If you have been living in Germany as an expat for several years you may be eligible to apply for German citizenship (deutsche Staatsangehörigkeit).
How can I get German citizenship?
Anyone thinking of applying for German citizenship needs to meet some strict requirements. There are three potential ways you can obtain German citizenship:
By naturalisation (Einbürgerung)
You have lived in Germany, uninterrupted, for a minimum of eight years and you meet all the other requirements listed below.
By right of blood (Abstammungsprinzip)
You are the direct descendant of a German parent (either mother, father or both). In order to qualify for this type of German citizenship, your birth must be registered within one year with the German mission in the country where you were born.
By right of soil (Geburtsortsprinzip)
You were born within German borders to non-German parents. At least one of your parents must have been a permanent resident in Germany for at least eight years and possess the necessary permissions to remain in Germany indefinitely. Once you reach the age of 18, you will have five years to decide whether you want German citizenship or your parents’ citizenship.
German citizenship by naturalisation
Naturalisation involves going through an application process that can take several months. It is the most common way expats gain German citizenship.
What are the requirements for German citizenship by naturalisation?
To qualify for German citizenship by naturalisation, you need to meet the following criteria:
- You have lived in Germany on a lawful residence permit for more than eight years.
- You are able to support yourself and your family financially without relying on unemployment benefit II, housing benefits or child allowances (Kinderzuschlag).
- You do not have a criminal record.
- You have passed the naturalisation test.
- You are prepared to lose your previous citizenship (some exceptions apply; see section on dual nationality below).
- You are committed to the democratic principles of the German constitution.
German language ability
You will also need to demonstrate that you have sufficient command of the German language (level B1). This can be proven with any of the following:
- German language certification such as the Deutschtest für Zuwanderer or equivalent.
- Certificate of successful participation in a language course as part of an integration course.
- German secondary school leaving certificate or equivalent, with a grade of at least “pass” in German.
- Admission to grade 10 of an upper secondary German school (Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium) with a grade of at least “pass” in German.
- Attendance at a German school for four years, with a grade of at least “pass” in German.
- Studies at a German university, or successful completion of a German vocational training course.
If you do not fulfil all the requirements, in special cases there may still be an option for you to apply for discretionary naturalisation, at the discretion of your local authorities.
Exceptions to the eight-year requirement
There are a few exceptions to the eight-year residence requirement for naturalisation. You can apply immediately for German citizenship if either of the following applies to you:
- You have successfully completed a German language integration course at a Community College (Volkshochsschule) and have lived in Germany for seven years continuously.
- You can demonstrate an even better command of the German language (level B2 or higher) and have lived in Germany for six years continuously.
- You have been married to a German citizen for a minimum of two years and have lived in Germany legally for at least three years continuously.
Can I get dual citizenship in Germany?
In taking on German citizenship, internationals will often have to renounce their former citizenship (bisherige Staatsangehörigkeit) because, in general, Germany does not allow its citizens to have dual nationality. There are, however, some exceptions to this.
Cases where German citizenship with dual nationality is permitted
You are not required to give up your original citizenship if any of the following apply to you:
- You are an EU / Swiss citizen.
- You are a citizen of the former Soviet Union.
- You have permission from the German authorities to retain another citizenship.
- Your country does not allow you to or it is impossible to renounce your citizenship (e.g. if your country is in a state of conflict).
Dual citizenship in future
Following the federal election in 2021, the new German government pledged to change the citizenship law to allow non-EU nationals to gain dual nationality for the first time. The residency requirement will also likely be reduced. This law has not yet been finalised.
How do I apply for German citizenship?
If you fulfil all the necessary requirements and you want to apply for German citizenship, you need to apply to the appropriate authority. Which authority in Germany is responsible for citizenship matters depends on which federal state (Bundesland) you reside in. It is best to check with your local foreigners’ office (Ausländerbehörde) or citizens’ office (Bürgeramt).
Your local citizenship authority will schedule a consultation with you to discuss all the important information. If you are abroad when you apply for German citizenship, your application will be handled by your local German mission.
The citizenship authority will provide you with all the necessary information and forms during your initial consultation. Once you have gathered the required documentation, you can submit your application and pay the application fee. Your application will then be processed. Depending on your federal state, it can take anywhere between a few weeks and a few months to receive a decision.
If you have children under the age of 18 and you want them to have German nationality, you can request for them to be naturalised with you.
Documents required for German citizenship application
The citizenship authority will advise you on exactly which documents you need to prepare during your initial consultation. These will usually include:
- Your passport and / or identity card (not a driving licence)
- Your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Proof of financial stability (e.g. bank statements)
- Proof of language proficiency
- Pass certificate for the naturalisation test
Depending on your personal situation, some additional documents may be required.
How much does German citizenship cost?
An application for German citizenship by naturalisation costs 255 euros. If you are also submitting an application for dependent children, the fee is 51 euros for each child under 16.
You will also be required to pay 25 euros for the naturalisation test and, if your application is successful, an additional 25 euros for your certificate of naturalisation (Einbürgerungszusicherung).
German citizenship application outcome
Once your application has been considered, the citizenship authority will send you the outcome via post. This can take anywhere between a few weeks and several months.
German citizenship granted
If your application for German citizenship is successful, your letter will contain instructions on how to complete the process by attending a compulsory citizenship ceremony. At this ceremony, you must swear an oath of allegiance to Germany’s laws and customs in order to receive your certificate of naturalisation. Once you have German citizenship you can also apply for a German passport.
German citizenship application rejected
If for any reason your application was unsuccessful, you will also receive notice in the post explaining the grounds for the rejection. In this case, speak to your immigration office or citizenship authority to see if there are legal grounds for an appeal.
What rights do I get with German citizenship?
Becoming a German citizen means you gain some rights that are not available to non-citizens, even those who have permanent residency. The new rights given to you as a citizen include:
- The ability to enter and leave Germany freely.
- The right to a German passport.
- The ability to vote in German national and state elections.
- Unrestricted access to find a job in Germany.
- The right to become a civil servant.
- Automatic EU citizenship with the right to freedom of movement.
- The ability to vote for the European Parliament.
Permanent residency in Germany
If you wish to remain in Germany indefinitely, but you do not meet all of the requirements for German citizenship, or you do not want to give up your original citizenship, you might consider applying for a permanent residence permit instead.