If you are a foreigner whose principal residence is in Germany, or if you are a child born in Germany to foreign parents, you may want to think about obtaining German citizenship and thus participating actively in political life.
You’ll become a German citizen through naturalisation, and will receive the rights of a full citizen, e.g. right to vote, free movement, the right to free occupational choice and protection against extradition and deportation. However, you are also subject to citizen duties and the obligation to engage in our society as a lay judge or electoral assistant.
Naturalisation involves many legal rules, which we will present to you in a rough overview here. Your local citizenship authority will provide you with information on your specific case. If you live in an urban municipality, this is the city council; if you live in an administrative district, this is the Rural District Office.
Naturalisation is only performed on request. If you’re 16 or over, you can lodge a naturalisation application with your local citizenship authority. Naturalisation of children under 16 must be requested by a legal representative, generally his / her parents.
A person is entitled to be naturalised in accordance with § 10 of the Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz (StAG - German Citizenship Act) if they meet all the necessary legal requirements for naturalisation. Your foreign spouse, who cannot claim naturalisation in their own right, and / or your underage children, can be naturalised along with you, giving the entire family the chance to obtain German citizenship.
If you are the spouse or registered same-sex partner of a German citizen, your naturalisation is governed by § 9 of the German Citizenship Act (StAG). If you’re not yet entitled to be naturalised, the authorities may still agree to naturalise you in certain cases according to § 8 StAG.
The requirements for the respective forms of naturalisation (and their respective exceptions) vary for individual cases. The following general requirements are, however, essentially the same for all forms of naturalisation:
- You must hold a permanent residence permit at the time of naturalisation.
- You must have had your legal place of residence in Germany for at least eight years.
- You must be able to support yourself (and any dependent family members) without social welfare benefits or Arbeitslosengeld II (unemployment benefits).
- You must be familiar with the legal and social order and living conditions in Germany (legal proof through the standardised national naturalisation test).
- You must have sufficient knowledge of the German language.
- You must not have been convicted of a criminal offence.
- You must lose or surrender your previous citizenship.
- There must be no evidence of anti-constitutional or extremist acts committed in the past or present, and you must commit to the free democratic basic order of the German Constitution.
Permanent residence permit
The following are particularly entitled to receive a permanent residence permit
- Persons holding a “Niederlassungserlaubnis” (settlement permit) or a permit for permanent EU residence, and
- EU citizens entitled to free movement / equivalent citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, as well as their family members and partners.
A temporary residence permit will only suffice if it has been issued for a purpose entitling permanent residence in Germany. A temporary residence permit issued for a temporary purpose (e.g. studies or humanitarian causes) is not sufficient, nor is it sufficient to merely hold a residence permit for specific purposes or have exceptional leave to remain in the country at the time of naturalisation.
Legal residence in Germany for at least eight years is generally required, whereby this time frame can be reduced in certain cases, e.g. when spouses and underage children are being naturalised at the same time.
Securing a livelihood
You must be able to earn a living for yourself and any dependent family members without any Sozialhilfe (social welfare) or Arbeitslosengeld II (unemployment benefits) ("Hartz IV").
National naturalisation test
Since 2008-09-01, knowledge of Germany’s legal and social order, as well as living conditions in Germany, is a pre-requisite for naturalisation. These are generally proven by passing the standardised national naturalisation test. In order to pass the test, 17 out of 33 questions must be answered correctly.
Civic knowledge is also proven, rendering a naturalisation test unnecessary, if you can (exclusively) provide a completion certificate from a German secondary school (“Hauptschule”), or a comparable or higher completion certificate from a German school for general education (“allgemeinbildende Schule”).
Children under 16 are exempted from the requirement and proof of civic knowledge. This also applies to persons who, due to a physical, intellectual or mental illness or disability, or due to their age, are not able to fulfil the civic knowledge requirement.
The federal states offer naturalisation courses to prepare for the test.
