How to apply for a German Work Visa

A step by step guide on getting the German Work Visa. It explains who needs a work visa, who is eligible for it, and what the requirements are.

The German work visa allows you to live in Germany and work for a German employer. It's officially called a "residence permit for the purpose of employment", but everyone calls it a work visa or work permit.

The EU Blue Card is similar to a work visa. It also allows you to work in Germany, but it has extra benefits. We explain the difference below.

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

Who needs a visa to work in Germany?

This tool tells you if you need a visa to work in Germany.

You need a visa to work in Germany 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 visa does not allow you to work in Germany. For example, the German freelance visa only lets you work as a freelancer, not as an employee. The tourist visa does not let you work in Germany.

You do not need a visa to work in Germany if:

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

Which visa do you need?

There are different ways to work in Germany. A work visa is not the only option. The visas below also allow you to live and work in Germany.

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 in many ways:

  • You can get your permanent residence faster. With a Blue Card, you can get your permanent residence in 33 months1. If you get a B1 language certificate, you can get your permanent residence in 21 months1.
  • You can move to other EU countries (except Denmark, Ireland and the UK1) more easily. If you had a Blue Card for 18 months, you can move to another EU country, and apply for the Blue Card there1, 2.
  • You can get the visa faster1. You don't need permission from the ZAV if your salary is above 55200€in 2020. This makes the application process faster.
  • You can get a Blue Card for 4 years1. You can only get a work visa for 3 years1.
  • After 2 years, you can work for any employer without updating your visa1, 2. This saves a lot of time. With the work visa, you must update your visa every time you change jobs1.
  • You can leave Germany for a longer time. With a work visa, you can leave Germany for 6 months before your visa becomes invalid1. With a Blue Card, you can leave Germany for 12 months.

However, the Blue Card has special requirements:

  • You must have a high income. You must make at least 55200€in 2020 per year (before taxes)1, 2, 3. If there is a shortage of skilled workers in your field, you must make at least 43056€in 2020 per year1, 2, 3, 4. This list shows which fields have a shortage of skilled workers.
  • You must have a university degree that is recognised in Germany. Your degree 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 degree1, 2.

You can use the instructions in this guide to apply for the Work Visa and for the Blue Card. The process is very similar.

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.

This page has more information about the Youth Mobility Visa.

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, we show you how to get a work visa.

The German work visa requirements

  • You must have a job offer in Germany. It must be a guaranteed job offer, not just a job listing.
  • Your employer must be based in Germany, or you are a citizen of Andorra, Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino or the United States1. If you come from one of those countries, you can work for employers based in another country1.
  • You must be qualified for the job.
  • 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, 2. 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, 2.
    The ZAV verifies that the position can't be filled by a EU citizen. See below for details.
  • 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. In Berlin, you need to show your lease or your Anmeldebestätigung during your visa interview1. We explain how to get health insurance in the next section.

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

You do not need a university degree to get a German work visa.

The work visa application process

The visa application process is often confusing. You need all sorts of things at the same time, and they all depend on each other.

Step 1: Come to Germany

  • You need: a job seeker visa (except for citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States)
  • You get: the right to come to Germany and look for work

The first step is to come to Germany. You need German health insurance and a place to live before you can apply for the German work visa. It's easier to find them if you are already in Germany.

You can also apply from your home country. If you can't visit Germany without a visa, it's cheaper and easier to apply in your country.

  • If you are a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, or the United States, you can come to Germany, find a job, then apply for the work visa in Germany1, 2. You can stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a visa. You can't work until you have a work visa, but you can look for work and prepare for your visa interview1.
  • If you are a citizen of any other country, you can get the German work visa in two different ways:
    1. You can apply for the work visa at a German embassy in your country1. Your documents will be sent to Germany for review. You will receive a visa around 4 months later1.
    2. or you can apply for a Job Seeker Visa at a German embassy in your country1, 2, 3. The Job Seeker Visa allows you to come to Germany and look for a job. Once you have found a job, you can apply for the work visa in Germany. The job seeker visa is valid for up to 6 months. You can't do this with a tourist visa. If you come with a tourist visa, your work visa application will be rejected1, 2, 3, 4.

If you can, start looking for an apartment before you come to Germany. It can take time to find an apartment. You cannot apply for the work visa without a permanent address in Germany, so this is very important.

Step 2: Open a bank account (optional)

You will need a bank account to receive your paycheques, to pay your rent and to get health insurance. Normally, you need a registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung) to open a bank account. You won't have a registration certificate until you register your address, but some banks let you open an account without one.

You will need money in your German bank account to pay your rent deposit (Kaution), and to survive until your first paycheque. You can use TransferWise to move money to your German bank account.

Related guide: Which German bank is best for you? - Opening a bank account without an Anmeldung

Step 3: Find a job

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

You need a job offer to apply for the work visa. It's better if you can find a job before coming to Germany. It's easier to find an apartment when you have a job offer.

When you find a job, your employer wants many things from you: a German address, health insurance, a bank account and a Sozialversicherungsnummer. Don't worry, you will get all those things soon.

Related guide: How to find a job in Berlin

Step 4: Get approval from the ZAV (optional)

  • You need: nothing
  • You get: a letter from the ZAV that makes your visa application go faster

You need approval from the ZAV to get a work visa. You will only get the approval if there is a shortage of workers in your field, and if the position can't be filled by a EU worker1, 2. If your profession is in this list, you will get the authorisation easily.

You do not need an authorisation from the ZAV if:

  • You have a degree from a German university. That degree must be related to the job you will have1.
  • 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 above 53600€1.

