Settlement permit: How to apply for a German Permanent Residence Permit

updated on 11. April 2022 19 minutes reading time
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Foreign nationals who want to live in Germany need a so-called Aufenthaltstitel (“residence permit”) The Niederlassungserlaubnis, (“settlement permit” or “permanent residence permit”) is a form of residence permit. Find out how to get this settlement permit, including which documents are needed for the application and how it differs from other residence permits.

Contents:

 

A settlement permit is the legal status that lets you live and work in Germany forever. But, there is a long journey before you get there.

 

 

Settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis): What are the application requirements?

The settlement permit or permanent residence permit entitles the holder to live and work in Germany for an unlimited period. If you don’t have German citizenship but would like to stay in Germany permanently, you need a residence permit which allows you to:

  • Work as an employee
  • To operate a business

Beyond that, to be eligible for a settlement permit certain conditions apply. Let’s explore them below.

Residence permit already in existence

Your eligibility depends on proof of an existing German residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) for at least five years (section 9, paragraph 2, sentence 1 of the Residence Act, AufenthG).

Do you need legal support to apply for a German visa, residence and work permit?

 

Guaranteeing your livelihood

You must prove that you can support yourself and, if applicable, your family members. This means that if receive benefits – e.g. from the Jobcenter, Arbeitsamt (employment office) or Sozialamt (social welfare office) – you ineligible to apply.

Also, you need to prove that you have sufficient health insurance for yourself and your family members (section 9, paragraph 2, sentence 2 of the Residence Act).

Contributions to the pension insurance (Rentenversicherung)

When applying for a settlement permit, you must provide proof that you have made compulsory or voluntary contributions to the statutory pension insurance scheme for at least 60 months (section 9 (2) sentence 3 Residence Act).

No criminal convictions

Similar to a “good character test” in other countries, you can’t apply for a settlement permit in Germany if you’ve previously committed a criminal offence.

There must be no doubt that public security or order would be endangered in any way by the applicant (section 9, paragraph 2, sentence 4 of the Residence Act).

According to section 41, paragraph 1 of the Federal Central Register Act (BZRG), the naturalisation authority has the right to unrestricted information about the applicant. This means that the naturalisation authority may request to see the applicant’s certificate of good conduct.

Permit to pursue a professional activity (work permit)

If you are an employee, you need an employment permit, which you have to submit when applying for a settlement permit.

If you are not an employee but are, for example, self-employed, you must be present other work permits (section 9 Para. 2 S. 5, 6 AufenthG).

Acceptable German language skills

To obtain a settlement permit, you must be proficient in the German language. This means your german language skills are B1 level (section 9 para. 2 p. 7 AufenthG).

German naturalisation test

In some countries, foreigners have to take a naturalisation test to gain citizenship or permanent residency. The same goes for Germany.

The so-called Einbürgerungstest (naturalisation test) has been compulsory in Germany since 2008 per section 9, paragraph 2, sentence 8 of the Residence Act. The test’s purpose is to assess knowledge of “the legal and social order and living conditions in Germany”.

Currently, the test comprises 33 questions, which cover subjects such as “Life in Democracy”, “History and Responsibility” and “People and Society”.

Register for the test at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge).

Adequate living space

When applying for a settlement permit, you must be able to prove that you have sufficient living space.

Two factors, in particular, determine whether living space is sufficient: the condition and the size of the flat, which is calculated based on the number of occupants.

According to Art. 1 Para. 2.4 of the General Administrative Regulation on the Residence Act of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, adequate living space is defined as follows:

  • Children under two years of age are not counted in the calculation of required living space.
  • For each child under six years of age, 10m² of living space is assessed.
  • For each family member over six years of age, 12m² of living space is taken into account.
  • Adjacent rooms such as kitchen and bathroom must be available.

 

Settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis): Exceptions, special regulations and amendments

Under certain circumstances, there are exceptions concerning the above requirements.

For example, persons with physical, mental or psychological illnesses, impairments or disabilities may be exempted from some regulations under certain circumstances.

These include proof of independent means of subsistence, the payment of compulsory contributions, proof of language skills of level B1 or knowledge of the naturalisation test (section 9 (2) Residence Act).

