German citizenship For Members

The vocabulary you need to understand the German citizenship process

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
The vocabulary you need to understand the German citizenship process
A German passport on a desk in the home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Applying for citizenship in Germany can be a lengthy and daunting process - and understanding the lingo is like learning a new language in itself. These are the top words and phrases you're likely to hear along the way.


If you've lived in Germany a while and plan to live here for the foreseeable future, you may be considering applying for German citizenship.

Having a German passport offers numerous benefits, from being able to live in the country permanently to being able to vote in German elections - but for many, the process of getting hold of that coveted document can feel like an overwhelming prospect. 

If you're feeling a bit stuck, the good news is that applying for German citizenship isn't as complicated as it may first appear. Once you wrap your head around the bureaucratic lingo, you'll be well on your way to sending off that all-important application and - eventually - becoming a naturalised German. 


OK, if you're applying for citizenship you probably already know this word, but it's an essential one to have up your sleeve if you want to become German. Die Einbürgerung basically means "naturalisation" and it describes the process of becoming a German citizen (or Bürger) after a period of residence in the country.

If you want to get the ball rolling on a citizenship application, your first port of call will be your local Einbürgerungsbehörde (citizenship office), who will give you an appointment for an Erstgespräch (initial consultation) and then send you the application forms. 



Die Staatsangehörigkeit is your nationality, which you'll be asked about when you apply for citizenship. Currently, most non-EU nationals have to give up their existing passport when they apply for German citizenship - though this is due to change under the government's new Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz, or Nationality Law. 

Mehrstaatigkeit / Doppelte Staatsbürgerschaft 

The traffic-light coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) thrilled foreigners in the country when they inserted a line in their coalition agreement stating that they were planning to permit Mehrstaatigkeit: the holding of multiple nationalities.

To make things simpler, this is often referred to as doppelte Staatsbürgerschaft - or dual nationality - but in theory you can actually hold as many passports as you like after the new law comes into force. 

READ ALSO: Who qualifies for German citizenship under the new draft law?

A British and a German passport.

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


Here's where things get a little bit technical: if you do want to apply for citizenship, the law states that you will have to fulfil a certain number of Voraussetzungen, or conditions. These include things like a certain period of residence in the country, a valid immigration status, knowledge of German and the German way of life, and having a clean criminal record. 


If you've been granted a German Aufenthaltstitel (residence permit), this one is likely to be familiar to you. Der Aufenthalt refers to your residence in Germany - and you'll need to prove a certain number of years of it if you want to be eligible for citizenship. Under current rules, that's eight for most people, or six if you can prove special integration, but this is set to be reduced to five and three respectively under the new law. 

Of course, if you want to be eligible for citizenship you won't just have to prove that you've lived here, but also that you've lived here legally. In other words, that you have some kind of Aufenthaltsrecht (right of residence) in the country. 



Another key condition of getting German citizenship is proving your Deutsche Sprachkenntnisse - or knowledge of German. For most people, that involves getting a B1 certificate, though higher levels of German can shorten your waiting time. Under the new law, people over the age of 67 will be exempt from this requirement. 

READ ALSO: What we know so far about Germany's plans to shake up fast-track citizenship

Einen Antrag stellen 

You're not likely to naturalise as a German if you don't do this: einen Antrag stellen basically means submitting an application, and it's a key part of the process.



The documents you'll need to submit to the Einbürgerungsbehörde will depend on your life situation, but pretty much everyone will need to submit one of these. Der Geburtsurkunde is your birth certificate, and if it's in a foreign language it will probably need to be translated into German.


One of the main criterion for getting your German citizenship is demonstrating a basic knowledge of German politics, history and way of life. You'll likely have to prove this by taking an Einbürgerungstest - or citizenship test - which asks you 34 questions on these topics, including a handful on the federal state where you live. 

A woman holds German citizenship test.

A woman holds German citizenship test. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler


If you're preparing for your Einbürgerungstest, you'll probably be hearing a fair amount about this. Das Grundgesetz is Germany's Basic Law, or constitution, which sets out the foundation for Germany's democratic system and also the fundamental rights of its citizens. 

Sicherung des Lebensunterhalts

One major benefit of becoming German is being able to rely on the welfare state, for example by claiming long-term jobseekers' allowance - but Germany would rather you didn't. For that reason, you'll have to prove that you can provide financially for you and your family without relying on the state, which is known as the "eigenständige Sicherung des Lebensunterhalts". In most cases, a work contract and confirmation of your living costs will suffice. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I still get German citizenship after claiming benefits?



If you've lived in Germany a while, you'll know that insurance is held in very high esteem - and the authorities will want to see that you've taken that on board before you become a naturalised German. In other words, you'll likely need health insurance, care insurance, insurance against long-term illness, and pension insurance. (The first three are generally included in your statutory health insurance.)

For your pension, you'll probably need to get hold of the Versicherungsverlauf, which is a confirmation of all your contributions so far. If you haven't got too many, don't worry too much: this is generally discretionary and there's a lot of debate over whether freelancers require it at all. 

Nachweis über...

This is likely to come up a lot when you get sent a checklist of documents to provide. Nachweis über simply means "proof of" and could refer to anything you need to prove, from your current rent to your current salary or level of German.

Health insurance cards from statutory insurer AOK.

Health insurance cards from statutory insurer AOK. German health insurance will pay your medical bills, including sick pay for up to 78 weeks. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand


One of the final hurdles you'll face in the citizenship application process is a criminal background check, where the authorities will try to find out if you've committed any crimes that would bar you from become German. Ideally, you'll want to show complete "Straffreiheit": a clean criminal record showing with no prosecutions for any crimes. 


Nothing in life is free - and that unfortunately includes applying for German citizenship. At present, the Gebühren - or fees - are set at €255 per person and you will need to pay it when you submit your application. 


It may sound unbelievable to people who've heard the horror stories of three-year waiting times for citizenship, but the authorities in Germany are legally required to process your application in a reasonable amount of time. If they don't - and if you're waiting longer than six months - you may be able to file what's known as an Untätigkeitsklage, or legal action for inactivity. This is one way people use to try and speed up the process - though unfortunately this isn't always guaranteed. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to speed up your German citizenship application



If you have to give up your previous citizenship in order to obtain a German passport, you should receive an Einbürgerungszusicherung from the authorities beforehand. This is a document assuring you of your right to German citizenship, provided you renounce your current one. 


At the end of this arduous process, this is the document you've been waiting for: the Einbürgerungsurkunde is your certificate of naturalisation, which in future will be handed out in a special ceremony alongside your fellow new Germans. 

German citizenship certificate

A newly naturalised German citizen holds their citizenship certification in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

Deutsche Reisepass

Once you have your Einbürgerungsurkunde, the world is your oyster - or at least, the 150 or so countries you can visit visa-free with your German passport.

Be aware that you may get offered a choice between a Deutscher Reisepass (German passport) and Deutscher Personalausweis (German ID card) once you're naturalised - but you are technically entitled to both. 



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