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MEMBERSHIP EXCLUSIVES

Explained: How to get a ‘Blue Card’ to live and work in Germany

Similar to the Green Card in the US, professionals from non-EU countries are able to work in Germany with the so-called Blue Card.

Explained: How to get a 'Blue Card' to live and work in Germany
Hymalai Bello, an electrical engineer from Venezuela, and Vasant Karasulli, a software engineer from India, hold their Blue Cards in Nuremberg in May 2018. Photo: DPA

Just what is a Blue Card?

The idea for the Blue Card originally sprung from the Brussels think-tank Bruegel, and was written into EU law in August 2012. The idea was to mimic the US system of granting workers a card which would enable them full employment rights – and expedited permanent residency. But unlike the Green Card, they must earn a salary that is at least 1.5 times a high as the average in their country. 

Germany is by far the largest granter of EU blue cards within the EU. Deutschland divvies out nearly 90 percent of the coveted cards, followed by France (3.6 percent), Poland (3.2 percent) and Luxembourg (3 percent). There were 21,272 holders of the card in 2017, up from 11,290 in 2013.

According to the latest figures, one-fourth of EU blue card holders in Germany come from India, making them the largest group to apply for the permit. A further 10 percent come from China, 6.4 percent from Russia, 4.7 percent from Turkey and 4.1 percent from the Ukraine.

SEE ALSO: One quarter of all Blue Card holders in Germany from India: report

How can I qualify for a Blue Card?

The card is granted to anyone who has an accredited university degree, and earns a certain (well, high) salary. That’s why you already have to have a job offer in hand before either you or your employer can apply for the card.

To see if your degree qualifies, you can turn to the government website ‘Anerkennung in Deutschland’ (Recognition in Germany’).

If you think you would qualify, and just need a job first, websites such as Apply.eu connect non-EU residents abroad with employers.

For Germany’s so-called shortage occupations (Mangelberufe – such as IT-professions, doctors and engineers), you’ll have to receive a gross annual salary of €41,808. For everyone else, it amounts to €53.800.

This might sound like a lot of money, but the minimum salary thresholds in Germany are among the lowest of all participating EU countries. Unlike some stricter member states, Germany will also grant Blue Cards to applicants fresh out of university, as long as they have a job offer.

How do I apply for a Blue Card?

Either you or your employer can fill out the application for the Blue Card, and the documents can be submitted to the foreigner’s office in Germany or your embassy abroad.

Nationals of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the US are allowed to enter Germany on a three-month tourism visa and then apply. The foreigner’s office states that nations of all other countries – if not already living in Germany on a residence permit – should apply at their home country’s consulate.

In Germany, the time to process an application often only takes days or weeks rather than months as is the case for other types of work permits, according to the EU Blue Card Network.

FIND A JOB: Browse thousands of English-language jobs in Germany

Expedited residency

If you’re a holder of a Blue Card, you can apply for permanent residency in Germany after just 33 months – or just shy of three years.

This can be reduced to under two years, or 21 months, with a B1 language certificate. Stays in other countries can also count towards the permanent right of residency.

For other non-EU residency permit holders, there’s typically a wait of seven or eight years.

Not just valid for working in Germany

After 18 months, or 1.5 years, of working in Germany, Blue Card holders can move to any other EU country. The only EU countries where this doesn’t apply are Denmark, Ireland and the UK – which has been the case since the beginning of the Blue Card system.

Blue Card holders can also leave the EU for up to 12 months without losing the right of working there.

It is also a swift process to acquire a Blue Card for another European country when you already have a Blue Card for one country – for example, an Austrian Blue Card if you are employed in Germany on one.

Full right to family members

Not only does the German Blue Card grant access to the holder itself, but children and spouses are also allowed to live and work in Germany – no matter what their level of German might be.

While this usually just extends to immediate family members, sometimes special hardship cases are made for other family members.

Tell us: Do you have a Blue Card or are applying for one? What has the experience been like for you?

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RETIREMENT

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?

Unlike in EU countries such as Portugal or Spain, Germany does not have a visa specifically for pensioners. Yet applying to live in the Bundesrepublik post-retirement is not difficult if you follow these steps.

Reader question: Can I get a retirement visa for Germany?
Two pensioners enjoying a quiet moment in Dresden in August 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Due to its quality of life, financial security and health care, Germany snagged the number 10 spot in the 2020 Global Retirement Index. So just how easy is it to plant roots in Deutschland after your retirement?

Applying for a residency permit

As with any non-EU or European Economic Area (EEA) national looking to stay in Germany for longer than a 90-day period, retirees will need to apply for a general resident’s permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) under which it will be possible to select retirement as a category. 

READ ALSO: How does Germany’s pension system measure up worldwide?

This is the same permit for those looking to work and study in Germany – but if you would like to do either after receiving a residency permit, you will need to explicitly change the category of the visa.

Applicants from certain third countries (such as the US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Japan, South Korea, Israel, Canada, and New Zealand) can first come to Germany on a normal tourist visa, and then apply for a residency permit when in the country. 

However, for anyone looking to spend their later years in Germany, it’s still advisable to apply at their home country’s consulate at least three months in advance to avoid any problems while in Germany.

Retirement visas still aren’t as common as employment visas, for example, so there could be a longer processing time. 

What do you need to retire in Germany?

To apply for a retirement visa, you’ll need proof of sufficient savings (through pensions, savings and investments) as well as a valid German health insurance. 

If you have previously worked in Germany for at least five years, you could qualify for Pensioner’s Health Insurance. Otherwise you’ll need to apply for one of the country’s many private health insurance plans. 

Take note, though, that not all are automatically accepted by the Ausländerbehörde (foreigners office), so this is something you’ll need to inquire about before purchasing a plan. 

READ ALSO: The perks of private health insurance for expats in Germany

The decision is still at the discretion of German authorities, and your case could be made stronger for various reasons, such as if you’re joining a family member or are married to a German. Initially retirement visas are usually given out for a year, with the possibility of renewal. 

Once you’ve lived in Germany for at least five full years, you can apply for a permanent residency permit, or a Niederlassungserlaubnis. To receive this, you will have to show at least a basic knowledge of the German language and culture.

READ ALSO: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

Taxation as a pensioner

In the Bundesrepublik, pensions are still listed as taxable income, meaning that you could be paying a hefty amount on the pension from your home country. But this is likely to less in the coming years.

Tax is owed when a pensioner’s total income exceeds the basic tax-free allowance of €9,186 per year, or €764 per month. From 2020 the annual taxable income for pensioners will increase by one percent until 2040 when a full 100 percent of pensions will be taxable.

American retirees in Germany will also still have to file US income taxes, even if they don’t owe any taxes back in the States. 

In the last few years there has been a push around Germany to raise the pension age to 69, up from 65-67, in light of rising lifespans.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Could people in Germany still be working until the age of 68?

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