For members


When is my child entitled to German citizenship?

Depending on citizenship of the parents and the place of birth, different rules apply for children who want to be German citizens.

When is my child entitled to German citizenship?
Melisa shows the booklet with her naturalisation certificate at Neukölln town hall in Berlin in April 2016. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

Many parents, especially those who are not German citizens themselves, may be wondering under what circumstances their child can acquire German citizenship. In this article, we look at the main ways for a child to become a German citizen, and what steps need to be taken.

Citizenship acquired from German parents

According to the so-called ‘descent principle’, a child becomes a German citizen at birth if their mother or father – or both – are German citizens.

If the parents are married, and if one or both of the parents are German citizens, then the child automatically gains German citizenship.

If only the father has German citizenship and is not married to the mother, then an acknowledgement of paternity is required.

READ ALSO: Berlin government wants to speed up German citizenship process

This can be obtained from the local youth welfare office or registry office before or after the birth, for a fee of €40. An overview of the application requirements can be found here. details here.

This application must be completed at the latest before the child reaches the age of 23.

A father holds the hand of a baby boy just a few days old. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

In many cases, a child of parents with different countries of origin will be registered at birth according to the foreign nationality of the other parent and will therefore have multiple nationalities.

Unlike with other routes to becoming a German citizen, a child who gains their German citizenship through descent may permanently hold dual nationality under current rules. 

Children of German parents born abroad

Children who are born abroad, whose German parent was also born abroad after December 31st, 1999, may only acquire German citizenship if their birth is entered in a German register of births within one year. If the German parent was born before December 31st, 1999 and/or within the territory of Germany, the automatic acquisition of German nationality by descent does not change.

Citizenship through adoption

An adopted child can acquire German citizenship if one of the parents is a German national at the time the adoption, if the adoption is legally effective under German law, and if the adopted child is not yet 18 years old at the time of the adoption application.

Citizenship after being born in Germany

The principle of place of birth has applied in Germany since January 1st, 2000. According to this principle, even if neither parent has German nationality, a child born in Germany can become a German citizen, as long as certain conditions are met by either the father or mother.

At the time of the child’s birth, at least one parent must have been resident in Germany for at least eight years, and have an unlimited right of residence or a residence permit. (These rules are likely to be liberalised under the current government, however, so watch this space.) 

An unlimited right of residence is held by, for example: people with a settlement permit or a permanent residence EC permit, EU citizens who are entitled to freedom of movement, nationals of Iceland, Liechtenstein or Norway who have the same status as citizens of the Union, and Turkish workers and their family members who have a right of residence on the basis of the European Union’s right of association with Turkey.

Four-year-old Fenja from Ilmenau had the flags of Italy and Germany painted on her face ahead of the European Championship semi-final in 2012. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Michael Reichel

Unlike for children who gain their citizenship from a German parent, however, those who acquire their German status from the place of birth principle currently have to choose which citizenship status to keep before they reach the age of 23, under an ‘option obligation’. 

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

This means that, when the child turns 18, they receive a letter from the authorities asking them to choose which citizenship they intend to keep and informing them of the steps they need to take to make this declaration. If they do not make any declaration before their 23rd birthday, they lose their German citizenship.

But – and this is a big “but” – the current traffic-light coalition has promised to allow the holding of multiple nationalities, with the new law potentially coming in as soon as this year. That would mean that children will no longer have to choose between two or more passports. 

Until the rules change, there are also a number of exemptions to the rules, including those who are dual nationals of Germany and another EU member state or Switzerland, and for those whose other state of origin doesn’t allow them to renounce their citizenship without difficult or unreasonable conditions. The states that currently do not in enable release of citizenship are Afghanistan, Algeria, Eritrea, Iran, Cuba, Lebanon, Morocco, Cuba, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia.

Citizenship through naturalisation

For children without a German parent or who were not born in Germany, there remains the option of naturalisation.

From the age of 16, children are able to make their own application for German citizenship. Before this age, however, the application must be undertaken by their parent or legal guardian.

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

For children under the age of 18 without their own income, who are undergoing the application process along with their parents, the application cost only €51. If only the child is applying for citizenship, however, the full fee of €255 will apply.

For children under the age of 16, co-naturalisation is normally possible after three years of living in Germany. The German language requirement can also be simplified for children.

Useful Vocabulary

Place of birth principle – (das) Geburtsortsprinzip

Acknowledgement of paternity – (die) Vaterschaftsanerkennung

Youth welfare office – (das) Jugendamt

Registry office – (das) Standesamt

Option obligation – (die) Optionspflicht 

Member comments

  1. As far as I understand it, the “option obligation” mentioned in the article was lifted in 2014.
    “According to the new law, persons born in Germany to foreign parents and who have lived in Germany for at least eight years by the time of their 21st birthday, who have attended six years of school in Germany, or who completed schooling or occupational training in Germany will be able to keep both their German citizenship and that of their parents.”

