I recently moved to Germany and was able to get a residence permit that was valid for five years along with permission to work. Contrary to what I heard, the entire process was actually simple- after three months I received the card and the only costs I incurred were the price of the permit, about 30 euros, 80 euros for a translated document, and the cost of buying health insurance (about 280 euros for six months). I was eligible for the residence permit as a citizen from outside the EU because I married an EU citizen who has registered her right to live in Germany.
This guide will cover the process I went through which is essentially the same for foreigners from non-EU countries coming to Germany to live with their spouse who is:
- An EU-member registered to live in Germany
- A German citizen or permanent resident
Note that moving to Germany for either of these two reasons also entitles you to have the right to work and you don’t need to do anything extra for this in your application.
Also note that same-sex marriages conducted in foreign countries are recognized in Germany as legal civil partnerships that also carry the rights of a residence card and work permit. More about this in the comments below (posted July 13, 2015)
There are three basic steps regarding how to get a German residence card or aufenthaltskarte:
- Get to Germany
- Register your name and address with your local municipality (Einwohnermeldeamt)
- Apply for the residence card/aufenthaltskarte
- Notes on required documents
- Terms and Vocabulary
Finally it should be distinguished that there are three different types of residence cards, and this information is for the first listed here, which is valid for five years:
- Aufenthaltskarte Residence Permit: required for non-EU third country nationals, valid for five years, and does not necessarily grant the right to work
- Niederlassungserlaugnis Unlimited Residence Permit: issued after someone has been legally living in Germany for at least five years and can meet certain income and language requirements
- Blue Card EU: this is for workers with specialized skills who want to come to Germany for a job and requires meeting university degree, salary, and career qualifications
Step 1. Getting to Germany
Depending on a person’s circumstances, simply getting to Germany may prove to be the first significant obstacle to overcome. Below are some of the circumstances people may find themselves in.
Visa Requirement: Depending on your nationality you may also need to have a visa to enter Germany. If you are required to have a visa to travel to Germany, this in itself legally acts as a residence permit and you can find more information about applying for these here. The German Federal Foreign Office maintains a comprehensive list of nationalities that do and do not require an entry visa. Some common countries that do not require entry visas include:
- EU/EEA member states
- United States
- South Korea
If you enter Germany and you are not required to have a visa, you must register your name and the address where you are living with the Einwohnermeldeamt (municipal registration office, usually located in the rathaus) within two weeks of your arrival.
Language Requirement: Recent legislation has now mandated a German language requirement for certain people. Even if you have already married abroad, to join your German spouse you now must show that you have a basic level of knowledge of the German language if your spouse has not previously registered his or her right of residence in a different EU country. As a non-EU member spouse, you can prove this language requirement at the Germany embassy or consulate in your home country by completing the first level of a German language course from a well known institute, for example the Start Deutsch 1 course offered by the Goethe Institut. If you cannot reasonably complete a course or do not pass the course after trying for a year then you are exempt from this requirement.
I found this requirement to be particularly funny because it only applies to foreign spouses moving to German citizens who have not lived abroad in another EU country. As a spouse moving to Germany to join your partner, you do not need to meet this language requirement if:
- Either you or your partner is from an EU-member state (excluding Germany) or Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, or Switzerland
- Your spouse is a German citizen who has previously taken advantage of his or her right of movement in Europe
Step 2. Registering with Your Local Municiaplity: Einwohnermeldeamt
According to the official phrasing, if you intend to stay longer than 90 days in Germany you must register at your local municipality’s city hall (rathaus) within two weeks of your arrival in the country. Germans are supposed to do this as well thanks to a law targeting radical militant groups operating in the country in the 1970s, but nowadays many do not register with their municipality to protest the invasion of privacy, and face a fine of 35 euros.
Registering at your local rathaus is simple- you just need to bring your passport and rental contract for the place you are living and that’s it. In my case I could not immediately register as “married” because I found out that to do this I needed to have my marriage certificate translated into German. However I did register as “single” which kept me legal and once I had a translated marriage certificate I re-registered as married. If you can get your marriage certificate translated in time you can bring this with you when you initially register and get everything done in one visit.
