Law on Nationality
Overview of amendments
The German rules on citizenship were thoroughly revised with the entry into force of the amended Nationality Act (Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz) on 1 January 2000. The Act was further revised with the entry into force of the main part of the Immigration Act (Zuwanderungsgesetz) on 1 January 2005 and its further provisions on 28 August 2007.
On 20 December 2014 the Second Act Amending the Nationality Act entered into force. This contains new provisions concerning the obligation for children born in Germany to non-German parents to choose one nationality (Optionsregelung).
Provisions for foreigners living in Germany
Since 2000, children born in Germany to non‑German parents automatically acquire German citizenship if one parent has been legally resident in Germany for at least eight years and has a permanent right of residence. Upon turning 21, these children are obliged to choose between their German nationality and their parents’ nationality (Optionspflicht). However, the Second Act Amending the Nationality Act, which entered into force on 20 December 2014, significantly reduces the number of those obliged to opt for one nationality.
As a general rule, non‑Germans have the right to become naturalised after eight years of legal residence in Germany, provided they meet the relevant conditions. The minimum period of residence for spouses of German nationals is usually shorter. For naturalisation, it is necessary to prove adequate knowledge of German. A clean criminal record and commitment to the tenets of the Basic Law (Constitution) are further criteria. The person to be naturalised must also be able to support themselves financially.
The aim of avoiding multiple nationality remains a key feature of German law on nationality, even now. In general, those applying for naturalisation must give up their foreign nationality. However, since 1 January 2000 the exceptions that allow applicants to retain their former nationality have been considerably broader. These apply for example to elderly persons and victims of political persecution. Applicants may also retain their nationality if it is legally impossible for them to renounce it or if they cannot be expected to do so, for example because of the excessive cost or degrading procedures this involves. The same is true if renouncing the foreign nationality would bring serious disadvantages, especially financial disadvantages such as problems with property or assets.
Since 28 August 2007, nationals of EU member states and Switzerland who are naturalised in Germany have been allowed to hold multiple nationality. Whether the laws of the applicant’s country of origin also permit multiple nationality must be clarified in advance.
The text of the law, as well as statistics on the non-German population in Germany, can be found on the website of the Federal Government Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration. Further details concerning nationality law are available on the website of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the government agency responsible for legislative reforms in the field.
If you are a non‑German living in Germany and have questions about acquiring German nationality, please contact the local authority in the town or district in which you reside.
Provisions for Germans abroad
The nationality law reform does not only affect non‑Germans living in Germany, but also Germans living abroad. The most important provisions for Germans living abroad are as follows.
Children born abroad to one or more German parents who themselves were born abroad on or after 1 January 2000 (entry into force of the amended Nationality Act), will no longer automatically acquire German nationality. The only exceptions to this rule are if the child would otherwise be stateless or if the German parent(s) register(s) the birth with the German mission responsible for where they live within one year of the birth of the child (section 4 (4) of the Nationality Act).
People who have lost their German nationality by choosing to acquire a foreign nationality (section 25 of the Nationality Act) can now re‑acquire their German nationality more easily provided they fulfil certain conditions; the opinion of the responsible German mission abroad carries considerable weight in such cases (section 13 of the Nationality Act).
Non‑Germans can also be naturalised while living abroad, provided they have special ties with Germany to justify this (section 14 of the Nationality Act).
As a rule, German nationals will continue to lose their German nationality if they acquire another nationality of their own volition, without obtaining the consent of the German authorities in advance. An exception is made for those acquiring the nationality of another EU state or Switzerland (see below).
However, since 1 January 2000 it has been easier for Germans who acquire a foreign nationality to retain their German nationality. Pursuant to section 25 (2) of the Nationality Act, both public and private interests must be weighed up when deciding whether to allow someone to keep their German nationality. In the case of Germans living abroad, a key factor to be considered is whether they still have ties with Germany, such as close relatives or property in the country. Please note that permission to retain German nationality must be obtained before acquiring the new nationality.
Since 28 August 2007, Germans acquiring the nationality of another EU member state or Switzerland no longer automatically lose their German nationality, nor are they required to obtain permission to retain their nationality.
German nationals who voluntarily enter the armed forces or comparable armed groups of a state of which they are also a national without the consent of the relevant German authorities automatically lose their German nationality. However, since 6 July 2011, this rule no longer applies to persons who voluntarily serve in the armed forces of an EU member state, a NATO member state, an EFTA country or Australia, New Zealand, Israel or the Republic of Korea.
People living abroad should contact their local German mission if they have any questions about the regulations. The Federal Office of Administration in Cologne is responsible for nationality issues for German nationals resident abroad.
- List of the websites of the German Missions abroad, in alphabetical order of the different countries:
Last updated 20.12.2013