How to apply for a German Work Visa

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 do not need a visa to work in Germany if:

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:

However, the Blue Card has special requirements:

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 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. You need a university degree for the job seeker 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 (if possible)

You can apply for a work visa in your country, or you can apply in Germany. It's cheaper to apply in your country. It's easier to find a job, find an apartment and get health insurance if you apply in Germany.

If you can, start looking for an apartment as soon as possible. It can take time to find an apartment. You cannot apply for the work visa without a registered address in Germany. It's easier to find an apartment if you have a job offer.

Step 2: Find a job in Germany

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 - Where to find English-speaking jobs in Berlin

Step 3: Get approval from the ZAV (optional)

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:

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. It takes around 6 weeks to get approved1.
  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 4: 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.

I suggest N26, because they speak English and don't require a registration certificate. I am with N26 since 2016.

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

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.

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 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: 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 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.

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 fluent English, and their insurance is valid for your visa application.

Related guides:

Step 8: Make your visa appointment

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 get1. In Berlin, your appointment will often be a few weeks later. You can also go without an appointment, but it's less stressful if you have one. 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

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 Fiktionsbescheinigung1. 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

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.

German work visa FAQ

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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