There are two ways to get the ZAV approval:

  1. Before applying for the work visa
    You can get pre-approval from the ZAV before you apply for the work visa. Usually, your employer applies for you1, 2. When you have pre-approval from the ZAV, your visa is approved faster1.
  2. While applying for the work visa
    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 simplest way: you don't need to do anything.

Step 5: Find a place to live

You must find a place to live before you go to your visa 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.

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 work visa without this document1.

  • Hotels and AirBnBs will not give you a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung.
  • Apartments and rooms that are listed as "no Anmeldung possible" will not give you a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. Those apartments are rented out without the landlord's permission. They are illegal sublets.
  • You can live at a friend's apartment, but only with the landlord's permission. Without the landlord's permission, you will not get a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung.

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

Related guide: How to find an apartment in Berlin

Step 6: Register your address

Once you have found an apartment, signed a lease and received your Wohnungsgeberbestätigung, you must register your address. This process is called the Anmeldung.

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

Two weeks after registering your address, you will get a tax ID in the mail. Your employer needs this to calculate your income tax. If you don't give your tax ID, you will be taxed at the maximum rate, around 42%. You can get your tax ID faster: just go to the Finanzamt and ask for it1.

Related guide: The Anmeldung - how to register your address in Berlin

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

You must have German health insurance to receive a work visa1. You can't get your work visa without a proof of health insurance coverage. This guide will help you pick the right kind of health insurance.

A health insurance broker will help you pick the best health insurance for your needs. Their help is free. They get paid by health insurance companies to bring them new customers.

    Popsure can also sign you up for health insurance. You take 15 minutes to fill a form, and they do everything else for you. Their service is free. They speak fluent English.

    It takes a few days to get health insurance and to get a proof of health insurance coverage.

    Related guides:

    Step 8: Make your visa appointment

    • You need: nothing
    • You get: a visa appointment at the Ausländerbehörde or German consulate

    If you apply in Germany

    Get an appointment at your local Ausländerbehörde. You should do this as soon as possible, because appointments are difficult to get. In Berlin, your appointment will be a few weeks later. You can also go without an appointment. Visa appointments are free.

    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.

    If you apply abroad

    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.

    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

    • You need: all the required documents, health insurance
    • You get: nothing (you will get the visa a few weeks later)

    In Germany

    The visa appointment is very quick. If you have all the required documents, it will take around 30 minutes.

    Your interview will probably be in German. Some interviewers speak English, but this is not guaranteed1. If you don't speak German, bring an interpreter with you. If you can afford it, bring an immigration lawyer or a relocation consultant. They can review your documents to make your interview go well.

    If you are missing some documents and your current visa expires soon, do not panic. The interviewer can extend your current visa with a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This will give you time to get the missing documents and reapply.

    At a German embassy or consulate

    The process at the German consulate is very similar. If you have all the required documents, your interview will only last a few minutes1.

    Step 11: Receive your work visa

    • You need: your passport
    • You get: a work visa

    It takes 8 to 12 weeks to get a work visa when you apply from Germany1, 2, 3. The work visa is a sticker in your passport1, or a plastic card. Your visa will be valid for up to 3 years1.

    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.
    • 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.
    • Proof of residence in Germany
      There are two ways to prove your residence in Berlin. You can bring...
    • 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

    German work visa FAQ

    • How much does the work visa cost?
      Around 90€1. The price is lower for some nationalities. You can find a list of prices here.
    • How long does it take to get a work visa?
      It takes 8 to 12 weeks to get a work visa when you apply from Germany1, 2, 3, 4, but it can take up to 4 months1. It takes around the same time in most embassies, and it can take up to 3 months1, 2. If you are lucky, it can take less than a week1.
    • How long is the work visa valid for?
      The German work visa is valid for up to 3 years1. The Blue Card is valid for up to 4 years.
    • Do I need a university degree to get a work visa?
      No. It's possible to get a work visa without a university degree1, 2. The EU Blue Card requires a university degree1.
    • Do I need to speak German to get a work visa?
      No. You don't need to speak German to get a work visa.
    • What happens if I change jobs?
      Your work visa is tied to your job. If you get a new job, you need to update your visa at the Ausländerbehörde. If you have a Blue Card for at least 2 years, you can change jobs without updating your visa1, 2. More information here.
    • What happens if I lose my job?
      You must notify 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 to leave Germany. In any case, you don't need to leave Germany as soon as you lose your job.
    • How long can I stay out of Germany with a work visa?
      You can leave Germany for up to 6 months1, 2 with a work visa. If you want to leave for a longer period, you can request a special permission1. 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 visa will become invalid1.
    • Can I freelance with a work visa?
      If you have this line on your work visa, you are allowed to freelance. Freelancing can't be your main occupation1. If you want to freelance as your main occupation, you should apply for a freelance visa. You must get permission from your employer. You must still register your freelance business with the tax office. This guide can help you.
    • Can my family come with me to Germany?
      Yes, you can bring your spouse and your children to Germany1, 2. They will need to apply for a family reunion visa. If you are allowed to work in Germany, they will also be allowed to work in Germany.

    Need help with your visa application?

    The "Working and Living in Germany" hotline can answer your visa questions. It's an official hotline that helps people settle in Germany. They offer help in English and in German.

    If you are a software developer from the Middle East or North Africa, the Imagine foundation can help you find work and move to Germany.

    The Berlin Ausländerbehörde offers free immigration advice in German, Turkish, Farsi and Arabic. You might also be able to get help in English.

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