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Visa and Residence Permit for Business in Germany

Find out everything you need to know about visa and residence permit for your company expansion as a business owner and for your employees in Germany.

Germany has reformed its residence law to make it easier for foreigners with needed skills to enter the country and work here. Residency regulations are of great importance if you are planning to expand your business into Germany. The reform has positive effects for companies setting up in Germany. It will be easier for them to bring their employees with them and simpler to recruit talent from outside the EU. There are also beneficial options for entrepreneurs.

Germany Trade & Invest provides general information for foreign companies wishing to expand to Germany. We are not able to answer visa requirement queries from private individuals or support individual visa applications. Please refer to the German Federal Foreign Office and German Missions Abroad for individual visa application support.  For qualified professionals interested in moving to Germany, the Federal Government’s official information portal Make it in Germany offers detailed information on visa regulations as well as working and living in Germany.

  • Who Needs a Visa?

    The type of residence title required depends on the person's country of origin, the length of the intended stay and the intended business activity in Germany.

    EU Nationals

    Generally speaking, citizens of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) may enter, stay, and work in Germany without any type of visa. They only have to register at the local registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt), for example, if they change their residence to Germany. Swiss nationals have to notify the local immigration office about their long-term stay in order to obtain  a residence permit certifying their right to free movement.

    For British citizens, Brexit-related information can be found at the website of the Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community.

    Non-EU Nationals

    Citizens of non-EU countries generally require a visa to enter, stay, and work in Germany.

    For short-term stays in Germany (stays not exceeding 90 days within any 180-day period) a Schengen visa is needed for entry into Germany. A Schengen visa is generally sufficient for most steps required to establish a business in Germany.

    Where the duration of the stay exceeds 90 days (within any 180-day period) or an occupation (self-employed or gainful employment) taken up, all non-EU citizens require a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) or settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). For this purpose, the German embassies or consulates issue a national visa for entering Germany which is "transferred" into a residence or settlement permit in Germany.

    Nationals of certain countries do not require a visa for entry into or short-term stays in Germany. The Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt) provides detailed information on entry requirements into Germany for different countries.

    Overview of Different Residence Titles in Germany

    Residence Title

    Entitlement

    Foreign nationals who require a residence title

    Visa (Schengen visa and national visa)

    Entry into Germany followed by a short term stay (up to 90 days within any 180-day period).

    Non-EU citizens excluding nationals from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, UK, the USA, Hong Kong, and some other countries.

    Entry into Germany followed by a long-term stay (for which an additional residence or settlement permit is required).

    Non-EU citizens excluding nationals from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, UK, and the USA.

    Residence permit or settlement permit

    Long-term stays and stays with the intention to take up gainful occupation.

    Non-EU citizens excluding nationals from Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.

  • Residence Permit for Self-Employed Business Owners

    Non-EU entrepreneurs and shareholders of German companies who manage a company on-site in Germany may require a residence permit for self-employment purposes. 

    Who is considered to be self-employed?

    Foreign business owners are typically considered to be self-employed if they are, for example:

    • Sole traders (including freelance professions)
    • Partners in a partnership
    • Majority shareholders of a GmbH who are also managing directors of the GmbH

    Granting Requirements 

    Self-employed persons may be granted a residence permit for the purpose of self-employment (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für die Ausübung einer selbständigen Tätigkeit). This can in general be granted where the following requirements are fulfilled: 

    • an economic interest or a regional need regarding the intended business activity exists,
    • positive economic consequences are to be expected from the investment project,
    • the planned investment has secure financing in place.

    The local immigration office (Ausländerbehörde) individually assesses to what extent these criteria are met. It takes into account the following aspects:

    • Viability of the underlying business idea
    • Investor's entrepreneurial experience
    • Level of capital investment 
    • Effects on the employment and training situation 
    • Contribution to innovation and research 

    For the assessment, the immigration office consults the local trade office as well as local trade and business associations, e.g. the local Chambers of Industry and Commerce.

    Settlement Permit for Self-Employed Persons

    A residence permit for self-employment purposes is limited to a maximum of three years.

    Where the business activity has been successful and is expected to have future sustainable development, a settlement permit may be granted after three years. Moreover, the livelihood of the foreigner must, for example, be secured by sufficient income.

  • Residence Permit for Skilled Employees

    The reformed German residence law makes it easier for non-EU skilled employees to obtain a residence permit in Germany. Qualification and experience are decisive factors.

    German residence law stipulates the conditions under which qualified professionals from outside the EU can work in Germany. Non-EU citizens who would like to work in Germany require a residence permit for employment.

    EU Blue Card

    The EU Blue Card allows qualified professionals with a university degree to be fast-tracked into employment in Germany.

    Non-EU citizens may apply for this special residence permit if they possess the following:

    • a German university degree or a comparable recognized qualification obtained abroad, and
    • a job contract with an annual gross salary of at least EUR 45,300 (2024).  

    The employment must be appropriate to the professional’s qualifications. Approval from the Federal Employment Agency is not required for this wage level category of the EU Blue Card.

