Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Even if you’ve got your heart set on moving to Berlin, you still have the small issue of landing an appropriate residence permit to allow you to live and work in Germany. In this post, we will highlight the different options that are available to you if you don’t hold an EU/EEA passport, key visa facts for Germany and important terminology you should know.
As this is quite a complex topic, we have included some key terminology at the bottom of this article, which should help you better understand some of the ins and outs of moving to Berlin.
Residence permits/national visas that allow you to live and work in Germany
So, let’s talk about some of your different options for living in Germany. In order to make your dream a reality, you need to figure out exactly which national visa/residence permit you need to apply for.
To live in Germany for an extended period, you can apply for the below visas/residence permits:
Residence Permit for Employment / Employment Visa
Residence Permit for Freelance Employment / Freelance visa
Residence Permit to Work as an Au Pair / Au Pair Visa
Residence Permit to Study / Student Visa
Residence Permit to Attend a Language School / Language School Visa
Residence Permit for Job Seekers / Job Seekers Visa
Residence Permit for a Working Holiday / Working Holiday Visa or Youth-Mobility Visa
EU Blue Card
While this is not an exhaustive list of all your options in Germany, these are the residence permits/national visas that we specialise in. All of our programmes include detailed residence permit/visa information, tips and guidance/support with applications, frequently asked questions and all relevant application forms with completed example forms and translations. We lay out exactly when, where and how to apply for each residence permit/visa, thus giving you clear guidance on the application process whether you are applying in Germany or from overseas.
Having helped many people apply for German residence permits/national visas over the last three years, we have developed considerable expertise and know-how, which we constantly build on through regular contact with local immigration authorities, German embassies abroad and the Federal Employment Agency.
Below, we have provided a brief overview of some of the requirements for each residence permit/national visa. Check out our different packages, which all include full access to our full relocation platform that details exactly how to apply for the different visas, including detailed documentation requirements, step-by-step application instructions and tips to improve your chances of landing a German residence permit/national visa.
1. How to apply for an Employment Visa / Residence Permit for Employment?
The main requirement for applying for a Residence Permit for Employment / Employment Visa is that you have a concrete job offer from a German company. The job must be paid on par with what a German citizen would be paid for the same job and the salary must be considered enough to live off in Berlin. Therefore, a full-time job is usually required, but high paid part-time positions can also be accepted.
Note: The Federal Employment Agency will perform various priority checks depending on which country you are from. While citizens from certain countries (Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand or the United States) are only subjected to limited checks, citizens from other countries are subjected to far more rigorous priority checks. These include assessing whether your employment has a negative impact on the local labour market, whether there are any preferential employees (e.g. EU citizens) available for the position or whether you hold a university degree that is comparable to a German degree.
Stipulations: You can only work for the employer stated on your residence permit/visa. Your residence permit/visa will state whether you are able to freelance on top of your work for your regular employer.
Renewable? Yes, the residence permit/visa will be issued for the length of your contract or for three years if you hold an unlimited contract.
2. How to apply for a Freelance Visa / Residence Permit for Freelance Employment?
In order to apply for a Freelance Visa / Residence Permit for Freelance Employment, you must have at least two letters of intent to hire from freelance clients (but a minimum of three is recommended). We also recommend that at least two of your clients are German-based.
If you already have some freelance contracts, then you can also use these. The letters of intent to hire should state why your client wishes to hire you as a freelancer along with your hourly rate, job title and approximately how many hours per month you will work for that client. The sum of your salary in your letters of intent to hire/freelancer contracts must total what is considered a decent wage in Berlin.
Stipulations: With a Freelance Visa / Residence Permit for Freelance Employment, you can work as a freelancer for multiple clients in the field specified on your visa and you can work for both German and overseas clients.
Renewable? Yes, your freelance visa will initially be issued for 1–2 years.
3. How to apply for a Working Holiday or Youth-Mobility Visa / Residence Permit for a Working Holiday?
You can apply for the Working Holiday Visa if you are from Uruguay, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Hong Kong, Israel, Taiwan, South Korea or Chile and between the ages of 18 and 30 (35 for Canada). You must apply before your 31st birthday unless you are from Canada in which case you must apply before your 36th birthday.