And a note on translations: these must be done by a German government-sanctioned translator who will give you an official stamp (just do an internet search and find out if the person or company is a certified translator for official German government documents). I sent mine to a translator by mail, and one week and 80 euros later was holding an official translation in my hand.
Once your registration is complete you will receive an official copy when you leave (this document is called your anmeldebestätigung, or certificate of registration). Note that you have just completed the process of registering with your municipality (einwohnermeldeamt), a step on your way to making an application for a residence permit. On that note, don’t forget to ask if your rathaus has an application for an aufenthaltskarte (residence permit)- they often do.
A few important details about when you register
First, you will be asked what religion you are. If you say that you are a particular religion you will have to pay a 1% income tax to the government each month, who in turn supposedly uses this money to support your religious institution. If you say you are not religious you will not be charged this tax, but in the future if you want to have some sort of religious event (wedding, funeral, baptism, etc) you may run into difficulties finding a place of worship where you can do this.
Second, the GEZ tax. There is a convoluted history about the GEZ tax, which is collected to support broadcasting (like a TV/radio fee), and technically isn’t a tax even though everyone must pay it. Until January 2013 you could avoid paying this if you did not own a TV, radio, or have access to the internet (and you may have needed to avoid volunteer inspectors who would come to your door and try and trick you into revealing a hidden TV). Now to simplify things everyone must pay this.
It comes out to something like 18.50 euros each month, and if you don’t pay it you will be fined a thousand euros or some such (I haven’t heard of this happening since the new system went into action in 2013). The reason this segment is included here is because a private company combs through rathaus civil registrations looking for new people and then reports its findings to a different company affiliated with the state that collects the so-called GEZ tax. So once you register you can expect to start getting letters in the mail requesting you to pay your monthly fee. However one of the rules that came into effect as of 2013 stipulates that the GEZ fee will not accumulate for the months you do not pay it. Anyway you have bigger things to worry about now like getting your residence permit.
And finally, remember that law that says you must register within two weeks of arriving in Germany if you intend to stay longer than 90 days. If you don’t do this you can theoretically be fined 500 euros. However this is obviously ambiguous because of the phrasing, “intend to stay.” Who is to say when you began, “intending to stay,” but if it reassures you, in my case I registered about 50 days after I arrived in Germany and everything was fine.
Step 3. Applying for a Residence Permit / Aufenthaltskarte
Now that you have an anmeldebestätigung (certificate of registration with your local municipality) you can begin to get things in order to submit with your application for a residence permit/aufenthaltskarte. The German Foreign Office considerately offers an application for a residence permit/aufenthaltskarte in several languages:
Once you complete this application you should turn it in along with all your required paperwork to your Landratsamt office, specifically to the Ordnungsamt (regulatory) department. This is the main governmental office for your district or region where you live (not your state) and will probably be located in the nearest bigger city that is in your area. You can always find the location of your landratsamt by asking at your local rathaus. For example, the Landratsamt for Heidelberg is the Rhein-Neckar-Kreis Landratsamt.
This is what you will need to include with your residence permit/aufenthaltskarte:
- Copy of your passport showing your name, picture, and expiration date
- Copy of your health insurance
- Two biometric photos
- Proof of your income or employment, needs to be at least around 700 euros per month and can be in the form of a letter from your employer, bank statements, or adequate savings statements
- Marriage certificate in German
- Your anmeldebestätigung (municipal registration certificate)
- Identification Card
A few days after I mailed all this in I received my federal tax identification number, and then a few weeks later (about three) had my final appointment at the Landratsamt. This part was easy: I showed up, they took my fingerprints, asked me how tall I was, and that was basically it. I received a piece of paper with instructions on submitting about 30 euros to a bank account to pay for my residence permit and three weeks later I got a notice from my local rathaus that I could go there to pick up my residence permit, valid for five years with the authorization for me to work legally in Germany.
Part 4. Notes on Required Items
The required items you need to submit raise some obvious questions, beginning with health insurance. After I submitted my application to the Landratsamt I got a letter about a week later saying I needed to submit some additional things, and the information I learned then will now be included in the following details.
