In this guide, I show you how to apply for the German work visa and the EU Blue Card.

  • The German work visa is a residence permit that lets you work in Germany.
  • The EU Blue Card is like a work visa, but better. I explain why later. It has more requirements than the work visa. The application process is almost the same.

Who needs a visa to work in Germany?

Use this tool to know if you need a residence permit to work in Germany.

You need a residence permit if:

  • You want to live and work in Germany
  • and you are not a citizen or permanent resident of Germany, the European Union, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland
  • and your current residence permit does not let you work in Germany. For example, the German freelance visa lets you work as a freelancer, but not as an employee.

You do not need a residence permit if:

  • You are a citizen or permanent resident of Germany, the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland1
  • or your current residence permit lets you work in Germany. For example, the German student visa lets you work up to 120 days or 240 half days per year.1, 2

Types of German work visas

Many types of residence permit allow you to work in Germany. The work visa and the Blue Card are not the only options.

Blue Card

University graduates can apply for an EU Blue Card instead of a work visa. The Blue Card is better than a work visa:

  • You can get it faster
    You don't need permission from the ZAV if your salary is over 56400€. This makes the application process shorter1.
  • It's easier to change jobs
    After 2 years, you can work for another employer without updating your Blue Card1, 2. This saves a lot of time. With the work visa, you must reapply for a new visa every time you change jobs1.
  • You can get your permanent residency faster
    With a Blue Card, you can get your permanent residency in 33 months1 instead of 60 months1. If you get a B1 language certificate, you can get your permanent residency in 21 months1.
  • It's easier to move to other EU countries
    You can move to other EU countries (except Denmark and Ireland1) more easily. If you had a Blue Card for over 18 months, you can move to another EU country, and apply for the Blue Card there1, 2.
  • You can travel longer outside Germany
    With a Blue Card, you can leave Germany for 12 months before your residence permit becomes invalid1. With a work visa, you can only leave for 6 months. If you want to leave longer, you can get special permission from the Ausländerbehörde.

The Blue Card has more requirements:

  • You need a high income
    You must make at least 56400€ per year (before taxes)1, 2, 3. If there is a shortage of skilled workers in your field, you must make at least 43992€ per year1, 2, 3, 4. This list shows which fields have a shortage of skilled workers.
  • You need a university degree
    Your degree must be recognised in Germany. It must be listed as equivalent (entspricht or äquivalent) in the Anabin database1, 2. In other EU countries, you can get a Blue Card with no degree and 5 years of experience. This does not work in Germany, so you must have a university degree1, 2.

In this guide, I show you how to get a Blue Card.

Working Holiday Visa

Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Japan between 18 and 30 years old can apply for a Working Holiday Visa1. The Working Holiday Visa lets you work in Germany for up to 1 year. Working Holiday Visas are easier to get than work visas and Blue Cards. You can apply for the Youth Mobility Visa in Germany, or from your home country1. If you are Korean, you must apply from Korea1.

Youth Mobility Visa

Canadian citizens between 18 and 35 years old can apply for the Youth Mobility Visa. The Youth Mobility Visa is similar to the Working Holiday Visa. It lets you work in Germany for up to a year. You can apply in Canada or in Germany1. Youth Mobility Visas are easier to get than work visas and Blue Cards.

More information about the Youth Mobility Visa - German Missions in Canada

Freelance visa

Business owners, freelancers and self-employed people must apply for the German freelance visa. This is a completely different process.

Work Visa

Everyone else must apply for the work visa. It lets you work as an employee in Germany. In this guide, I show you how to get a work visa.

German work visa requirements

  • You must have a job offer in Germany. It must be a concrete job offer§18, 2, not just a job listing.
  • You must have a university degree or a vocational qualification1, §18a, §18b
    Your job must be related to your education. You do not need a university degree to get a German work visa1. Vocational training is enough. Your school does not need to be recognised in Anabin.
  • Your employer must be in Germany
  • You must be qualified for the job1
  • You must be allowed to do this job in Germany
    If you need specific qualifications to do your job in Germany, you must prove that you have them1, §18. For example, doctors, engineers and tax advisors need specific qualifications. Use the recognition finder to know if your profession requires specific qualifications.
  • You must have approval from the ZAV1, §18
    The ZAV verifies that the position can't be filled by a EU citizen. See below for details. If you apply for a Blue Card, and you make over 56400€ per year, you don't need this.
  • You must have German health insurance and a place to stay
    You must find a place to live and get German health insurance before you apply for the work visa1.

You do not need to speak German to get a German work visa.

