As a citizen of the EU, a country of the European Economic Area or 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 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: you will be issued a study or research visa or the 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
Upon arrival in Germany, you will apply on the basis of your visa for a corresponding residence permit. 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 study purposes. It is valid for up to 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.
If you work at a university or research institution while doing your PhD, you can apply for a residence permit for research purposes or an EU Blue Card (see below).
A residence permit for study or research purposes also allows you to study for up to 360 days in other EU member states (with the exception of Ireland and Denmark).
If you are a researcher with a university degree that gives you access at least to doctoral programmes, particularly simple regulations will apply to you: you will receive a residence permit for research purposes. This presupposes that a research institution has signed a contract with you to pursue your research project.
If your research work is not publicly-funded for the most part, your host institution must provide written confirmation that it will if necessary cover your costs of living and departure costs.
This residence permit allows you initially to spend up to one year researching and teaching in Germany. It is possible to have your residence permit extended. Another advantage is that you can easily spend a temporary period researching and teaching in other EU countries (apart from Ireland and Denmark).
The EU Blue Card is a special residence permit for graduates from outside the EU who wish to work in Germany (or the EU). You are entitled to an EU Blue Card if you
- have a university degree that is recognised in Germany,
- have a binding offer of a job that matches your qualifications in Germany, and
- will earn at least 56,800 euros gross per year in your new job (in exceptional cases, and with the approval of the Federal Employment Agency, only up to 44,304 euros).
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.
As an EU Blue Card holder, you can obtain the right of permanent residence in the EU after five years. In addition to the time you have spent in Germany, any periods in which you lived in another EU member state will also count towards the total.
If you are a researcher with special technical knowledge, a teacher or a research associate in a prominent position with several years of professional experience, you count as highly qualified.
This means that you can obtain a permanent settlement permit immediately after entry. This requires you to 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 to six month stay. Before it expires, you must apply to the local immigration office for a residence permit on the basis of your visa.
Visa navigator of the Federal Foreign Office:
Visa and entry regulations explained step by step:
Interactive world map with an overview of Germany’s diplomatic missions abroad:
Database for the recognition of educational qualifications:
www.anabin.kmk.org (only in German)
Five steps to studying in Germany: