Have you ever considered getting German citizenship?
Perhaps you’re fascinated by German culture, its powerful economy or beautiful scenery. Or perhaps you have German heritage in your family tree. Whatever your situation, German citizenship might be the right pathway for you.
At Digital Émigré, we’ve done extensive research on multiple citizenship pathways across the whole of the European Union (EU).
In this article we’ll discuss the pros and cons of German citizenship, the process and requirements, and different ways to obtain residency in Germany on your pathway to eventual citizenship.
If you’re thinking about moving to Germany, you’re not alone.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people relocate to the European country for a variety of reasons. Here are just a few of the many reasons why Germany is a great place to live.
Germany consistently ranks near the top of lists for the best quality of life in the world. This is due to a variety of factors, including the country’s low crime rate, excellent healthcare system, and strong economy.
While Germany isn’t the cheapest country to live in, it’s still affordable compared to some other Western countries, such as the UK or US.
And, with a strong economy, you’ll be able to find well-paying jobs to help offset the cost of living.
From the rolling hills of the Bavarian countryside to the majestic mountains of the Alps, Germany boasts some of the most stunning scenery in all of Europe.
If all this sounds appealing, what about the prospect of having access to it permanently – by getting German citizenship?
German Citizenship in a Nutshell
- Timeline to citizenship through naturalization: 6-8 years
- Dual citizenship allowed? No (except in special cases)
- Minimum income requirements for citizenship? None
- Minimum physical stay requirements: 183 days in each year
- Must pay tax in Germany? Yes
- Language requirements: B1 German
- Citizenship test required? Yes
- Passive income pathway available? No
- Investor residency pathway available? No, but German entrepreneur visa is similar
Benefits of German Citizenship
Once you become a German citizen, you’ll automatically gain EU citizenship. That makes you a full member of the EU, with the rights to live, work, do business, study and retire in any of the EU and EEA member states, plus Switzerland. That’s 31 stable, peaceful and economically strong countries!
Another benefit of German citizenship is Germany’s powerful passport, which allows its holders to travel to 190 countries without a visa.
Germany’s passport is probably better than whichever passport you already have, unless you’re from Japan or Singapore!
In fact, the German passport ranks second among all the world’s passports in terms of visa-free travel – several levels higher than the passports of the UK, US, Canada or Australia. What’s more, it’s the most powerful passport in the whole EU.
Becoming a German citizen also gives you the rights to vote and run for office in this influential European country.
Whenever travelling abroad, you’ll be entitled to consular protection from the German embassy in your destination country. You’ll also be protected by any other EU consulate, if Germany doesn’t have a presence in your destination country.
In short, German citizenship is an excellent option, but getting it isn’t for the faint hearted. But then, sometimes the best things are worth working hard for.
Read on to find out how you can start your journey to the EU’s strongest passport.
Does Germany allow dual citizenship?
One major downside of German citizenship is that Germany doesn’t typically recognize dual citizenship.
That means you may need to give up your original citizenship in order to qualify for the German one.
However, this law doesn’t apply under certain circumstances.
If you belong to one of the following groups, you could be eligible for dual citizenship in Germany:
- EU/EEA/Swiss nationals
- Nationals of former Soviet Union countries
- Those with parents who are US citizens
- Countries which forbid renunciation of citizenship
- Ethnic Germans
- Those with permission from the German authorities
In late 2021, Germany’s new government announced plans to allow dual citizenship under a simplified naturalization law. While this hasn’t yet taken effect, it’s promising news for those already resident in Germany on a pathway to citizenship.
German Citizenship after Brexit
If you’re a Brit seeking to regain your EU citizenship after Brexit, Germany could be a good option for you, especially if you have the right heritage or you’re already a resident in Germany.
However, if you’re not lucky enough to have a German ancestor, there are several other routes to acquiring citizenship of this beautiful EU country. We’ll examine all of them in the next section.
How to get German Citizenship
Germany offers several different pathway to citizenship, most of them similar to countries across the rest of Europe.
German citizenship is granted through three different ways under law:
- Jus sanguinis (right of blood)
- Jus soli (right of soil)
Jus sanguinis allows you to gain citizenship as a descendant of German nationals.
On the other hand, jus soli allows you to gain citizenship through being born on German soil, i.e. within the borders of Germany.
The third case, naturalization, is the most common route for readers of Digital Émigré, as it’s one that you can control by yourself.
Let’s now take a look at the different ways to get German citizenship.