EU Blue Card requirements

The Blue Card has the same requirements as the work visa. It also has these two requirements:

  • You must have a high income
    You must make at least 56400€ per year (before taxes)1, 2, 3, §18b. If there is a shortage of skilled workers in your field, you must make at least 43992€ per year1, 2, 3, 4, §18b. This list shows which fields have a shortage of skilled workers.
  • You must have a university degree
    Your degree must be recognised in Germany. It must be listed as equivalent (entspricht or äquivalent) in the Anabin database1. In other EU countries, you can get a Blue Card with no degree and 5 years of experience. This does not work in Germany, so you must have a university degree1, 2.

You do not need to speak German to get a Blue Card.

Two ways to apply

There are two ways to apply for the work visa and the Blue Card:

  1. Apply in Germany
    Come to Germany, find a job, then apply for a work visa or Blue Card in Germany. You can't work until you have a work visa or Blue Card, but you can look for a job and prepare for your residence permit interview1. It's easier to find a job, find an apartment and get health insurance if you are already in Germany. You might have to wait a few months without any income. This is riskier and more expensive.
  2. Apply in your country
    Apply for a temporary visa at the German embassy in your country, come to Germany, then convert your temporary visa to a work visa or Blue Card. You can start working as soon as you arrive in Germany. This is safer and cheaper. It takes around 4 months1.

The best option depends on your citizenship:

  • If you are a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States, you can stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a visa1. You can come to Germany, find a job, then apply for a work visa or Blue Card in Germany1, 2. You can also apply in your home country.
  • If you are a citizen of any other country, there are two ways to get a work visa or Blue Card:
    1. Apply for a work visa or Blue Card at the German embassy in your country.
    2. or apply for a Job Seeker Visa at the German embassy in your country1, 2, 3, come to Germany, find a job, then apply for a work visa or Blue Card.

How to apply in Germany

Step 1: Come to Germany

  • You need: a job seeker visa (except for citizens of certain countries1)
  • You get: the right to come to Germany and look for work

If you are a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom or the United States, you can come to Germany without a visa. You can stay for 90 days before you need a residence permit.

If you are a citizen of any other country, you might need a Job Seeker Visa to enter Germany. The Job Seeker Visa lets you to come to Germany and look for a job1. It's valid for up to 6 months. It does not allow you to work in Germany. After you find a job, you can apply for a residence permit in Germany. The job. You can't do this with a tourist visa. If you enter Germany with a tourist visa, your work visa or Blue Card application will be rejected1, 2, 3, 4.

    If you can, find an apartment before you come to Germany. It's really hard to find an apartment in some cities. It's easier to find an apartment if you already have a job offer. You can also stay in a temporary place: a friend's house, a hotel or a furnished apartment.

    Step 2: Find a job in Germany

    • You need: nothing
    • You get: a job offer

    You need a job offer to apply for a work visa and a Blue Card1. It must be a skilled job. You can't get a work visa or Blue Card for unskilled work1. For example, you can't get a work visa to be a cashier or a call centre employee.

    If you apply for a Blue Card, your salary must be at least 56400€ per year (before taxes). If there is a shortage of skilled workers in your field, your salary must be at least 43992€ per year. This list shows which fields have a shortage of skilled workers.

    If you can, find a job before you come to Germany. When you arrive in Germany, you can focus on other problems.

    How to find a job in Berlin ➞

    Step 3: Get pre-approval from the ZAV (optional)

    • You need: nothing
    • You get: a letter from the ZAV that makes your visa application go faster
    • How long it takes: around 6 weeks

    You might need approval from the ZAV to get a work visa. You can get it in advance. It makes your resident permit application go faster.

    You do not need approval from the ZAV if:

    • You have a degree from a German university, and that degree is related to your job1
    • or you are a teacher, scientific assistant, guest scientist, engineer or technician in the research team of a guest scientist1
    • or you are a teacher at a state school, state-approved private substitute school or a recognised private complementary school1
    • or you are applying for the Bundesfreiwilligendienst1, 2
    • or you are applying for the Blue Card1 and your salary is over 56400€ per year1.

    There are two ways to get the ZAV approval:

    1. Before you apply for your residence permit
      You can get pre-approval from the ZAV before you apply for the work visa. Usually, your employer applies for you1, 2, 3. When you have pre-approval from the ZAV, your visa is approved faster1, 2. It takes around 6 weeks to get the ZAV approval1, and it costs your employer around 400€1.
    2. While you apply for your residence permit
      If you don't get pre-approval from the ZAV, it will be done when you apply for the work visa1. The Ausländerbehörde or the German consulate will send your documents for the ZAV1. This is the easiest way, because you don't need to do anything. It takes a little longer to get your work visa this way.

    Step 4: Open a bank account (optional)

    When you start working, you need a bank account to get paid. You also need it to pay your rent. Some banks ask for a registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung). You only get it when you register your address, but there are banks that don't ask for a registration certificate.

