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German citizenship For Members

CHECKLIST: What do I need to apply for German citizenship under the new law?

Aaron Burnett
Aaron Burnett - [email protected]
CHECKLIST: What do I need to apply for German citizenship under the new law?
A newly naturalised German citizen holds their citizenship certification in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

Now that Germany allows dual citizenship, many long-time residents are thinking about naturalising as German while keeping their current passport. What documents do people need to apply?

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Germany's new citizenship law came into force on Thursday June 27th 2024. 

Some people - especially those in places like Berlin, Munich and Cologne which have long waiting times for citizenship applications – may have already started the process to apply. 

READ ALSO: Foreigners in Berlin furious over German citizenship delays

Others have been waiting until the new law is in effect. New requirements include having lived in Germany for five years (rather than the previous eight years) and even for three years in cases of special integration achievements and fluent German. 

If you're considering applying, here are the requirements you can check and documents you can pull together using our citizenship checklist here.

The new law has both a standard track and a fast track to citizenship by naturalisation. All these items apply to both standard and fast track. If an item applies to fast track only, we mention it specifically.

READ ALSO: German parliament passes landmark dual citizenship reform

Your German Citizenship Checklist:

  • Legal Residency Period
  • Sufficient German Language Skills
  • Passing the German Citizenship Test
  • Ability to Support Oneself
  • Record Clear of Serious Criminal Convictions and Hate Crimes
  • Forms, Documents, and the Fee

Bundestag debating chamber

The German Bundestag passed a landmark citizenship reform bill on January 19th, 2024. However, it still must pass the country's upper chamber and is expected to go into effect only from spring 2024. (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

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Item One: Legal Residency Period

Under the new law, you will need to have been legally resident in Germany for at least five years. This is down from eight years, with legal residence referring to having lived in Germany on a valid residence permit. Note that people who have been in Germany on different residence permits in that time – for example on an EU Blue Card for two years and then permanent residence for three years – would be eligible to apply for German citizenship.

KEY POINTS: What you need to know about Germany's citizenship law reform

Aufenthaltstitel

A German residence permit or 'Aufenthaltstitel'. You'll need to show at least five years in residence under the new law before you can apply for German citizenship. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

The five-year rule will also apply to children born in Germany to foreign parents. Those children will be eligible for citizenship by being born in Germany – provided at least one of their parents has been legally resident here for at least five years.

Meanwhile, spouses of German citizens who have lived in Germany for at least three years are already eligible for naturalisation – and this remains the same under the new law – provided they fulfil all the other requirements.

Under the new law, especially well-integrated applicants may be able to naturalise after three years of legal residence, rather than the six years required under the current fast track system. But they’ll need to fulfil a few extra conditions, which we explain further in this checklist.

You can prove your residency information with copies of your registration (Anmeldung), residence permit, and other similar documents.

READ ALSO: 'I'll be proud to finally become German': Foreigners react as dual citizenship law passes

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Item Two: Sufficient German Language Skills

You’re going to need to demonstrate at least a B1 level of knowledge in German to be able to qualify for citizenship.

This is the third of six possible levels and those who complete B1 are typically classified as intermediate speakers who would be able to independently use the language. This means a B1 speaker would typically be able to handle aspects of their daily life – from making and keeping their appointments, to dealing with the authorities, to managing fluent conversations in their areas of interest without the aid of a translator.

B1 speakers aren’t generally expected though, to have advanced enough German knowledge where they could attend university courses or understand complex political debate without help – though they should be able to read some German newspapers – particularly tabloids that tend to favour simpler language.

READ ALSO: How long does it take for your German to be good enough for permanent residency and citizenship?

To certify your knowledge, you’re going to need to pass an accredited exam of at least B1 level. You can generally take these exams at a Volkshochschule or at an accredited language school – often for a fee. You can, however, book and pass this test even before you become eligible – allowing you to apply the day you hit five years if you want to.

A written test is part of the B1 language exam, required for German citizenship on the standard track. (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)

People going through the fast-track process will need to pass the much more advanced C1 language exam – the second-highest possible level and one requiring much more academic vocabulary. In addition to passing C1, they’ll need to demonstrate extraordinary professional, volunteer, artistic, or other achievements proving their record of integration and service in Germany.

