For members


EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Every year, more and more foreigners are moving to Germany. We explain the process of obtaining the right to live here indefinitely through acquiring permanent residency.

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany
It's possible to live in Germany permanently without acquiring citizenship. Photo: DPA

Germany now has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country in the world. Despite the foreign influx however, the process for acquiring permanent residency can be a tad confusing. 

Navigating the complex requirements can be difficult, so we've put together this helpful guide with tips and tricks to assist you in making the transition from temporary to permanent resident. 

READ: What Germany's controversial new immigration laws mean for foreign workers

Permanent residency allows you live in Germany indefinitely, while the related EU citizenship will allow you to live and work anywhere in the European Union. It will not be linked to your job or university, allowing you to change jobs or studies whenever you want.

Another related permit – the EU residency permit – allows you to live and work anywhere in Europe. 

Citizenship is largely a different question and depending on where you’re from, it can mean giving up your current passport or citizenship.

READ: Overnight queues and complex rules: What Germany's immigration offices are really like

READ: Your complete guide to visiting Germany's immigration offices

Keep in mind that if you’re an EU citizen you will not need to apply for permanent residency, as your European citizenship also entitles you to live in Germany. 

For UK citizenship holders – as you might be aware – things are a little more complicated. Click here for our up-to-date advice as the UK transitions out of the EU through the beginning of 2021.

There are also a range of preliminary things you’ll need to have done before you even get to apply for permanent residency, including registering your address (Anmeldung).

EXPLAINED: Understanding the German Anmeldung

However if you’re thinking of taking the plunge to permanent residency, there’s a good chance that you’ve already got these in the bag. 

Permanent residency (Niederlassungserlaubnis)

The right to live in Germany permanently is conferred by the permanent residency permit or settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). It is not the same as citizenship or a German passport, but it will allow you to remain in Germany indefinitely. 

You’ll also have rights to work and study which are largely similar to those of someone with citizenship. 

In that sense, it provides you with many of the rights of citizenship, but you won’t need to give up your passport.  

EU permanent residency

The other major category of permanent residency is EU permanent residency, which allows you to live and work anywhere in the EU. 

This permission was created pursuant to a European directive and is a welcome change for anyone who’s got one eye on moving elsewhere in Europe after having lived in Germany. 

The requirements for this are largely the same, although the five-year period cannot be shortened in the same fashion as the German permanent residency laws allow. 

What do I need to apply for permanent residency in Germany? 

The broad criteria for becoming a permanent resident seem simple enough: adequate German (B1), financial support (through work or other means), no criminal record and sufficient health insurance. 

You’ll also need to have lived in Germany for five years or more on a legal residence permit, which will usually be connected to work or study. 

Although the criteria seem relatively easy to establish, in reality – as with many things involving German bureaucracy – is not as simple. 

While these aspects are less frequently enforced, you’ll also need to pass a health check to prove that you’re healthy enough for work or study. 

Then there’s the language requirement. While for anyone who’s been here for five years or more B1 might not seem like such a significant challenge, the test isn’t purely on your language skills. 

In addition to sufficient German, you’ll need to show knowledge of other aspects of German society, such as the political system. 

How extensive is your knowledge of German culture? Photo: DPA

The five-year requirement is also something which commonly trips people up – as the clock doesn’t necessarily start as soon as you enter the country. 

When considering if you’ve satisfied the five-year minimum, the authorities will be looking to see your pension contributions. Generally you’ll be required to have paid into the German pension system for 60 months in order to satisfy the five-year requirement. 

This is something your insurance company will usually do on your behalf each month, although not in every case. 

For those who arrived on a Working Holiday Visa using travel insurance, it’s likely that the five-year time frame won’t start until you acquire sufficient German health insurance which pays regularly into the pension scheme. 

Aside from the general residency permit process, there are a number of other ways through which you may qualify like marriage or specialist qualifications. 

Marriage or civil partnership

The easiest way to secure permanent residency is through marriage or a civil partnership to your significant other. 

Once you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for two years or more – and have lived in Germany legally for three years – you’ll be able to apply. 

While many of the same stipulations apply for marriage or civil partnership visas as they do for the general class of permanent residency visas – no criminal record, sufficient health insurance, etc – the timeline is much shorter. 

B1 level German or better is needed for permanent residency. Photo: DPA

German university graduates and specialist professions

The waiting period is shorter for people in this category. 

If you’ve graduated from a German university, you can apply after two years. You’ll need to be working in a job related to your education and have paid into the pension system for 24 months. 

If you’re highly qualified – which usually means working in an area with specific technical knowledge or the sciences – you may apply as soon as you have your work contract. 

The main thing you’ll need to show is your job offer or work contract. 


As with any permits, the costs tend to vary – generally anywhere between €135 and €250 – although considering the result will be the permanent right to live in Germany, it’s a steal. 

