How to become a German citizen

Considering that Germany is a country many people want to live, work, and study in, the demand for German citizenship is high. Germany is a country full of bureaucratic procedures and red tape, so naturally, even the German Federal Foreign Office states that citizenship law is immensely complicated.

Nevertheless, we have divided this guide into comprehensive sections, which can provide you with tips, requirements, and application procedures that show you how to become a German citizen.

What Does It Mean to Have German Citizenship?

When you live in Germany as a permanent resident, you do not qualify as a citizen of Germany. This puts some restrictions on your status, and that is why so many permanent residents of Germany seek German citizenship.

Having German citizenship gives you rights and freedoms that non-citizens do not have. You will have these opportunities as a German citizen:

  • The right to vote.
  • The right of free movement
  • The right of assembly and association
  • The right of consular protection
  • Unrestricted access to the German job market
  • The right to become a civil servant, etc.

Besides the rights as per the German constitution, you will also have the obligations and duties that each German citizen has. This includes the integration in society, respect for and obedience to all laws, and even potential German military service.

Types of German Citizenship

Becoming a German citizen is not possible under all circumstances. There are three general instances that can lead to you getting German citizenship.

  • By naturalization
  • By right of blood or in Latin Jus Sanguinis
  • By right of soil or in Latin Jus Soli

Getting citizenship by naturalization implies that you have fulfilled certain requirements that the German government has set and qualify to apply for German citizenship. The other type, by right of blood or Jus Sanguinis, means that you can gain German citizenship if you are a direct descendant of German citizens. This “right of blood” includes only your parents and no other relatives. By “right of soil”, or “Jus Soli”, means that you are born within the borders of Germany, so on German soil and that is how you get your citizenship.

All people except for EU, EEA, or Swiss nationals, must fulfil requirements and fall into one of these categories for getting German citizenship.

Despite these three instances appearing quite straightforward, each one has its own rules and regulations, which we will discuss further. It should also be noted that sourcing the appropriate paperwork and accomplishing everything you need to do within the timeframe can be very challenging. Working with dedicated legal professionals in immigration law such as those at Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte help to accelerate the process or resolve potential problems during the process.

German Naturalization

German naturalization means that after a certain period of living in Germany as a permanent resident, you apply to become a citizen. There are many restrictions and requirements for obtaining naturalization, so not everyone can get it.

German Citizenship Requirements for Naturalization

The requirements that you need to fulfil to qualify for naturalization are as follows:

  • You must have lived in Germany on a residence permit for at least eight years, or
  • You must have lived in Germany on a residence permit for seven years and attended an integration course (this becomes six years in special integration circumstances)
  • You must prove German language proficiency of at least B1.
  • You must be financially able to support yourself and your family without any help from the state.
  • You must be a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record.
  • You must pass a citizenship test.
  • You must renounce any previous citizenships.

Your residence records are in the government system, so this will be an easy requirement to fulfil. For financial stability, you can submit bank statements and other documents, which state your financial situation. Additionally, you must give up all previous citizenships, except if the other country does not allow it or it is impossible to give it up. This impossibility is the case with many countries involved in conflicts, such as Syria.

One of the most important requirements in this case, which you must prove through testing is your language proficiency. You can prove that you know German up to the B1 level required by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, by providing any of these documents:

  • A German language certificate such as the Zertifikat Deutsch.
  • A certification that you have obtained through an integration course, such as the “DTZ – German test for immigrants.”
  • A certificate that proves you have completed a German secondary school.
  • Admissions proof in a German upper secondary school.
  • A certificate that proves you have completed at least four years of school in German with a passing grade.
  • Proof of completion of higher education degrees in German.

If you do not have any document, which proves your language proficiency, you can complete a government language test administered by your citizenship authority. Either way, you must have the required German level to be eligible for naturalization or any other type of German citizenship.

Professional Guidance and Assistance

Preparing your application for German citizenship by naturalization can be a daunting task. There are many steps and aspects of the procedure. Having professionals in your corner overseeing your application ensures that you have the best chance of success. We can recommend working with the well-known German Naturalization Experts Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte. Their lawyers advise private and business clients on all immigration issues in Germany and are widely respected, as shown by their high customer ratings.

How to Apply for German Citizenship Naturalization?

If you can prove that you meet all the naturalization requirements, you can begin your application process. All persons over the age of 16 are obliged to apply. Parents and legal guardians of children under 16 years old apply for them.

The steps to applying for naturalization are as follows:

Get an Application Form

Since Germany is a big country, each state and area have its own immigration office to apply for naturalization. To begin the process, you must get a naturalization application form from one of the following places:

  • The local immigration office
  • If you live in an urban area, go to the city council.
  • If you live in a German district, go to the regional district office.
  • The town council or any other local authorities.