To prove all this language knowledge, prepare an official copy of your test results. Some people aged 67 and older - such as those from the 'guest worker' generation who naturalise under the new law will be able to do so without a language or citizenship test – provided they can communicate with the authorities orally without a translator. 

In a previous draft of the law, all over-67s were also exempted from taking a formal B1 test. But government sources say that there will be no specific carve-outs that apply to everyone over a certain age.

READ ALSO:

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Item Three: Passing the German Citizenship Test

In addition to your language test, you’ll need to make an appointment for – and pass – the German citizenship test. Similar to the language test, you can do this before you hit your five years – so you can theoretically apply the day you become eligible.

The test consists of 33 questions about life in Germany and can cover themes ranging from German politics to history, art and more.

30 of the questions are general for all of Germany and the remaining three are generally specific to the German state you live and are applying in. You’ll need to answer at least 17 of them correctly to pass.

READ ALSO: What I was asked about in my German citizenship test

Citizenship test

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

If you do pass, you should get an official document noting your results to include with your citizenship application.

Some groups, such as those from the guest worker generation, don't have to supply this test result under the new law.

TEST: Could you pass the German citizenship exam?

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Item Four: Ability to Support Oneself

Under the new law, you need to prove that you’ve not collected unemployment benefits and have supported yourself for at least 20 months out of the previous 24 before you apply.

Although the authority you apply to may check and verify this themselves using your tax ID number, collecting tax returns, or documentation from your health and social insurer can’t hurt.

If you’re a freelancer, you’ll probably need to head to a professional tax consultant who can issue a proof of income document your caseworker will accept, with the cost of this ranging into the hundreds of euros.

If you own your own home rather than renting it, you may need to get a Grundbuchauszug – or a land registry document proving that you own the property. This is usually between €10 and €20 though.

Reader Question: Can I still get German citizenship after claiming benefits?

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Item Five: Record Clear of Serious Criminal Convictions and Hate Crimes

Under both the old and the new law, you need to not have a criminal record in Germany – or indeed another country – of a criminal offence that would normally carry a prison sentence of at least 90 days, in order to naturalise as German.

The most serious of offences would permanently bar someone from taking German citizenship. Some lesser ones though, will no longer count after a certain period of time has passed since the end of the sentence – typically at least 10 years.

READ ALSO: Which criminal convictions could get you barred from German citizenship?

The German authorities will check the German criminal register themselves for your name – but they may also check foreign ones. If you lie about previous criminal offences, you may end up being permanently barred from citizenship. They will also check for extremist activity.

A German police car in May 2023. German criminal registries record convictions for at least ten years - and longer for more serious crimes. As long as someone is in the registry for a crime carrying a sentence of longer than 90 days - they generally can't naturalise as German. Photo: Thomas KIENZLE/AFP.

The new law in particular takes a hard line against anti-Semitism and other hate crimes – and requires applicants to swear to uphold the principles of the German Basic Law – including equality between men and women. Anyone who doesn’t make this declaration or who is found to have committed certain hate crimes can be permanently barred from taking German citizenship.

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Item Six: Forms, Documents, and the Fee

Other than the registration, residency permits, financial documents, and test results already mentioned, you’ll need a few other documents.

Most notably, you’ll need to fill out your application form and may need to supply another valid form of identification alongside your residence permit – such as your existing passport. You’ll need a valid passport photo. You’ll also need to provide certified copies and potentially translations of your birth certificate and marriage certificate, if applicable.

Be sure to check with the local authority of where you’re naturalising, as they may have their own requirements covering how you send them documents.

Finally, the standard fee to apply for naturalisation as a German citizen is €255, with an additional €51 for each dependent child.

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Comments (3)

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Peter 2024/06/27 22:29
I have permanent residence after being in Germany for 8+ years, but returned to the UK for 23 months. Having returned to live in Germany, how long must I now wait to apply for German citizenship?
Richard 2024/02/04 00:53
Since the language requirement is waived for those over 67 years old, does that mean they cannot qualify for the accelerated path (3 years residency) to citizenship claiming that exemption? Or to put it in different terms, the language exemption is only possible for the 67 year olds + with 5 years residency and not for those with 3 years residency?
rcr1994 2024/01/22 21:21
Thank you

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