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International Law News

International Law News, Spring 2023

Naturalization in Germany

Achim Heuser


  • Many people who come to Germany also want to apply for citizenship at some point, which entitles one to live, vote, and run for political office in Germany.
  • What are the requirements for German citizenship and exceptions to the requirements?
  • What is the naturalization process and requirements in Germany?
Naturalization in Germany
Matthew Micah Wright via Getty Images

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Many people who come to Germany also want to apply for citizenship at some point, which entitles one to live, vote, and run for political office in Germany. With a German passport, one can easily travel to many countries without a visa and is also allowed to live and work in other EU countries. A citizen is entitled to financial support in the event of illness or unemployment.

Anyone born in Germany automatically becomes a citizen, however foreign nationals may successfully complete the naturalization process to become citizens entitled to the same rights and duties as natural born citizens.

Below are answers to some important questions:

What are the requirements for citizenship?

  • Applicants must have been working and living legally in Germany for at least eight years;
  • They must have “settlement permits” or “residence permits” in the entire period preceding the application;
  • They must speak or learn German;
  • Applicants must pass the naturalization test or graduate from a German school;
  • Applicants must have no record of conviction of serious crimes;
  • They must declare allegiance to the German constitution and must obey it;
  • Applicants must be monogamous; and
  • Applicant must provide vital documents, such passports or birth certificates, which prove personal identifying information such as names, ages, and nationalities. Otherwise, they must prove that their countries of origin are unable or unwilling to issue vital documents to them.

Exceptions to  some of the above-mentioned requirements:

  • Applicants who lost their jobs through no fault of theirs;
  • Applicants who cannot work because they have to care for children; or
  • Applicants who are unable to work because they are still learning trades.

Can one naturalize in less than eight years?

Applicants can attain citizenship in less than eight years of lawful presence in Germany if they meet any of the following requirements:

  • Completion of an integration course can entitle one to citizenship in seven years;
  • Successful adaptation to German culture and fluency in German language in six years;
  • Active political or social involvement in Germany for six years;
  • Marriage to a German spouse; or
  • Asylum seekers, recognized refugees, and stateless persons who have been in Germany for six years.

Does time within the asylum process or time spent studying in Germany also count?

The period during which asylum seekers or refugees are present in Germany count toward residence and eligibility for citizenship.

The years during which applicants  live in Germany while studying in institutions of higher learning also count towards their eligibility, except for Bavaria where the period of study is not recognized.

Is it necessary to pass the naturalization test?

Applicants who pass the examination at the end of the integration course or obtain certification from German institutions do not have to take the naturalization test. Applicants who are suffering serious illness or disability as confirmed by a doctor, and the elderly are exempt from the examination requirement.

To pass the naturalization test, applicants can either take a naturalization course or prepare for the test on their own. The citizenship test consists of questions about history, culture, and law. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) provides information about the naturalization test and a sample test online.

Can someone become a citizen without a language certificate?

Applicants who do not have the requisite proof of German language fluency or a successful completion of the language course can meet the requirement differently. Proof of attending a German school or language certification is sufficient. Any of the following is sufficient:

  • Attendance in a German school for at least four years;
  • A  diploma from a secondary school;
  • Currently enrolled in the 10th or higher grade at a German school;
  • Completion of a German vocational training course; or
  • University degree in German.

Those who do not meet any of the above-mentioned requirements must take a language test at any language school and show their certificates.

Can applicants naturalize if they have been convicted of a crime?

Applicants who have been convicted of minor offenses can still be naturalized. Minor offenses include:

  • Fines;
  • Disciplinary action against juvenile offenders; and
  • Imprisonment for up to three months or probation.

Applicants who have been convicted of serious crimes are ineligible for citizenship. However, they may reapply for citizenship after the expungement of the serious crime, provided they meet all other requirements.

Can someone become a citizen even if they do not meet all the requirements?

Applicants who do not meet the above-mentioned requirements, can apply for discretionary naturalization but whether one thereby becomes a citizen is a matter of discretion by the authorities. The naturalization office may grant citizenship in discretionary cases but is not required to do so. Applications tend to be approved if there is a public interest. However, certain requirements must be met for discretionary naturalization:

  • The applicant has only one spouse;
  • The applicant resides legally in Germany;
  • Has existing housing;
  • Is gainfully employed or has assets to support her/himself and family;
  • Has no criminal record; and
  • Has a passport or other self-identification documents; or can prove that their home country is unable or unwilling to issue self-identification papers.

Naturalization is possible only in exceptional cases for those who do not meet the above-mentioned requirements. For example, in the event of severe illness or disability or inability to work due to age. In such cases, applicants should contact the staff at the local naturalization office.

Are there other rules for people who have a German spouse?

Applicants who are married to German citizens can naturalize earlier than others if they meet the following requirements:

  • Residing legally in Germany for at least three years;
  • Married to a German citizen for at least two years;
  • Not convicted of a serious crime;
  • Possess a valid passport or passport substitute;
  • Have independent and stable accommodation;
  • Not receiving unemployment or social welfare benefits;
  • Demonstrate German language proficiency at level B1 or higher;
  • Pass the naturalization test or obtain certification from a German school; and
  • Declare allegiance to the German Constitution verbally and in writing at the naturalization office.

Note that these requirements do not apply to spouses who are citizens of other EU countries.

Where and how can one apply for naturalization?

The entity responsible for naturalization varies from state to state. To find the appropriate authority, one can contact the district office, the city administration, or the immigration office. The migration advisory service or the youth migration service can also provide the correct address.

The application for naturalization can be found at the appropriate naturalization office or online. Before submitting the application, one should seek advice from the staff at the naturalization office. Employees can provide more detailed information regarding required documents and answer questions.

One must be older than 16 years to apply independently. A parent or legal guardian may apply for minor applicants.

What does the application for naturalization cost?

The application fee for each adult applicant is 255 Euros and 51 Euros per child. The application fee may be reduced in exceptional cases, for example, families with several children or those at a demonstrable financial disadvantage.

Can German citizenship be revoked?

In principle, citizenship can be revoked only if it will not lead to statelessness. Citizenship can be revoked for any of the following reasons:

  • Waiver of citizenship by a naturalized citizen;
  • Adoption of a naturalized citizen by a foreign national;
  • Becoming the citizen or maintaining citizenship of a country that does not allow dual citizenship;
  • Being a citizen of another country and joining the armed forces of that country voluntarily without the consent of the German authorities; or
  • Acquisition of another nationality without applying to the naturalization office to retain German nationality.

Those who have lost their German citizenship and do not have any other European country’s citizenship need residence permits to stay in Germany.