For members


How to get fast-track permanent residency rights in Germany

Most people have to wait at least five years to obtain permanent residence in Germany, but did you know that there are also a number of exceptions that could allow you to cut this waiting time by a year or more?

How to get fast-track permanent residency rights in Germany
A German residence permit or 'Aufenthaltstitel'. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

What is permanent residency and who needs it?

Otherwise known as a settlement permit, permanent residence is pretty much what the name suggests: an unrestricted right of residence in Germany. Unlike a specific visa, there’s no expiry date on a settlement permit, and no requirement for you to fulfil conditions such as being employed, studying or being in self-employment. Ultimately, it’s hugely beneficial for people who want to stay in Germany long-term to get permanent residency.

Once you do, you can say goodbye to lengthy queues at the Foreigner’s Office, fears about not meeting the requirements for your visa to be renewed, and general insecurity around your residence rights.

Permanent residency can be a good alternative for people who can’t get German citizenship. In fact, there are a lot of parallels between the two, like the fact that you can claim benefits, live in Germany for an unlimited time, and aren’t restricted to just doing one thing like you would be on a student, freelance or working visa. There are also some important differences, though. These include freedom of movement throughout the EU, the right to vote and the right to return to Germany to live even if you have lived abroad for many years. 

Citizens of another EU country don’t need to get permanent residency as they have already got an unrestricted right to live and work in Germany. However, they may choose to get German citizenship in order to gain the right to vote. 

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

How long does it take to get permanent residency and what are the requirements?

In most cases, people can apply for permanent residency after living in Germany on a residence permit for five years. They will generally need to show a good level of German as well as five years of pension contributions and a stable income. 

What options are there to get permanent residency faster?

If you’re not keen to wait half a decade for your permanent residency, the good news is that there are some key exceptions that will allow you to secure a settlement permit much more quickly. Here’s a quick overview.

Complete a degree or vocational training

A lot of people aren’t aware that studying at a German university or completing vocational training in Germany may entitle them to fast-tracked permanent residency. If you’ve just done a two-year MA course or trained as a plumber, for example, and then get a job that suits your level of qualification, you can apply for a settlement permit after just two years in this job.

Assuming you start your course straight after arriving in Germany and manage to find skilled work as soon as you graduate, you could snap up your new permit within four years of moving to Germany rather than five. You will, however, need to have attained at least B1-level German. 

READ ALSO: Germany must remove hurdles for foreign skilled workers, says minister

Be a skilled worker

If you are well-qualified and hold a job as a skilled worker (i.e. in a profession that requires academic or vocational training), then you can apply for residence after just four years. You will, however, need to have paid pension and health insurance contributions for this entire time and have an intermediate (B1) level of German. 

Prove that you are a ‘successful’ business owner

Another popular route to fast-tracked residency is to earn above a certain threshold as a self-employed business owner.

The definition of ‘successful’ is not particularly well-defined, but essentially you will have to prove that the income from your business is sufficient to take care of you and your family. You will also have to have paid into a pension pot or show that you have around €200,000 in assets that will enable you to look after yourself in your old age. As always, health insurance is also a must, though language skills are not required. 

If you meet all these conditions, you may be entitled to a permanent residency permit after only three years. 

Woman working on laptop

A woman works on her laptop at home. Successful small business owners can take advantage of a quicker route to permanent residence. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Finn Winkler

Have a German family member

This one tends not to be a choice – unless, of course, you marry someone – but having a German family member is an easy way to fast-track your permanent residence. As usual, you’ll need have what’s known as ‘sufficient’ level of German (B1) and will need to live as a family unit in Germany for at least three years. 

Get an EU Blue Card

If you’re lucky enough to have some highly sought-after skills like engineering or tech, you can come to Europe on a Blue Card and receive a whole host of benefits. In fact, if you’ve got B1 German and are in employment, you can gain a settlement permit in just 21 months.

Not quite there yet? No problem. Blue-card holders with a basic level of German can attain their permanent residence title after just 33 months in the country, provided they’ve been employed and paid pension contributions the entire time. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The 2022 salary requirements for Germany’s EU Blue Card

Become a civil servant 

If you’re a foreigner working on a life-long tenure for a public-service employer in Germany, you can apply for your settlement permit after just three years. The need to show 60 months of pension contributions is also waived. 