    You don't need a German bank account; any bank that supports SEPA transfers is okay. N26 is a good option, because they speak English and don't ask for a registration certificate. I use N26 since 2016.

    German banks for expats ➞

    You will need money in your bank account to pay your rent deposit (Kaution), and to survive until you get paid. I used Wise (TransferWise) to transfer money from another country to my German bank account.

    Step 5: Find a place to live

    You must find a place to live before your residence permit interview. Start looking for an apartment as soon as possible. Finding an apartment in Berlin is really hard. If you don't speak German, it's even harder.

    How to find an apartment in Berlin ➞

    When you sign a lease, your landlord must give you a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. This document confirms that you are allowed to live there. You can't get a residence permit without this document1.

    During your residence permit interview, you must prove that you live in Germany. There are two ways to do this1:

    Step 6: Register your address

    After you find an apartment, sign a lease and get your Wohnungsgeberbestätigung, you must register your address. This is called the Anmeldung.

    When you register your address, you get a registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung). It proves that you officially live at this address. You don't need this for your visa interview, but you might need it to open a bank account, get health insurance, get a SIM card etc.

    How to register your address in Berlin ➞

    Around 2 weeks after you register your address, you will get a tax ID in the mail. Your employer needs your tax ID to calculate your income tax. If you don't have a tax ID, your employer will take more income tax from your salary1. You will only get that money back when you file a tax declaration1. You can get your tax ID faster if you go to the Finanzamt and ask for it1. You can find your local Finanzamt here.

    Step 7: Get health insurance

    • You need: a German bank account, an Anmeldebestätigung (if possible)
    • You get: health insurance, a proof of health insurance coverage
    • How long it takes: 2 to 14 days

    You need German health insurance to get a residence permit1.

    Which health insurance do you need for your German visa? ➞

    How to choose German health insurance ➞

    Health insurance brokers help you choose the best health insurance for your needs. Their help is free. I work with B-Protected and Feather since a few years. I know them personally, and I trust their advice. They helped many of my readers.

    Feather can also sign you up for health insurance. You take 15 minutes to fill a form, and they do everything else for you. They can get you insured in less than 5 days. Their service is free, they speak English, and their insurance is valid for work visa and Blue Card applications.

    Step 8: Make your residence permit appointment

    • You need: nothing
    • You get: an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde or German consulate
    • How long it takes: 15 minutes to a few weeks, depending on your luck

    You must get an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. Do this as soon as you can, because it's really hard to find an appointment1. In Berlin, your appointment can be weeks or months in the future. The appointment is free. You only pay if you get the residence permit.

    In Berlin, you must go to the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde1. You can book your appointment here. If you are applying for the Blue Card, you must go to the Keplerstraße Ausländerbehörde1. You can also go in person or send your documents by email.

    How to get an Ausländerbehörde appointment in Berlin ➞

    If your current visa expires soon, there are ways to stay in Germany until you get your freelance visa.

    How to get an Ausländerbehörde appointment ➞ If your visa expires soon

    Step 9: Gather the required documents

    We explain the required documents in the "Required documents" section of this guide. You can find it below.

    Step 10: Go to your visa appointment

    At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ What happens during the appointment

    Step 11: Receive your work visa

    • You need: your passport
    • You get: a work visa
    • How long it takes: 8 to 12 weeks1, 2, 3

    At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ If your visa application is approved

    At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ If your visa application is rejected

    If you apply for a work visa, it's valid for up to 3 years1. If you apply for a Blue Card, it's valid for up to 4 years.

    Step 12: Start working in Germany

    Starting a new job in Germany ➞

    How to apply in your country

    Step 1: Get your appointment at the German embassy or consulate

    You must get an appointment at your local German embassy or consulate. It can be hard to find an appointment. You might only get an appointment 2-3 months later1, 2, 3. Start looking as soon as possible.

    Step 2: Prepare for your visa interview

    Before you go to your visa interview, you must prepare the required documents. You must also find health insurance and find a place to live in Germany.

    You need a job offer before you go to your visa interview. If you apply for a Blue Card, your salary must be at least 56400€ per year (before taxes). If there is a shortage of skilled workers in your field, your salary must be at least 43992€ per year. This list shows which fields have a shortage of skilled workers.

    How to find a job in Berlin ➞

    How to find an apartment in Berlin ➞

    Health insurance for your German visa ➞

    Step 3: Go to your visa interview

    You must go to your interview and give your documents. If you have all the required documents, the interview only takes a few minutes1.

    Step 4: Receive your temporary visa

    You must go to the embassy or consulate again. They will give you a temporary visa that lets you enter Germany and start working. The temporary visa is a sticker in your passport.

    Step 5: Come to Germany

    After you get your visa, you can travel to Germany.