You must have adequate knowledge of the German language. This is the case if you meet the oral and written requirements for the Zertifikat Deutsch language examination (level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in all individual examination components). The ability to communicate in a simple, verbal manner will not suffice. The citizenship authority will determine whether or not your language knowledge is adequate.
You can prove that your German knowledge is adequate by providing the following documents:
- “Zertifikat Deutsch” certificates or an equivalent or superior language certificate,
- Certification from the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (Federal Office for Migration and Refugees) citing your successful participation in a language course as part of the integration course stipulated in the German Residency Act,
- German secondary school certificate or equivalent German school-leaving certificate, with a grade of at least “pass” in German,
- Admission to grade 10 of an upper secondary German school (Realschule, Gesamtschule, Gymnasium) with a grade of at least "pass" in German
- Successfully attending a German school for four years (promotion to the next level) with a grade of at least "pass" in German,
- Studies at a German university or university of applied sciences, or successful completion of a German vocational training course.
telc GmbH, provider of language testing procedures and subsidiary of the Deutsche Volkshochschulverband (German Adult Education Association)
If you cannot provide any of these documents, the citizenship authority may call you for a language examination. The examination consists of a written and oral component.
Special language courses will prepare you for this.
More on the topic:
Provider of language testing procedures and subsidiary of the Deutsche Volkshochschulverband (German Adult Education Association)
Special aid is provided to minors under the age of 16 and persons who have permanently impaired hearing, reading, writing or speaking due to illness, disability or age.
Exemption from punishment
Criminal convictions, or hospital orders for persons not criminally liable for their actions, make naturalisation impossible. This also applies for foreign convictions in certain circumstances.
Minor convictions are inconsequential. This is the case for:
- Monetary fines totalling up to 90 daily rates,
- Imprisonment of up to three months, if you have been granted parole, and the sentence was removed after the probation period,
- Corrective measures as per the Jugendgerichtsgesetz (German Youth Court Act).
However, multiple convictions to monetary fines or prison sentences are added together, unless the court has established a lesser overall penalty.
Surrendering previous citizenship
Prior to being naturalised, you will generally be asked to surrender or lose your previous citizenship.
“Multiple nationality” is only permitted in special exceptional cases, e.g. if it is not feasible or possible to give up your previous citizenship.
A general exception applies to EU and Swiss citizens. You do not need to surrender your previous citizenship, though you may lose this based on the other country’s law if you become naturalised in Germany. The embassies or consulates of the EU countries will provide information on this.
Commitment to free democratic basic order
You must commit, in writing, to free democratic basic order by acknowledging the principles, e.g. human rights, sovereignty of the people, constitutional state, separation of governmental authorities, right to parliamentary opposition, and declaring that you do not engage in or support unconstitutional activities, and have not engaged in or supported these in the past (declaration of loyalty). The citizenship authority lodges a request with the constitution protection authorities prior to any naturalisation.
Minors under the age of 16 do not need to pledge any commitment.
Naturalisation only takes effect upon presentation of the naturalisation certificate. Beforehand, you must solemnly verbally declare that you will adhere to the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Germany, and will refrain from undertaking anything which may harm the Federal Republic of Germany. You reinforce this with your written oath. You cannot be naturalised if you refuse to pledge your commitment verbally.
A fee of EUR 255.00 is generally charged for naturalisation, and for co-naturalisation of spouses or registered same-sex partners. The fee is reduced to EUR 51.00 for the co-naturalisation of under-aged children who do not earn their own income. If, however, under-aged children are naturalised without their parents, the fee is EUR 255.00.
What effects does your naturalisation have on your children’s citizenship?
If you are already a German citizen through naturalisation at the time your child is born, the principle of descent applies: Your child automatically acquires German citizenship at birth by virtue of descent.
If you intent to obtain German citizenship through naturalisation, you can also request for your underage children to be naturalised with you.
If you are not a German citizen at the time your child is born, but are living permanently in Germany, your child, who is born in Germany, automatically acquires German citizenship by virtue of the principle of birthplace (Ius soli) if you or the other parent meet certain criteria at the time of birth.