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EXPLAINED: How I got German citizenship – and how you can too

After Brexit, Brit in Berlin Sarah Magill felt deflated. But she decided to have a go at applying for citizenship. After a lot of hard work and an emotional journey, she got her German passport at the start of this year. Here's her experience and tips.

A naturalization certificate of the Federal Republic of Germany.
A naturalization certificate of the Federal Republic of Germany. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Stephan Jansen

When I woke up to the result of the Brexit referendum on June 24th,  2016, I was incredulous. “This is surely not really going to happen”, I told myself.

I suspect like many other British citizens living in Europe, the possibility of “maybe another referendum” kept me from taking any action to register my residency in Germany during those first few post-referendum years. 

“Just wait and see what happens”, I thought, “surely they will come to a sensible arrangement to protect our rights.” But when Boris Johnson’s government secured a decisive election victory in December 2019, I realised that sensible solutions were off the table.

A British flag flies in front of the famous clock tower Big Ben on June 24, 2016 in London, Britain. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Michael Kappeler

As the deadline for Britain’s exit from the EU at the end of 2020 drew nearer, I started weighing up my options. By then, I’d been living in Berlin for five and a half years, and had no plans to return to the UK. The most straightforward option would have been to get a residence permit, but after checking out the requirements for becoming a German citizen on the government website, I realised I may be in with a chance of becoming German.

The benefits of German Citizenship

For me, one of the most enticing motives to apply for German citizenship was to rejoin the community of European citizens and regain the freedom to travel and work within any other European country. 

The other main attraction was, of course, the non-forfeitable right of residence that comes with Germany citizenship, which would mean I could continue living in Berlin without having to worry about being kicked out of the country or having to reapply for residency if I were to live outside of it for a period longer than six months. 

Other attractive rights that come along with citizenship include the ability to vote in state and federal elections, the possibility of running for political office yourself and access to civil servant status. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

The conditions

Under the previous German government’s rules – which are for now still in place (but are likely to change soon) – you have to have lived continuously in Germany for eight years in order to apply for German citizenship. If you complete an integration course, this can be reduced to seven years, and, in special circumstances, even to six.

At the Volkshochschule (VHS) Karlsruhe, the word Kursteilnehmer is written on a whiteboard in various gender spellings. picture alliance/dpa | Uli Deck

Having a Masters Degree from a German University meant that I was able to reduce the eight-year barrier to just six when I applied for my citizenship. But the language threshold was higher. Those who have lived in Germany for eight years have to have a B1 language level, but, having lived in the country for less than eight years, I needed a certificate of B2 level German. 

When I’d decided that I fulfilled the most important prerequisites for the citizenship application (including no criminal record, independent means of subsistence without social assistance) I made an appointment in June 2020 with my local Einbürgerungsamt (naturalisation office) for my first appointment to get advice on how to become a German citizen.

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

The first appointment

I don’t know what it is about German Bürgerämte (local authority offices), but I always seem to have a feeling of apprehension when entering those buildings. It was no different when I went to my local Einbürgerungsamt in east Berlin for the first time and I suddenly felt sure that my plan to apply for citizenship would be immediately dismissed. 

But when I was ushered into a 70s-style, DDR office – exploding with paperwork – with my responsible Beamter (civil servant), I found myself more at ease in the slightly chaotic surroundings.

I told my advisor that I was not sure if I could apply, as there were still a few months to go before I had officially been living in Germany for six years. He brushed this aside and urged me in no uncertain terms to get my skates on and start gathering the documents I would need for a citizenship application.

A British and a German passport. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Britta Pedersen

If I wanted to keep my British passport, my application would have to be in process by December 31st, 2020, otherwise I would have to forfeit my British citizenship in order to gain the German one.

“Just get all the documents together as quickly as you can – ideally before the end of the year” he told me “and the Senate will decide whether to grant your application”. He gave me a printed out list of all of the requirements, marked up the parts that were relevant for me at lightning speed – it seemed he’d done this a thousand times before. 

The (surprisingly reasonable) process

Applying for citizenship in a country which is renowned for its love of bureaucracy meant that I was under no illusions that the process would involve a hefty amount of paperwork. But I was relieved to find out that the cost for the application process itself was a reasonable fee of €255 (and still is), and that the documents required were all relatively easy to acquire. 

