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Germany is open to immigration. With foreigners making up around nine percent of its population, the Federal Republic is one of Europe's highest ranked countries in this respect. The foreigners living in Germany are an economically and culturally important part of German society.

Legal residency in Germany requires a residence permit, i.e. a legally guaranteed residency status. German law has different residence permits depending on the foreigner's origin and situation. Below are the most important features of German residency law.

Foreigners can also be naturalised in Germany under certain conditions.

Non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals:

Almost everyone else will need a visa and everyone will need a residence permit.

Citizens from some countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United States of America, don't need a Schengen visa to enter Germany for stays of up to three months (90 days) but will need to apply for a residence permit within that three months if they wish to stay longer or to work.

If you are not from the EU, EEA, Switzerland, or one the countries listed above, you will probably need to apply for a Schengen visa to enter Germany and stay up for three months (90 days) or for a permit called a 'residence title' if you want to stay for longer than three months and/or work here.

German visas and permits

Depending on your nationality, if you will be stopping briefly in a German airport (even for a few hours) en route to another destination, you may need a transit or airport visa. It only allows you into the international zone of a German airport. If you are leaving the airport, even for a day, you may need to get the three-month Schengen visa. Schengen visas allow you to enter Germany (or any other country in the Schengen area listed above) for up to three months (90 days) within a six-month period.

If you enter Germany on this visa, you cannot change it to a residence title once you are in Germany, except in exceptional circumstances. You will have to leave, apply for the residence permit from aboard and re-enter the country.

You must apply for a Schengen visa at the German embassy or consulate in your country of residence, so check out the website for your own German embassy or consulate. The Federal Foreign Office website has detailed information on all aspects of Schengen visa regulations.

You can download a Schengen application form now in German/English, Spanish, French, Russian or Chinese.

Residence permits:

If you want to stay in Germany for longer than three months, for whatever reason (eg. to work, complete a vocational training course, or be reunited with your family), you will need to apply for a visa plus residence permit or 'title' before you arrive − unless you are a national from one of the countries that doesn't require a visa to enter Germany (see above), in which case you can apply from within Germany.

Types of residence permits:
The most common permit is the residence permit, which is usually valid for one year and can be renewed so long as your situation — eg. employment, marriage — stays the same as when you were originally granted the permit.
The EU Blue Card is a residence permit with enhanced conditions for highly qualified migrants and their spouses.
The settlement permit and permanent EC residence permit, as their names suggest, are both permanent residence permits. They are usually only granted after five years of residence (and if you fulfill other conditions) but they can be issued to highly skilled workers immediately and to other groups after two or three years of residence.

Your reason for wanting to come to Germany and your educational and professional qualifications will determine which residence title you can apply for. You will need to meet some general requirements; including holding a valid passport and being able to prove you have enough money to support you during your stay.

Most people have to apply for a residence permit via the German embassy or consulate in their country of residence. You can find the contact details of yours here.

Family reunification

Unless you are an EU/EEA/Swiss citizen (or the relative you want to join is), if you want to come to Germany to be with a partner (spouse or registered/civil partner) or other close family member you will have to apply for a residence permit. You and your relative must also fulfil other criteria, for example, your relative must possess a residence permit, have somewhere for you to live, and show sufficient finances to support you. In most cases, you may also have to prove that you have basic German language skills.

For more information, read our overview on German permits for family reunification.

Studying in Germany

You can get a nine-month residence permit to come to Germany before being admitted to a German university (as long as you have the required qualifications), or a longer one to study in Germany on a full-time university course. You will need to prove that you have the necessary finances during your course and you may have to prove German language proficiency. Most universities have very comprehensive and helpful information about residence permits on their own websites.

Permanent residence in Germany

Once you have been living in Germany for a number of years, you can apply for a permanent residence permit. A permanent residence permit allows you to stay in the country indefinitely but you don't have the same rights as German citizens – you can't vote, for example. If you wish to have the same constitutional rights and legal status as any other German citizen, and you fulfil certain conditions, then you can apply to be naturalised after eight years of residence.