Other ways to stay: Citizenship and family connections

There are other ways through which you might be eligible for a visa, but many of these come through your family history or lineage. 

Children born in Germany to foreign partners have rights to stay and claim citizenship in some cases, while children born abroad to German parents will in many instances also be eligible for a passport. 

An influx in foreign workers

It's probably no surprise to anyone who has walked the streets of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt or other major German cities recently, but Germany's foreign-born population has risen dramatically over the past few decades. 

With a thriving economy and an ageing population, Germany has sought to make it easier for foreigners to live and work in Germany. 

According to research completed in 2017, Germany has the highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any country anywhere in the world. In total, 15 percent of German residents were born elsewhere – roughly 12 million people. 

According to the latest Statistical Office figures, Germany grew by 400,000 foreign-born residents in 2018.

On numbers alone, Germany has the second-highest amount of foreign-born residents behind the United States' 46.7 million (14 percent). 

Member comments

  1. Thanks for the summary. I’ve read somewhere on the government website that either you will have lived in Germany for 5+ years, or 20 some months only with the required language skill to be able to apply for the permanent residency. Is this right?

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For members


Which regions in Germany need foreign engineers?

Germany’s worker shortage is hitting the engineering sector hard, and there are huge differences in worker shortages between the regions. The Association of German Engineers (VDI) is calling for Germany to be more welcoming to foreign engineers in order to fill the gaps.

Which regions in Germany need foreign engineers?

What’s going on?

Germany is currently facing a worsening shortage of skilled workers, with employers struggling to fill around 630,000 job vacancies in various industries. The engineering sector is particularly affected and saw a 21.6 percent increase in vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021.

According to the latest figures from the Association of German Enginners (VDI), there are currently 170,300 vacancies for engineers.

READ ALSO: ‘600,000 vacancies’: Why Germany’s skilled worker shortage is greater than ever

There’s a particular shortage of civil engineers, computer scientists and electrical engineers which is leading to hold-ups in public construction and digitalisation projects.

Which regions are particularly struggling?

Though there are shortages everywhere, there is a widening gap between the numbers of foreign engineers in large cities and those in rural areas.

In Munich, for example, foreign nationals make up almost 13 percent of the total number of engineers. In the Stranberg district of the city, more than one in four engineers are foreigners.

The employment of foreigners in engineering professions is highest in Berlin where they make up 18.6 percent of engineers, followed by Hamburg with 13.3 per cent and Bavaria with 12.7 per cent. Schleswig-Holstein has the lowest proportion of foreigners out of the western German states with a share of 4.9 per cent.

Employees of the Tesla Gigafactory Berlin Brandenburg work on a production line of a Model Y electric vehicle. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

In eastern states like Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt, foreign engineers are few and far between, despite being desperately needed.

There are also differences between the states in terms of the types of engineers needed. For example, in the last quarter of 2022, the total number of vacancies in information technology jobs in Hesse increased by 49.7 per cent, in Baden-Württemberg by 45.2 per cent and in Berlin/Brandenburg by 40.1 per cent, while the number in Rhineland-Palatinate/Saarland decreased by 23.5 per cent.

READ ALSO: Germany sees ‘over 550 percent increase’ in Indian IT workers over decade

The demand for civil engineering jobs, however, decreased significantly in Berlin/Brandenburg (-3.8 per cent), Saxony (-7.7 per cent) and Saxony-Anhalt/Thuringia (-7.8 per cent).

According to the VDI, the huge differences in the proportion of foreign engineers mainly depend on which universities and companies there are in the region.

If there are technical universities with lots of foreign students, this increases the proportion of engineers with foreign passports in the region.

The presence of factories or international corporations has a similar effect. For example, the proportion of foreign engineers in the Oder-Spree district in Brandenburg was stuck at two to three percent for a long time. But at the end of 2020, that figure tripled within a few months – thanks to the car manufacturer Tesla opening a factory there.

Germany needs to be “more welcoming” to foreigners

Head of the VDI, Dieter Westerkamp has said that without a strong influx of foreign skilled workers, Germany will not be able to close the gap in the labour market for engineers and that this could ultimately slow down Germany’s economic development.

READ ALSO: IN DEPTH: Are Germany’s immigration offices making international residents feel unwelcome?

The VDI is now calling for Germany to make itself more attractive to foreign engineers. The German government recently published a new draft law which aims to plug its skills gap by adapting its immigration laws. Amongst other things, the proposals aim to loosen the requirements for Blue Card applicants and to bring in a points-based job seekers visa. 

However, Westerkamp complains that some immigrants wait months for a visa appointment at the German embassy and that staff shortages at the foreigners’ offices lead to delays.

A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Skilled Migration Monitor also found that managers increasingly complain about bureaucratic and legal hurdles as well as difficulties in the recognition of qualifications for foreign workers. 

Westerkamp said that Germans must understand that their standard of living can’t be maintained without more immigration and said that, people must “give foreigners the feeling that they are welcome in this country”.