Health Insurance – how much coverage do you need and for how long do you need it?
When I initially mailed in my application I had roughly a month until my current health insurance expired- it was a policy for emergency coverage of up to 55,000 euros, and cost about 35 euros a month (I found it by searching the web). I bought the same policy for the maximum amount of time my company allowed (six months), printed off the actual part of their website that said the maximum future coverage I could buy was six months, and resent this to the landratsamt.
Proof of Income or Employment – In my case I’m self-employed so I printed out my most recent eight months of deposits from my bank account and this worked. I was actually surprised here because I thought there would be a much stricter investigation of my earnings than just a look through my deposit history.
Identification Card – This was another item I was asked to resubmit. At first I sent my home-state’s ID card which I suspected wouldn’t be accepted because it was not issued by my country’s federal government. However I didn’t want to be separated from my passport so when I got a letter asking for this I responded with a letter saying it was the law that I always keep my passport with me. I couldn’t believe this either but that worked and my application proceeded to go through.
Part 5. Terms and Vocabulary
Aufenthaltskarte – Residence Card
Einwohnermeldeamt – Municipal Registration Office, usually located in the rathaus
Rathaus – City Hall
Anmeldebestätigung – Certificate of Registration
Landratsamt – Government office for your district or region (below the state level)
Ordnungsamt – Regulatory Department of the Landratsamt
Please note that I’m just an average person who got a residence permit in Germany. Perhaps I can offer useful suggestions for you if you are in a very similar situation as myself. Otherwise, I really can’t provide you with any better information than what you would find on the BAMF website.
If you have questions about immigrating to Germany that aren’t based on my own situation (and even if you do), please check through the following links and comment directory. Feel free to ask any question, as I hope someone out there who was in a similar situation might be reading and leave you a relevant answer. I’ll periodically organize questions and sort them by category, however I can’t guarantee a response.
Most important of all, I would encourage anyone who asks a question to post back later with details about how their situation turns out. This is where we can all get the most valuable details.
If you have further questions about immigration after reviewing this page please see the Ask a Question page.
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Helpful BAMF Website Links:
- German Residence Act (in English)
- Visa for entering Germany (for countries requiring a visa)
- Entry of spouses for German and EU citizens
- Working in Germany (general)
- Working in Germany (non-EU)
- Family (non-EU) reunification for Germans and EU citizens
- Studying and education in Germany
English speakers living in Germany will also find many helpful suggestions through the website Toytown Germany.
- Converting a five-year residence permit to a permanent residence permit
- What kind of health insurance for a residence permit?
- Residence permit for same-sex marriages performed in other countries
- Residence card revoked for non-EU citizen when EU partner left Germany
- Language requirement for a non-EU citizen married to an EU citizen (non-German) living in Germany
- Question about specific income requirement
- How does Germany monitor who enters/leaves the country? Can EU spouse leave and non-EU spouse remain in Germany?
- Does the residence card for non-EU citizens married to EU citizens allow employment?
- Marriage in Germany or abroad? What are the financial requirements for a residence card?
- Square meter requirement for abode when applying for a residence permit
- Staying in the EU/Schengen Zone longer than 90 days while a residence permit application is processed
- Child (24 years old living in non-EU country) of EU-citizen father (mother and sister both live in Germany with aufenthaltskarte), also eligible for aufenthaltskarte?
- Non-EU citizen applying for residence permit in Germany after EU-spouse (non-German) has left Germany
- Mailing passport to Landratsamt
- Non-EU citizen married to EU-citizen (non-German). Non-EU citizen arriving in Germany on a tourist visa, and the process of getting a residence permit
- Name of my health insurance company
- German citizen planning to marry non-EU citizen in Germany who is on a student visa. Considering student status, financial requirements, and living in different cities
- Insurance requirement for non-EU citizen who is married to EU-citizen
- Non-EU citizen planning to marry German citizen. Marriage in Germany VS marriage abroad? Living in Germany (residence card) after marriage, income requirements
- German tax number, applying for a residence card, and traveling abroad while residence card application is being processed