To find out more, see our guide to permanent visas in Germany

Asylum seekers and refugees

See the BAMF website for information on asylum law.

Electronic residence

Since September 2011, the residence title (the label that was stuck into the passport), residence card, permanent residence card and paper ID cards have been superseded by an electronic 'credit card' residence title. Existing 'paper' titles will retain their validity until August 31, 2016.

Working in Germany

If you're a national from a country in the EU, EEA or Switzerland, you are free to work in Germany without restriction, with the exception of citizens of the newer member state Croatia, who will need permits potentially up until 2020.

Everyone else can only work in Germany if their residence permit allows it. There is no separate work permit in Germany and the right to work — and to what extent you can work — will be detailed on the residence permit that you apply for before you enter the country (see above).

To read more about working in Germany and to understand which permit you need for your situation, see our guide to work permits in Germany.

For more information:
Contact the German embassy or consulate in your home country, or the BAMF Information service
Monday to Thursday: 9 am to 3 pm
Friday: 9 am to 2pm
: +49 911 943 6390

Before you set out in search of a job, take the time to your ask yourself the following four questions: Who am I? What am I good at? What do I want to do? What is possible? Maria-Theresia Jansen refers to this as the "inner inventory". To avoid wasting time searching aimlessly, it's important that you answer these questions honestly.

The experienced careers adviser explains why it makes sense to answer these questions: "A lot of graduates only look for jobs that correspond 100% with what they have studied. They automatically ignore everything else." A big mistake, stresses Jansen, because this "tunnel vision" can make life unnecessarily difficult. Extend your search: you don't always have to end up doing exactly what you learnt during your studies! "It's important to look at related fields and transfer knowledge to other areas."

2. Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you, not just the internet!

Obtain an overview of the different sectors of industry and companies. Career fairs and conventions for graduates are an ideal way of obtaining information and making new contacts. Information about such fairs is often posted on faculty notice boards.

Job vacancies are also advertised on university notice boards. Of course, you'll find plenty of information through the numerous search engines, but remember that your university may also be able to help you! The Career Centre usually has a database which you can use to research job vacancies. The Career Service will also help you launch your career: it can advise you how to update application documents, coach you in interview techniques, inform you about company presentations − the list is endless, and often free of charge!

3. Information about job prospects:

Many vacancies are advertised in sector-specific media: the "Verband Deutscher Ingenieure" (VDI) (Association of German Engineers) or the "Verband der Elektrotechnik" (VDE) (Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies) inform you not only about new developments in their respective industries but also about job openings in companies. There are numerous industry associations: an overview is available on the website BERUFENET. Enter your respective job title (e.g. biologist) and then select the appropriate job outline. You will find association addresses under "Informationsquellen" in the section "Berufs-/Interessenverbände, Arbeitgeber-/Arbeitnehmer-Organisationen". Industry associations also provide information about job openings.

Information about employment prospects for academics is available on the website of the Arbeitsagentur. To obtain an overview of regional job market prospects, Maria-Theresia Jansen recommends the Prognos Institut. The publishing company Staufenbiel also provides information about career opportunities and starting salaries for first-time job-seekers. According to a study carried out by the publishers, young engineers starting their career earn an average of between 38,000 and 47,000. In the automobile industry, graduate engineers earn an initial 46,000 on average. Graduates with a Master's degree in the natural sciences can expect an initial salary of 42,000.

4. Speaking German:

"The number of job openings is very limited if you don't speak German," says Jansen. This is why it's a good idea to take a language course while you're studying. Of course, you can do an entire degree in English at a German university. And fellow students might not have a problem answering you with a bit more than a "yes" or a "no". But for personal contact with future colleagues, it's definitely advisable to have a command of the German language!

GummandiEDU wishes you a successful start to your career!

Advice in summary:
Start looking for a job early on, at the latest four months before you finish studying!
Carry out a self-analysis!
Don't restrict your search too much!
Make use of the services offered by your university!
Take advantage of career fairs and the services offered by employment agencies!
By now you should be proficient in German! Take German language courses while studying!