Apart from this, the following groups of persons may be granted a settlement permit per the Residence Act:

  • Graduates of German universities (§ 18b AufenthG).
  • Highly qualified persons (§ 19 AufenthG)
  • Holders of an EU Blue Card  (§ 19a para. 6 AufenthG)
  • Self-employed persons (§ 21 para. 4 AufenthG)
  • On humanitarian, international or political grounds (§ 26, paragraphs 3 and 4 of the Residence Act)
  • Foreigners living in a familiäre Gemeinschaft (“family community” with a German (e.g., a foreign parent of a German minor) (§ 28, paragraph 2, sentence 1, Residence Act)
  • Permanent right of residence for children (§ 35, paragraph 1, sentences 1, 2 Residence Act)
  • Former Germans (§ 38 para. 1 sentence 1 no. 1 Residence Act)

 

Settlement permit after three years

There are some exceptional cases where a settlement permit can be granted after three years instead of the usual five. For example, if you have a spouse who has German citizenship, you can receive a settlement permit early.

But, this is on the condition that there are no grounds for the applicant to be deported, proof of sufficient knowledge of German (at least language level B1) and the family relationship with the German spouse continues (section 28 (2) Residence Act).

Matrimonial property regime implications for entrepreneurs

For foreigners who want to start businesses in Germany, being married could have some suprising implications.

The matrimonial property regime of the marital contract may play a role in setting up a company under certain circumstances. Depending on which matrimonial property regime applies, the spouse is entitled to the equalisation of accrued gains in the event of a divorce.

 

Settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis): Do I need one if I’m setting up a German company abroad?

If you intend to set up a company in Germany but don’t want to be a resident in Germany, you will usually only need a visa for the time during the formation stage.

You will only need a residence permit or settlement permit if you intend to continue to reside in Germany after setting up your business.

Bear in mind, for some founders who neither have German citizenship nor permanent residency in Germany, face many obstacles when setting up a business in Germany. For example, banks may reject entrepreneurs with certain nationalities and no fixed residence in Germany.

You can find out here what the special needs are when opening a business account without German citizenship.

You should also note that additional documents may be required when setting up a business abroad. For example, getting official translations of your formation documents certified by an apostille.

Founders from countries that are not a part of the “Hague Agreement” can’t use the apostille. Instead, they require legalisation to certify formation documents.

 

 

Settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis): How to apply for a settlement permit in Germany

Submitting a settlement permit application

Submit your written application to the competent immigration authority. The next step in the settlement permit application process is to make an appointment with the competent immigration office for an in-person appointment.

Required documents:

At the appointment, you must bring the following records with you:

  • Completed application for the settlement permit
  • Valid passport or passport replacement
  • Current passport photo (according to biometric standards)
  • Disability certificate (Schwerbehindertenausweis) (if applicable)
  • Proof of subsistence (e.g. salary slips, pension statements, maintenance payments from third parties, profit and loss account in the case of self-employed persons)
  • Tenancy agreement  or proof of homeownership
  • Proof of successful completion of an integration course (if applicable)
  • Work permit, occupational licence or other necessary certificates for gainful employment
  • Proof of receipt of other benefits (e.g. child benefit, child supplement, parental allowance, childcare allowance or similar benefits)

Depending on whether you are an employee, pensioner or incapacitated for work, further documents may be required for the application:

  1. Employee (Arbeitnehmer)
    • Employment contract (Arbeitsvertrag)
    • Current employer’s certificate (Bescheinigung des Arbeitgebers) that is not older than 14 days
    • Salary statements (Gehaltsnachweise) for the last six months
    • Pension insurance history (Rentenversicherungsverlauf)
  2. Self-employed persons (Selbständige) and freelancers (Freiberufler) 
    • Completed audit report be by a tax adviser (Steuerberater), auditor (Wirtschaftsprüfer) or tax agent (Steuerbevollmächtigte)
    • All documents mentioned in the audit report, e.g. extract from the commercial register (Handelsregister)
    • Last tax assessment notice (Steuerbescheid)
  3. Pensioner (Rentner)
    • Pension notice (Rentenbescheid)
  4. If you are disabled (Erwerbsunfähigkeit) or have a reduced earning capacity (Erwerbsminderung)
    • Employment contract (Arbeitsvertrag)
    • Pension decision on the incapacity for work or reduction in earning capacity (Rentenbescheid über die Erwerbsunfähigkeit oder Erwerbsminderung)
    • Current expert opinion from the employment agency (Agentur für Arbeit) or a comprehensive medical certificate from a specialist doctor

 

Depending on the documents you have to submit, the processing time of your application for a settlement permit may vary. The average time is usually between six and eight weeks.

Important: The settlement permit may expire under certain circumstances. For example, if the holder of a settlement permit leaves for more than six months or a period set by the immigration authorities (Einwanderungsbehörde).

Do you need legal support to apply for a German visa, residence and work permit?

 

Costs

Generally, the total costs for applying for and obtaining a settlement permit range between €110 and €150. The fees for applying for and obtaining a settlement permit are set out in Section 44 of the Residence Ordinance (AufenthV).

The costs are slightly higher for university graduates and self-employed persons.

In some cases, applicants can be exempted from the fees or only have to pay a reduced fee according to section 52 of the Residence Ordinance (e.g. spouses, life partners and underage unmarried children of German citizens).

Turkish nationals have to pay significantly lower fees for obtaining a settlement permit due to the ruling of the Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) in 2013 (BVerwG, Ref.: 1 C 12/12). According to the ruling, the fees for applicants with Turkish citizenship amount to a maximum of €28.80.

 

 

Settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis) vs. other residence titles

In German immigration law (Ausländerrecht), several residence titles legally confirm the residence of foreign nationals in Germany.

The settlement permit is an unlimited residence title that entitles the holder to pursue professional employment in Germany On the other hand, the simple residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) is usually limited to five years.

Citizens who are not from EU or EEA member states generally need a residence title for Germany.

Alongside short-term residence titles such as the visa, the following residence statuses can be issued:

Residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis)

The residence permit is limited to five years and is issued to the following persons:

  • Persons who want to study in Germany (§§ 16,17 AufenthG).
  • Persons seeking work in Germany (§§ 18-21 AufenthG)
  • Persons who can stay in Germany for reasons of international law, humanitarian or political reasons (§§ 22-26 AufenthG)
  • Persons who already have family in Germany and are reuniting with them (§§ 27-36 AufenthG)
  • Foreign or former German citizens who wish to return to Germany (§§ 37, 38 AufenthG)
  • Persons who have already been granted a permanent residence permit in another EU member state (section 38a Residence Act).

The residence permit may be extended under certain circumstances (e.g. a settlement permit may also follow), provided that the relevant requirements can be met by the applicant.

EU Blue Card

The EU Blue Card is a residence permit issued for the first time. It is limited to four years and is issued, for example, to graduates of universities from third countries.

With the EU Blue Card, holders have the opportunity to pursue employment in line with their qualifications.

The prerequisite for obtaining the EU Blue Card is proof of a salary that is at least two-thirds of the annual contribution assessment ceiling of the general pension insurance. For some professions requiring special staff, the income threshold has been reduced to 52%.

When the EU Blue Card expires, holders can apply for a settlement permit if they meet the specified requirements. If the applicant can prove knowledge of the German language that exceeds level B1, the settlement permit can be issued after only 21 months.

EU Permanent Residence Permit

Like the settlement permit, this is an unlimited residence title that entitles the holder to gain professional employment in Germany.

The requirements for a permanent residence permit are also very similar to those of the settlement permit. With the permanent residence permit, holders can additionally move within the EU states and be employed.

A permanent residence permit also grants them the same rights to social benefits as German citizens.

 

 

If you’re reading this article these might also be useful: 

Forming a German company from outside of Germany
Find out how the process of forming a company from abroad works and how to avoid the pitfalls.

How to start a company in Germany: A company formation checklist
A road map to incorporate a GmbH or UG in Germany – in plain English.

 

The information published on our site is all written and checked by experts with the utmost care. Nevertheless, we cannot guarantee its accuracy, as laws and regulations are subject to constant change. Therefore, always consult a specialist in a specific case – we will be happy to put you in touch.

firma.de accepts no liability for any damage caused by errors in the texts.

 

 

The Master list of all Company Formation articles can be found here. 

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