  2. As far as I understand it, the “option obligation” mentioned in the article was lifted in 2014

    “According to the new law, persons born in Germany to foreign parents and who have lived in Germany for at least eight years by the time of their 21st birthday, who have attended six years of school in Germany, or who completed schooling or occupational training in Germany will be able to keep both their German citizenship and that of their parents.”

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For members


What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Third-country nationals with the right to live and work in Germany are generally issued a residence permit in their passport or in the form of an ID card. But what do you if you happen to lose this vital document - or if it gets stolen? Here's a step-by-step guide.

What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Losing an important document can be a nightmare scenario for foreigners in Germany – especially if it’s the one you rely on to live and work in the country. So if you search for your residence permit one day and suddenly realise it’s missing, you may feel the urge to panic. 

Luckily, there’s a process to follow to get a replacement and ensure nobody else can misuse your residence permit in the meantime. This being Germany, it may take a little time, but rest assured you will be able to replace the document. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Different types of permit

If you’re a non-EU national in Germany, you’re likely to have one of two documents proving your rights and status in the country: 

  • a residence permit that’s placed on a page in your passport (Zusatzblatt zum Aufenthaltstitel), or
  • an electronic ID, or eID, card (electronischer Aufenthaltstitel) for permanent residents. 

Some third-country nationals who’ve been in Germany for less than five years on a visa will have their residence permit in their passport, while others will have been issued an eID card. Permanent residents will generally have an eID card. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to prove you’re a resident in Germany

Brits who lived in Germany before the Brexit cut-off date are likely to have a special type of electronic ID card known as an Aufenthaltstitel-GB. This looks pretty similar to a permanent residence card and basically signifies that the holder is entitled to the same rights as EU citizens living in Germany. 

You’ll need to do things slightly differently depending on which type of residence permit you have, so we’ll cover each in turn. 

In either case, if you suspect you’ve been a victim of theft, it’s a good idea to file a police report so they can be on the lookout for any potential fraud. 

What to do you if you lose your electronic ID card

1. Call the cancellation hotline 

If you’ve mislaid your eID card or it’s been stolen, the first thing to do is call up a national hotline on 01801 33 33 33 and put a block on the card.

To do this, you’ll need to have your Sperrkennwort (blocking passport) handy. The way you’ll have received this can differ from state to state, but usually it is sent out in a letter along with the PIN and PUK for your electronic ID card around the time that the eID was issued. 

This will block anyone from using your eID function. If you find your card again, you can unblock it by visiting the Ausländerbehörde. 

If you haven’t activated the eID function or happen to have mislaid your blocking password as well, then move straight to the second step below. 

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s electronic ID card and how do you use it?

2. Get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office)

Once you’ve put a block on your card, you’ll need to get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde to let them know what’s happened and arrange a replacement card.

You can do this via email or telephone but may also have to book an in-person appointment if they need to see certain documents for issuing the replacement. If you need to block the eID function and don’t have your Sperrkennwort, you’ll need to take your passport to the Ausländerbehörde to do this.

Bear in mind that you won’t get your new ID card straight away. Depending on the state, it can take a up to three months to be issued. You’ll also need to pay a fee for the replacement card, which can vary from state to state and is normally paid with cash or EC card at the Ausländerbehörde. 

Also, once an order for a new card has been sent off, you’ll no longer be able to reactivate your old card should you find it again. 

Ausländerbehörde Berlin

People go in and out of the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / Kay Nietfeld/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

What to do if you lose your passport and visa 

1. Order a new passport 

It probably goes without saying, but if you lose your passport with your residence permit in it, the first thing you’ll need to do is get hold of a new passport. This should be done via the government of your home country. 

2. Book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you’ve got your new passport, make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde to get a replacement printed out. If you’re unsure what documentation to bring with you to the appointment, check on their website or send them an email beforehand.

Once again, you’ll need to pay a fee for the replacement, which is normally done on-site with cash or an EC card. 

What if I’m travelling out of the country soon? 

If you’re leaving Germany and don’t have time to get a replacement eID card or residence permit, contact the Ausländerbehörde straight away. They should be able to assist you with emergency proof of residence, which is normally done in the form of a Fiktionsbescheinigung (a certificate confirming your status and rights before the official proof has been issued).

Obviously, if you’ve lost your passport, your first port of call will be your home country’s embassy, who can normally issue emergency travel documents within a matter of days. 

For Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, bringing other proof of residence in Germany such as your registration (Anmeldung) with you or a work contract should suffice to avoid getting a stamp in your passport when you re-enter. But even if you do, it won’t affect your rights.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no hard borders in Schengen, so if you’re travelling around the EU, you’ll generally be fine without your visa. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?