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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about getting a visa for Germany

Depending on where you're coming from and what you plan to do in Germany, you may need a visa. We've rounded up the answers to some all-important visa questions.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about getting a visa for Germany
A traveller in Hanover main station. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

Do I need a visa to visit Germany?

This depends on where you’re visiting the country from, and how long for. EU nationals do not require a visa or permit to enter Germany, but will need to carry documentation identifying them as members of an EU state such as a passport or ID card. Non-EU nationals will universally require a visa in order to stay in Germany, but might not need a visa to enter the country. 

Citizens from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Korea – and many more – do not need a tourist visa to enter Germany, but will need a visa from the German Consulate in order to stay for longer than 90 days. These visas are issued most commonly for students with a foreign exchange scholarship or people who have already acquired employment in Germany.

A full list of countries from which a tourist visa is not required in order to enter Germany is available here.

If you belong to a country that has not reached a visa liberalisation agreement with the Schengen states, you will need to acquire a Schengen visa to enter any member country of the Schengen area, including Germany. This includes Russia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco and more. A full list of the countries this applies to is available here. Schengen visas usually expire after 90 days.

READ ALSO: Post-Brexit visa rules: How can Brits move to Germany in 2021 and beyond?

Which visa is right for me?

There are lots of German visa types which you might need to look into to figure out what fits. The most common types are the Tourist and Visitor Visa, the Job Seeker Visa (which gives you the opportunity to search for employment in Germany), the Working Visa (if you have already found employment in Germany), and the Studying and Language Learning Visa (for foreigners wanting to study at an educational institution in Germany). 

You can also get visas for business, medical treatment, and visiting family members who are already residents of Germany. 

READ ALSO: How non-EU nationals can apply for a job-seeking visa in Germany

Do I need to speak German in order to get a visa?

The short answer to this question is: no. You don’t need to speak any German in order to get a starter visa, but you might need to show some intent to learn German. 

For instance, while obtaining a work visa does not come with any requirement to speak German proficiently, it is likely that the German company offering to employ you will have an expectation that you will at least try to learn the language; likewise, if you have got a study visa, the university of your choice will likely expect you to speak some German. 

If you want to progress any further than short stay or entry visas though, expect to be challenged if you haven’t learned the language at all. For permanent residency in Germany (which means your residence only has to be renewed when your passport expires), a minimum B1 language level is required and must be proven by a certified language school. 

An Aufenthaltstitel – residency permit – for Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

However, you are only eligible for permanent residency when you have spent years in Germany and earned sufficient income in the country, so it is unlikely that you will get to this point with no grasp of the language anyway. 

To take it even further, if you want to pursue German citizenship you will also need a minimum B1 level of proficiency in the language. As a German citizen you will no longer need a visa for Germany at all, and will have an official German passport. 

Depending on where you are going, it might be unwise to move to Germany without having a basic understanding of German. In many cities, officials from the Foreign Office conduct their business exclusively in German, so you will need to at least have some dedicated friends willing to translate for you in meetings with them. You will also struggle to obtain accommodation, use public transport, sort out contracts etc if you have not picked up any German language skills. 

How long will it take for me to get my visa?

For a short stay visa it is likely to take up to ten working days to process, but longer stay visas may take months to process. 

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

How will I know how long my visa is going to take?

Visa application status tracking is not available, and you are not permitted to send questions regarding the status of your application when it is ongoing. You will be given an indication of how long it might take when you submit the relevant documentation, and you will be contacted when a decision has been made. 

Can I get to Germany with a visa issued from another Schengen state?

This depends on what your purpose is in Germany (work, travel, studying etc). You can always get to Germany using a Schengen visa from another country, but this only qualifies you to stay for up to 90 days (which is allowed for tourists from the UK and US already). If you want to work or study in Germany you will have to apply for a visa even if you have a visa issued by another Schengen state already. 

Can I travel to other Schengen states with a German visa?

Yes, if you are travelling for the purpose of tourism.

What do I need in order to apply for my visa?

You need different documentation in order to apply for different types of German visa. For any kind of visa you will need health insurance issued by a licensed insurance provider. For almost every application process, regardless of the visa type, you will need a visa application form, a declaration that you have provided correct and full details for the German authorities to review, passport photos or your physical passport and copies of previous visas. 

You may also need proof of your intended travel (with a return ticket if relevant), proof of accommodation and proof that you have the financial means to travel. Authorities may also ask for a cover letter and proof of civil status.

You will be informed of other required documentation when you begin the application process, but this will vary based on your purpose in applying for the visa. Those applying for a study visa will require proof of enrolment, whilst those who are employed by a German company will require an employment contract, bank statements and tax returns.

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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

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