How Long Is The German Visa and Residency Permit Process? Timeframes by Country

March 28, 2024

Despite their reputation as global leaders advanced technology, process optimisation, not to mention the iconic “German efficiency”, expats quickly enter a state of shock in dealing with the German immigration authorities, with their long and vague timelines, lack of digitalisation and generally mediaeval approach to paperwork (run out of wax seals, quills and parchment?). 

So bound by their draconian culture of paperwork and “computer says no” attitude, that German embassies on the opposite side of the planet somehow create a microcosm of the exact same bureaucracy that we all know and love from our local Auslanderbehorde or Burgeramt here in the motherland.

If you’re thinking about making the move to Berlin or to Germany in general, we’ll decode the timelines, to help you answer the classic question: how long does it take to get a German visa?

How long to get a German visa by country?

There are two main classifications of countries, which determine a major difference in how long it takes to get a German work visa. 

“Best Friend” Countries - How long to get a residency permit in Germany?

Germany’s “preferred countries” list includes Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.

Nationals of these countries can bypass the embassy process in their home country, enter Germany as a tourist and apply directly for the residency permit from here, which means processing time is limited to the process from your arrival here.

Lucky you! You can skip the next section about the national D visa entirely, and go to the section about the timeline for the residency permit only.

Other Countries (Not our “best friends”. Sorry!)

For nationals of all countries other than those on the “best friends” list (feels like we’re in kindergarten right?) the process is longer. First applicants are required to apply from the German embassy in their current country of residence to get the national D visa in order to enter Germany with the intention to become resident, then apply for the residency permit after they have arrived (usually within 6 months of arrival).

How long it takes to get the German visa at the embassy depends on two major factors:

  1. How long it takes to get an appointment at your nearest German embassy
  2. The standard processing time to receive your national D visa after the successful appointment

The time taken to get an appointment varies wildly, as some countries have more applicants, larger populations, and slower bureaucratic processes than others. We can’t list every single country in the world, but we’re sharing a few examples of countries we work with the most and our experience of processing time at the embassy.

In all cases, processing times for employment visa or blue card are faster (plus there are fast-track options available - more on that later), and freelance, job seeker, student and family reunification can take more time.

The unfortunate reality is that the time frames from the embassy side vary wildly, and can also fluctuate based on the volume of applicants due to domestic politics.

That said, generally speaking, applicants applying from a country in Europe (nationals of other countries but resident in a European country) experience the fastest processing times, with appointments readily available each week.

Asian embassies tend to take longer, with the waiting time for an appointment in India being on average 6 months for job seeker visa and in Pakistan often 1 year. African embassies have similarly gargantuan waiting lists.

In Russia, applicants expect to wait 3 months currently for an appointment, although many Russian applicants are applying from other embassies such as Belgrade or Tbilisi for political reasons, which has contributed to a slower process for applicants in Serbia and Georgia. 

As mentioned, the table below is purely an example of current waiting times, as these fluctuate all the time. The only way to get an accurate estimate is when we book the appointment at your local embassy, but treat these as rough estimates.

RegionCountryExample waiting time for a job seeker visa appointment (as of March 2024)Processing Time After Appointment
AsiaChina1 - 3 months (depending on city)6 - 12 weeks
AsiaTaiwan1 month6 - 12 weeks
AsiaSingapore1 week6 - 12 weeks
AsiaIndia6 months for job seeker (freelance currently quicker)6 - 12 weeks
AsiaPakistan12 months6 - 12 weeks
AsiaTurkey8 months6 - 12 weeks
South AmericaBrazil2 months6 - 12 weeks
South AmericaArgentina2 months6 - 12 weeks
South AmericaColombia1 month6 - 12 weeks
Middle EastUAE3 months6 - 12 weeks
Middle EastIran12 months6 - 12 weeks
Middle EastLebanon8 months6 - 12 weeks
Eastern Europe / EurasiaRussia2 months6 - 12 weeks
Eastern Europe / EurasiaSerbia5 months6 - 12 weeks
Eastern Europe / EurasiaGeorgia3 months6 - 12 weeks
AfricaSouth Africa1 month6 - 12 weeks
AfricaEgypt4 months6 - 12 weeks
AfricaNigeria12 months6 - 12 weeks
EuropeNetherlands1 month6 - 12 weeks
EuropeUnited Kingdom1 week6 - 12 weeks
EuropeFrance2 weeks6 - 12 weeks
EuropeCroatia2 weeks6 - 12 weeks

You might notice that the processing time after the appointment is relatively standardised. Most embassies process applications after the appointment in a standard window of 6 - 12 weeks, which means that there’s some waiting around to receive your D type visa before you can enter Germany. However, please note that these time frames can change daily and should be treated as current estimates based purely on anecdotal experience. Expats In Wonderland GmbH doesn’t hold any responsibility or guarantees on processing times provided by the German immigration authorities. We wish we could, but we can’t!

For us these long processing times are one of the hardest parts of the journey, particularly for job seekers with families, who often minimise their living costs by moving alone before bringing their partner and children. This can result in families being separated for an entire year (except for some holiday visits) but is a tough reality for those starting a new life in Germany.

Even more distressing is when applicants have placed an application to be reunited with their family but haven’t even received a reply from the authorities for 6 - 12 months! Unfortunately this is a common case, and can result in long periods of separation which could be avoided with a more comprehensive and caring approach to the visa process. One which we’re proudly able to offer!

Once you have your D visa in hand, it’s time to relocate and get on your flight, starting the next phase of the process: Getting your German residency permit.

How to fast-track the German visa process?

