany, you’ll need to prove that you have a place to live, have sufficient funds to support yourself in the country, and that you are under the age of 16 if you are a child dependent.
If you want to study in Germany but have not yet been enrolled in a place of education, there is something called a German student application visa. This allows prospective students to travel abroad to Germany for up to three months in order to fulfill any application or admission requirements before being enrolled in a program. After graduation, you can extend your temporary residency up to 18 months for the purpose of finding employment, after which your permit can have legal working documentation, so long as the employment was in the same sector as your degree.
After five years of annually renewing your residence permit, you can apply for permanent residency to live abroad in Germany – either a Permanent EC Residency Permit or a Settlement Permit. This permanent residency allows you to freely live elsewhere outside of Germany and grants you most of the rights of German citizens, the right to vote being one exception. To qualify for permanent residency, you’ll need to:
- Have lived for 5 uninterrupted years in Germany
- Know an adequate level of the German language
- Have a clean criminal record
- Have employment that provides health insurance and pension
- Have long-term accommodations with at least 13sqm per person
The settlement permit is a form of German permanent residence. Under this, you can live indefinitely in the country and take up any form of gainful employment in Germany.
Permanent EC (European Community) Residence Permit
This form of permanent residency is virtually identical to the settlement permit, except it allows for holders to live abroad outside of Germany and obtain other forms of work permits in other countries at the same time. Refugees living in Germany are excluded from this type of permanent residency.
To apply for German residency, you’ll need to make an appointment with your local German consulate or embassy to process the request. They can also provide you with the list of required documents, some of which include:
- A valid passport
- Two passport-sized photos
- Birth certificate and marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Residency registration form
- Proof of health insurance
- Rental contract, if necessary
- Certificate of Good Health/Certificate of Good Conduct
- Means of support. This can be a letter from an employer or proof of access to at least €700 per month.
After this point, you’ll need to clarify your purpose for living abroad in Germany with documents showing that you are a working employee (contract letter), a student (proof of registration), self-employed (membership in a trade body or VAT number), or a frontier worker (someone working in Germany but lives in another EU state and returns at least once a week).
Tyler Sorce is an American writer and digital nomad currently living in Lisbon, Portugal. In a past life he was a chef in Manhattan and Paris, follow his travels and favorite dishes on Instagram.