Once you’ve been living in Germany for a few years, you’ll probably want to eliminate the stress of yearly visa applications and get yourself the right of permanent residence. Simply put, that means you can stay in the country as long as you like – even forever!

The best thing about gaining the right to permanent residency is that your visa status is no longer tied to your employment in the same way it is with a work permit. That means you can change jobs, go part-time or even enjoy a life of leisure (if you’re lucky enough to have the cash) without risking losing your right to live in Germany.

Permanent EC residence

You can apply for permanent EC residence after you have lived in Germany for five years. This gives you the right to live and work permanently in Germany – and the rest of the EU. There is also a settlement permit option, which only applies to your right to live and work in Germany, not the rest of Europe. On the plus side, it can be possible to apply for a settlement permit in under five years, for example if you are a highly skilled worker.

To gain the right of permanent residence and do away with your need for Germany work visa applications, you must have:

  • Five uninterrupted years of living in Germany
  • A livelihood that allows you to support yourself and your family, pay tax and prepare for old age
  • ‘Adequate’ knowledge of Germany – including the language and social systems. An integration course can be helpful in learning this information.
  • No criminal record
  • Somewhere to live

If you want to go the whole hog and apply for full German citizenship, you can then be granted the same rights and legal status as German citizens. You’ll be able to vote, live and work freely within the EU, and have consular protection. Of course, with these rights come responsibilities and you’ll also become eligible for civic duties, such as jury service. If you become a German citizen you will no longer be subject to German visa requirements, but you will probably have to give up your US passport – and pay a hefty fee in the process!

How to get a German citizenship

There are three different ways to become a bona fide German citizen:

  • Naturalization – you have been living in Germany for several years and wish to become a permanent German citizen
  • Marriage – you have married a German national. Citizenship does not come automatically with marriage. Conditions include being married for at least two years and living in Germany for at least three years.
  • Birth – you were born in Germany and at least one of your parents has the right of permanent residence, OR you have at least one German parent. If your parents have different nationalities, you can usually take dual citizenship at birth.

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German citizenship requirements

To apply for German citizenship, you will have to meet certain criteria. As well as having eight years of living in Germany under your belt, you will need to pass an hour-long naturalization test on all aspects of German culture and:

  • have right of residence
  • show that you can support yourself and your family without the support of welfare benefits
  • speak and write fluent German to the equivalent of level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
  • have a clear criminal record with no convictions
  • show your commitment Germany’s constitutional principles

Applications costs around $250 (€225) for adults and $55 (€51) for children. Sitting the naturalization test costs an additional $27 (€25).

So just how fluent does your German really need to be? According to the Interior Ministry, you’ll need to have ‘sufficient command’ of the German language in order to communicate well in everyday situations and with authorities, and you should be able to hold a conversation with someone of a similar age and education to you. It also includes being able to read a German text on a general topic.

Hopefully after eight years of living in Germany your language skills will be up to scratch, but it’s worth taking some extra classes or getting a tutor if not.

How to apply for a German visa

So let’s cut to the chase – how do you apply for citizenship? First up, you need an application form. You can get one from your local authority, council or district office. If you are unsure where to go, just contact your local advice office for more information. It’s also well worth scheduling an appointment with one of their advisers to sit down and go through the documents you’ll need for your application. If you are applying from abroad, contact your local German embassy.

The naturalization test is perhaps the most daunting part of the citizenship application process. The test consists of 33 multiple choice questions on important areas of German culture, such as history, democracy and people. Each state has a few questions specific to the area you are living in. You need to answer 17 out of 33 correctly to pass – that’s just over 50%. Don’t worry if you don’t get it first time, you can re-sit after a bit more study!

Top tip – prepare for the test by going along to your local naturalization Online Test Center to do some practice tests for free. Some states also run naturalization preparation courses.

Once you have passed the test, and demonstrated you fulfil the other criteria, you will have earned the right to be a German citizen with all of the benefits that entails.

What better way to make your love of your adopted home official?