If you're planning a trip to Germany, it's likely you'll be able to visit without applying for a special visa. Travelers from 62 countries and territories—including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Japan, and Mexico —are exempt from needing a visa for visiting Germany for a period of 90 days or less within a six-month period. The only thing you need is a valid passport that doesn't expire for at least three months after the date you plan to return home, so if you're thinking about making a trip to Germany, now is a good time to check the expiration date of your passport.
If your trip to Germany is part of a larger trip around Europe, the same visa rules apply to the 26 countries that make up the area known as the Schengen Area. You can cross borders without any international checkpoints within the Schengen Area, and the 90-day limit applies to the entire area, not each individual country. Countries that are a part of this agreement include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
There are two broad types of visas depending on how long you plan to stay in Germany: the Schengen Tourist Visa and long-term national visas. The former is for nationals from non-exempt countries who plan to visit Germany or the Schengen Area, giving them the same rights as visa-exempt nationals to travel freely for 90 days.
Long-term national visas are specific to Germany and are required for any non-EU citizen who plans to spend more than 90 days in the country to live, work, or study. Normally, foreign nationals are required to apply for the appropriate visa before arriving in Germany and then obtain a long-term residence permit once they settle in.
However, citizens of the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, and South Korea are able to apply for their residence permit in Germany without obtaining a visa, just like EU nationals. Instead of applying for a visa before moving to Germany as is usually required, citizens with a passport from one of these countries can start and finish the immigration process after arrival.
For example, an American citizen living in the United States is offered a new job in Germany. That individual can pack up and move to Germany—along with their immediate family members—without ever stepping foot into a German consulate in the U.S. The American citizen enters Germany as a tourist and is allowed to stay in the country for 90 days, during which time they must apply for their long-term residence permit at the local foreigner's office—or Ausländerbehörde—to continue living and working in Germany.
|Visa Requirements for Germany|
|Visa Type||How Long Is It Valid?||Required Documents||Application Fees|
|Schengen Tourist Visa||90 days in any 180-day period||Bank statements, proof of medical insurance, hotel reservations, roundtrip plane tickets||Up to 80 euros|
|Student Visa||Six months||Letter of acceptance into a higher education program, proof of financial means, demonstration of adequate language skills, relevant degree (if applicable)||75 euros|
|Work Visa||Six months||Job offer in Germany, relevant qualifications, proof of financial means||75 euros|
|Family Reunion Visa||Varies||Certificate proving family relation, demonstration of adequate language skills, proof of housing in Germany||Up to 75 euros|
Schengen Tourist Visa
If you have a passport from one of the non-exempt countries, you'll need to apply for a Schengen Tourist Visa in order to visit Germany. Travelers with the visa can visit Germany and the other Schengen countries for up to 90 days, and may be permitted to leave and re-enter the Schengen Area or not, depending on the conditions of the visa.
Visa Fees and Application
First, you'll need to make sure you apply for your Schengen Tourist Visa at the right consulate. If your trip is only to Germany or you'll be spending the most days in Germany, then submit your application to the nearest German consulate in your home country. If you'll be spending an equal number of days between Germany and another country or countries, apply at the consulate for the Schengen country where you arrive first.
When you show up for your appointment at the German consulate, you'll need to provide:
- Schengen Visa application
- Valid passport
- Two identical photos (35 millimeters by 45 millimeters)
- Travel insurance policy
- Roundtrip flight itinerary
- Proof of accommodation (hotel reservations or notarized letters from hosts in France)
- Proof of financial means (e.g., bank statements, pay stubs, proof of employment, etc.)
The fee for the Schengen Tourist Visa is 80 euros, payable at the current exchange rate in the local currency, but discounts and waivers are available for certain groups, such as European nationals from countries not in the EU, students or teachers traveling for education purposes, and young children.
Turnaround for completed applications takes anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending on the nationality of the applicant. You should apply for your tourist visa at least three weeks before you plan to depart to be sure you receive it in time.
