Do I Need a Visa? Germany VISA Information and Guide
Last updated: 20 April 2020 / by Sam Williams
A note about COVID-19: This guide is based on the general rules, but there may be some temporary restrictions in place due to the presence of the COVID-19 virus. Please contact your local German embassy for the latest information. You can find a list of global German embassies here. We are keeping the situation under close review and will update our guidance as necessary.
Individuals from all over the world travel to Germany every year for a holiday, study and work. Some only remain in Germany for a short period while others stay for a lifetime.
However, not everyone has the automatic right to visit Germany; much depends on where you are traveling from.
Here is a look at the different visa types for entry into Germany, and who needs to apply.
Entering Germany Without a Visa
Germany is a member of the EU and one of the 26 countries which make up the Schengen zone. The Schengen Zone is a group of European countries that have agreed to banish borders and allow unrestricted travel between them.
EU nationals also have freedom of movement, which allows the national of any EU country to live, study and work in Germany without the need for a visa.
EU nationals still need their passport to enter, and if they are planning on staying for longer than 90 days, studying or working, they will need to register at the local Bürgeramt in Germany.
For other nationals, if you have a visa to visit one of the Schengen countries, you will not need a second visa to visit another of the nations in the group. The countries which form part of Schengen with Germany are:
- Czech Republic
Anyone from outside the EU, EEA and Schengen Zone will need a visa to travel to Germany. However, Germany is allowing visa-free short-term travels for citizens some counties.
You could find up to date list at the website for the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Different terms may apply to the entry for third-country nationals traveling without a visa. Citizens of some countries can extend their visa beyond 90 days after they enter by applying for a residence visa. Others may only travel to Germany for 90 days in any 180-day period without applying for a visa.
Although there are no current plans to remove the visa exemption, from 2023 additional checks will apply. The new scheme is called ETIAS – European Travel Information and Authorisation – and is intended to capture terrorists and overstayers who are permitted to travel to the EU under the visa exemption rules.
Once ETIAS comes into force, a quick online application will need to be made, which will cost the applicant an estimated €7. It’s not a lengthy or complicated application like a visa, but allows authorities to carry out some background checks before providing clearance for travel. EEA/EU nationals will not need to complete this; ETIAS only applies to individuals from third countries who are eligible to travel to Germany under the visa exemption rules.
The UK was never part of the Schengen zone but was formerly part of the EU. It has since departed. Final withdrawal plans have not yet been formalized, which leaves individuals wishing to travel to Germany in limbo and unsure what documents will be required.
Entering Germany With a Visa
If you are not from the EU and your country doesn’t have a visa concession arrangement with Germany and the EU, you’ll need to apply for a visa.
Any non-EU individual who wants to study, work or stay for longer than 90 days will also need to apply for a visa or a residence permit.
This should be done before travel, other than a very few exceptions such as Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, Japan, Israel and South Korea. For a current list of all those countries which can apply for residence permits after travel, check the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Whether you are entering the country with a visa or without, there are certain conditions of travel which must be met:
- You must not pose any kind of threat to public order or national security
- Your reason for traveling to Germany must be understandable and plausible
- You must be able to fund your traveling and living costs while in Germany
- You must have valid travel health insurance
- You must be willing to leave Germany before your visa expires (where applicable)
- Your passport should be value for six months beyond your intended stay in Germany (three months may be acceptable in some cases)
If you need a visa to travel to Germany, you’ll need to know what type to apply for. We’re now going to take a more in-depth look at the types of visas available.
Types of Visas Available
The German visa system is relatively simple, but transparency is essential.
If your purpose for visiting is not visible and understandable, your application could quickly be declined.
You will also only be allowed to stay for the purpose you specify. If your circumstances change and you want to live in Germany for a different reason, you may have to return to your home country and submit a new visa application.
Therefore, it is very important to be as accurate as possible from the start.
These are the types of visas available for travel to Germany:
If your country does not have a visa exemption, you will need a Category C visa to visit Germany for any short-term trip, including visiting family, holidays and business trips.
The reason for your trip should be made clear, and this cannot be changed after arrival, nor converted to a residence permit.
If you decide you’d like to stay longer, you will typically have to go back home and reapply for the correct category of visa.
The specific types of short-term visa include:
- Visiting family or friends
- Medical care
- Religion, Sport, Cultural or Film Crew
- Trade Fairs and Exhibitions
As Germany is a member of the Schengen zone, you can enter the country on a Schengen visa. This can either be an application made directly to Germany or via another Schengen country. The point a traveler enters the EU should usually be the country they name as their primary purpose for traveling to the Schengen zone.
