Almost every day, I receive e-mails with the same questions, even more after Brexit or the election of Trump or Bolsonaro. So I decided to post the most frequent questions – and of course the answers to them – for everyone to read for free. I therefore invite you to browse these FAQ before you contact me (or any other lawyer) about your case.
Before asking a new question, please read through the many comments which may already answer your questions. And if you find these FAQ useful or if you ask a new question, it would be very nice if you make a donation. Thank you!
1. Does Germany have a system of ius sanguinis or ius soli?
Germany has traditionally always been a ius sanguinis country, meaning that citizenship is passed on to the next generation by birth, irrespective of the place of birth. Only recently (1999) has the law been amended to incorporate ius soli, giving German citizenship to a child born in Germany to two parents of foreign citizenship.
I will explain these different ways of obtaining citizenship in more detail below.
2. Does ius sanguinis mean that I am entitled to German citizenship if I have German great-great-grandparents, even if they left Germany generations ago?
Possibly, but not automatically. You are a German citizen under ius sanguinis if your ancestors had German citizenship at the time of the birth of the next generation and passed on this citizenship respectively. It is therefore necessary to find out the exact timeline of events to determine if your ancestors might have lost their German citizenship (e.g. by giving it up voluntarily, or by accepting a foreign citizenship) or if they still had it and could thus pass it on.
You see that this requires a lot of research into your family history and into the respective laws of the relevant points in time. But if you are lucky, you might have German citizenship even if your parents never knew about it and neither you or them have ever been to Germany.
3. Is there any chance to obtain German citizenship for someone without German ancestors?
Yes. You can become a German citizen trough the ius soli option (more about this below), through adoption by a German citizen and through naturalization.
Please note that German citizenship cannot be obtained through marriage with a German citizen, although this does increase your chances of naturalization.
4. So what is the ius soli component of German citizenship law?
Ius soli means the acquiring of a citizenship based on being born in a country’s territory. Germany’s ius soli law is much less far-reaching than that of the USA or Mexico for example. Since 2000, a child born to foreign parents in Germany is born a German citizen if at least one of its parents has been a legal resident of Germany for at least 8 years and has a permanent residence status (§ 4 III StAG).
Because these children usually also receive the citizenship(s) of their parents, they will have dual or triple citizenship.
5. Does German law allow dual citizenship?
Germany disapproves of dual citizenship, but cannot completely prevent it, especially in cases where only one parent is German and the child receives two different citizenships at the moment of its birth. In these cases, both citizenships are of equal standing and nobody could be forced to give up one of them.
In cases of naturalization however, Germany requires the foreigner to give up his or her original citizenship in order to obtain a German passport (§§ 9 I Nr. 1; 10 I Nr. 4 StAG). There are quite a number of exceptions to this requirement (§ 12 StAG), for example if your home country does not allow you to renounce citizenship, or if the loss of your original citizenship would result in the loss of economic rights in your home country, and for all citizens of another EU country.
6. How long do I have to live in Germany before I can get a German passport?
For the spouse of a German citizen, the residence requirement is usually 3 years (of which you need to have been married for the last 2 years).
For other foreigners, it is between 6 and 8 years, depending on your language skills.
After 8 years of residency, a German passport ca no longer be denied, you have acquired an entitlement to it (if you fulfill the other requirements, e.g. German language skills, no criminal record, no dependency on welfare).
7. Is it possible to obtain German citizenship although I don’t live in Germany?
Yes. § 14 StAG opens this possibility if you can show that you have close ties to Germany despite your residence in another country. Due to the number of questions about this possibility, there is now a special set of FAQ on naturalization from abroad.
8. How do you lose German citizenship?
There are several ways how German citizenship can be lost (§ 17 StAG): The main cases are applying for another citizenship (§ 25 StAG), renouncing German citizenship if this does not render you stateless (§ 26 StAG) and adoption by a foreign parent (§ 27 StAG).
9. Are there special rules for victims of the Nazi-regime and descendants of these victims?
Yes. The Nazis stripped a number of Germans of their citizenship for political, racist and anti-Semitic reasons. These former German citizens or their descendants have a right to have their German citizenship reinstated (Art. 116 II GG).
Please see the FAQ on reclaiming German citizenship for more on this.
10. If I don’t meet any of the legal requirements, is there still a chance for me to get a German passport?
Do you play football very well?
If all of this text is too much for you, please check out my infographic on German citizenship law.