German Citizenship through Descent
In law, citizenship by descent is based on the principle of jus sanguinis. Getting German citizenship by descent requires you to have at least one German parent.
Unlike some other European countries, such as Italy or Ireland, Germany only recognizes citizenship by descent for parents, not grandparents or any generations further back.
Getting German citizenship by descent can be a complicated process, especially when it comes to identifying the required documents to prove your eligibility. The application may also lead to you having to give up your current citizenship.
If this is your situation, we recommend proceeding with caution. You should seek advice from an experienced lawyer who is specialized in German immigration law.
German Citizenship by Birth
Citizenship by birth revolves around the principle of jus soli, right of soil.
Germany allows individuals to gain citizenship if they were born within the borders of Germany.
As usual, there are certain conditions attached to this, which are as follows:
- At least one of your parents must have lived in Germany for eight years or more before you were born,
- At the time of your birth, one of the parents must have had a permanent residence permit
- At the time of your birth, at least one parent held Swiss citizenship
What’s more, the child will also have to choose between keeping the parents’ original citizenship or taking up citizenship of Germany. It may be possible to apply for dual citizenship in certain cases.
German Citizenship by Naturalization
For those with no German heritage, citizenship by naturalization is the most common route.
The process is fairly bureaucratic and you’ll have to fulfil a long list of requirements before making your application.
Here’s an overview of the requirements:
- Being over 18 years old
- Having a clean criminal record
- Having held a German residence permit for at least 8 years
- Having held a German residence permit for at least 7 years, and attended an integration course
- Proving German language ability at B1 level on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
- Passing the German citizenship test
- Proving the ability to financially support yourself without state help
- Giving up any previous citizenships (although exceptions may be possible under certain circumstances)
You can apply for citizenship by naturalization if you meet all of the above requirements.
German Citizenship by Marriage
Becoming a German citizen through marriage is simply another form of citizenship by naturalization.
Just marrying a German doesn’t automatically make you eligible for citizenship. For starters, you must have been married for at least two years, and resident in Germany for at least three.
German Citizenship by Investment – is it possible?
Unlike some other European countries, such as Malta, Germany doesn’t have a citizenship by investment program. It doesn’t even have a dedicated residency by investment program, like Portugal does.
Germany has the strongest economy in the EU and, as a result, doesn’t need to seek foreign investment from individuals.
However, German residency law makes it possible for foreign investors to get a three-year residency permit by investing in the country.
This investment typically revolves around starting a business in Germany and employing at least five residents of the country.
Here are the additional requirements:
- Having a comprehensive business plan
- Having previous experience in a related area of business
- Making a convincing case that your business will have a positive effect on Germany
- Hiring at least five people who are residents of Germany
- Having sufficient funding for the business
- Having a clean criminal record and being aged over 18
It’s important to note that Germany’s equivalent to an investor visa doesn’t provide a shortcut to citizenship.
If you use this route, you’ll become eligible for permanent residency three years after making your investment, and after six years in total for applying for citizenship.
German Citizenship for Descendants of Victims of the Nazis
Germany provides a special naturalization situation for those descended from victims of the Nazis during World War Two.
If your parent or grandparent was in this category, you might be eligible for German citizenship through this route.
The law was amended in August 2021 to make more people eligible for citizenship. It’s now possible for individuals who were persecuted due to political, racial, or religious reasons (between January 30, 1933, and May 8,1945) to apply for citizenship in the following circumstances:
- Those who surrendered or lost their German citizenship before February 26, 1955, e.g. through acquiring foreign citizenship, or by marrying a foreigner,
- Those who were excluded from legally acquiring German citizenship by marriage, legitimization, or naturalization of those with German ethnic origin,
- Those who were not naturalized following application, or generally excluded for naturalization that would otherwise have been possible,
- Those who surrendered or lost their habitual abode in Germany, if established before January 30, 1933.
Application for German Citizenship
You’ll need to gather the following documents to include in your application:
- Application form
- Your existing German residence permit(s)
- Bank statements to prove your financial situation
- Certificate to prove your German language ability
- Receipts for payment of all associated naturalization fees
- Certificate from passing the citizenship test
Here’s a breakdown of the application fees for naturalization:
- Per adult application: €255
- Per child application (under 16): €51
- Citizenship test fee: €25
- Citizenship certificate: €25
Another requirement for the German citizenship application is passing the citizenship test.
The test includes 33 multiple choice questions around topics including democracy, history, and society. To pass, you need to get at least 17 questions correct.
