Travelling with a German residence permit


Updated on Oct 09 • 3 minute read

So, you’ve managed to secure your German residence permit but you need to travel abroad. You don’t want to risk losing your hard-earned permit, so let’s take a look at the rules surrounding travel while holding a German residence permit.

Why would I travel when I have a German residence permit?

When you’re holding a German residence permit, you’re not a German citizen yet. You don’t have access to all the freedoms that a German passport would grant you. Which is actually quite a lot, as it’s one of the most powerful passports in the world. That said, the process of becoming eligible to become a full German citizen can take anywhere from 5 to 8 years. That’s a long time to not see your family or take a vacation abroad.

Where can I travel with my German residence permit?

Holding a residence permit in Germany (or any other Schengen country, in fact) entitles you to free movement within the Schengen zone for the duration of your visa or permit. There are no border checks or restrictions within the Schengen zone, but you do need to be able to present both your passport and your residence permit to any border or police units you might encounter along the way.

A German residence permit or visa alone entitles you to only travel to other Schengen countries. Remember, though: the Schengen zone and the European Union aren't the same thing!

There are some EU-countries, such as Ireland, Romania & Bulgaria – that are members of the European Union, but aren't taking part in the Schengen agreement. If you want to visit them, you'll still need a visa based on the requirements surrounding your current passport.

This also works the other way around! There are countries that aren’t part of the EU, but are a part of the Schengen zone: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland but are still part of the Schengen zone. So, you are free to travel to these countries without a visa, as long as you hold your German residence permit!

Travel outside the Schengen zone

If you have a residence permit that allows you to stay for more than 3 months, you’ve probably got one that allows you to work in Germany or to volunteer in Germany. These permits are generally valid as long as the employment contract they are depending on. As I mentioned before, you don’t have a German passport yet, so for now, your foreign travel ability outside of the Schengen zone still depends on the passport of the nationality you have right now. So, if someone with a German passport doesn’t need a visa to enter country A, but the passport from your country of origin does require you to get a visa first, you still need a visa.

My visa is close to the expiration date

Generally, your visa or permit needs to be valid for longer the duration of your travels. If your permit's due to expire within your travel period, you should wait until you have confirmation that your application has been accepted for processing before you travel. Schengen customs agents have access to this information, so they will be able to see that you have an application in process and will allow you to continue your travels.

How long can I travel with my German residence permit?

The exception to this is the Schengen zone and some other countries in the EU. As long as you stay within countries in the Schengen zone, you’re free to travel around as much as you like for up to 90 days within a 6 month period! If you’re leaving the Schengen zone and come back through a different Schengen country, you need to be able to prove your final destination is going to be Germany. Additionally, if you’re looking to apply for German citizenship, you need to live in Germany for at least 180 days of the year!

What if I’m away for too long?

If you’re away for too long, or you leave Germany for a reason that's ‘not of a temporary nature’, then your permit can expire or be revoked. Being away for too long, in this case, means leaving the country without re-entry within 6 months. There can be exceptions to this rule, as the length of time can be adjusted by the German immigration authorities.

So, if you’ve a good reason, such as taking care of your elderly parents, working as an aid worker, being sent abroad while working for a German company or studying at a German university and taking part of an exchange program for multiple semesters. If you’re a Blue card holder who came to Germany as a specialised worker you can leave Germany for a period of up to 12 months, as long as you consult with the German immigration office before your departure.

Additionally, your permit can be revoked if Germany determines that you’re leaving for reasons that aren't of a temporary nature. In other words, if the authorities determine Germany is no longer your primary country of residence, they might revoke your permit. Reasons for this could be moving your family to a different country, taking up long term employment in a different country or selling/leaving your German property. You could try to keep your permit by making regular trips back to Germany, but German judges have rules against people doing this in the past.

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