German citizenship or permanent residency?

There are three ways to live in Germany indefinitely: permanent EC residence, a settlement permit and applying for German citizenship. The first two German permanent residences are very similar, the main difference being that the former allows you to live and work elsewhere in the EU while a settlement permit (or German permanent residence) is limited to Germany only. A German permanent permit, however, can be obtained sooner than a permanent EC residence in certain cases, for example, highly skilled workers can apply for a settlement permit immediately.

German citizenship offers the same rights as a German citizen, including the right to vote, consular protection, free movement and unrestricted access on the labour market. As a German citizen, however, you must renounce your current citizenship – unless you are exempt to have German dual nationality – and are subject to citizen and social duties, for example, court or electoral services. German dual nationality is typically offered to EU citizens and certain other categories, as well as to those who are unable to renounce their current citizenship (for example, refugees and asylum seekers).


It is still unclear how the British exit from the EU will affect the approximately 100,000 British expats in Germany. In any case, British expats are protected until EU negotiations are formalised, which will take a minimum of two years from when the UK initiated the process in March 2017. German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has suggested that the EU should consider offering dual nationality to young British citizens – who largely voted to remain – ‘who live in Germany, Italy or France, so that they can remain EU citizens in this country’. British expats may be asked in the future to apply for a Blue Card, an approved EU-wide work permit that allows highly skilled, non-EU citizens to work and live in any country within the European Union, excluding Denmark and Ireland.

EC permanent residency requirements

If you have been living in Germany on a residence permit for five years, and satisfy certain other conditions, then you are entitled to stay living in Germany indefinitely on a permanent EC resident permit. Once you have this permit, whether it’s from Germany or another EU country, then you can live elsewhere in the EU permanently, too.

To apply for this type of permanent residence in Germany, you must:

  • have been living in Germany for five, uninterrupted, years;
  • have a secure livelihood with health insurance and provision for retirement (pension);
  • have adequate living space (at least 13sqm per person);
  • possess adequate German language skills and a basic knowledge of German life, legal and social systems (by taking an integration course);
  • not have a criminal record.

If you hold a permanent EC resident permit from another EU country, to stay in Germany longer than three months you’ll also need to have a valid passport or ID, and provide information on your planned employment or study.

German permanent residence

A settlement permit – or German permanent residence – is another way you can stay in Germany indefinitely. It is very similar to the permanent EC residency except it does not allow you to move around the EU, and, in certain conditions, you can get it much sooner than five years.

Some examples of exemptions for getting German permanent residence earlier include:

  • Highly qualified workers may be issued with a German settlement permit immediately.
  • Graduates of a German higher education institute may be able to get a German permanent residence after two years.
  • EU Blue Card holders can apply after working 33 months (or just 21 months with a level B1 language certificate).
  • Self-employed people, with an established business and secure livelihood, may be able to get permanent residency in Germany after three years.

Depending on your own circumstances, you may have to prove that you have adequate German language skills, are able to support yourself financially, have health insurance, and do not have a criminal record.


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