Your Comprehensive Guide to German Visas

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Written by
Team Worldify
Published on
May 2, 2023

You’re seeking a German visa, but do you know which you qualify for? There is no shortage of German visa types, which is why it’s so tricky to understand which one you are eligible for (not to mention how to get your German visa if you meet those qualifications).

To straighten out some of that famous German red tape in your mind—which, if you’re in the process of relocating, is likely in little knots by now—we’ve prepared this guide to German visas. On a high level, German visas can be categorized into two groups: Short-stay visas and long stay visas. Also commonly lumped into the general category of "visa" are residence permits. We'll talk more about the difference between visas and residence permits below!

The Guide to German Visas

Let’s break down the many types of German visas within these categories, so you understand what’s available.

How are visas different from residence titles?

What is a visa?

A visa allows you to cross the border and enter the country. This is a permit to enter a country for a specific purpose: for study, work, recreation or medical treatment. As a rule, this will appear as a sticker, stamp, or insert inside your passport. If you're coming to work in Germany, in most cases, your visa will allow you to begin working on an interim basis. But if you have a visa (for example, a National D visa), you must transfer that visa to a residence title before that visa expires.

What is a residence title?

A residence title confirms the right of a foreigner to live within the country, and is often used to prove their identity to enter the country.

The permit looks different in different countries: in Germany and most of the EU, it is a plastic biometric card.

In general, a residence title also gives more rights than a visa. During its validity period, you can:

  • live in the country,
  • buy real estate,
  • cross the border an unlimited number of times,
  • do business,
  • study in public or private institutions,
  • use medical services,
  • get a driver's license and purchase a car,
  • travel without visas to other Schengen countries

Both the Temporary Residence Permit and the Blue Card give you the permission to both work and live in Germany.

🚨 And important! All non-EU citizens require a visa or residence permit in order to begin working.

Short Stay Visas (<90 Days)

Also known as the “Schengen Visa”, a Short Stay Visa allows you to travel to Germany and within the so-called Schengen Region for 90 days within a period of 180 days. If you obtain one of these visas, you have the ability to use it in the Schengen Region, which consists of the following 26 countries: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 

Types of Short Stay Visas

  • Airport Transit Visa – visa to pass through German (or Schengen) airport on your way to a non-Schengen country, required by citizens of certain countries.
  • Business Visa – visa to do business in Germany (or Schengen) for up to 90 days, required by citizens of certain countries.
  • Tourist Visa – visa to tour Germany (or Schengen) for up to 90 days, required by citizens of certain countries.
  • Visitor Visa – visa to visit family or friends in Germany (or Schengen) for up to 90 days, required by citizens of certain countries. There are additional requirements for a Visitor Visa, such as a letter of invitation. 
  • ETIAS – not a visa at all, but rather a visa waiver pre-screening program for people intending to visit the EU. If you are from one of 62 eligible countries, you can obtain this type of “non-visa”. 
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Long Stay Visas (90 Days-12 Months)

Long Stay Visas, also known as the National D Visa, are usually issued for 3 months but can be issued for up to 12 months. There are a number of reasons you may want to stay in Germany for a few months, from working to studying to being with family. Of course, each of these scenarios requires a different residence title. But ALL of them will start with a National D visa. 

D Visa types

  • Student Visa
  • Employment Visa
  • Job Seeker Visa
  • Family Reunion Visa
  • Researcher Visa
  • Freelancer Visa
  • Language Course Visa
  • Student Internship Visa
  • Medical Treatment Visa 

The reasons to choose each visa are clearly defined by their name.

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need one of these German visas to do the above activities for 3-12 months if you are a non-EU and non-EEA national. If you are from the EU, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, or Switzerland, you don’t need a visa to enter Germany for any purpose (due to that Schengen Agreement mentioned above). 

For more information on each of the D Visas, visit the Federal Foreign Office site. 

Residence Permits (Long Term + Extensions)

As with the visas above, there are a number of different types of Residence Permits. While for shorter stays, choosing the type of German visa often depends on the country you’re from and your reason for traveling, choosing the right Residence Permit depends on a number of additional criteria – such as your profession, your salary, where you studied, etc. 

There are different types of Residence Permits to choose from. The 5 main types are:

  • Germany Temporary Residence Permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) - most common type of residence permit, typically valid for 12 months but can be extended
  • Germany ICT (Intra-corporate transfer to the European Union) Card - for third-country nationals working for a another branch of an undertaking established outside of the EU
  • Germany Mobile ICT Card -  for third-country nationals holding an EU ICT permit issued by another EU member state, on assignment in Germany for more than 90 days, as managers, specialists or trainees, within the same group of companies.
  • Germany EU Blue Card - residence permits for qualified professionals with job offers in Germany for more than EUR 56,800 (in 2021). EU Blue Card allows you to relocate within the EU after a given period of time.
  • Germany Permanent Settlement Permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) - allows you to live and work in Germany as long as you need, but requires additional approvals in terms of time lived in Germany, language proficiency, etc. You can receive a Permanent Settlement Permit after 21-33 months if you have an EU Blue Card and 5 years if you have a Temporary Residence Permit.

There are also Freelance Residence Permits and Jobseeker Visas, as well as Family Reunification Residence Permits and Student Permits.

Of the list mentioned above, the two most common Residence Permits are the Temporary Residence Permit and the Germany EU Blue Card (sometimes called German Blue Card, sometimes called EU Blue Card, and sometimes just called Blue Card). The main differences between the two lie in the rights for your spouse to work in Germany, the right to work in another EU state, and, since the Blue Card is focused on specialized knowledge, a governmental “double-check” to make sure there are no German workers qualified to do the job. Learn more about the German Residence Permit vs. Blue Card here.


We’re here to make living abroad easy. If you need help with your visa or residence title application, sign up for your Worldify account today!  🔵

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