One of the main topics that come up in relocating to Germany has to do with getting a residence permit/ visa. There is a lot of mis-information, along with many beliefs and correct information. 

The purpose of this article is to help you organize your thoughts, when it comes down to getting a work visa. 

We will go through the main types of work visas / residence permits you can apply for, and briefly discuss their main points, with the goal of helping you plan your smart relocation to Berlin. 

The full guide to work visas for expats in Germany

First of all, a couple of general notes:

1. Visas are a matter of nationality: Citizens of most countries in the world have to first apply for a National Visa Type D for employment, and only then they may enter Germany and apply for a residence permit.

2. Citizens of 7 countries may enter Germany on their 90 days visa free stay and change their legal residence status from within Germany. Those are: Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and USA

Conclusion: Being able to enter Germany for 90 days without a Schengen visas does not give you the possibility of changing your legal status from within the country. 

3. When we talk about work visas, its important to understand that every case is processed individually. Therefore, we sometimes experience different decisions on very similar cases. This can be frustrating, but this is our reality :)
We therefore recommend consulting a professional immigration expert before applying for work visas. 

And here is some info about the different type of visas out there: 

Blue Card

What is a Blue Card?

The Blue Card is the European immigration system for highly qualified international professionals, aka: talent and executives. We can look at it as an improved employment visa. According to this system, one can get a Blue Card if certain conditions regarding salary and education are met (see below).

In our opinion, Blue Cards are great. However, if you have already lived in Berlin for a certain amount of time, maybe there are better visa solutions for you.

What will the Blue Card give me?

As stated above, the Blue Card is a sub-type of a work visa, given for 1-4 years, depending on the duration of your employment contract. This means, that you get the Blue Card in order to work as an employee in Germany.


Since a Blue Card is a work visa, one can lose it if they are in between jobs for a period longer than 3 months.

The main advantage of the Blue Card is that Blue Card holders can get their permanent residency faster in comparison to other expats: you may apply for it after 21 months of working in Germany if you speak German in a B1 level, or after 33 months of working in Germany if you speak German in an A1 level. In comparison, as an employment visa holder, you could apply for permanent residency only after 48 to 60 months (4 to 5 years) of working.

In addition, in some cases the Blue Card allows a higher level of mobility between jobs: in certain cases, your application will not have to go through the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), which means that you might be able to get your work permit faster in comparison to work visa holders. This regulation will allow you to change jobs easier than with an employment visa.

Am I eligible for a Blue Card? 

There are three criteria that will determine if you could get a Blue Card: one has to do with salary and two with education.

Salary: As stated above, your annual salary should meet a certain threshold, which changes every year, for your Blue Card application. For 2021, Your annual salary must meet the threshold of 56.800 Euro. If you are working in a shortage profession (such as software development, for example), your annual salary must meet the threshold of 44.304 Euro.

Recognized Education: In order to be eligible for a Blue Card, you must also prove that your education is recognized in Germany and equivalent to a German academic degree. You can use the official database, Anabin.

Both your university (H+ rating), and your program must be listed on the official database.

Education in the field of your work: On March 2020, we received a new Blue Card requirement: your work must be in the same field that you studied in order to be eligible for a Blue Card. 

My education is not properly listed on Anabin. What does it mean?

Recognized education, which is equivalent to a German academic degree, is one of the most basic requirements for a Blue Card. If your education is not listed on Anabin, you can try having it recognized in Germany. The process tends to be long and sometimes tedious, but if you succeed, you could enjoy all benefits of the Blue Card (as long as you meet the salary requirements).

Will my family members also get a Blue Card?

No. Your first-degree family members (spouse and children) can apply for family reunification visas.

This is interesting. Where can I read more? 

We wrote a long article about Blue Cards, which can be read either here or on LinkedIn

Employment Visa

Who is it for? 

Sometimes, applying for a Blue Card is not an option, because candidates do not meet the Blue Card requirements. In this case, an employment visa is a good solution:


An employment visa is designed for experienced professionals, who have a job offer from a Germany-based employer. This visa is easier to get if you are a professional from fields in which there is a shortage of in Germany and usually requires the agreement of the German Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit), a process which usually takes 10 days to 3 weeks.


There are various ways of applying for this visa, and various parameters and topics to note during the process of application, in order to increase your chances of having your application approved. If you just got a job offer for Germany and are not sure whether it will work out with visa-wise, please feel free to contact us.

What do I get?

In case your visa application gets approved, you will get a visa for 1-3 years, depending on the duration of your employment contract. Your work permit will probably be limited to a specific position at a specific company according to your visa application.


If you wish to change jobs in your first 2-3 years of your residency in Germany with a work visa, you will have to go through the same application process again. Changing jobs after those initial 2-3 years should become easier, as the agreement of the Federal Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit) is no longer required. 

I found a job – how do I apply for an employment visa?

Before applying, we recommend consulting a professional in order to evaluate the chances of your application being approved, as not all work visa applications get approved, and since it could get tricky in some cases.


If your application is not approved – you might receive a deportation notice from Germany and will be able to try again in the future according to the immigration laws that are valid for people with your nationality.


Visa for Entrepreneurial Activity

Who is it for? 

The Entrepreneur visa is designed for entrepreneurs who plan to start a company in Berlin or for people who already have a profitable company in Berlin.

How do I get this application done?