However, there is a slight issue with this, as many public service jobs are restricted to EU citizens only, making it harder for third-country nationals to enter these professions. 

Doesn’t the new traffic-light government plan to shake up immigration rights? 

Indeed it does. One of the key promises of the new government’s coalition agreement is to allow foreigners to get hold of a settlement permit after just three years. Though details are a bit thin on the ground, presumably this would be conditional on 36 months of pension and health insurance contributions as well as legal residence in the country. Once again, B1 is likely to be the standard of German required.

German citizenship

An immigrant from India receives her German citizenship. The new government is removing barriers to attaining permanent residency and citizenship in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / Fabian Sommer/dpa | Fabian Sommer

What’s unclear at the moment is when this new regulation will come in, and if there will still be ways to shorten the wait to less than three years in exceptional circumstances such as the ones mentioned above.

Another thing to consider is that the waiting time to apply for citizenship will (probably at the same time) be shorted to just five years – or three if a person can prove they are well integrated. 

So if you’ve been here for three years and speak good German, you may be keen to skip permanent residence and opt for citizenship instead. Since the traffic light coalition also plans to make dual nationality possible, most people won’t have anything to lose. 


Member comments

  1. Contrary to what the article states,, there IS an expiry date on the Permanent Residence card – it is tied to the expiry date on your Passport.

    When your Passport expires, you have to get both a new Passport from your home government, and a new Residence card. This involves a trip to the Ausländerbehörde (after you have received your new Passport) and the typical 6-week wait to receive the new card.

    So – you need to keep track of the expiry date of your Passport, and proactively contact your ABH to get a new card.

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For members


EXPLAINED: How German citizenship differs from permanent residency

If you're planning on staying in Germany for the foreseeable future, you'll probably want to secure your rights by applying for permanent residency or even German citizenship. But what's the difference between the two and are you eligible? We take a look.

A woman fills in the German citizenship test
An applicant for German citizenship fills in her Citizenship Test. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa | Uli Deck

If you move to Germany from a non-EU country, you’ll generally need to apply for a residence permit of some kind. These are often granted for a period of two to three years for purposes such as work or study, and need to be reapplied for once they’re due to expire. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about getting a visa for Germany

For people who plan to settle in the country, however, there are two other options that can help you secure your residence rights over the long term: permanent residency and German citizenship. To apply for these, you’ll generally need to have spent a prolonged period of time in Germany already and show that you’ve integrated well.

Here are the two main options available for foreigners who want to settle in Germany – and what you’ll need to do if you want to apply for them. 

Permanent residency 

A permanent residence permit – or Niederlassungserlaubnis / unbefristete Aufenthaltserlaubnis – does basically just what it says on the tin. This type of permit entitles you to stay in Germany on a permanent basis, without having to go through the constant rigmarole of extending or reapplying for visas every couple of years.

It also gives you flexibility that you don’t tend to get with most types of short-term residence permit, which is a huge advantage if you plan to start studying again after a period of work, or want to enter the world of employed after a period of self-employment.

Since shorter term residence permits generally grant you the right to stay in Germany for a specific purpose (i.e. a period of study or an employment contract with a certain company), these types of visas can limit your options.

With permanent residency, however, you’re free to start a business, change careers, or even retrain at a German university or college with no repercussions for your immigration status. 

Another benefit of getting permanent residency is that you’re entitled to make use of Germany’s social security and welfare system if you need to. That means you can apply for student finance to go back to university, get financial support if you’re ill or otherwise unemployed, and access child benefits when you start a family. 

Be warned, though. While the word ‘permanent’ does technically give you a lifelong right to reside in the country, leaving for more than six months or with the intention of living abroad could cause you to lose your permanent residency. Your right of residence will also be limited to Germany – not the entirety of the European Union – though you will be able to travel to other European countries for up to 90 days without needing a visa. 

Travellers pass through Leipzig airport
Travellers pass through Leipzig airport. With permanent residence, you can travel visa-free in Schengen for up to 90 days, but leaving for more than six months could cause you to lose your status. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Peter Endig

As a non-EU national, you also won’t be able to vote in any German elections – no matter how long you’ve lived in the country and paid into the system. 

