Sometimes, a quick trip to Berlin isn’t enough, so you decide to revisit the city for a longer stay. Maybe you even decide to relocate there on a more permanent basis, like so many expats are doing these days (Brexit, anyone?), either for work or just for personal reasons: this is the time when you should consider getting German citizenship.
Realising that this place is your new home and you can’t imagine ever living somewhere else, sometimes just comes as a natural next step. From our offices in Berlin we have seen so many people coming to the city “for an internship”, or for a “summer experience” and never leaving again. We get it, Berlin is a great place, full of amazing opportunities for both students and young professionals. So, what do you need to do to make the country you live in, your permanent home? For people that are studying or working in Germany and want to feel fully integrated into German society, getting citizenship status may make things easier, whether you opt for the hustle and bustle of cities like Munich and Berlin, or quieter countryside towns such as Cochem or Miltenberg.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore the available options for living in Germany on a permanent basis and how to understand the bureaucratic process of getting German citizenship.
Getting German Citizenship
If you have been a German resident for a certain period of time (the number of years can vary depending on your circumstances), then you may be eligible to apply for German citizenship. The standard amount of time you must have spent in the country under a limited permit is eight years before you can apply for citizenship.
Other criteria for applying for citizenship
Not just anyone will be granted citizenship in Germany. There are certain sets of criteria that you must first meet in order to be able to apply for German citizenship, beyond your length of living in the country prior to your application. These are:
- Speaking German – You must be able to speak the German language to a satisfactory standard, including both oral and written communication. This ensures that you are able to fully integrate into the country and the community you are living in.
- Clean criminal record – Your criminal record must be clear of any serious offences.
- Financially stable – You must be able to completely support yourself financially and prove that this is the case.
- Pass the naturalisation test – Anyone applying for German citizenship must take a naturalisation test which is written in German. The test consists of questions concerning the history, laws, and people of Germany. To pass, you must answer at least 17 out of 33 questions correctly.
- Pay the fee – To complete your application, you must pay a submission fee of €255.
With understanding the German language being an important part of being granted citizenship, the 8-year period may be reduced to 7 years of prior residency if you complete a German language integration course.
It should be noted that certain residents will not need to take the naturalisation test in order to become an official citizen. These include anyone under the age of 16 and graduates of German universities in certain subjects, such as law or social sciences.
Do you need to renounce your current citizenship?
For people from outside of the EU, gaining citizenship in Germany will mean renouncing your current citizenship, as long as your native country allows for this and you are able to complete the process. Any EU citizen may keep their original citizenship and hold dual citizenship with that and Germany.
What if you marry a German citizen?
If you live with your German spouse in Germany, then the process of gaining citizenship can be sped up. In order to apply for German citizenship in this way, you must have lived in Germany with your spouse for at least three years and have been married or in another form of legal partnership for at least two of those years.
Even so, you will still need to meet certain requirements asked of anyone seeking German citizenship, such as a criminal record clear of serious charges and a good understanding of the German language.
Citizenship through birth or descent
If one or both of your biological parents is or was a German citizen when you were born, then you will already be considered a natural citizen of the country, regardless of where you were born. Generally, the child will become a citizen of both of their parents’ countries until the age of 18, at which point they may choose between their multiple nationalities. This decision must be made within 5 years of the child turning 18.
Babies born in Germany after 1st January 2000 to parents who aren’t citizens may be considered of German nationality depending on how long their parents have been residents of the country. If either one of the parents have been permanent residents of Germany for at least 8 years, then their child can automatically be a citizen.
How to apply for German citizenship
You can apply for German citizenship by acquiring an application form from your local immigration office, the town council, or a similar authority. Adults can submit your application yourself, but anyone under the age of 16 will need a parent or legal representative to submit their application on their behalf.
As mentioned already, a fee of around €255 will need to be paid to complete each application. Taking the naturalisation test will cost an additional €25. Visit your local naturalisation office to register for your test and to locate your nearest test centre. Make sure you have a valid form of identification with you when you go to take the test.
Getting permanent residency in Germany
If you want to live in Germany on a permanent basis without the longer wait and more boxes to tick, then you may be able to apply for permanent residency instead. To do this, you will still need to meet similar requirements as above, including an understanding of the German language, no criminal record, and the ability to support yourself financially.
There are two main options for gaining permanent residency in Germany: Permanent EC Residence or a Settlement Permit.
Photo credits: Sam Howzit
Permanent EC Residence
You can apply for a permanent EC residence permit if you have lived in Germany for five consecutive years on a work permit, or another similar limited permit. Other provisions for applying for this kind of permit are that you have valid health insurance and a form of identification, such as a passport. You must also have sufficient living space in your possession and provisions for your retirement in the country.
Once you have been granted a permanent EC residence permit, it allows you to live in any EU country. This means that if you already have this kind of permit granted by another country, then you may already be authorised to live in Germany on a permanent basis.
Another form of German permanent residence is a settlement permit. This does not apply to other EU countries like the EC residence permit does. However, it is often quicker to earn than Permanent EC Residence.
Generally, a Settlement Permit has the same application terms as a permanent residence, but certain special exemptions apply.
- Students in Germany – If you have studied at and graduated from a German university, then you can apply for a settlement permit two years after your graduation.
- EU Blue Card holders – You may be granted an EU Blue Card if your income exceeds a certain threshold, depending on the profession. Holders of this card may be granted a settlement permit after they have worked in the country for 33 months. Gaining a B1 German language certificate reduces this length of time to 21 months.
- Self-employed people – A self-employed person residing in Germany may gain permanent residence via a Settlement Permit within three years of living in the country with a successfully established business.
- Highly qualified immigrants – Immigrants in certain desirable professions, such as scientists and researchers, who have a firm job offer to work in the country may be granted immediate permanent residence via a settlement permit.
The difference between citizenship and permanent residency
Gaining either citizenship or permanent residency allows you to reside in Germany for the rest of your life if you choose to. The main difference between these two methods is that citizenship grants you all the same rights as a natural German citizen, whereas permanent residency does not.
This means that if you gain residency, you will be allowed to vote in German elections and gain other benefits such as the right to free movement and consular protection. As a member of the EU, citizenship also allows you to work and live in other EU member states. A similar benefit comes from permanent EC residence but not a settlement permit.
Although, with the rights of German citizenship also comes the same responsibilities. This means that becoming a permanent citizen also gives you the potential tasks of jury duty or electoral assistance.
Applying for citizenship in another country
After gaining the status of a German citizen, applying for citizenship in another country could cause you to lose your German citizenship, depending on what your new nationality is. Applying for citizenship for another EU country or Switzerland will result in dual citizenship.
For other countries, you may be able to keep your German citizenship if you contact the German authorities to inform them of your upcoming application and for permission to retain German citizenship at the same time. You may be penalised if you fail to inform them of your new citizenship.
If you do lose German citizenship for this reason, you may be able to reapply in the future if desired and if you still meet all the requirements mentioned in this article.
Gaining permanent citizenship or residency in Germany may not be an overnight process, but here you everything you need to help you through the process. Moving to and living in Germany is an incredible journey, now you have all the information and can make your informed decision about German citizenship.