The German Foreign Office quite ominously warns on its website that “German citizenship law is relatively complicated” and that they can only answer “the issues which currently dominate the inquiries”.
But we’ve summarized what may sound like a red-taped mess and what you need to know.
Becoming a German will probably mean renouncing your current citizenship, but there’s also the option to gain permanent residency. Find out what works for you.
If you just want permanent residency
If completely saying farewell to your Union Jack (or Stars and Stripes) doesn’t quite mesh with you, permanent residency to guarantee you can stay long-term might be a better bet.
The general requirements for these permits are that you have adequate German skills, can support yourself financially, have health insurance and have no criminal record.
There’s also a settlement permit. This one does not allow you to move around the EU in the same way, but sometimes you can get it in less than five years.
For the settlement permit, students of a German university can apply two years after graduation. And EU Blue Card holders (people with a gross income over €49,600, or €38,688 depending on the profession) can get permanent residence after working 33 months, or just 21 months with a B1 language certificate.
Plus, self-employed people with a successfully established business can also apply within three years.
Germany also will grant immediate permanent residence to “highly qualified” immigrants, such as scientists, instructors or researchers, who also have firm job offers.
If you want citizenship
To become a naturalized citizen, you have to have lived in Germany under a limited residence permit for at least eight years. But you can also get this shortened to seven years if you take a German-language integration course, which can be done fairly affordably through a local Volkshochschule (basically a community college).
But very crucially, you also have to know German.
“The ability to speak German is an absolute necessity. Being able to communicate in German is essential for social and economic integration,” writes the Interior Ministry.
So how good does your German have to be?
“Sufficient command is defined as being able to cope in German with daily life in Germany, including dealing with the authorities, and being able to conduct conversations commensurate with one’s age and education. As a rule, this includes being able to read, understand and orally reproduce a German text on a general topic.”
On top of that, you have to prove you can support yourself financially and have committed no serious criminal offences. Non-EU citizens must also give up their current nationality - except for in circumstances where this isn’t possible, like countries that do not allow citizens to do this. EU citizens are permitted to hold dual nationality with Germany and their native EU country.
There’s also a naturalisation test that you must pass, which has 33 questions in B1 level German about the country’s laws, history and people. You must pass 17 out of the 33, or just over half.
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Oh, and you must pay a fee of €255.
If you’re married or have kids
If you’re already married to a German, or in a same-sex partnership, this can make things way easier. Spouses must live in Germany legally for three years and have been married to their partner for at least two years at the time of application.
And the general requirements of naturalization also apply: good command of German, no serious criminal record, etc.
Children born to at least one German parent, even outside the country, are also eligible for German citizenship.
But kids born inside of Germany to non-German parents - on or after January 1st 2000 - can also get citizenship under certain circumstances. At least one parent must have lived in the country legally and regularly for at least eight years and have a permanent right of residency.
Still, between 18 and 23 years of age, the child has to decide which nationality to keep, if they have more than one.