Acquiring German citizenship

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Who can be classified as German?

A German citizen is someone who holds German citizenship, i.e. someone who has acquired it and not lost it.

Refugees, ethnic German resettlers or exiled persons of German origin and their families who have been admitted into Germany (Statusdeutsche, or Germans by status but not citizenship) are also German. Since 1999-08-01, they have legally been acquiring German citizenship by virtue of certification issued in accordance with § 15 of the Bundesvertriebenengesetz (Federal Refugees Act).

Anyone who holds German citizenship is entitled to the same rights and duties in Germany, regardless of the legal manner in which they acquired their citizenship.

We will present a rough overview of the main circumstances for acquiring and losing German citizenship here. Your local citizenship authority will provide you with information on your specific case. If you live in an urban municipality, this is the city council; if you live in an administrative district, this is the Rural District Office.

The principle of descent

A child becomes German through birth if at least one parent holds German citizenship. This applies irrespective of the place of birth. However, a child born to a German abroad does not acquire German citizenship if the German parent(s) themselves were born abroad on or after 2000-01-01 and continue to live there, unless this means the child would be stateless or the birth is registered with the German embassy or consulate within a year.

If only the father is German and he is not married to the mother, acknowledgement or legal establishment of paternity is required. This sort of procedure may only be initiated before the child turns 23.

The citizenship of the other parent is irrelevant with regards to acquiring German citizenship, though the child usually also acquires the foreign citizenship of the other parent by birth, resulting in multiple nationality. See »Dual citizenship« below for more information on this.

The principle of birthplace

Since 2000-01-01, it has also been possible to acquire German citizenship based on the principle of birthplace, according to which a child of foreign parents automatically obtains German citizenship by being born in Germany if, at this time, at least one parent has had their main place of residence in Germany for at least eight years, and is entitled to permanent residency or, as a Swiss citizen, holds the relevant residence permit.

However, this only applies to children born in Germany after 2000-01-01. Children born prior to this date and who were aged under 10 on 2000-01-01 could claim naturalisation according to § 40b of the Staatsangehörigkeitsgesetz (StAG - German Citizenship Act) for a transition period if the requirements for acquisition through birth were met when the child was born. This form of naturalisation could, however, only be requested until 2000-12-31.

Please note! Children who acquire, or have acquired, German citizenship based on the principle of birthplace or by virtue of interim naturalisation according to § 40b StAG, and who also hold one or more foreign citizenships through their parents, must, between the ages of 18 and 23, decide whether they want to retain their German citizenship or give preference to the other citizenship (Optionspflicht – option obligation).


A foreigner or stateless person can acquire German citizenship through naturalisation. This occurs by virtue of an administrative order and takes effect upon presentation of a naturalisation certificate. Naturalisation is only performed on request.

More on the topic:

Dual citizenship

In certain cases, German law allows people to hold another citizenship along with their German citizenship. This particularly applies to the following groups of people:

  • Children with a German and foreign parent, or a parent holding two citizenships, acquire all parent citizenships by virtue of the principle of descent.
  • According to § 7 StAG (German Citizenship Act), ethnic German resettlers and their family members (admitted along with them) do not have to surrender their previous citizenship when they acquire German citizenship.
  • Germans who accept the citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland no longer automatically lose their German citizenship.
  • Germans who acquire another citizenship upon request, and who have previously been issued with a permit to retain their German citizenship according to § 25 StAG.

Please note! Children subject to the “Optionspflicht” (option obligation) can only temporarily hold multiple nationalities, as they must choose whether to retain their German citizenship or foreign citizenship between the ages of 18 and 23.

Note: If you hold another citizenship along with your German citizenship, you have no more or fewer rights in Germany than any other German citizen. You are wholly and solely viewed as a German citizen by German law. If, however, you reside in the country for which you also hold citizenship, you cannot claim the standard German consular protection. You will be viewed by that country as one of its citizens, rather than as a German citizen.

Loss of citizenship

Revoking German citizenship is banned under the Constitution. It can thus only be lost based on specific law. According to the German Citizenship Act, German citizenship is lost in the following cases:

  • Release upon request, if the other state has consented to granting citizenship.
  • Relinquishment, if the person concerned holds another citizenship on top of their German citizenship.
  • Acquisition of another citizenship upon request, unless approval has been granted for German citizenship to be retained (not necessary when acquiring citizenship of another EU country or Switzerland).
  • Adoption by a foreigner if this results in their citizenship being acquired.
  • A declaration is made by a person subject to the “Optionspflicht”, stating that they do not wish to retain their German citizenship; or this person fails to submit a declaration.
  • A conscript voluntarily joins the armed forces or equivalent armed associations of a country whose citizenship they also hold, without the consent of the Bundesministerium der Verteidigung (Federal Ministry of Defence).
  • Revocation of naturalisation obtained through moral fraud, bribery, deception or incorrect / incomplete information.

Note: If you acquire foreign citizenship, you must immediately report this to your local municipal office or, if staying abroad, to the competent German embassy or consulate. If you fail to do so, and continue to draw on the rights reserved for German citizens even though you no longer hold German citizenship, you run the risk of a monetary fine or imprisonment.

Those wishing to re-apply for German citizenship can use the re-naturalisation option.

Loss of German citizenship means loss of all the rights and duties of a German citizen. From this point onwards, you will be legally considered a foreigner. You will thus need a residence permit from the Bureau for Foreigners in order to stay in Germany, and possibly also a work permit from the relevant employment office. You are no longer entitled to hold a German passport or ID card, and are thus obliged to immediately register your foreign citizenship with the passport authority (§ 15 Para. 4 of the German Passport Act). Your IDs will be collected by the passport authority. As a foreigner, you must identify yourself with the passport of your new home country.

Proof of citizenship

German citizenship is officially proven by a citizenship certificate. Information relating to German citizenship on ID cards and passports only constitute (disputable) prima facie evidence of German citizenship. Citizenship certificates should not be confused with naturalisation certificates issued to foreigners upon naturalisation.

Citizenship certificates are issued by your local citizenship authority upon request, and upon establishment of your German citizenship. They cost EUR 25.00.


(Release note)

Based on the German version authorized by Sächsisches Staatsministerium des Innern. 2014-07-11