Most of the non EU nationals need a visa or residence permit for entering and staying in Germany. Holding a Schengen Visa or residence permit for another EU member state, the foreigner is allowed to stay in Germany for a limited period, but not to work there.

Short trip – Schengen Visa

For a business or tourist trip the visa application should be filed at the German embassy in the actual country of residence. Such entry visa cannot be changed into a residence permit in Germany and does not allow doing gainful occupation. During the stay in Germany investment can be done, e.g. founding of a company, transfer of shares, purchase of real estate etc. Alternatively the investor can be represented by a person who is located in Germany and holds a valid proxy.

Long term stay for certain purpose

Purposes of residence permit
  • Self-employment
  • Employment
  • Studies / School
  • Language course
  • Family

A residence permit is necessary for staying or working long term in Germany. It can be granted for a limited number of reasons. The applicant located abroad personally files the application at the German embassy, which then involves the local German authorities, and grants an entry visa for the applied purpose. There are no opportunities to challenge a rejection, so the application should be prepared carefully. Because the main decisions are made in Germany, it is an advantage to instruct a domestic lawyer not only to prepare the application, but also to observe the procedure and to keep in regular contact with the authorities involved.

After entry, the local immigration office will change the entry visa into a residence permit for the purpose applied for. The residence permit allows free travel in all Schengen member states which are most of the continental European Union member states.

Concerning the regulations, a residence or settlement permit might become invalid if the holder does not stay in Germany for at least 183 days p.a. Applications for exemptions should be filed in advance. On the other hand, the control standard at the border is quite low, and there are only a few cases of entry rejection known.


  • Collection of documents and
    relevant information
  • Preparation of application and business plan, draft of Articles of Association, director’s service contracts, translations of documents
  • Informal pre-application, if possible
  • Application at the German embassy or local German office, if possible
  • Change of entry visa into residence permit at the local German office
  • Duration: 6~8 weeks
  • For company establishment please see above

For those who intend to work in Germany as directors of their own company, a business plan has to be attached to the visa application to show a specific German interest in the business activity. The applicant is free to decide whether he should found the company before or after the application has been granted. This decision has no impact on the authority’s assessment. The first alternative saves time, since the visa proceedings and the foundation proceedings run in parallel. The latter saves useless start-up expenses if the application is rejected. The application proceedings take about 6~8 weeks. Depending on the practice of the local German authorities and also on the reputation of the lawyer, an informal pre-application can be filed in order to gain legal certainty for the formal application.

If the director has been registered at the local German registry office and has established the company, the entry visa will be changed into a residence permit which is usually valid for one year. After one year the authorities check whether the business is conforming to the business plan in order to grant a one or two year extension. If it is not conforming there are several opportunities to react and to gain the extension. After three years the director can apply for a settlement permit (see below).


Those who apply for a residence permit for employment will have to meet specific criteria for the employee working in Germany. For a business related to foreign countries, in combination with special experiences or references of the employee, the accurately prepared application should be granted. The first residence permit is usually granted for a one year period and will be extended if the specific criteria are still met. Holding a residence permit for employment for five years, a settlement permit can be applied for (see below).


In the case of an application for a residence permit for family reasons, it is essential to prove that the person who already lives in Germany has enough money to maintain the family members. Of course the family does not need to spend the money. Usually limited permission for family members to work is included.

Changing the purpose of the residence permit

In general, the purpose for a residence permit can be changed in Germany directly (e.g. from family to work, from work to self-employment). Only the residence permit for a language course or studies cannot be changed except under certain conditions. After graduation from a German university, the degree holder may apply for a one year residence permit which allows him to look for a job on the German market. During that period the reason can be changed into (self-) employment without the need to leave the country.

Nevertheless, some local immigration offices are not so strict and grant residence permits for (self-) employment to those who finish the language school or give up their studies. Otherwise the applicant returns to his country of origin, applies for an entry visa at the German embassy and returns to Germany. If the application is well prepared in Germany (e.g. by an informal pre-application, please see above for entrepreneurs), the time away from Germany is only 2-3 weeks.

Settlement permit

After three years of self-employment or five years of employment (the period can vary for family members or students), the person can apply for a settlement permit, which allows unlimited residence in Germany and any kind of work without restrictions. A special purpose is no longer necessary. The applicant has to comply with some additional demands, such as language skills and others which are usually not hard to meet. Self-employed who received their first residence permit after 2004 will have to prove a pension insurance protection when they later apply for a settlement permit.

European long term residence permit

The European long term residence permit has to be granted without restrictions. It gives a secure status in the European country of residence and allows easy access to unrestricted residence permits in other European member states.

It can be granted after a residence of five years in one member state, where working time is counted in full and study time is counted as half. The latter is a big advantage compared with the German settlement permit which usually ignores the education time.


After a 7~8 year period of holding a residence permit, naturalisation can be applied for. The proceedings take 3~10 months, depending on the location.

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