In order to apply for this visa, you will need to first have an open and set-up company with limited liability (GmbH or UG), which is officially registered in Berlin. In order to have your business idea reviewed and your application processed, you will be required to present documents related to your company, including a detailed business plan.

Can this visa be issued on the spot?

Your application will be sent to the Chamber of Commerce (IHK - Industrie und Handelskammer) or to the Senate Administration for Economics of Berlin (Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft) for further processing, during which the public and economic interest of your business idea and company activity to the state of Berlin will be reviewed and examined. In our experience, the average processing time is 3-6 months.

Is there a simpler way of getting a residence permit, which will allow self-employment?

People often think they need an Entrepreneur visa, when in fact, they could be able to do the same things with a freelancer visa. We recommend you consult with a professional, in order to find the most bespoke solution for you.


Freelancer/Freelance Artist Visa

Who is it for?

The freelance visa is designed for experienced professionals who can make a living working in their profession as freelancers in Berlin. This sounds simple but is a bit complicated: according to the German Income Tax Law, independent work is only considered freelancing in specific fields: so, for example, one may freelance as a graphic designer or as a German teacher, but not as a renovation or bike repair service, and not as a hairdresser. If you would like to practice a trade which is not defined as freelancing, you might experience challenges in your application process.

Apart from that, the freelance visa is a work visa,- it is issued in order to allow work immigrants to live in Germany. Therefore, freelance visa applications will always be reviewed under the criteria for work visas. This is true both for the initial application and for visa extensions.

What's the difference between a freelancer visa and a freelance artist visa?

This is also a bit confusing. Legally speaking, the freelance visa and the freelance artist visa is the same visa. They both have the same requirements, both for being issued and for being extended. The only difference is in the length of the process: while creatives and artists usually receive their visas on the spot, applications of other professionals who want to work as freelancers might be examined by another authority, usually the Chamber of Commerce (IHK - Industrie und Handelskammer) or the Senate Administration of Berlin (Senatsverwaltung für Wirtschaft). This process can take around 3-6 months.

Can I always apply for this visa from Germany?


You can only apply for a freelance visa from within Germany if you meet one of those three conditions: 


1. You are a citizen of the following countries: Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, USA

2. You already have a work visa, a job seeking visa or a family visa.

3. You graduated from academic studies in Germany.

In case you don´t meet those requirements, you will have to apply for the visa at the embassy of your country of origin or residence. 

My application got sent to the Chamber of Commerce/ to the Senate Administration of Berlin for further processing. What does it mean?

According to the work regulations of Berlin´s immigration Office, case workers can send a freelance visa application to the Senate Administration for Economics or to the Chamber of Commerce if the application is too complicated for them to understand and process. Additionally, the regulations also state that in case the applicant would like to work in fields other than art/creative, their application can be sent in for further processing. 


To conclude, not getting your visa on the spot does not say anything about the quality of your application. It´s more of a field definition.

However, the case worker can also decide to send in your application for further processing if your field is artistic or creative. This usually means that your your application was too complicated for them to understand. In order to avoid those situations, we recommend keeping the balance between creating high quality applications that show professionalism and keeping them simple to understand.

During the time in which your application is pending, you will get an extension on your stay in Berlin (in German: Fiktionsbescheinigung), which will allow you to work according to the terms of your previous visa.

What do I get?

If your visa application gets approved, you will get a residence permit for 1-3 years. Throughout that time, you will have to work as a freelancer in your field, according to your application.

How can I know if my application is good enough?

Despite the rumors that say that this visa is easy to get, it holds various complexities which derive from the variety of the applications and circumstances. Therefore, it is very recommended consulting a professional, who can make sure that your application is telling your story accurately.


Additional Working Visas

We would like to present 4 additional types of work visas:

1. working holiday visa

2. internship visa

3. job seeking visa for qualified professionals

4. job seeking visa for Graduates of German universities.


Here is a short description of these visas: 

Working Holiday Visa:

Working Holiday visas are work visas given according to agreements between countries. Germany holds Working Holiday Visa agreements with several countries. The agreements vary in terms of work restrictions, so that you could have a working holiday visa which allows you to do whatever you want, whereas your friend can have a working holiday visa which allows them to work only for 3 or 6 months. Those visas are given for one year and cannot be extended, except for the Youth Mobility Visa for Canadian citizens.

Internship Visa:

This visa is issued for a maximal period of six months, in order to allow you to take part in an internship in your field. In order to get it, you will need to show an acceptance letter to the internship along with other requirements, such as ensuring your livelihood in Germany.

Job Seeking Visa for Qualified Professionals:

This visa is issued for a period of six months in order to allow you to seek for a job in your field. In order to get this visa, you will need to prove that you are in fact professionals in a certain field, for which there is a need for employees in Germany. Additionally, this visa is only given to people who hold recognized education from a recognized university abroad.
NEW: starting March 2020, job seeking visa holders may work for 10 hours per week in order to check out different jobs before applying for an employment visa. 

Job Seeking Visa for Graduates of German Universities:

This visa is issued for a period of up to 18 months, during which you will be allowed to work with no restrictions or limitations. At the end of this visa, you will need to have a job in the field that you have studied in Germany, or alternatively be re-enroled as a student.


In order to get the visa, you will need to prove that you've successfully graduated from your studies in a German university.