If you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel or Japan, you can apply for the Residence Permit for a Working Holiday after you arrive in Berlin. Citizens from all other countries must either apply in their home countries or at German embassies abroad. Here you can find out more information on where you can apply. We’ve also compiled a detailed FAQ on the Working Holiday Visa.
To apply for the Working Holiday or Youth-Mobility Visa / Residence Permit for a Working Holiday, you need proof of funds of between €350 and €3000 (depending on where you apply) and travel insurance for the duration of the visa.
Stipulations: You can work in a full-time, part-time or freelance capacity. How many months/employers you can work for depends on what country you are from. You can also study or take a course for 6 months.
Renewable? No, the visa is issued for one year. However, citizens of Canada may apply twice under different categories. It’s very common for people to apply for the Residence Permit for Employment once their Working Holiday or Youth-Mobility Visa / Residence Permit for a Working Holiday expires.
4. How to apply for a Job Seekers Visa / Residence Permit for Job Seekers for Germany?
A Residence Permit for Job Seekers / Job Seekers Visa allows you to come to Germany to search for work. In order to apply, you must have a university-level degree which is deemed to be on par with a German degree (see terminology section below) and sufficient proof of funds to support yourself during your job hunt. We provide guidance on how to have your degree recognised as part of all of your relocation programmes.
If you land a job while on a Residence Permit for Job Seekers / Job Seekers Visa in Germany, you may then apply for a Residence Permit for Employment directly in Germany. This option is great for those who need to apply for a visa before entering Germany and for those who can apply for a residence permit after arriving in Germany but need more than 90 days to search for a job.
Stipulations: You can attend language school and apply for jobs while on a Residence Permit for Job Seekers / Job Seekers Visa. You cannot work on this visa until you have successfully applied and been issued a Residence Permit for Employment with a valid work contract.
Renewable? No, the visa is issued once for 6 months.
5. How to apply for an EU Blue Card for Germany?
An EU Blue Card is for non-EU/EEA workers with a university degree who earn above a certain minimum threshold. In order to apply, your degree must be deemed to be on par with a German degree or you must have at least 5 years of relevant experience.
You must have a German employment contract with a minimum gross salary of €53,600 per annum or, in shortage occupations, a gross salary of €41,808.
Stipulations: You can apply for permanent residence in Germany after working on an EU Blue Card for 33 months or after 21 months if your German is at a B1 level.
Renewable? Yes, the Blue Card is initially issued for 4 years if you have an unlimited contract.
6. How to apply for an Au Pair Visa / Residence Permit to Work as an Au Pair for Germany?
The Residence Permit to Work as an Au Pair / Au Pair Visa is for those between the ages of 18 and 26 looking to work as a live-in nanny for a German-speaking family. To apply, you need a work contract from a German (or German-speaking) family.
Stipulations: You can only work as an Au Pair. The standard salary is €260–€300 per month for 30 hours per week of Au Pair work. In addition to your salary, you will receive free accommodation, board, health insurance and discounted German courses.
Renewable? No, the Residence Permit to Work as an Au Pair / Au Pair Visa is issued once for up to one year.
7. How to apply for a Student Visa / Residence Permit to Study in Germany?
In order to apply for a Residence Permit to Study / Student Visa, you must have a university acceptance letter from a German University and at least €8,640 in a German escrow account.
Stipulations: You can work for 120 full days or 240 half days per year while living in Germany on a Residence Permit to Study / Student Visa.
8. How to apply for a German Language School Visa / Residence Permit to attend a Language School?
A Residence Permit to Attend a Language School / Language School Visa allows you to live in Germany and attend a language school for up to one year. This is a fantastic way to learn German and experience German culture.
Stipulations: You must be enrolled in an intensive German language course. By intensive, we mean at least 18 teaching hours per week – the visa will only be issued for the duration of your language course. You are required to have travel insurance for the duration of your visa, proof of funds as well as a language school contract.
Important information if you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States, South Korea, Japan or Israel.
If you are from one of the above countries, you may enter Germany on a 90-day visa-free period and then apply for a residence permit in Germany. The only exception to this is the South Korean Working Holiday Visa, which must be applied for in South Korea.
If you are from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, United States, South Korea, Japan or Israel, there is a special visa agreement in place with Germany, making it easier for you to obtain a Residence Permit for Employment. The agreement means you can apply for a Residence Permit for Employment without a degree or formal education and your degree does not need to be relevant to the job you are seeking a permit for. This effectively means you have a chance of being approved with any job in Germany.