Germany offers two main types of student visas, one for students who have been accepted into a school and another for potential students who need to be in Germany to apply. For both visas, you'll need to demonstrate that you have the necessary language skills if your program is in German and the funds to sustain yourself while living abroad.
If you've already been accepted into a German school, you'll need to show your letter of acceptance and also any relevant degrees or schoolwork that are prerequisites of the program, for example, your undergraduate diploma if you're starting a master's degree. Once you're in Germany, you'll need to apply to convert your visa into a residence permit.
The visa for potential students allows visa-holders to stay in Germany for three months—renewable up to six months—while they search and apply for academic programs. Even if you can enter Germany as a tourist without a visa for three months, you'll still need to apply for the student applicant visa before moving. The student applicant visa allows you to apply for and obtain your residency card in Germany, assuming you are accepted into an academic program. If you don't have the student applicant visa, you'll need to return to your home country and start the entire visa process from there.
The student visa fee is 75 euros, payable in the current exchange rate of the local currency.
If you'll be living and earning money in Germany and you aren't from a visa-exempt country, you'll need to apply for a work visa before moving. Work visas apply to those who have already been hired by a German company, self-employed individuals, entrepreneurs, or highly qualified job-seekers who want to look for work in Germany.
You'll need to provide ample documentation to show your job and skills, depending on the type of work visa you're applying for. Examples include a work contract with the salary stated, a professional license or degree, a detailed business plan, and a portfolio of work. Most important, you'll need to demonstrate that you'll have the funds to support yourself while living in Germany, either through your own savings or from the salary of your new position.
The work visa fee is 75 euros, which you'll pay during the appointment at the current exchange rate in the local currency.
Family Reunion Visa
Both German citizens and legal residents are able to bring immediate family members to Germany to live with them by applying for a family reunion visa. Eligible relatives include their same-sex or opposite-sex spouse, fiance, minor children, and parents. If the applicant is from one of the visa-exempt countries, they can move to Germany without applying for a visa and request their residence permit upon arrival.
For those who do need a visa, the documents that you'll need to turn into the German consulate are:
- Completed application form
- Declaration of Accuracy of Information
- Valid passport of applicant
- Passport copy of sponsoring family member
- Passport-sized photos
- Certificate that verifies relation (e.g., marriage certificate, birth certificate, filing for intended marriage, etc.)
- At least A1 level of German language (exceptions apply)
- Proof of housing in Germany
- Letter of invitation from sponsoring family member
The fee structure depends on if the family member already living in Germany is a German citizen or a legal resident. The family members of German citizens can submit their visa application at no cost, while family members of legal residents must pay the standard national visa fee of 75 euros, payable in local currency.
If you're visiting Germany from a visa-exempt country—including the U.S.—you can only be in the country and the surrounding Schengen Area for 90 days out of a 180-day period. To find out if it applies to you, just pull out a calendar and find the last date you expect to be in a Schengen country. Then, count backward for six months and count up each day you spent in a Schengen country during that time. If the number of days is more than 90, you'll need to leave earlier or risk overstaying your visa.
The exact punishment for overstaying your visa depends on the country you're caught in and your unique situation, but Germany is notoriously strict. Possible punishments include a fine, deportation, incarceration, and the inability to return to the Schengen Area for a period of time.
Extending Your Visa
Extending your Schengen tourist visa isn't easy to do, but it is possible in extreme circumstances. In Germany, you can only request an extension at the Berlin Immigration Office at Lise-Meitner-Straße.
You'll need documentation that supports your justification for staying longer and possible reasons include a medical emergency, a natural disaster, a crisis in your home country, or an unforeseeable funeral, but the decision to extend your visa is entirely at the discretion of the official who helps you. The most important piece is to apply for the extension before your current visa expires. If you wait too long, you'll have already overstayed your visa and you may be deported immediately.