Yesterday I pasted an important milestone in my journey to moving to Berlin; I was granted an “unbefristete Niederlassungserlaubnis”, or an unlimited settlement permit.

When I was planning my move to Berlin, the visa component was always daunting. At the time I had no idea how I’d manage to stay. I didn’t have much money, I didn’t speak German, I didn’t have a job or a spot at a university, and I didn’t have a place to live lined up.

I read numerous forum threads and blog posts about people who tried to move to Europe and who were ultimately forced to move back after they were unable to secure a more permanent living situation. At the time it felt like a big gamble that would most likely fail.

In order to be granted a settlement permit, a person normally has to fulfill these requirements:

  • Possession of a residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) for at least five years
  • Five years of employment, including payment of social insurance contributions
  • Secure livelihood
  • Sufficient accommodation for you and your family
  • Sufficient knowledge of German
  • Basic knowledge of the German legal and social systems

I moved here in February, 2014, so how did I get a settlement permit in less than 3 years if I need to have a residency permit for 5 years?

There’s a special path for EU Blue Card holders seeking permanent settlement.

With my Blue Card, all the above requirements still apply, however the time requirement is reduced to 33 months.

However, if you can prove sufficient German language skills of B1 or higher, that time requirement is reduced even further to 21 months!

Because I’ve had my Blue Card and have been working and paying into the social system (about 43% of every paycheck) for over 21 months, and because I passed my B1 German exam, I was able to apply for a settlement permit after those 21 months.

So what does the settlement permit grant me? How long does it last?

The settlement permit is unlimited within the EU and it does not expire. I no longer have to worry about some date looming in the future when I have to jump through more bureaucratic and legal hoops to be allowed to stay in my new home. I am able to live and move anywhere within the EU without having to go to an immigration office and ask for permission.

I’m able to work for anyone anywhere in Germany (Not automatically anywhere in the EU!). I no longer have to maintain a job over a specific level of income in order to keep my visa status. (Not that I’d want to take a job making less, but this allows me to not lose my right to stay if I lose my job.) If I want to work in another country, say the Netherlands, I can move there, but I still have to apply for a work permit. Because I’m a former Blue Card holder, after 1 year of working in that new country, I have unlimited access to the job market there too.

My settlement permit is just 1 step below citizenship within the EU.

So what’s next?

Well, I can apply for citizenship in 2020. That’s something I’m seriously considering. A German passport is one of the best passports you can have if you want visa free travel to a lot of countries. If I ever start making over 100k/yr, I will be taxed by both Germany and the US. (The US is one of two countries that chases its citizens  across the world to tax them for money they made in other countries)

Another reason I might give up my passport is as a political statement. I get the vibe that it’s not something people like to talk about, or is something people frown upon and think is stupid, but politics was a driving factor for me leaving the US in the first place. I know plenty of American expats in Berlin who came for school, or work, or love, but not many who left the US because of political convictions. Given the US government’s history of disregard for citizen rights, I feel that a US passport conveys no real tangible benefits other than to simply conveys that you are a tax cow for the government. You can come and go on the farm as you please, but any milk you produce belongs to the farmer. There’s even a $3000 “fuck you” fine for relinquishing your citizenship. That’s a great improvement over the past where you would be required to supply tax returns for 10 years after renouncing citizenship. (Thankfully that’s no longer the case, but you understand the sentiment.)

Anyways, 2020 is still 3 years away at this point. For now I’m just really excited to have more security in my living situation within Europe. Insa and I are going to my parents house for Christmas, and it’ll be fun for me to show the border agent my settlement permit on the way back home to Germany.