    You can start working as soon as you arrive in Germany. You will need to find an apartment, register your address, get a tax ID, open a bank account, get health insurance and a few other things. You can find an apartment, open a bank account and get health insurance before you arrive in Germany. It will save you some time.

    How to move to Berlin ➞

    Step 5: Start working in Germany

    Starting a new job in Germany ➞

    Step 6: Convert your temporary visa to a residence permit

    Your temporary visa is usually valid for 6 months. You must go to the Ausländerbehörde and convert your temporary visa to a work visa or Blue Card.

    Required documents

    These are the required documents if you are applying in Berlin. The list of required documents can be a bit different if you apply elsewhere. German embassies and consulates in other countries can have special requirements. In India, you must also write a cover letter1.

    • A valid passport
      Your passport must1...
      • ...be valid for another 6 months
      • ...be issued in the last 10 years
      • ...have at least two free pages
      • ...contain your signature
    • 1 biometric photo
      You need a 35 x 45mm biometric picture1. There are many ways to get biometric photos in Berlin. There is a photo booth at the Ausländerbehörde1. You do not need to cut the passport photos yourself; they have a tool for this1.
    • Your job contract (Arbeitsvertrag)
      Bring the original, not a copy1.
    • Proof of health insurance coverage in Germany (Mitgliedsbescheinigung)
      You can get this document from your health insurance company1. If you choose public health insurance, look for a Mitgliedsbescheinigung nach 175 SGB V. You can get a similar document for private health insurance.
    • Proof of residence in Germany
      There are two ways to prove your residence in Berlin. You can bring...l
    • Proof of education (Ausbildungsnachweis)
      If you have a degree or any relevant training, you must bring a proof of education. This can be1...
      • A degree from a German Hochschule or a comparable qualification
      • or a degree from a recognised university
      • or a completed vocational training
    • Occupation practice permit (if applicable)
      If you need specific qualifications to do your job in Germany, you must prove that you have them1, 2. For example, doctors, engineers and tax advisors need specific qualifications. Use the recognition finder to know if your profession requires specific qualifications.
    • All the required forms

    Questions and answers

    Can I bring my family to Germany?

    Yes. With the work visa and the Blue Card, you can bring your family to Germany1, 2. They must apply for the family reunion visa. Your family members will be allowed to work or study in Germany1.

    How much does the German work visa cost?

    It costs 100€1. It's cheaper for some nationalities. See the list of visa fees.

    How much does the German Blue Card cost?

    It costs 100€1. It's cheaper for some nationalities. See the list of visa fees.

    How long does it take to get a work visa?

    It takes 8 to 12 weeks to get a work visa when you apply in Germany1, 2, 3, 4, but it can take up to 16 weeks1. It takes around the same time in most embassies1, 2. If you are lucky, it can take less than a week1.

    You can get the Blue Card faster if your salary is over 56400€, because you don't need approval from the ZAV.

    How long is the work visa valid for?

    Up to 4 years, but it can be shorter if you have a temporary work contract§18, 2. You can extend your work visa before it expires. After a few years, you can apply for permanent residency.

    How long is the Blue Card valid for?

    Up to 4 years, but it can be shorter if you have a temporary work contract§18, 2. You can extend your Blue Card before it expires, or apply for permanent residency.

    Do I need to speak German?

    No. You don't need to speak German to get a work visa or Blue Card. It's harder to find a job if you don't speak German.

    Do I need to speak German to live in Berlin? ➞

    Can I change jobs?

    Yes. Your work visa or Blue Card is for one employer only. If you want to get another job, you can apply for a new work visa or Blue Card1. There are two exceptions:

    • If you had a Blue Card for at least 2 years, and you have an unlimited work contract, you can change jobs without changing your visa1, 2.
    • If you had a residence permit for at least 3 years (excluding your time as a student), and you have an unlimited work contract, you can change jobs without changing your visa1.

    What happens if I lose my job?

    You must inform the Ausländerbehörde as soon as you lose your job. Your visa is still valid, but the Ausländerbehörde can shorten your visa1. The Ausländerbehörde will give you 3 to 6 months to find another job or leave Germany.

    Can I travel outside of Germany?

    Yes. With a work visa, you can leave Germany for up to 6 months1, 2. With a Blue Card, you can leave Germany for up to 12 months. If you
    leave for a longer period without a special permission, your residence permit become invalid1. You can ask the Ausländerbehörde for permission to leave longer without losing your residence permit.

    Can I start my own business?

    Sometimes. If you have this line on your work visa, you are allowed to freelance. You must keep your job. Freelancing can't be your main occupation1. If you want to freelance as your main occupation, you must apply for a freelance visa. You must still register your business. You might need permission from your employer.

    Need help?

    Where to find help ➞ Immigration questions