The list of documents I had to provide was: proof of continual residency in Germany over the previous six years – which in my case took the form of social security payments, proof of earnings, working contract, home rental contract, tax declarations, as well as translated copies of my birth and degree certificates. Oh, and a certificate (either from TELC or the Goethe Institut) proving I had passed the Einbürgerungstest  (naturalisation test) and proof of B2 level German proficiency. 

With the help of the national database of approved translators  I was able to find a local and low-priced translator, who quickly Germanised my documents and gave them the official stamp they needed. 

A long wait for test results

The trickiest part of the Einbürgerungsverfahren (naturalisation process) for me was organising the two tests because both came with official waiting times for results of up to three months. 

As the fastest available language test cost €170, I decided it was worth aiming for a higher level certificate, which would at least also be useful for my professional life. I got myself a C1 language test book and spent a few weeks swatting up on grammar and practising for the most daunting part of the test – the 90 minute writing exam. At the end of August, I sat a three-and-a-half-hour long C1 TELC exam and waited on tenterhooks until mid-October before I finally got the result. 

For the naturalisation test, I had to find an appointment at a Volkshochschule, via their website. The test is composed of 33 questions (in German) on a range of topics from German history, politics and the constitution, and you have to get at least 17 correct answers to pass.

Borrowing a book with all of the 310 possible questions from my local library, I found that most were fairly straightforward and often just required some common sense. But it was definitely important to have read all the questions at least once before sitting the exam and I was also able to test myself on the government question database.

Sarah outside the local naturalisation office with her citizenship certificate. 

The final stretch

By late November 2020, I was hugely relieved to have positive results for both of my tests and forwarded the certificates on to my caseworker by early December and two weeks later I got a confirmation email to tell me that my application had been completed and passed on to the Senate. I had done everything required of me, I just had to wait for the decision. 

Then, on January 22nd, 2021, I got my official Einladung zur Einbürgerung (invitation to naturalisation) through the post. Now all I had to do was go and collect my official certificate of German citizenship. 

In “normal” times, this would involve a ceremony at the local Rathaus and shaking hands with local dignitaries. But, as this was in the middle of the Covid lockdown, I collected my certificate from the messy office where it all started. 

But, as I sat at the desk making my solemn declaration of intention to uphold the laws of Germany, I didn’t care.  I was delighted, relieved, and surprisingly emotional to be officially welcomed as a German citizen.

Member comments

  1. I had a broadly similar experience in Weimar.
    The official in the Einbürgerungsamt was friendly, patient and helpful and the process itself was not too bureaucratic.
    The ceremony in the Rathaus was strangely moving and I was surprised to feel quite proud afterwards.
    It had the same attraction for me – of being able to keep my British citizenship too.

  2. Congratulations on passing the C1 exam! Really well done.
    I have the B2 at the moment, but the prospect of stepping up to C1 is just totally daunting… even after nearly two years of lockdown, during which I should have had tons of free time. Maybe this year 😉

  3. Sadly now the option of keeping British as well as German citizenship is currently not open to Brits.

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RESIDENCY PERMITS

How Germany is trying to streamline the process of getting an ID card

For many people in Germany, getting new official documents requires two appointments - one to apply for the document, and one to pick it up. But there are plans to change that.

How Germany is trying to streamline the process of getting an ID card

According to the Interior Ministry, Germany’s federal printing office (the Bundesdruckerei) is examining whether it could send any new ID documents directly to people as soon as they are printed, meaning that residents won’t have to pick them up. 

A spokeswoman for the ministry told DPA that the government department had asked the Bundesdruckerei to investigate whether posting the documents would be workable, and to submit a price estimate for the scheme. 

Though some states do send ID cards in the post, most German residents face a second trip to the Bürgeramt (citizens office) or Ausländerbehörde (immigration office) to pick up their new ID. There have been calls to speed up the system for some time. 

READ ALSO: What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

If new identity documents were sent directly by the Bundesdruckerei, there would be no need for people to collect them from the relevant office. This could be a relief for both residents and local authorities.

The Association of Towns and Cities of North Rhine-Westphalia welcomed the news and urged the government to move quickly in changing the system.

At present, the Federal Ministry of the Interior hasn’t specified when the change could come into force. It is also unclear whether it would also affect things like driving licences. 

The spokesperson said the public would be updated as soon as the proposals for the scheme were available and a timetable for implementation had been drawn up.

German states are responsible for local passport and identity card authorities and would also need to be informed about a possible new system.

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