    In professions with a particular skill shortage, the annual gross salary level is lower at EUR 41,042 (2024). In addition to the STEM professions, the list of professions was significantly expanded in November 2023. For instance, managerial staff in manufacturing or logistics as well as an extended group of healthcare professionals are also included. The Federal Government's Make it in Germany official information portal provides a list of the bottleneck occupations. Within this category IT specialists who do not have a university degree but do have at least three years of relevant professional experience in the last seven years can also obtain an EU Blue Card.

    Regardless of profession, entry-level employees (i.e. graduated within the last three years) can also benefit from the lower salary threshold. Approval from the Federal Employment Agency is required in all cases subject to the lower salary level. 

    Once a German EU Blue Card has been obtained, a settlement permit can be granted within 27 months - or after 21 months if the foreign citizen has attained a specified German language skill level.

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    Qualified Professionals / Skilled Workers

    Besides the EU Blue Card, there are other residence permit options for qualified professionals (also referred to as "skilled workers" or "skilled employees").

    Qualified professionals include university graduates and persons who have successfully completed vocational training over a period of at least two years.

    In general, residence permits for qualified professionals are issued where the following requirements have been met:

    • applicant has a qualification officially recognized in Germany,
    • a concrete job offer, and
    • approval from the Federal Employment Agency.

    Skilled workers with a qualification obtained or recognized in Germany can pursue any form of qualified employment - and not just in the sector in which they obtained their qualification. Regulated professions - including, for example, engineers and medical professions - require a license.

    Qualified professionals can be granted a residence permit for up to four years. A settlement permit can be granted after three years.

    Recognition of Qualification

    Employee qualifications (academic and vocational) obtained abroad must generally be officially recognized in order to start the application procedure. The Central Service Point for Recognition  provides information about the recognition procedure and serves as a central contact for applicants during the recognition process. The recognition procedure takes place at the federal state level with the competence of an authority being subject to the specific qualification. Please see the Recognition in Germany portal for further information on the recognition of foreign professional qualifications.

    Recognition of the qualification after entering Germany is possible based on a recognition partnership concluded between the skilled worker and the employer. The employee may already work for the employer during this time. The partnership requires, among other things, a professional qualification of at least two years training or a university degree. The qualification must be recognized by the country of training. Moreover, the employee needs German language skills at level A2.

    In specific cases of non-regulated professions, the recognition of a foreign qualification in Germany is not necessary. It is sufficient that the professional qualification of the skilled employee is recognized in the country in which it was obtained. IT specialists may even access the German labor market without any professional qualification. Only employees with at least two years of professional experience can benefit from this facilitation. The employee must reach a certain salary level if the employer is not bound by a collective bargaining agreement.  The usual recognition procedure applies where these conditions are not met. 

    Approval from the Federal Employment Agency

    The Federal Employment Agency must generally issue its approval before a foreign skilled employee can obtain a residence permit in Germany. Applicants for an EU Blue Card with a gross salary of at least EUR 45,300 (2024) do not require this approval.   

    The approval may be issued if a foreign employee is hired on the same terms and conditions of employment as comparable German employees (especially in terms of wages and working hours). 

    The Federal Employment Agency also checks if an employment relationship in Germany can be demonstrated. The Agency provides further information about the approval procedure.

    Senior Executives, Managing Directors and Specialists

    A residence permit may also be  granted to:

    • Senior executives
    • Members of a body legally representing a legal entity (e.g. managing director of a GmbH)
    • Persons who have specialist knowledge – with particular relevance for the company – for the carrying out of a domestic qualified employment.

    An approval from the Federal Employment Agency is also required for these group of employees. The approval may be granted if an employment status exists and if the foreign employee is hired on the same terms and conditions of employment as comparable German employees.

    The Federal Employment Agency performs an overall assessment of the individual case. A specific professional qualification is in general not required for executives.

    ICT Card

    Germany has facilitated long-term intra-corporate transfers of specific staff categories by introducing the ICT Card.

    The ICT Card complements other existing relaxed measures for specific groups of employees temporarily posted to Germany. The ICT card enables an intra-corporate transfer from a sending entity outside of the EU to a host entity in Germany. Both entities must be a part of the same company or company group.

    Eligible employees are non-EU managers and specialists who have been employed in the sending unit for at least six uninterrupted months immediately preceding the transfer.

    The duration of the transfer must exceed 90 days and last up to a maximum of three years. Moreover, the work contract and, if necessary, the assignment letter e.g. need to state details of the transfer and proof of the employee's professional qualification.

    The ICT Card has to be applied for at the German embassy or consulate general abroad – this also applies for Australian, Canadian, Israeli, Japanese, New Zealand, South Korean, UK, and US nationals. It requires an approval from the Federal Employment Agency. 

    The short-term mobility regulation of non-EU nationals in possession of an ICT card issued by another EU state has also been relaxed. Under specific conditions, this employee category may be able to work at a German company (belonging to the same company or the same group of companies) for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without a German residence permit. A notification including specific evidence to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees is required.

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