To prepare for the exam, you can practise with free online tests or attend an in-person naturalization course.
Germany is quite rigorous in its language requirements for naturalization, so you’ll also have to prove your ability to speak and write German to at least a B1 level.
The main certificate for proving your language ability is called Zertifikat Deutsch. You can either get it by attending an integration course, or by attending language classes at a school in Germany.
Getting Your German Passport
After being approved for citizenship by naturalization, the next logical step is to get your German passport.
This valuable document will allow you to take up residency freely across the EU/EEA and Switzerland, plus use the e-gates at EU member state airports – avoiding large queues for third country nationals.
You can apply for the passport by making an appointment to attend in person at your local municipality office in Germany. You’ll need to provide the following documents:
- Application form
- Two recent passport photos
- Proof of address in Germany
- Current passport
- Naturalization certificate
- Birth certificate (translated if not in German or English)
- Marriage certificate, if applicable
Getting Residency in Germany
For those seeking citizenship by naturalization, the first step in the journey is acquiring legal residency in Germany.
If you’re an EU/EEA or Swiss citizen, it’s easy. All you need to do is move to Germany and declare your presence to the local authorities.
If you’re from outside the EU, you’ll need to use one of the recognized residency pathways to acquire legal status in Germany.
German residence permits are issued for study, work, and other activities. They revolve around the purpose of entry and planned length of stay.
The first step involves entering Germany with what’s known as a National Visa (to differentiate it from a tourist visa), then applying for temporary residency.
You then renew this temporary residency permit one or more times until you become eligible for permanent residence. Citizenship by naturalization is typically the next step after that.
One way to get temporary residency is by starting a business in Germany and getting the three-year temporary residence permit (as described above).
The full list of National Visa options includes different visas for work, study, research, and family reunion. Each has their own specific requirements which you must meet before entering Germany to seek temporary residency.
Germany vs other EU citizenship options
So how does German citizenship measure up to other options in the EU? We’ve compared some of the most popular options according to our key criteria for the citizenship journey.
As you can see from the below comparison, Germany has one of the longer citizenship timelines, although not as long as Spain or Italy.
The lack of easy dual citizenship is off-putting. But Germany’s recent announcement of plans to change this may herald a new era for German citizenship applications.
Also, Germany doesn’t have an easy route to get residency in the country, either by passive income or investment. The closest thing it has is the German investor visa, which requires the applicant to start a new business and hire five German residents.
|Country||Timeline||Dual citizenship ok?||Physical stay||Tax residency required?||Language level|
|German citizenship||6-8 years||No||183 days per year||Yes||B1 German|
|Cyprus citizenship||7 years (5 in some cases)||Yes||183 days per year, 365 days in final year||Yes||English only|
|French citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 French|
|Italian citizenship||10 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 Italian|
|Portuguese citizenship||5 years||Yes||7 days per year with Golden Visa||No||A2 Portuguese|
|Spanish citizenship||10 years||No||183 days per year||Yes||A2 Spanish|
|Irish citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year, 365 days in final year||Yes||English only|
|Luxembourg citizenship||5 years||Yes||183 days per year||Yes||B1 French or Luxembourgish|
Is it hard to get German citizenship?
Yes. Based on our evaluation of citizenship pathways across the EU, Germany counts among the most challenging. This is due to a combination of tough language requirements, the citizenship test, a long period of residency, lack of dual citizenship, and a highly bureaucratic application process.
Does a baby born in Germany get citizenship?
Yes. Any babies born in Germany after the year 2000 to foreign parents are eligible for German citizenship according to the principle of jus soli (right of soil).
What is the fastest way to get German citizenship?
One of the fastest ways to get German citizenship through marriage to a German national. In that case, you can apply for citizenship after three years. Otherwise, you can shorten the usual 8 year citizenship by naturalization pathway by reaching B2 level in German (6 years) or taking an integration course (7 years).
How can a foreigner get German citizenship?
A foreigner can get German citizenship either through descent, or naturalization (subject to meeting all necessary requirements).
Although Germany has Europe’s strongest passport, it’s not particularly easy to get.
Tough language requirements, the citizenship test, and the long timeline all combine to make the process a significant challenge.
What’s more, there aren’t any easy routes to get temporary residency in Germany – an essential step on the pathway to citizenship by naturalization.
If you’re looking for a faster and easier route to EU citizenship, we recommend you try Ireland or Portugal instead.