Legal Requirements for a German Visa

Legal Aspects and Requirements for a German Residence Permit
A guest article by Alexander Baron von Engelhardt,
editor of the Legal Guide to Germany (LG2G)

The following article provides helpful information concerning a German entry visa and residence permit (eine Aufenthaltserlaubnis). It describes the procedures and regulations for the new combination visa and residence/work permit for foreigners staying in Germany longer than three months.

Part 1: Visas for Short-Term Sojourns

In 2005 the previous German system of residency and work permits was replaced by a new residency permit that simultaneously regulates any permission to work in Germany. In other words, you can no longer obtain a residence permit without a decision on a work permit. The Aliens Office (Ausländeramt) will internally consult the Federal Labor Agency (Bundesamt für Arbeit) to decide whether to allow employment (§4 II 2 Aufenthaltsgesetz, Residence Act). The long promised “one-stop agency” has arrived. In general it brings many clarifications and makes the application process simpler, but the law has not lost its complexity, unfortunately.

Whether or not you need a travel visa to enter Germany depends on your citizenship. Persons from an EU country do not need a visa to enter and stay. Those coming from outside the community usually do. However, certain non-EU citizens, including US citizens, are freed from visa requirements to enter for up to three months (§ 41 Zuwanderungsdurchführungsverordnung, Implementation Ordinance for Immigration Act).

More on The German Way
Requirements for US Citizens
What Americans need to know about getting a German visa

If you need a travel visa, you will usually obtain it from a German consulate in your home country. Check out www.auswaertiges-amt (in English) for details and to find your local German consulate. German authorities are entitled to set conditions for residence permits and renewals (§12 II AufenthaltsG). Such a condition can be that a domestic person will guarantee to cover the costs of your expulsion. There is hardly anything you can do about it, if your visit is subject to such a condition.

Upon entering Germany, the first question on your mind will be: What does a visa allow me to do in Germany? You can do anything that is not forbidden or unlawful. You are entitled to short-term stays of up to 90 days — as a tourist or for business purposes. Within this time period, you are also allowed to visit all other Schengen countries (most of western Europe). You are not allowed to accept a job offer! However, you can use this time to start preparing your application for a residence permit. This time will be valuable for getting in contact with prospective employers or project granters, as well as looking for an apartment, etc.

A visa legalizes your entry into and your stay in Germany for up to three months per half year. It is not really intended to be extended any further. You can only get an exception if you are hospitalized, incapable of traveling, or summoned to court or an administrative office. These exceptions are handled very strictly. This time you will have to leave — but next time apply for a national visa if a longer stay is foreseeable and reasonably explainable.

Next, in Part 2, the residence permit…

Also see: Requirements for US Citizens – A detailed look at the German visa and residence permit rules for American citizens

Part 2: Obtaining a Residence Permit
Previously there were several different and confusing permits granting you legal residence in Germany. Now there are only two different titles of abode; one gives you either conditional or temporary permission to stay, while the other grants you permanent permission to remain. Visas will never grant a status that will enable you to receive permanent residence at some time in the future. But a temporary residence permit will enable you to later obtain permanent residency, and that depends on the purpose of your stay in Germany.

To obtain a German residence permit you have to meet several general prerequisites beyond the special ones for your reason of sojourn. These general conditions are listed in §5 AufenthaltsG. These conditions will be briefly explained below. Generally, you…

  • must have met passport requirements,
  • must have an assured means of subsistence (income),
  • must have entered with the correct visa, if applicable,
  • must have submitted all the necessary data for the visa application, and
  • you have caused no reason for expulsion.

You will be required to prove (with documentation) that you can by yourself meet the cost of living, and have sufficient health insurance coverage without having to make a claim on public funds. In actual numbers this means a minimum basic income (above your housing costs) of 345 euros per month in Berlin and the older (western) states of Germany, and 331 euros per month in the newer German states (former GDR). In other words, if you rent an apartment for 400 euros in Hamburg, you need to show that you can come up with 745 EUR (345+400), or 731 EUR (331+400) in Dresden. Please understand these limits are a minimum. If you can show that you have more funds available or earn more, all the better. You must demonstrate your financial status with bank statements, tax returns, statement of interest and dividend income, etc.

Health insurance is considered sufficient if it includes such benefits as medical treatment by a doctor, dental treatment, treatment in a hospital, and childbirth coverage during pregnancy — and all this within Germany. Where the insurance company is located is not important, but the coverage must apply to Germany.

German law wants to know for what purpose you want to enter the country. You can obtain a permit for the purposes of:

  1. education (e.g. study or a language course),
  2. carrying out gainful employment,
  3. opening a business (self-employment, branch of a running company),
  4. uniting a family (e.g. the later arrival of a spouse or children).

Usually, you can obtain a residence permit that allows employment if the following prerequisites have been met:

  1. The occupation you wish to take up requires a vocational training qualification and you possess this qualification,
  2. you can show that you have a job offer,
  3. the granting of a residence permit for your occupational group is envisaged by legal regulations,
  4. the German Federal Employment Agency approves of your employment, and
  5. no privileged person is qualified for your chosen position. (Besides Germans, “privileged persons” are EU citizens and legal resident aliens.)

Do you want to start a business or engage in self-employment? With the new law, there is finally (the long-missing) explicit regulation on the working migration of self-employed persons to Germany. Generally, you will need to prove the following for a successful application:

  1. Germany’s higher economic interest or Germany’s special regional need for your project,
  2. the expectation of positive effects of your business on the economy,
  3. as well as the security of the financing of the intention through equity or a credit promise,
  4. no damage to Germany’s overall economic interests is to be expected.

As a rule, Germany will assume that you or your project are of higher economic interest if you can invest at least 500,000 euros and hire five or more employees. Oh, that’s not petty cash for you? Tsk, tsk. But that is not the end of the story! You will now have to show the superior economic interest in a business plan under more scrutiny. The basic idea is to show the workability of your business. Don’t misunderstand, Germany does not want more bankruptcies. Therefore, the authorities will test your case. Perfect criteria would be if you can create “many” jobs (not counting you), and you have “few” competitors in the market.

Let me give you an example or two. If you want to open a new hamburger restaurant, forget it — unless your first name is Ronald. If you want to open a boutique for the latest Indian fashion in an industrialized quarter, stop dreaming. But if you want to open your Indian fashion store on Berlin’s Ku’damm shopping avenue, great idea. In the latter case, you now only have to show sufficient funding to start the business and that you will not be dependent on welfare later.

For more, see the Legal Guide to Germany site by Alexander Baron von Engelhardt

More | Requirements for US Citizens

Related Pages


  • – The website of the German Embassy in Washington, DC has a lot of good information for Americans traveling to Germany.
  • The Legal Guide to Germany by German-American lawyer Alexander Baron von Engelhardt – in English. LG2G is the “expat’s concise guide to officialdom in Germany.”
  • Ausländerbehörde Berlin – The website for the Aliens Authority (ABH) in Berlin has PDFs of forms, helpful information, links, and appointment forms, but only very limited information in English.
  • Ausländerbehörde München – The website for the Aliens Authority in Munich – in German.
  • Auswärtiges Amt – The website of the German Federal Foreign Office also has useful information in English and Deutsch about working or studying in Germany.

NOTE: The information on this page and on this website is not intended as legal advice. You are advised to consult a lawyer concerning any specific legal concerns regarding a German residence permit or working in Germany.

Legal Notice: We are not responsible for the content of external links.

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