It’s possible to obtain single-entry or multiple-entry Schengen visas. This does not refer to the number of Schengen countries you are permitted to visit.
A single-entry Schengen visa means you can enter the Schengen area once, and visit as many Schengen countries as you like up to the maximum of 90 days. However, you can’t leave the entire Schengen zone and re-enter on a single-entry Schengen visa; for this, you will need a multiple-entry Schengen visa.
Whether you have a single-entry or multiple-entry Schengen visa you must not exceed 90 days before leaving.
Airport Transit Visa
An airport transit visa may be needed if your flight is landing in Germany and you are catching an onward connection to a different country.
Providing you remain within the International Transit Area, you may not need an airport transit visa unless you are a national of the following countries:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
Even if you are a national of one of the above countries, you may be exempted from applying for an airport transit visa if you hold any of the following:
- Current US visa
- Expired or current non-Schengen visa issued by the US
- A current and valid Schengen visa
- A visa for the UK, Cyprus, Canada, Japan, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria or Croatia
- A Service or Official Turkish passport
- A UK “Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National”
- A diplomatic passport
* Jordanian nationals who have a visa for Australia, Israel or New Zealand do not need to apply for an airport transit visa.
Not all airports are suitable for transiting onwards.
Also, there are five airports where you don’t need an airport transit visa no matter where you come from. These airports are:
- Munich (24 hours)
- Frankfurt/Main (24 hours)
- Hamburg (between 4.30 am and 11.30 pm)
- Düsseldorf (between 6 am and 9 pm and with prior arrangement of the transit between the airline and cross-border security)
- Berlin (6 am to 11 pm) at Berlin-Tegel (applies to Air-Berlin passengers only)
These rules only apply for short stopovers within a single airport within the Schengen zone.
If any of the following apply, you will need a short-term visitor’s visa for your transit instead:
- You have an open return on your ticket
- You are stopping over at more than one airport within the Schengen zone
- You have to collect your luggage and/or check back in again
- You remain in the International Transit Area for more than 12 hours
If you need an airport transit visa, don’t forget this needs to be applied for in advance in the same way as any other German visa.
If you are hoping to stay in Germany for more than 90 days and your nationality means you would normally apply for a Schengen visa, a long-term visa will be required. This is a Category D national visa and you should submit your application before you travel.
You will be asked to specify which type of long-term visa you are applying for, and you should be honest about your purpose. The main types of long-term visa granted are:
- Looking for work in Germany
- Joining family, partner or spouse
- Conducting scientific or academic research
- Accepting a job offer or becoming a freelancer
- To undergo training
- To study at a university or other specified higher education institution
- To start up an entrepreneurial venture
- To work as an au pair
- To seek asylum or refuge
- For medical treatment
If approved for a long-term visa, you’ll need to apply for a residence permit within three months of arrival. This residence permit will be directly linked to the reason you gave on your visa application and can’t be changed.
You will need to submit various pieces of documentation with your visa application; precisely what’s required will depend on your reason for travel. However, this will generally include proof of your purpose, such as a contract of employment or enrolment onto a university course plus proof of financial independence.
If you want to work in Germany, it will help your case if you have obtained recognition for any of your vocational or academic qualifications. This is a formal process that recognizes the skills and knowledge you have.
For jobs that are regulated, recognition is mandatory, but even for non-regulated jobs, it’s exceptionally advantageous.
Gaining recognition will also help during the visa application process as it clearly sets out your case for qualifying for a residence permit. If you have recognized skills and qualifications, and meet certain other criteria (including a minimum salary threshold), you may be eligible for a type of residence permit known as a Blue Card.
This allows you to remain in Germany for longer without having to reapply and allows a faster progression to a permanent right to reside. Germany is particularly keen to receive visa applications from professionals or highly skilled workers, and any evidence you can obtain to demonstrate this will offer an advantage.
The Central Office for Foreign Education (ZAB) in Germany can help you with the process of recognition in advance of your visa application.
Navigating the Paperwork
You should now have a good understanding of the different rules which apply to visit Germany and when a visa is needed.
The more information you supply to back up your application, the better your chances of approval – Germans love documentation!
Applying for the right visa for your needs will ensure that you will not be refused entry and can make the most of your time in the beautiful country.