How do I know if I’m eligible for permanent residency?

According to the Federal Ministry for Migration, most people are eligible for permanent residency in Germany if they’ve lived in the country on a residence permit for at least five years, have a secure source of income and can prove sufficient levels of integration and German language skills.

In concrete terms, this means you should have held a job that matches your qualifications and have paid into the state pension pot for at least 60 months (or five years). You will also to have to prove you have at least B1 German skills and pass a test to show you understand life in Germany. 

In some cases, you can get permanent residency status more quickly after moving to Germany:

  • If you have a Blue Card, you can get permanent residency after only 33 months if you have little or no German skills, or 21 months with a B1 level of German. 
  • If you are a skilled worker or researcher, you can get permanent residency after four years.
  • If you are self-employed and earn above a certain threshold, you can get permanent residency after three years. 
  • If you have studied at a German university, you can get permanent residency two years after finishing your course, as long as you’ve held a job that matches your qualifications for that duration of time. 
  • If you have close German family members that still live in Germany, you can get permanent residency after three years. 

For a full list of exceptions and rules, consult the BAMF website here. Or check out our explainer below for more detailed information on how to nab yourself permanent residency status:

EXPLAINED: How to secure permanent residency in Germany

German citizenship

Unlike with permanent residency, which is basically designed to enable you to settle in the country as a foreigner, German citizenship – or deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit – will essentially change your status from ‘foreign’ to ‘naturalised’.

With German citizenship, you’ll have all the same rights and privileges as German nationals who were born here, including voting in all types of elections – from federal to local – and being able to leave the country for any amount of time and still return with your rights intact.

If you have children, they’ll automatically gain German citizenship as well (though this is also the case for long-term foreign residents who have children in Germany). And – best of all – since Germany is a member of the European Union, you’ll automatically gain the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, from Brussels to Bologna.

A German passport
A German passport with ‘European Union’ inscribed on it. German citizenship will allow you to live and work anywhere in the EU. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Like permanent residents, you’ll also have complete freedom to choose your career path here, whether that’s starting a business, working as a freelancer, studying at a university or opting for gainful employment.

Unlike non-EU people who have a residence permit, however, you’ll also have the right to apply to ‘EU-only’ jobs. These generally include public sector work like teaching at a state university or working as public official. And if politics is your thing, you’ll even be able to put yourself up for election as an MP

Of course, like any other German, you’ll also be able to access state help when you need it, from student grants to unemployment benefits. 

How do I know if I’m eligible for German citizenship?

As you might imagine, the barriers to entry are somewhat higher if you want to become German. For a start, you’ll have to have lived in the country for at least eight years (though this can be reduced to seven with an integration course or six under exceptional circumstances). 

Partners of German citizens have a much quicker route to citizenship. If your husband or wife is German, you’ll be able to nab a German passport after just three years of residence in the country – though you must have been married for at least two years at the time of application. If one or both of your parents are German, you should also have a right to citizenship. 

The Goethe Institute in Freiburg
A teacher holds a German language course at the Geothe Institute in Freiburg. People who complete B1 German and an integration course can get German citizenship after seven years. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Patrick Seeger

Like with a permanent residency application, you’ll need to have proof of at least B1 German language skills and will have to pass a citizenship exam, or Einbürgerungstest, which will quiz you on Germany’s political system, history, life and culture. 

In addition to that, you’ll generally need to prove you’re able to support yourself without relying on help from the state, that you have health insurance, and that you have a secure place to live. 

READ ALSO: How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)

Can I keep my existing nationality if I become German?

Under current rules, dual nationality is rarely permitted in Germany for non-EU citizens.

However, if the coalitions for the ‘traffic light’ coalition – named after the party colours of the FDP, SPD and Greens – are successful, this could change under the next administration.

In their preliminary coalition agreement, the parties appear to have stuck to their manifesto promises of allowing multiple citizenship – though we will have to wait and see if this applies to all first-generation immigrants, and not just children of migrants.

However, since it’s largely been the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Unions (CSU) blocking dual nationality in the past, a change to this rule does seem likely under a new government. 


In addition, parties are keen to make routes to citizenship easier, for example by lowering the years of residence needed in the country from eight years to five or six. 

Keep an eye on The Local’s political coverage to see how this develops over the coming months.