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Germanmarker citizenship is based primarily on the principle of Jus sanguinis. In other words one usually acquires German citizenship if a parent is a German citizen, irrespective of place of birth.

A significant reform to the nationality law was passed by the Bundestagmarker (the German parliament) in 1999, and came into force on 1 January 2000. The new law makes it somewhat easier for foreigners resident in Germany on a long-term basis, and especially their Germany-born children to acquire German citizenship. Details

The previous German nationality law dated from 1913. The amendments to the law under the Nazi regime were repealed by the Federal Republic of Germany (see the article on the Reich Citizenship Law).


Prussian law was the basis of the legal system of the German Empiremarker. Prussia's nationality law can be traced back to the "Law Respecting the Acquisition and Loss of the Quality as a Prussian subject, and his Admission to Foreign Citizenship" of 31 December 1842, which introduced Jus sanguinis to the country. Until 1913, however, each German state had its own nationality laws, those of the southern ones (notably Bavariamarker) being quite liberal. In 1913, the Nationality Law of the German Empire and States (RuStAG) of 22 July 1913 standardized the law in all of the German Empire. It had been operational until the 1999 reforms.

Birth in Germany

Children born on or after 1 January 2000 to non-German parents acquire German citizenship at birth if at least one parent:

  • has a permanent residence permit (and has had this status for at least 3 years); and
  • has been residing in Germany for at least 8 years.

Such children will be required to apply successfully to retain German citizenship by the age of 23. Assuming the laws are not changed prior to 2023, they will normally be required to prove they do not hold any foreign citizenship.

Parents who are citizens of European Economic Area states or Switzerlandmarker are eligible to receive permanent resident permits after five years.

Descent from a German parent

People born to a parent who was a German citizen at the time of birth are usually German citizens on that basis. It does not matter whether they were born in Germany or not. Nor does it matter if the parent is a naturalised German.

  • Those born after January 1, 1975 are Germans if the mother or father is a German citizen.

  • Those born before January 1, 1975 could normally only claim German citizenship from the father and not the mother. Exceptions included cases where the parents were unmarried (in which case German mothers could pass on citizenship) or where the German mother applied for the child to be registered as German on or before 31 December 1977.

  • Special rules exist for those born before 1 July 1993 if only the father is German and is not married to the mother. The father must acknowledge paternity before the child is 23, or acknowledge paternity and marry the mother and the child must declare himself or herself to be a German citizen.

  • In the future, those born outside Germany to a German parent who was also born outside Germany after 1999 will need to be registered as German citizens within 12 months of birth. An exception applies if the child is stateless.

  • Those born in Germany and adopted to a foreign country should contact their local German Consulate for clarification of German citizenship.

Persons who are Germans on the basis of descent from a German parent do not have to apply to retain German citizenship by age 23. If they acquire another citizenship at birth, they can usually continue to hold this.


A child adopted by a German citizen becomes German automatically if aged less than 18 on the date the application for adoption was made.

Naturalisation as a German citizen

German citizenship may be acquired by naturalisation by those with permanent residence who have lived in Germany for 8 years. Additional requirements include an adequate command of the German language and an ability to be self-supporting without recourse to welfare.

Applicants for naturalisation are normally expected to prove they have renounced their existing nationality, or will lose this automatically upon naturalisation. An exception applies to those unable to give up their nationality easily (such as refugees). A further exception applies to citizens of European Union member states that do not require Germans to renounce citizenship upon naturalisation in that country.

Exceptions to the normal residence requirements include:

  • A spouse of a German citizen may be naturalised after 3 years residence in Germany. The marriage must have persisted for at least 2 years.
  • persons who have completed an integration course may have the residence requirement reduced to 7 years
  • refugees and stateless persons may be able to apply after 6 years residence
  • former German citizens

Victims of Nazi persecution

Some people who lost German citizenship under the Nazi regime (mainly German Jews) may be eligible for naturalisation without requiring residence in Germany or renunciation of their existing citizenship. Children and grandchildren of such persons may also be eligible for German citizenship. Details

German-born children

Under transitional arrangements in the 1999 reforms (effective 1 January 2000), children who were born in Germany in 1990 or later, and would have been German had the law change been in force at the time, were entitled to be naturalised as German citizens.