Applications from these countries are also looked upon more favourably. The job market priority check by the Federal Employment Agency is more lenient although you may be denied if there are a number of people in Berlin who are currently unemployed who could technically take the job you are seeking a permit for. But in general, you have a strong chance of being approved if you fulfill the criteria outlined in the ‘Residence Permit for Employment / Employment Visa’ section above.
Important information if you are NOT from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea, Japan or Israel
If you are not from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea, Japan or Israel, you must apply for national visas for stays longer than 90 days before you enter Germany.
If you are from Brazil, you may apply for non-work related visas in Germany, e.g. a language school or student visa.
If you hold a university degree (which is deemed to be on par with a German degree), you can apply for a Job Seekers Visa, which will allow you to come and live in Germany for 6 months in order to find a job. While on a Job Seekers Visa, you can apply for a Residence Permit for Employment directly in Berlin once you have successfully found a job.
If you wish to work in Germany, you must apply for an Employment Visa prior to entering Germany unless you hold a Job Seekers visa.
All our relocation programmes include company listings of 500+ companies in Berlin that hire non-German speakers, along with links to relevant job pages and contact details for recruiters. This is an invaluable resource if you need to apply for an Employment Visa prior to entering Germany, and can help you get a step ahead of other applicants. Added to this, you will get detailed step-by-step instructions on exactly when, where and how to apply for different visas overseas.
Ausländerbehörde – Ausländerbehörde is the immigration office in Germany. There are two immigration offices in Berlin which process different types of visas.
Escrow account (Sperrkonto) – an escrow account is a blocked account where you can only withdraw a certain amount of money each month and is a requirement for certain visas (e.g. student visa). An escrow account can be set up with a bank in Germany.
Residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) – a residence permit is temporary and issued for a specific purpose (e.g. Au Pair, Working Holiday, Employment, EU Blue Card, Student & Job Seekers). A residence permit allows you to reside in Germany for the stated purpose and is issued in Germany.
National visa – a national visa refers to a temporary visa which is issued by a German Embassy prior to your entry into Germany. The visa is issued for a certain purpose, e.g. attending a language school, au pairing, etc. If applying outside of Germany, you may be issued a three-month national visa and in this case you will need to apply for a residence permit once you arrive in Germany, with the exception of the Working Holiday Visa, which doubles up as your residence permit in Germany.
Note: whether you are required to apply for a national visa prior to entering Germany is dependent on your nationality and visa type. Make sure you check the requirements for your nationality and specific visa before moving to Berlin.
Federal Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit) – When applying for a Residence Permit for Employment/Employment Visa, the visa office in Berlin/German embassy doesn’t make the decision of whether you can work in Germany or not. The decision is actually made by the Federal Employment Agency. Whether you apply overseas or in Germany, the Federal Employment Agency assesses your application and decides whether you can be granted access to the German labour market. If you have applied at an Embassy, the Federal Employment Agency will inform the embassy of their decision.
Degree recognition – in order to apply for certain visas, you must have your overseas qualification recognised by Germany. This is when your qualifications have been deemed to be on par with a German degree. We provide instructions on the process of having your degree recognised in all of our programmes.
Visa-free period – citizens from certain countries are able to enter Germany on a 90-day visa-free period. If you are not from one of the countries listed, you are required to apply for a visa to enter Germany as a tourist, which is known as a Schengen tourist visa.
If you hold a tourist visa or are in Germany on a 90-day visa-free period, this still does not allow you to apply for a residence permit after your arrival in Germany unless you are from Canada, Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea (except the Working Holiday Visa), New Zealand or the United States. Citizens from all other countries must apply for national visas before arriving in Germany. Citizens of Brazil can apply for all non-work related visas in Germany, e.g. student visa, language school visa.
On a 90-day visa-free period, you can only spend 90 out of 180 days in any of the Schengen countries. Once you hold a German residence permit/national visa, only days spent in other Schengen countries other than Germany count towards your 90-day allocation.
If you hold a German residence permit/national visa, you can still only spend 90 out of 180 days in the other Schengen countries.
If you are thinking about moving to Berlin, check out our relocation packages here.