Fill the application form and start compiling a file with all documents, which prove you meet the requirements.

Pass the German Citizenship Test

To prove that you are ready to gain German citizenship, you must pass the citizenship test. This test includes 33 multiple choice questions on German living, society, rules, and laws, as well as questions specific to the place you live. The test takes one hour, and you must answer at least 17 questions correctly to pass the test. When you pass the test, you will get a naturalization certificate, which you can add to your document file.

To prepare for the test, you can take an integration course, use the practice test options of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, or simply read more information on German life and laws.

You can be exempt from the naturalization test if you belong to any of these groups:

  • You cannot take the test due to old age, illness, or disability.
  • You are under 16 years old.
  • You have a higher education degree from a German university in politics, law, or social sciences.

Pay the Naturalization Fees

There are also certain fees associated with applying for German citizenship through naturalization. These are the fees you must pay:

  • Application form for 255 Euros for adults
  • Application form for 51 Euros for children under 16 years old
  • Naturalization/Citizenship test for 25 Euros
  • Citizenship certificate for 25 Euros

Submit all Documents

Take the documents that prove you meet the naturalization requirements, such as your application form, the receipts to show you have paid all fees, and your naturalization certificate, to the application office. The officers will go through your case, and if approved, you will get the citizenship certificate. The certificate now proves that you are a citizen of Germany and not just a permanent resident.

German Citizenship by Marriage

People who qualify for naturalization are not only those who have had permanent residence in Germany for a specified period. If you marry a German citizen, you can also get citizenship by applying for naturalization.

Foreign nationals who are already married to a German national must still meet all naturalization requirements and pass the test. However, they should also meet the marriage requirements. The “marriage requirements” mean that the foreign national spouse cannot apply for naturalization unless the couple has been married for at least two years and have lived in Germany for at least three years.

German Citizenship by Descent

The second type of German citizenship is by right of blood or Jus Sanguinis. “Right of blood” means that you have at least one German parent, and it does not consider whether you were born in Germany or not. You get German citizenship by descent if your parents register you to the German authorities in the country you are born before you turn one year old. If your parents have different nationalities, you get German citizenship; however, between the ages of 18 and 23 years old, you will have five years to decide which nationality you want to retain.

If your parents are divorced, you can get German citizenship by descent only if your parent recognizes you as their legal child by the rules of German law.

You cannot get German citizenship if you were born in a foreign country and your German parents were also born in a foreign country after January 1st, 2000. This rule can be bypassed if you as a child would be stateless if the German authorities did not accept you and give you German citizenship. Additionally, you cannot claim German citizenship through any other ancestors except your parents, including German citizenship through grandparents.

Another instance where you can get German citizenship through ancestry is if German citizens adopted you as a child under 18 years old.

As can be seen, German citizenship through ancestry or by descent is not a straightforward task in most cases. Sourcing the appropriate documents to demonstrate your eligibility can be difficult and the application itself can take a long time to process. It should also be noted that dual citizenship is often not permitted in such cases and losing your current citizenship may be the consequence of this form of citizenship. However, there are many benefits of German citizenship should you wish to continue your application.

Legal advice from professionals is often the best course of action when considering German citizenship by descent. At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte their dedicated Citizenship by descent team will examine all aspects of your case and advise you on how to proceed. Should applying for citizenship be your best option, they will support you and oversee the entire application. 

German Citizenship by Birth

If you do not have German parents but are born within the borders of Germany, you can qualify for citizenship by birth or by right of soil. This is referred to as Jus Soli citizenship. You can get this type of citizenship under the following conditions:

  • If at least one of your parents has lived in Germany for at least eight years before the birth of the child,
  • If at the time the child is born, one of the parents had a permanent residence permit.

In getting this type of citizenship, the child will again have to choose the parents’ citizenship or the citizenship of Germany between the ages of 18 and 23 years old. The child must give up the parents’ nationality to get the German one or apply for dual citizenship.

Only children born after February 2nd, 1990, have the right to get this type of citizenship.

Naturalization for Descendant of Nazi Victims

Germany’s National Act, Article 116, allows the victims of the Nazi persecution throughout WWII and their descendants (children and grandchildren) to apply for naturalization in Germany. In August of 2021, new amendments were made, allowing more people to qualify for German citizenship.

The new nationality act allows individuals (including their descendants) — who, between 30 January 1933 and 8 May 1945, were persecuted because of political, racial, or religious reasons — to apply for German citizenship if:

  • They lost their citizenship before 26 February 1955 via marriage to a foreigner or naturalizing in another country.
  • They were not allowed to legally obtain citizenship through collective naturalization, marriage, or legitimation.
  • They were not allowed to apply for citizenship, despite meeting the requirements for a successful application.
  • Their application for naturalization was rejected based on discriminatory reasons.
  • They surrendered or lost their residency in Germany, and their residence was established before 30 January 1933. If the applicant was a child at the time, they’re eligible to apply even if their residence was established after 30 January of 1933.

