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Immigration & Work Permits

Work Permits

Foreign workers are required to have the proper visas and work permits in Germany, as established by immigration laws. Work permits must be secured for employees, and sponsored by a locally licensed and incorporated entity, which can be a problem for companies just entering the German market. If you have yet to complete the incorporation process you can use an outsourced management company or GEO Employer of Record to sponsor the employee for the necessary permits.

Whether establishing a company in Germany or relocating as a self-employed expat, visas are an important step to consider. It is recommended to check with the consulate or a local embassy whether your trip will require a visa, and which of the following types are most suitable.

  • Visit: If just visiting for three months or less, holders of a US passport or residency will generally not need a visa to visit for up to 90 days within any 6-month period. This may be sufficient for short and simple business trips, e.g. to set up a business.
  • Schengen visas: If one is not eligible to go without a visa, a Schengen Visa would be required for the same length of short term trip, but a residence permit is not likely to be required
  • Longer-term trips: If one is spending more than three months or more actively working (e.g. ‘employed’ by the company) a national visa and residence permit will be required.
  • Residency: If one is going for a long-term trip as above or to relocate as a self-employed freelancer, a residency permit will be required.

Your Options

Use Your Own Company

For a standard work permit or Arbeitserlaubnis the process is as follows:

Non-EU citizens (except nationals of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and USA) must apply in person for a German National Residence Permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) at the German Embassy (Deutsche Botschaft) / Consulate General (Generalkonsulat) in their  country of residence before they can enter Germany. They will need the documents listed below as well as a completed application form. To obtain an appointment can take up to 6 weeks. Once the application is lodged in the appointment it takes 8-26 weeks as the application is sent to the local Foreigners Authority (Ausländerbehörde) where the employee will reside in Germany. The approval of the Federal Labor Agency and Foreigners Authority can take a long time if they have difficulty going through the “Labor market check” and it coincides with a slow time e.g. European summer holidays.

The Aufenthaltserlaubnis is normally issued in conjunction with an entry visa and valid for 3 months. This typically allows the employee to enter Germany and start work – this right will be explicitly stated on the Aufenthaltserlaubnis.

The German local Foreigners Authority (Ausländerbehörde) and Federal Labor Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) must still confirm that the work concerned is suitable and that the employee will not disadvantage the employment of local German or EU employees. This may also involve the local Chamber of  Industry and Commerce (Deutscher Industrie- unde Handelskammertag). After these checks are completed the work permit is granted.

The following documents are required


  • Original signed contract of employment in German showing the occupation, salary level, dates of employment and other relevant terms.
  • Original letter from employer (Arbeitgeber) to take responsibility for the employees health insurance and other costs whilst they are in Germany
  • Original letter  from employer explaining why a foreign national is required for the position.
  • Additional documents may be required by the German authorities


  • Passport copy
  • Copy of Diplomas
  • CV
  • Health insurance certificate ( Has to be recognized by German)
  • Job description in German
  • Local Employment contract with dates and annual salary (Original German version)
  • Residence address (in home country)
  • Place of work (in Germany)
  • Address of intended residence in Germany
  • Further documents may be required by different embassies.

Cost : varies depending on local embassy

Processing time : 12 weeks+ depending on if Labor Market Check is required

Use the Shield GEO Employer of Record Solution

Depending on the Visa type (Blue Card/Resident Permits or Skilled Worker Visas/Resident Permit) and the nationality of the applicant the visa process can take 2 – 8 weeks.

Documentation required (Employee): Two completed application forms, Passport copy, CV, Employment Contract or a Letter of Intent, educational degree certificates (these need to be notarized) and 2 passport copies.

The process for obtaining the Skilled Worker/Resident Permit (National Visa) is as follows:

  • Shield GEO’s local entity and the employee sign a local employment contract.
  • If the applicant is from a Non-Visa Dependent country (Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and USA) they can travel into Germany and the visa application can take place in country.
  • If the applicant is from a visa-dependent country the national visa application must first be lodged at the German Consulate in the applicants country of residency.
  • If the role is ‘whitelisted’ (skill shortage) and has pre-approval from the labour authority the approval process will be around 2 weeks.
  • If the role is not ‘whitelisted’ and there is no pre-approval the German Consulate we will forward a request for approval to the local labour authority. This can take anywhere from 2-6 months.
  • For pre-approval Shield’s local entity will need to have advertised the role for a period of time with the labour authority before they labour authority will approve the application.
  • Once the application has been approved by the Aliens Office and by the Work Office, the Embassy/Consulate will issue the applicant with a Residence Permit which authorizes the applicant to work in Germany.
  • Note that those from non-visa Dependent Countries can apply for their Residence Permit after entering Germany.

Types of visas in Germany

Category Description of Visa
Visits ('tourist' visas)

Depending on the activity you will be doing in Germany a tourist visa is generally the easiest option, requiring no special preparation or documents aside from the usual passport. Please note you cannot perform work activities on a tourist visa. While US citizens generally won’t require a visa for trips up to three months long, it is recommended to check with the consulate or embassy before going.

