Voting as an expat in Germany

Bas

Updated on Oct 09 • 3 minute read

Now that a certain major nation is due a new president, you as an expat might be wondering: when do expats in Germany get to vote? That’s the question we’ll be answering today. To do so we’ll take a look at the German political system, as well as some of the scenarios some if you might be in. Let’s get going!

Can I vote in Germany as an expat?

In some cases, but generally not. If you’re an expat but you don’t yet have German citizenship, you don’t have the right to vote in the most important German elections: the General election or Bundeswahlen and the State elections or Landswahlen (more on these later).

If you’re an expat from the EU, however, you're allowed to vote in the local elections (Kommunalwahlen) and, like any EU citizen, for the European elections. You can only vote once, though, so no traveling back to your home country to vote in the EU elections again!

If you want to vote for either of these elections, make sure to register at the local election office (Wahlamt) at least 3 weeks before the election takes place. If you’ve been successfully registered, you should receive your Wahlbenachtrichting or polling card 3 weeks before the next elections. If you’ve only just registered, you can still vote! You do need to make sure to bring a valid ID, such as your passport.

Can I vote if I have a permanent German residence permit?

You can, however, vote for the elections in your country of origin. You are, after all, still a citizen of that nation. To do so, contact a mission or embassy of the country in question and they’ll happily supply you with the information you need to vote from abroad. Also remember that you will lose this right if you renounce your current nationality in favour of the German nationality in the future.

How does the German political system work?

Let’s take a quick look at how the German political system works. Eventually, you’ll be able to go into more detail than this. Why? Well, because it’s part of the naturalisation exam you’ll be taking to get your German citizenship! Anyway:

The German political system is what is called a federal democracy, with various political parties, an independent judiciary system, and different layers of regional and local governments in Germany’s various states. Much like the U.S.A, the most famous federal democracy, the individual German states get to determine some of the rules themselves, while others are determined at a federal (so country wide) level.

So, who’s actually in charge? In the US, you’d say it’s the president of the country, but in Germany, that role is pretty much ceremonial. Instead, it’s the Chancellor of the Bundestag (federal parliament, equivalent to the American senate) who wields the real power. The Chancellor is always the leader of the party who has the most seats in the Bundestag. As of late 2020, this is still Angela Merkel from the CPD Christian Democrats party. As a result, the German government is made up out of 3 layers that each have their own elections.

What elections can I vote for as a German citizen?

The three layers of the German government are the local municipalities, with officials like the city councils and mayors, followed by the federal states with officials that make the rules on a state level. Above both of those is the top level, the federal government which come up with legislation that is in effect all across the country. Let’s take a brief look at their election cycles:

  • the local municipalities (elected during the Kommunalwahlen)

The election for this takes place every 4-5 years and elects representatives for local and regional subsidiaries such as mayors. This is one of the elections you may vote for as a local EU expat with a residence permit.

- the federal states (elected during the Landtagswahlen)

The state elections also take place every 4-5 years and elect representatives into the Landtage (state assembly) in each of the 16 states. This election is reserved for German citizens over the age of 18.

- the federal government (elected during the general elections or Bundestagwahlen)

The general election takes place every 4 years and distributes the 598 seats in the German federal parliament (Bundestag) over all the political parties. The one with the majority of the votes supplies the chancellor. This election is also reserved for German citizens over the age of 18.

Can I vote if I have dual citizenship?

In some cases, you can have dual citizenship, holding the German citizenship as well as for example the American one. If this is somehow the case for you, then you’ll only be able to vote if Germany is actually your main country of residence at the moment. If, for example, you live in the US, your rights as a German citizen are suspended until you once again settle in Germany.

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