As a citizen of the EU, a country of the European Economic Area or of Switzerland you are entitled to move freely within the EU. You can travel to Germany without any particular permit or visa, and can research and work here. All you need is a valid passport or ID card.
If you are an international researcher already working or doing a PhD in the EU, you can also spend a period of time conducting research in Germany without applying for any additional residence permit. Your host institution merely has to notify the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees accordingly.
Visa requirements for third countries
In all other cases, a visa will be required. In other words, if you are not from the EU, a country of the European Economic Area or from Switzerland (i.e. if you are from a "third country") and want to work as a researcher in Germany, you will generally need a visa. You will have to apply for this visa in your home country by visiting the relevant German diplomatic mission in person.
As well as the visa, you will also apply for a residence permit. Depending on what you wish to do in Germany, special residence permits are available to you as a researcher: they allow you to come for research purposes or to complete a (doctoral) degree course or give you a settlement permit for highly-qualified workers or an EU Blue Card.
With some countries, such as Australia, Israel, Japan and the USA, Germany has an agreement so that their citizens only need to obtain the required residence permits after arrival.
Make sure to check in good time with the German diplomatic mission in your home country which conditions apply to you and which requirements you will need to meet.
Residence permits for international researchers
You can read here which residence permits are available to you as an international researcher and what rights they give you.
Do you want to do a PhD in Germany and have been accepted into a PhD programme at a state-recognised university in Germany? Then you can obtain a residence permit for educational purposes in accordance with Section 16 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG). It is valid for two years and can be extended.
Besides your confirmation of admission from the university, you should also be able to demonstrate that you can cover your living expenses – for example thanks to a scholarship. However, as a PhD student you are also permitted to work for up to 120 days (or 240 half days) per year.
As a researcher, particularly simple regulations apply to you in accordance with Section 20 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG). In this case
- a research institution needs to have formally agreed to host your research project and
- you need to have a monthly income (salary, scholarship etc.) sufficient to cover your living expenses.
How high your income will need to be will depend on your individual circumstances. For more information, contact the immigration office at your future place of residence.
You can initially spend up to one year researching and teaching in Germany on a research visa. Another advantage is that you can easily spend up to three months in other EU countries.
The EU Blue Card is a residence permit in accordance with Section 19a of the German Residence Act (AufenthG). You are entitled to an EU Blue Card if you
- have a university degree that is recognised in Germany,
- have a binding job offer or employment contract in Germany and
- your new job pays a gross annual salary of at least 52,000 euros (in exceptional cases, a salary of only 40,560 euros may be acceptable).
The EU Blue Card initially allows you to work in Germany for up to four years (or less in the case of fixed-term employment contracts).
After 33 months it is possible to obtain a settlement permit, which then allows you to live and work in Germany indefinitely. If you have a sufficient command of German (the requirement is level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) this is already possible after just 21 months.
If you are a researcher with special technical knowledge, a teacher or a research associate in a prominent position, you count as highly qualified as defined in Section 19 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG).
This means that you can immediately obtain a permanent settlement permit. This requires you to have a concrete job offer in Germany and prove that you can cover your living expenses in Germany.
Good to know:
- As an international researcher, particularly simple entry conditions will apply to you. And if you are an EU citizen, you are entitled to move freely within the EU in any case.
- If you require a visa, make sure to apply as early as possible: applications can take several months to process.
- Many visa offices only accept applications if you make an appointment. Arrange an appointment as early as possible, and check which (certified) documents you will need to bring with you.
- Do not travel on a tourist visa if you wish to work in Germany. A tourist visa cannot be modified or extended.
- As a rule, your visa will be issued for a three-month stay. Before it expires, you must apply to the local immigration office for a residence permit on the basis of your visa.
Entry regulations for you and your family:
www.bamf.de > Brochure "Studying and Working in Germany" from the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees
Interactive world map with an overview of Germany’s diplomatic missions abroad:
Rights of residence for researchers from non-EU countries in Germany, from the German Rector's Conference (HRK)
Database for the recognition of educational qualifications:
www.anabin.kmk.org (only in German)