Every long-term visitor coming to Germany must get a residence visa (the real term is "residence permit" or "Aufenthaltserlaubnis" but as many foreigners use the term residence visa, I use it here too). This must be applied for if you are planning on staying for more than three months.
You must obtain this residence permit (residence visa) within three months of your arrival in Germany.
Your tourist visa is good for only the first three months. So, there is no way around it. The earlier you apply for the residence visa, the better are your chances to get it on time.
There are two kinds of residence visa: a limited (or temporary) residence visa, it is valid for a certain period of time and you must leave the country at the end of that time; and an unlimited (no "expiry date") residence visa which does not expire. People having an EU passport automatically get this last one, the unlimited residence permit. For others, with the limited residence visa, they can reapply for a new one at the end of the period.
But, before going to the Landratsamt to get your residence visa (permit) you must register at your local Registration Office (Einwohnermeldeamt, usually the city hall in small towns) where you live. You have to do this within the first 10 to 14 days after you arrive (it varies from one city to another. Call your Rathaus (City Hall) for details). The document that you will get is called Meldeschein (registration certificate), or Anmeldebestätigung (residents registration permit). It is easy to get:
You go there, bring with you your passport and a proof of your permanent address in Germany (rental contract for example) and fill out a form.
You MUST bring this Meldeschein (registration certificate) with you at the Ausländerbehörde or Landratsamt to get your residence visa (permit).
Also, if you move residence during your stay in Germany, you must register anew at the local Registration Office (Einwohnermeldeamt) and notify the old registration office of your move (even if it is next door).
There are a few documents that you must bring with you for the residence visa:
-valid passport, one per person
-two passport photos per person (taken by a professional)
-proof that you have a place to live (rental contract)
-proof that you can support yourself and your family (if applicable) financially
-proof of health insurance
-proof of marriage (if applicable)
-sometimes, birth certificates (especially for the children)
Also, be aware that most photocopies, even if they have been authenticated by a notary or a lawyer, are not acceptable. So, you must bring the originals with you.
Here's some important advice for common-law couples (i.e. that live together without being married): Germany does NOT recognize you as a legal couple, even if you have been together for 20 years. Which means, that if only one of you has a job (financial resources), they will not give a residence visa to the partner, unless he/she can demonstrate that they have skills in demand in Germany and that they will find a job. Fast.
Of course, the easiest solution would be to get married!
Ah! but, getting married in Germany is not that easy. You must both have your passport, the Meldeschein, your birth certificates translated into German, and proof that you are not already married to someone else! Quite a few countries don't have that sort of certificate. The German authorities realize that, but they still want you to contact your Embassy or Consulate to obtain an official document (that you must pay for) certifying that such a certificate does not exist in your country! Frankly, if you want my advice, get married in your own country before coming over or go to Scotland for a fast little wedding ceremony!
Another important point is that the children follow their mother, even if both Mom's and Dad's names are on the birth certificates.
This also means that if Mommy does not get her visa, the kids have to leave with her!
To help you out with all of these documents and procedures, here is a relocating guide, written just for you!
Click on the eBook at the right to get more info on how to order this fantastic book. It is the Ultimate guide to help you painlessly relocate to Germany!
Now, when you have all the paperwork together, you and your family must all go personally to apply for the residence permit. Although the process varies slightly with each individual, and from one region or city to the next, most rules are the same.
Once you arrive at the Landratsamt, there should be an information desk in the entrance hall where you ask for the Aufenthaltserlaubnis (residence permit) Büro. Once there, you will probably see a bunch of closed doors with capital letters beside or on them.
There will probably be tables and chairs to sit at. It might seem a bit dis-orientating the first time you go there; first there is nobody to ask what is going on, where you have to go and to whom you should be talking. Don't worry, everyone feels the same the first time.
The letters by the doors correspond to the first letter of your family name. Let say your name is Smith, you will therefore go to the door with the letters R-T beside it. Now, of course, the doors are all closed and you can not see or hear what is going on inside - for example, whether the official is already with a "client" or not.
So you will do what any sensible person would do, i.e. knock a couple of times on the door and, if you can not hear a reply, open the door and peak inside. If the official is already talking to someone, he/she will most probably bark at you to close the door and wait your turn (don't take it personnally, you are probably the 25th persons who did that today. Just close the door after saying something like: "es tut mir Leid" or "Enschuldigung" or "excuse me").
You should know that if different members of the same family have different family names, they most go separately to the different offices corresponding to their family names, even if you are married and have the proof with you.
It will generally take a few days (or weeks) before getting your permit and they keep all your documents, including your passport, with them. Once again, I must stress the fact that most officials will accept only the originals.
When your visa is ready, they will most probably call you and ask you to come and pick it up. But you will first be required to pay the administrative fee.
Another very important point: these German officials take themselves and their work very seriously. So, always be very polite and keep calm. It is a long and frustrating process, but it has to be done. Period.
If you live in or close to Berlin and want some help with all that bureaucracy, or if your German is not all that good, there is now a service with a real person to accompany you throughout this ordeal: Red Tape Translation Berlin. The owner, Kathleen Parker, is a German-English translator and interpreter. She will accompany you to your German public office appointment and act as an interpreter. Try them, they can help!
You can also try our eGuide to help you avoid the mistakes we made! All the information regarding this book is just a click away!
Once you finally have your residence permit in your hands: go to the nearest Weinstube and celebrate with a dunkel bier! Féliciations! You have now officially arrived in Germany!
Now that you have your resident permit, you can also apply for a work permit.
PS: I must admit that I have tried very hard to make the whole process sound not too stressful or just plain frustrating, but as we had problems with them and our son and myself received our resident visa two days AFTER the expiry date of the tourist visa, it is very difficult to find anything positive to say about it. Except maybe that the woman I had to deal with was trying very hard to be helpful with finding solutions and assisting with the paperwork. I almost stopped at a flowershop on my way out to buy her a bouquet. Almost!
To help you avoid our own problems and mistakes with the whole process, and to make sure that you are bringing all the necessary documents with you, here is an eBook that is really the Ultimate guide to painlessly relocate to Germany
Click on the book at the right to get more info about it and to order it! You are just one click away from your own copy of this fantastic peace-of-mind relocating guide!
We even added an easy-to-print pdf list of things to do before leaving and of document to bring with you and keep with you at all time!
For something a bit lighter and humoristic, and if you would like to know what it's like to live in Germany before moving here, we suggest "A year in Germany" It is an eBook made from my travelog during our first year in Germany. A year in Germany for fun and adventures!