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.
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
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.