Cost: None
Time: None

Schengen Visas

Although US citizens generally don’t need visas for short-term (up to 3 month) stays, if a visa is required Schengen visas can be issued for short-term visiting or business purposes.

Schengen visas allow free movement between ‘Schengen’ states: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

These visas are generally authorized for short periods of time, usually for a 3-month period once in six months. For a longer period of time, national-visas are required. Schengen visas cannot be extended or re-written for any other purpose.
How to Apply for A Schengen Visa

1. Submitting the Application at a Local German Embassy
Applications for a visa can also be found on most German embassy sites. For those based in the US, the German Missions in the United States offers more information at www.germany.info.

2. Generally, the original and 2 photocopies of the following documents will be required in English or German:

● Application form,
● A valid travel document (e.g. passport) valid for at least 3 months after end of your trip,
● Two recent passport photographs,
● Round-trip airline ticket or proof of confirmed flight reservations,
● Evidence of place to stay and purpose of visit (such as a invitation from a business partner in Germany),
● Proof of travel medical insurance with a minimum coverage of 30,000 Euros (US $50,000) that is valid for all Schengen countries,
● Evidence of travel insurance,
● Evidence of sufficient resources (e.g. money) to pay for living costs and return to home country, or Company guarantee letter with bank endorsement
● Declaration of genuineness of documents.

Time: Up to 15 days
Cost: $92.00 (USD)

Work Permits and National Visas

For trips that will take longer than three months, a national visa will be required. The process is mostly similar to the Schengen Visa process, however there is a significantly longer wait of up to several months. It will also require a residence permit and additional steps registering after arriving in Germany.

Note: foreigners from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Switzerland and the United States are able to freely enter Germany as a non-visa “tourist” but can apply to acquire/change their residence permit even after entering Germany. Citizens of all other countries must apply for visas and residence permits before arriving in the country. For those based in the US, the German Missions in the United States offers more information on their website.

How to Apply for a National Visa:

1. Submit Application at Local German Embassy
Applications for a visa can be found on most German embassy sites. In addition to the documents mentioned in the Schengen Visa application above, the following are required:

● Two completed application forms and three recent passport photographs
● If intending to stay in Germany more than 12 months, a Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (Polizeiliches Fuehrungszeugnis fuer berufliche Zwecke) may also be required, see below for details.

Time: Up to several months
Cost: $92.00 (USD)

2. Apply for a Residence Permit
This can also be done at the nearest German embassy. Whether a permit is granted depends on the following criteria:

● The business plan
● Qualifications and experience
● Level of financial investment*
● Company’s impact on employment
● Your contribution to the national or regional economy, innovation, and research
● Competition with established businesses

*Note that for level of financial investment, immigrants planning to invest at least €250,000 in Germany are highly likely to obtain a residence permit almost automatically. The residence permit will be valid for a limited period of time, and will afterwards need to be renewed at the local immigration office in Germany.

3. Apply for Certificate of Health for Residence Permit (Gesundheitszeugnis für Aufenthaltserlaubnis)

If already in Germany, these can be obtained from a German doctor or local health office (Gesundheitsamt). There are no clear guidelines on acquiring one before entering Germany, though it is expected that any doctor can provide suitable certification. A local German embassy would need to provide advice.

Cost: Around €150 from a doctor, or around €75 from the Gesundheitsamt.
Time: 1 day

4. Apply for Certificate of Good Conduct (Führungszeugnis)
The German Police Certificate of Good Conduct (Führungszeugnis) is a certificate issued by the Federal Office of Justice, which indicates whether or not the applicant has a criminal record in Germany.

These can be applied for through assistance from your home country’s embassy or consulate.

Cost: €13
Time: Up to 2 weeks (estimated)

No source of information could be found that indicates the timeframe for this certificate; anticipate several weeks as it must go through international post and processing within Germany and then be sent back.

5. Register at Local Residence Registration Office (Einwohnermeldeamt)

Within a week of arriving in Germany you must register at your local residence registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt, also known as Bürgeramt), usually located in the town or city hall. They issue an Anmeldebestätigung which will be required in conjunction with a passport for identification.

The following documents are needed:
● Passport and visa,
● Two passport photographs
● Birth certificate (and marriage certificate if applicable)
● Proof of travel health insurance
● Your residence registration (Anmeldebestätigung)
● Proof of residence (e.g. rental contract)
● Certificate of good conduct (Führungszeugnis)
● Certificate of Health for Residence Permit (Gesundheitszeugnis für Aufenthaltserlaubnis)

In addition, depending on your circumstances:
● Unemployed (e.g. business visit but not actively ‘employed’): proof of means of support, such as letter from the company or proof of adequate financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis) of around €700/month
● Employed (e.g. for your employees being sent to Germany): proof of employment or letter from employing company
● Self-employed: proof of your status, such as membership of a professional or trade body, a VAT number or registration on a trade register

Cost: None.
Time: One to two weeks (while waiting you will receive a certificate stating you are awaiting a residence permit).


Visas in Germany can be complex to negotiate because of the number of steps involved and the required involvement from German sponsors. Following the process outlined in this guide should give you a good start, but if you would like more information about visas in Germany or need help getting sponsored please contact us.



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