German Visa and Residence Permit Requirements for US Citizens
Der Aufenthaltstitel – Residence Permit
The United States of America is one of the nations for which the Federal Republic of Germany has special regulations concerning entry visas and residence permits.
US citizens in possession of a valid US passport do not need a visa for tourist or business trips to Germany for stays of up to 90 days. (This also applies to citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, and New Zealand.) The passport must not expire before the end of the scheduled trip, usually no less than three months before the return date. For stays lasting 91 days or longer, you need an “electronic residence title” (eAT, elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel), a permit in the form of a biometric chip card that resembles a credit card (since September 2011). The residence permit is also a work permit for people who wish to be employed in Germany. (A separate work permit is no longer issued, but you must meet the requirements for employment in order to work in Germany.) This combination residence and work permit indicates/contains the following:
- The length of time you are permitted to stay in Germany (indefinite or a limited time, “valid until”),
- any conditions or restrictions on your stay, including whether you are permitted to work or not,
- a photo of the bearer,
- two (digital) finger prints of the bearer, and
- the Aliens Office city of issue.
This is what the new German residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) looks like:
The EU’s New Uniform Residence Permit
The European Union wanted to standardize all the varying residence permits issued by EU member countries. The EU introduced new plastic-card permits that use an electronic chip that includes biometric information (a photograph and fingerprints) and other data. A photograph of the bearer also appears on the front of the card. (See photo above.) The new residence permit is no longer inserted into the bearer’s passport. Germany began issuing the new cards in September 2011. Each family member, including children and infants, must have their own card. If you still have one of the older permits, it must be replaced by the new electronic version no later than August 31, 2021.
When and Where to Apply
You have the choice of applying for the residence/work permit (1) before traveling to Germany or (2) after arriving in Germany. The issuance fee (in Germany) for stays of less than a year is 50 euros; 60 euros for stays of more than a year (cash only). For minor children, the fee is reduced by half. (Note: Fees subject to change. Check with the German consulate or embassy for current fees in the US or other countries.)
See Residence in Germany at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration and Flüchtlinge) website for more information, in English.
Also see the guest article about the Legal Requirements for German Visas and Residence Permits.
1. Before You Leave
If you want to get your German residence permit in the US before traveling to Germany, you must do so in person at the German Embassy in Washington, DC or at one of the German consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, or San Francisco. (Note: Each consulate serves specific states, counties, or regions of the US. See the Consulate Finder.) You must allow adequate time for your application to be processed. This can take from one to three months, because your application must be sent to the Aliens Office (Ausländeramt) in Germany that is responsible for your intended place of residence. See below for a list of the required documents and photos you need to present as part of your application.
2. After Arrival in Germany
In most cases it is easier to apply after you are in Germany, but you must obtain your residence permit before your 90-day, no-visa stay ends. You have to apply in person at the Ausländerbehörde (Aliens Authority) office for the German city or town where you reside. In Berlin and other larger cities it is possible (and a good idea) to get an appointment via email for a specific day and time.
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Or how not to get your Aufenthaltstitel
Whether you apply in the US or in Germany, you must present certain documents and forms (some of which can be printed out in advance from PDF files online). For US citizens, the following items are required:
- A completed application form (two if applying in the US)
- Two passport photographs*
- A valid US passport (and a copy if applying in the US)
- An Anmeldebestätigung from the local authorities confirming that you have registered your German address (if applying in Germany; see the Anmeldung section below for more)
- Employment contract or letter of intent from your future employer (for a work permit) and a completed work permit application
- Tax returns, bank statements, and other documents proving that you have sufficient funds or income to live in Germany
- Proof of health insurance coverage valid in Germany (See more below.)
- The visa application fee (Cash only! No checks or credit cards.)
- Any other documents that the Aliens Office may require. They will list what you need to bring in the email setting up your appointment (in Germany).
- (See the PDF link to the actual application form below, under Web links.)
*Your visa photo must be a full frontal view looking directly into the camera with a neutral expression (no smiling!). Very specific dimensions are required. (Most German photo studios know the requirements.) See the website of your German Aliens Office for specifics, or the Visa, Passport, Legal page from Germany.info.
Anmeldung – Abmeldung
Before you can apply for your residence permit in Germany you have to register your address with the local authorities, usually at the city hall (Bezirksamt or Rathaus). As noted above, an Anmeldebestätigung is one of the documents required by the Aliens Office. Anyone residing in Germany is required to register (anmelden) his or her address within one week of moving into a house or apartment. When you move out, you’re required to deregister (abmelden). This applies to all German citizens as well, even if they are just moving across the street.
Another requirement for a residence permit is proof of health insurance. Very few German doctors and hospitals accept US health insurance. Even if your US insurance covers you in Germany, usually you will be required to pay any medical fees yourself and get reimbursed later. Therefore, it is best to have a health insurance policy that is accepted by German healthcare providers. For shorter stays of up to a year or two, you can take out a special policy with a German insurance company for that period. If you’re lucky, your employer will provide health coverage. Note: It does not matter in which country your health insurance company is located, as long as the insurance is accepted in Germany.
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