To succeed in today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected world, it is critically important for companies to find and retain the very best technical talent to propel growth. Across Germany, companies are adapting their sourcing, hiring, and onboarding processes to attract talent– and the growing shortage of technical talent across Europe means candidates are increasingly coming from abroad.

Whether you are a company looking to hire international talent or a developer trying to figure out how to move to Germany, it’s important to understand both the process and the options available to you.

German work permits: the basics

To work in Germany as a non-German citizen, you will need a work permit and a residency permit. EU nationals can enter the country and search for work without a permit, but non-EU citizens will likely require a job offer and work permit before entering the country, and must apply for a residency permit immediately.

Am I eligible for a German work permit?

You may already be aware of the EU Blue Card, a specialized work visa with strict education and salary requirements (if not, you can read more about it here– but what about developers who don’t have the required university degree, or who hold a degree in an unrelated subject?

Both the tech landscape and the attitudes of hiring managers have changed in recent years. With the proliferation of self-directed programs such as coding bootcamps and self-directed tutorials, it is becoming increasingly common for developers to forgo the traditional university degree. This shift is good news for hiring managers looking for new sources of talent and for developers without a traditional degree, and whether you’re a hiring manager or a developer, the German work permit is your ticket to a happy and productive working life in Germany!

The German work permit provides the same working rights as a Blue Card without the requirement of a university degree. As a developer, if your salary is within the average range for your role and your employer can justify their choice to hire you over a local applicant, you are likely eligible for this working visa.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about the German work permit and its requirements.

The D-Type Visa

Bearpot parachuting down from above.

For tech professionals from most countries*, the first step of the process will be the entry visa (or D-type visa). This is typically issued by the German embassy in your current country of residence, and allows you to begin working as soon as you arrive in Germany. In most cases, the D-type visa is issued for 3-6 months and can be converted into a more permanent work permit within that time frame.

According to the German Chamber of Commerce, there are several prerequisites in order to qualify for a D-type visa:

  • A concrete job offer has been made.
  • No adverse consequences for the labour market arise from the employment of foreign staff
  • No privileged employees (i.e. Germans, EU citizens, citizens of EEA States) are available for the job
  • The foreign worker is not employed on less favourable terms than those which apply to comparable German workers

*Exceptions: Citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United States of America can also enter Germany without a D-type visa and may obtain a residence permit directly from the immigration office in Germany.

NOTE: *A Type C “Tourist visa or Schengen visa” cannot be converted into a residence permit!

What is the ZAV?

Bearpot holding a clipboard.

The office of International Placement Services (Zentrale Auslands- und Fachvermittlung, or ZAV for short) is responsible for granting work permits and approving residence permits. The ZAV is a division of the German Federal Employment Agency that helps employers all over Germany to find employees for their vacancies and helps employees integrate into the German labor market.

You will most likely encounter this agency during the pre-approval process in advance of your embassy appointment. Pre-approval is not always required by the embassy, but is helpful in most cases. In order to request pre-approval from the ZAV, there are several important documents you will need:

  • Work contract, signed by the company
  • Job description form, “Stellenbeschreibung
  • Proof of qualifications, which can be either a university degree or relevant work experience
  • Justification letter from the company explaining why you are the best candidate for the position
  • Application for permission to work, “Antrag auf Erlaubnis einer Beschäftigung

No worries - whether you are a developer or a company hiring from abroad, Honeypot will help you to fill out and assemble these documents. We’ll even mail them to the ZAV and follow up on your case along the way!

The Residence Permit

Bearpot wearing an apron and an oven mit.

Once you have arrived in Germany, the first thing you’ll want to do (if you haven’t already) is find a flat and register your new address with the local authorities. You’ll also want to set up German health insurance. You will need proof of both in order to apply for a residence and work permit before your D-type visa expires.

In comparison to the temporary D-type visa, the residence permit is issued for the duration of your work contract. If the work contract is unlimited, the permit will typically be valid for 4 years.

The right to work in Germany (and to what extent you can work) will be detailed on your residence permit. Your permit will usually be linked to your employer, which means that if you want to change jobs you will need to get approval from the Federal Employment Agency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bearpot with a concerned look on his face.

What about my family?

Third-country nationals who are legally living in Germany can bring over their spouse or registered partner and children, provided that certain conditions are met:

  • The spouse of a work permit holder typically needs to have basic German language skills at an A1 level. (Exception: Citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United States of America.)

  • The spouse who holds the original work permit will also need to prove sufficient income and registration at a flat which is big enough to host more than one person.

The beauty of the Family Reunion visa in Germany is that it also allows the partner full working rights without the requirement of a work permit or Blue Card.

What if I want to leave the EU for an extended time?

Planning to travel? Keep in mind that your work permit will expire if you leave Germany for more than 6 months. A longer period may be allowed by request, for example, if you are required to go on assignment abroad. In most cases, you will need to apply for an exemption.

What if I already have a work permit for another EU country?

Each EU member state issues work and residency permits independently, so you will need to go to the German embassy or consulate in your current country of residence to apply for a D-type visa that will allow you to begin working in Germany.

What if I want to move to another country?

If you plan to move from Germany to another country, you will need to apply for a work permit for your new country. The process and requirements for this can vary, but typically you will need to visit the new country’s local embassy in Germany. It is always best to check the embassy website of your new country to be sure of all requirements in advance.

What if I want to convert my work permit to a Blue Card?

If you did not qualify for a Blue Card previously, but have since increased your salary, finished your university degree, or had your university degree officially recognized, it is now possible to convert your work permit to an EU Blue Card. You can make an appointment with your local Foreign Office in order to submit the updated documents.

Note: *Keep in mind that there are two main benefits to the Blue Card: easier family reunification and a quicker path to permanent residency. If you are single (or your family has already arrived), and you have held a work permit for two years or more, it is worth considering that the bureaucratic process may not be worth the benefit you would receive from a Blue Card.

What if I want to become a permanent resident?

Permanent residency is possible after living in Germany for 5 years with an uninterrupted residence permit (including a work permit). In specific cases, it is possible earlier, for example if you hold a German university degree or an EU Blue Card.

How long does it take to get a work permit in Germany?

Typically, the office of International Placement Services (ZAV) will process a work permit in 1-3 months after the application has been submitted.

How much is a German work visa?

Submitting an application for a short-stay German work visa costs €60 Euro, while an application for a long-stay visa is €75. However, applicants under the age of 18 can submit an application for only €37.50.

How long can you stay in Germany with a work visa?

Typically, a work visa is granted for the same length of time as the applicant’s work contract: so, if your contract is for two years, then the work visa will last two years.

Ready, set, go!

All told, the German work permit certainly gets the job done. Hopefully this post has helped you to feel confident in your understanding of the necessary steps and requirements for this German working visa. Of course, if you are still feeling overwhelmed by German bureaucracy you can always count on Honeypot’s Talent Relocation Team - whether you are a developer or a recruiter, we’re here to help and support you throughout your journey!

Geneva Brooks

Geneva Brooks

Geneva is a Talent Relocation Manager at Honeypot. When she's not helping developers realize their dream of moving to Europe, she's exploring Berlin's specialty coffee shops and history museums.