  • An application for naturalisation was required by 31 December 2000.
  • The child was required to apply for retention of German citizenship by age 23 and normally show that no other foreign citizenship was held at that time.

Naturalization statistics

From 1995 to 2004, 1,278,424 foreigners have obtained German citizenship by naturalization. This means, that about 1.5 % of the total German population had been naturalized during that period.

Naturalization of foreigners in Germany per (selected) country and year.

Source: Official 2005 Migration Report, p. 175
Country/Year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
31,578 46,294 42,240 59,664 103,900 82,861 76,573 64,631 56,244 44,465
874 649 1,171 1,529 1,863 14,410 12,020 13,026 9,440 6,362
3,623 2,967 2,244 2,721 3,444 9,776 12,000 8,375 5,504 3,539
1,666 1,819 1,475 1,200 1,355 4,773 5,111 4,750 4,948 4,077
3,288 2,918 4,010 4,981 4,312 5,008 4,425 3,800 4,118 3,820
595 784 1,159 1,782 2,491 5,673 4,486 3,300 2,651 2,265
2,479 2,268 1,789 2,198 1,536 3,316 3,931 2,974 2,048 1,689
2,010 1,926 995 3,469 4,238 4,002 3,791 2,357 1,770 2,103
3,357 3,464 3,129 3,452 2,270 4,489 3,014 1,482 1,423 1,371
10,174 7,872 5,763 4,968 2,787 1,604 1,774 2,646 2,990 7,499
- - - - - 4,583 4,972 3,734 2,764 4,381
- - - - - 2,978 3,295 3,656 3,889 3,844
364 363 290 319 483 984 1,264 1,721 2,999 3,564
1,025 0 584 0 802 1,101 1,364 1,739 2,844 3,164
Total (including countries not mentioned) 71,981 86,356 82,913 106,790 143,267 186,688 178,098 154,547 140,731 127,153

Right of return

Certain ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Unionmarker may claim German citizenship under the Right of Return law.

Loss of German citizenship

German citizenship is automatically lost when a German citizen voluntarily acquires the citizenship of another country. To this there are two exceptions:

  1. When the German citizen acquires a nationality from within the European Union, Switzerland, or another country with which Germany has a corresponding treaty.
  2. When permission to obtain a foreign citizenship has been applied for and granted in advance of foreign naturalisation. The relevant form is called a Beibehaltungsgenehmigung Details (in German) (archived from the original on 2007-09-09)

Other cases where German citizenship can be lost include:

  • Persons acquiring German citizenship on the basis of birth in Germany (without a German parent) lose German citizenship automatically at age 23 if they have not successfully applied to retain German citizenship. If it is desired to maintain a foreign citizenship, application must be made by age 21.
  • A German citizen who voluntarily serves in a foreign army (over and above compulsory military service) from 1 January 2000 may lose German citizenship unless permission is obtained from the German government.
  • A German child adopted by foreign parents, where the child automatically acquires the nationality of the adoptive parents under the law of the adoptive parents' country. (For example, a German child adopted by Americans prior to February 27, 2001 [the effective date of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000] would not have automatically lost his/her German citizenship, because the child did not automatically acquire United States citizenship by virtue of having been adopted by U.S. citizens.) An exception applies where legal ties to the German parent are maintained.

Dual citizenship

Although dual citizenship is restricted under German law, it can be held in limited circumstances:

  • where a child born to German parents acquires another citizenship at birth (e.g. based on place of birth, or descent from one parent).
  • where a German citizen acquires a foreign nationality with the permission of the German government
  • where a naturalized German citizen, or a child born to non-German parents in Germany, obtains permission to keep their foreign nationality

A senior Social Democratic Party member Ralf Stegner, who is the interior minister in the regional state of Schleswig-Holsteinmarker, has asked the German chancellor to change dual nationality law to allow dual nationality to all citizens of Germany. He feels that Germany should allow multi-nationality to integrate many of the Gastarbeiter who live in Germany.

German nationality and Austria

The German nationality law was extended to Austriamarker in 1938 under the Anschluss which annexed Austria to Germany.

On 27 April 1945 the Republic of Austria was re-established and conferred Austrian citizenship on all persons who would have been Austrian on that date had the former (pre-1938) nationality law of Austria remained in force. Such persons lost their German nationality automatically. Also see Austrian nationality law.


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