Previously, children born before April 1, 1953, to a German mother but a non-German father were not eligible to apply for citizenship. However, in 2020, new laws expanded the definition of a “descendant” for Nazi victims to include the following cases as well:

For applicants born before April 1, 1953For applicants born before 1 July 1993
Applicants were born in wedlockApplicants were born out of wedlock
Their father was not a German citizenTheir mother was not a German citizen
Their mother was a German national whose citizenship was revoked forcefullyTheir father was a German national whose citizenship was revoked forcefully

German Dual Citizenship

Having German dual citizenship is not an easy task. You cannot have dual citizenship in Germany unless you belong to one of these groups:

  • You are from an EU country or the former Soviet Union.
  • You are from a country that does not allow you to give up your citizenship.
  • You are an ethnic German.
  • You have parents from the US.
  • You have obtained permission from the German authorities to retain another citizenship.

The other country’s rules are also vital as they can determine what dual citizenship rights you have. If you live in Germany, the country considers you a German citizen and you are entitled to German services and consular help. However, if you live in the country of your other citizenship, you cannot take advantage of German services and cannot get any help from the German consulate.

However, this does not mean that you can give up your obligations. In many instances, you might be required to pay taxes in both countries where you have your citizenship and complete military service as per German law. 

Dual Citizenship USA/Germany

Based on US and German law, you can have citizenship of both countries. Dual German/US citizenship can happen only when the child is born to one American and one German parent. In this case, the child is not required to give up either nationality and can hold both.

However, if the child lives in the US, they might have German citizenship, but cannot take advantage of German services. The other way around applies as well. US and German dual nationals are not exempt from military service and can be required to file taxes in both countries. Additionally, they cannot enter the US with a German passport and the other way around. They must present the German passport to enter Germany and the US passport to enter the US.

If an American citizen applies for naturalization in Germany, the American will have to give up their US citizenship to obtain the German one. 

Dual Citizenship Germany/UK

As is the case with dual citizenship for the US and Germany, the same applies to Germany and the UK. Children born with one parent from the UK and one from Germany have the right to retain both citizenships.

With the UK’s exit from the EU though, the matters have become more complicated for those working and living in Germany with UK citizenship. Germany allows dual citizenship for EU nationals, but now that the UK will not be in the EU due to Brexit, what will happen is still unclear.

It has been proposed that UK citizens get dual nationalities for Germany to have freedom of movement within the EU. This remains to be solved and is up to whether Germany will allow UK citizens who apply for German citizenship to keep their UK citizenship.

Common Reasons for Citizenship Denial in Germany

Some of the most common reasons why your application for citizenship in Germany may be denied include the following:

  • You did not fulfill the eight residency requirements for citizenship; seven years if you complete an integrated course.
  • You do not have enough financial resources to support yourself or your family members unless exemptions apply. For example, you lost your job to no fault of your own, but you can prove that you are looking for work.
  • You provided false information in your application.
  • You did not pay enough state contributions during your residency in Germany.
  • You are considered a nationality risk to Germany and its citizens.
  • You have committed a felony (minor crimes such as fines are not considered an obstacle to your naturalization).
  • You did not give up your previous nationality since Germany allows dual citizenship in only exceptional cases (see above).

If your citizenship application is refused, you will receive a letter from the citizenship authorities stating the reason for your rejection. In most cases, you can re-apply, but you may also apply for an appeal for the rejection decision if you want. In this case, you are strongly encouraged to hire a professional legal representative to help you with the appeal process. Please contact your local immigration office so they can assist you in this case.

Giving up German Citizenship

German rules do not allow their citizens to give up German citizenship. More specifically, if the German citizen wants to renounce their citizenship to avoid an obligation to Germany, such as taxes or military service, they will not be allowed to do this. So, since you cannot give up citizenship, you can lose it under these circumstances:

  • If you request it from the German authorities and another country has offered you citizenship.
  • If a foreigner adopts a German child, the child will lose German citizenship,
  • If you join the military forces of the country where you hold another citizenship without the permission of the German authorities,
  • If you obtain another citizenship, you will lose German citizenship,
  • If your citizenship has been obtained through naturalization and you lose it due to illegal activities.

Renaturalization of German Citizenship

If you have renounced your German citizenship in the past or have lost it for reasons other than criminal activity, you can apply for renaturalization. The procedure will be the same as for those who apply for naturalization the first time, and you will have to give up all previous citizenship.

The law on losing citizenship, dual citizenship and retaining citizenship is inherently complex, and for this reason, it is strongly advised that you receive the counsel of dedicated legal professionals in the field of German immigration law such as the already recommended professionals of Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte.