Visas and Work Permits 9 min

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

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman


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If you’re hiring in Germany or relocating an existing employee, they must be eligible to work there.

In most cases, this usually means that your hire is a German citizen.

However, if your hire is a non-citizen, then you need to ensure they have the correct documents and permissions. As the employer, you are usually responsible for acquiring these.

This can be a tricky process, especially if you have no prior knowledge of Germany’s stringent and often complex labor laws.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of work permits and visas in Germany, and show you the various steps you may need to take to acquire them (depending on your employee’s status). We’ll also touch on the regulation around digital nomads.

So let’s dive right in.

Why is eligibility important?

As one of Europe — 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 complex, and 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.

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.

Citizens of EU and EEA member states can also live and work in Germany without the need for a visa or work permit, as can citizens of Switzerland. 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, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland

Nationals of the following countries can enter Germany without a visa, but they will require a residence permit in order 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. Note too that, if your employee will be moving to Germany and starting work immediately (i.e. they are relocating), this permit must be obtained before they move.

If your 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 Area member state — such as Germany — for up to 90 days.

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

Note that your 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 your 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, your employee will then receive their residence permit, allowing them to work in Germany.

If your 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 pplication 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 your employee receives their visa, they can then freely enter Germany. Note, though, that this visa expires after two years. Your employee will still need to complete several additional administrative steps once in Germany to secure their residence permit.

Remote can assist you throughout this entire process, from establishing your employee’s eligibility to assisting you with the application.

To learn more, check out our dedicated guide on relocating employees.

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Types of work permits in Germany

There are three primary types of work/residence permit 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 your 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, your employee must possess a relevant degree or other professional qualifications, and make at least 1.5x the national German average salary. As of 2023, this is €56,400. 

Eligibility requirements

Each permit type has its own specific eligibility criteria based on relevant factors, such as your 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, your employee may also need to demonstrate some level of proficiency in the German language.

Digital nomad visas in Germany

With the rise of remote work and globally-dispersed teams, more and more individuals are adopting the digital nomad lifestyle. In response, governments across the world are implementing new legislation and — in some cases — specialist visas to adapt to this trend.

Does Germany offer a digital nomad visa?

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

To be eligible, your 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 your employee is a Canadian citizen and between the age of 18 and 35, the visa is eligible for up to two years.

If your 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.

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.

As well as helping you manage your employees’ onboarding, taxes, and payroll, we can also support you with their relocation process. Specifically, we will:

  1. Set up a consultation with one of our mobility experts

  2. Review your employee’s existing visa and citizenship status

  3. Review the visa and work permit requirements for the desired country relocation

  4. Review your employee’s eligibility

  5. Fill out the paperwork (with assistance from you and your employee)

  6. Submit the application

This ensures that any potential hiccups are identified quickly, and that the process is as quick and smooth as possible — for both you and your employee.

To learn more about how you can make the entire relocation process easier with Remote, book a consultation with one of our friendly mobility gurus — and get the process moving today.

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