Visas and Work Permits 8 min

Work permits and visas in Germany: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
February 13, 2024
Sally Flaxman


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If you’re hiring in Germany or relocating an existing employee, you must ensure they have the correct documentation, including the relevant work permit and visa to work in the country.

This can be a tricky process, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Germany’s stringent and often complex labor laws. Failing to follow immigration rules in Germany can lead to fines, penalties, or legal issues. The best way to avoid risks while hiring abroad is to partner with an employer of record (EOR) who can simplify global hiring for you. From benefits and payroll to taxes and compliance with local labor laws, an EOR like Remote minimizes the hassle and risk of hiring in Germany and beyond.

With all the complexities around work permits and visas in Germany, this guide simplifies the process so you can better understand what types of work permits and visas workers require if they want to work in the country.

Why is eligibility important?

As one of Europe's — and, indeed, the world’s — economic powerhouses, Germany is a hugely attractive country for both workers and businesses to settle in. However, its work permit and visa requirements can be challenging to understand. If you and your employee fail to comply with them, you may receive fines, penalties, ongoing scrutiny, and reputational damage.

These risks are only growing, too, especially as trends shift towards remote work and governments start to reassess their existing policies. For example, there are many instances of workers on tourist visas overstaying in countries. This can create issues for themselves and the companies they work for, and authorities are cracking down.

As a result, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is above board and that your people have the right paperwork to legally work in Germany.

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Who is eligible to work in Germany?

German citizens are, by default, eligible to work in Germany (even if they currently live abroad), as are permanent residents.

As a fully-fledged member of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), citizens of other EU/EEA member states can also live and work in Germany without the need for a visa or work permit. Currently, this includes citizens of the following countries:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland

Nationals of the following countries can enter Germany without a visa, but they will require a residence permit to be able to work there legally:

  • The US

  • Australia

  • Canada

  • Israel

  • Japan

  • New Zealand

  • South Korea

Nationals of other countries can also live and work in Germany but, in addition to a residence permit, they will also require a visa to enter the country.

Work permits and visas for non-citizens of Germany

In Germany, work permits are included in the recipient’s residence permit. Therefore, your employee does not need to apply for them separately.

While citizens of the countries listed in the previous section can enter Germany without a visa, they will still need a residence permit to legally work in Germany.

A German residence permit allows you to stay in Germany for longer than 90 days. During this time, you're allowed to work, study, or engage in other activities within the country.

Note that, if the employee intends to move to Germany and begin work immediately (i.e. they are relocating), this permit must be obtained before they move.

If the employee is not a citizen of one of the countries listed above, they will require a visa to enter Germany and a residence permit to work there.

What about the Schengen Visa?

The Schengen Visa allows holders to visit any Schengen member state — such as Germany — for up to 90 days.

On its own, though, it does not allow holders to work in Germany. It is generally designed for tourism or personal purposes, such as visiting family or friends.

Note that the employee can not enter Germany on a Schengen Visa and then apply for a residence permit. Any such applications using this approach will be rejected.

Getting a work visa in Germany

The process of acquiring a work visa/residence permit varies slightly, depending on the employee’s nationality.

If they are a citizen of the US, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, or South Korea, they will need to:

  1. Fill out a Residence Permit Application Form (and other supporting declarations)

  2. Provide all supporting documents as required

  3. Submit the application to their nearest German embassy or consulate in person

Once submitted, the application will be forwarded to the German immigration authorities (Ausländerbehörde) and processed within three months. If successful, the employee will then receive their residence permit, allowing them to work in Germany.

If the employee is not a citizen of the above countries (or of an EU/EEA member state), they will first need to apply for an Employment Visa from their nearest German embassy or consulate (or an officially designated visa application center).

To do this, they will need:

  • Fully completed application forms (these can be obtained from the embassy or application center) and supporting declarations

  • Passport and photographs

  • Proof of residence

  • German health insurance certificate

  • Employment contract (or offer)

  • Proof of qualifications (if relevant) and CV

  • Proof of clean criminal record

  • Cover letter

  • Proof of paid visa fee

Once the employee receives their visa, they can then freely enter Germany. Note that this visa expires after two years. The employee must still complete several additional administrative steps once in Germany to secure their residence permit.

To learn more, watch our informative webinar on relocating employees.

Types of work permits in Germany

There are three primary types of work/residence permits for overseas employees in Germany. They are as follows:

General Work permit

This is the most common type of work visa and does not require the recipient to possess extraordinary skills. However, as an employer, you will need to demonstrate in the application that you could not find a suitable EU national to fill the employee’s role.

Highly Skilled Worker permit

This is for people who are highly qualified and possess in-demand skills in Germany, such as in engineering, medicine, and IT.

EU Blue Card (Germany)

The EU Blue Card is a residence permit for skilled workers from outside the EU/EEA. It allows holders to live and work in the issuing country (and travel freely between other EU member states, except Denmark and Ireland).

To be eligible for a Blue Card, the employee must possess a relevant degree or other professional qualifications, and make at least 1.5x the national average German salary. As of 2023, this is €56,400. 

Eligibility requirements

Each permit type has its specific eligibility criteria based on relevant factors, such as the employee’s role, experience, and background.

Note that you may need to prove that the role in question could not be filled by a German or EU national. In some cases, the employee may also need to demonstrate some level of proficiency in the German language.

Does Germany offer a digital nomad visa?

Currently, the answer is no — there is no specialist digital nomad visa available in Germany. However, the employee can potentially work there on a working holiday visa.

To be eligible, the employee must be between the age of 18 and 30, and be a citizen of one of the following countries:

Argentina, Australia, Chile, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Uruguay, or Brazil.

This visa is eligible for up to one year. Alternatively, if the employee is a Canadian citizen and between the ages of 18 and 35, the visa is eligible for up to two years.

If the employee is a citizen of an EU/EEA member state, then they can work remotely in Germany for as long as they want without a visa or permit.

Is my organization eligible to hire in Germany?

As outlined, the employee needs to be eligible to work in Germany. However, don’t forget that you must also be able to compliantly employ them there.

This generally means that you must own a legal entity in Germany, or use an employer of record (EOR). This is the case regardless of whether you’re hiring a German/EU citizen, a permanent resident, or a temporary resident on a work visa.

If your long-term recruitment strategy is to hire exclusively in Germany, then the former may be worth your while. However, as a foreign business, this can be costly, time-consuming, and inefficient, especially if you later decide to start hiring in other countries too.

This is why it’s generally advisable to use a trusted, reliable EOR instead. To learn more about what EORs are and when to use one, check out our in-depth guide below.

link to How to use an Employer of Record in Germany
15 min

How to use an Employer of Record in Germany

Learn how to use an EOR in Germany and find out how an employer of record platform like Remote can make it easy to hire globally with full compliance.

How Remote makes compliance in Germany so much easier

As you can see, there’s plenty of administrative work to do if you want to hire a non-citizen or relocate an employee to Germany. Each country has its own rules around immigration, employment, and tax practices. It can be overwhelming to stay on top of local legislation while hiring abroad.

That’s why an EOR like Remote can make it simple to hire, pay, and manage team members abroad. As well as helping you manage your employees’ onboarding, taxes, and payroll, Remote can also support you in maintaining compliance with immigration laws.

To learn more about how you can make the entire relocation process easier, download Remote’s insightful Relocation Guide. Or book a consultation with one of our friendly mobility gurus to learn about employee relocation options in Germany today.

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