For those with a job offer for employment, and higher education skills qualifying them as highly skilled, or those with a job offer qualifies them for a blue card, all German embassies offer a fast-track premium process for applicants and their families.

This fast-track visa process can reduce waiting time significantly, and is especially valuable in countries with long wait times, for example reducing applicants' wait time in Pakistan from 1 year down to 3 months for an appointment.

The fast-track process requires a fee of 411€ per adult applicant and a 50% reduction on this fee for children, paid directly to the authorities.

One of the great benefits of this fast-track solution is that blue card applicants can fast-track their families if they are all applying at the same time. However, this is only possible at the point of application for the main candidate. If you fast-track your own application, and then plan to bring your family later, they cannot fast-track if moving separately from you. So if you want that option, it’s important to all come together.

It is only available for applicants with employment offers, so not possible for job seekers, freelancers, self-employed, students or those seeking family reunification when applying separately from the main visa holder.

As a registered Business Immigration Service provider, we are able to navigate the fast-track process working with both employer and employee to relocate entire families in a fraction of the time of those following the regular application process.

How long does it take to get the residency permit?

Processing time for the residency permit itself varies depending on the type of permit you are applying for, the department (usually defined by your nationality or in some cases visa type), and the immigration office you are working with (defined by the visa type).

The good news is that if you are not a “best friend” country national, by this point you often have an advantage. With your D visa you have the opportunity to usually begin working immediately upon arrival in Germany. This means that there’s no waiting around to get started, whether you are in employment or freelancing. The same applies for studying, which can give you a great headstart as residency permit appointments for students can take a long time to attain!

For this article we’ll be focussing on how long it takes to get your residency permit in Berlin, rather than across Germany, as each immigration office varies a little with processing times. Despite a long wait, Berlin is one of the faster immigration offices nationwide.

How long to get a Blue Card or employment appointment for the residency permit in Berlin?

The Blue Card is a type of employment permit for those in higher paid positions, with different thresholds for those in top demanded industries (for example IT professionals).

Through the regular immigration office, processing times for applicants depends on your department, with appointments for those from Turkey or India taking 2 - 5 months, while those from the USA around 2 months. 

However, if you work with our team, we are registered with Berlin’s Business Immigration Service, a service for professional partners, working with companies and employees, which offers faster processing times. Those we have assisted with their blue card application are currently processed in between 2 - 4 weeks, although timelines can vary depending on job offers and complications.

Please note that we are unable to guarantee any timelines as they are not ours to guarantee! These time frames are purely based on current experience of the past 7 years of relocation in Berlin. 

What’s the waiting time for a freelance visa appointment (or artist visa appointment?)

Freelance appointments take an average of 3 months to be issued. Unfortunately, as many applicants know, the immigration office’s online booking system seems perpetually unavailable, which often leaves applicants searching for an appointment for over 6 months, while they fruitlessly wait for an opening.

Despite the crappy system, there are other ways, call the black magic if you will, to get an appointment, and generally our clients will receive their freelance appointment 3 months after their request is properly submitted.

This can put applicants in a weird position, particularly for their first visa in which their SCHENGEN tourist 90 days are up, but they are waiting for 3 months for their appointment. In this time travel can be a bit problematic, and there is a lot of grey area about applicants' right to move around at this time.

Those who already hold a residency permit could apply for a bridging visa (Fiktionsbescheinigung) in this interim period, although don’t expect the processing time on that to be too snappy!

In general, applying early for the appointment is a great way to minimise this interim period, but don’t plan too much of a world tour while waiting for your appointment.

What the hell is going on in the student department?

So you’ve paid your university fees (not so cheap if you’re studying in English), you’re ready to start learning and working part time, you just need the residency permit so that your uni will let you start your course, but it’s been 6 months, the course starts tomorrow and there’s no appointment available!

Sound familiar? The processing time for German student visas in Berlin is particularly long and arduous, with applicants often waiting for over 6 months to receive anything more than an automated reply. This can royally screw up your finances, study plans and life in general.

In reality appointments shouldn’t take longer than 3 or 4 months, but it seems in this department to be more of a struggle to get a reply than in others. With some help (that’s us!) and persistence (also us), securing an appointment date is quicker, but still plan for a few months wait before getting your residency permit approved. With support from our partnered lawyer, we are able to help you attain appointments by filing through a channel for legal professionals. A small additional fee is applied for processing applications in this way, if you want to cut the waiting time.

For those with a D visa, the advantage is that you can start immediately, showing that it’s not always best to be a “best friend” in Germany. However, nationals of “best friend” countries can also apply first from their home country in order to mitigate this issue.

Help! I don’t have Anmeldung (residency registration), is that going to affect my timeline?

Yes, it will and often does.

Getting registered is the precursor to all things bureaucratic in Germany, and this is also true for your residency permit. Having a registered address is key to securing your appointment at the immigration office, and can slow things down if you’re struggling to get registered. It’s also a legal requirement!

Of course getting an appointment at the Burgeramt for your registration is near to impossible (do you sometimes feel like they’re testing us?), although they often open up appointments for the same day first thing in the morning. 

If you don’t fancy the stress of a 8:00am rush from Wedding to Steglitz for an appointment at 8:45 (true story), then we can help expats get registered via Business Immigration Service, with a simpler and much more civilised process, in which your documents are pre-submitted, checked, and approved by the authorities, and then your residency registration is essentially collected upon presentation of your passport at the appointment.

However, you will need the address in which to register, so steer clear of illegal sublet apartments not offering an Anmeldung and the highly regulated AirBnb market. Instead ensure that your medium term rental offers “landlords confirmation” (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) or simply ask if the “Anmeldung” or residency registration is possible in the apartment before signing any rental lease.

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