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COMPARED: How to get a visa to settle in either Germany or Austria for retirement

Both Germany and Austria have plenty to offer people looking to live their best retired lives. Although both have high quality of life, excellent nature, and cultural offerings – there are obviously certain areas one might do better than the other – depending on a retiree’s priorities. But what about the visa process?

COMPARED: How to get a visa to settle in either Germany or Austria for retirement
Retirement requirements in Austria and Germany are fairly similar, with a few key differences. For the most part, retirees are free to decide which country is a better fit for them. (Photo by AMA GENUSS REGION /

A retired couple looking at Berlin or Vienna’s cultural offerings, or with their heart set on being close to the Rhine – might already have their mind made up. But what about couples who could be happy in either place or yearn for the fresh mountain air of the Alps – whether on the Bavarian side or the Austrian side?

Non-EU nationals can come to either country to retire if they qualify for the right residence permits.

Neither country has a “retirement visa” per se. Prospective retirees instead have to apply for a residence permit, typically after arriving in Germany. Nationals of countries like Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and the UK – among others – can typically visit Germany or Austria without a visa for up to three months. During this time, they can apply for the right residence permit.

Under certain circumstances, they may be able to apply from the diplomatic mission in their home country before coming to Germany or Austria.

READ ALSO: Five reasons to retire to Austria

What kind of permits would I need and how long are they valid for?

In Austria, this is typically a settlement permit excepting gainful employment, allowing you to live in Austria but not to work. In Germany, this is typically a temporary settlement permit. Both permits are generally valid for a year but often easy to renew, provided nothing materially changes in your situation.

Both countries will also allow you to apply for permanent residence after five uninterrupted years in the country.

With these facts in mind, there’s no real difference between the two countries in terms of how long your residence permit is valid, how often you have to renew it, or when you can apply for permanent residence. However, Austria advises that there are quotas on the residence permits that except gainful employment typically favoured by retirees – giving out only a set number every year.

Whether from the German or the Austrian side, the alps can be a real treat for retirees. (Photo by Robert Pügner / Pexels).

What kinds of basic documents or proof will I need?

For both Austrian and German residence permits, you will obviously need certain standard documents, like a valid passport, biometric photos, and completed application forms.

Both countries are also likely to ask for proof of health insurance coverage valid in the country and accommodation to local standards that are large enough for the retiree and the family living with them. This proof might be a rental contract or ownership documents for a property.

Some, but not all, local immigration authorities in either Austria or Germany may ask you to supply a certificate of having no criminal record from your country of origin. It’s best to check this with the local authority you intend on living in to see whether or not you will need this.

Both Germany and Austria will also ask you to prove that you can support yourself financially during your retirement there. We’ll cover this in a separate section below.

Do I need to know German before applying in either place before applying for a retirement permit?

Austria typically asks for proof of a very basic level of German (A1 level). This level is the first level out of six in the European Common Framework for Languages and is generally for absolute beginners. The A1 requirement isn’t explicitly spelled out as being required in Germany for retirement purposes – but officials may still have some discretion to see proof of A1 level German anyway.

People applying for a retirement residence in either Austria or Germany may have to take a class and pass the A1 test before applying for their residence permit. The test date should be no older than a year old at the time of applying for your permit, to ensure your German language knowledge is current.

READ ALSO: Austria: Just how good does your German have to be to gain residency and citizenship?

Learning German

Expect to do some studying of beginner German to qualify for a retirement permit. Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

What kind of financial support proof do I need to show?

In both Germany and Austria, you will have to be able to show that you can support yourself in the country during your retirement.

There are a few different ways you can do this. The most basic of which is to show that you’re entitled to receive certain pension payments – whether in the form of a state pension from your country of origin or a private pension or savings plan.

It may help your case if your country of origin has a social security agreement with Germany or Austria – something you can read more about in the linked articles below.


EXPLAINED: Do your pension contributions abroad count in Germany?

EXPLAINED: Do your pension contributions abroad count in Austria?

In addition to pension entitlements, you can also show other forms of passive income as proof of your ability to support yourself. This might be rental income you get from letting out a property you own, or dividend payments from investments, to use two examples.

Euros in an envelope

Whether it’s through pensions, investment income or other sources, there are many ways to demonstrate being able to support yourself financially to retire in Germany or Austria. (Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash)

In contrast to Germany, Austria sets out a clear federal minimum income you need to be able to pull in per month – whether through pension payments, other income, or both – to qualify for your residence permit. This minimum monthly amount is €2,220.52 for single people and €3,503.12 for married couples or those in registered partnerships. If you apply with a child (perhaps a grandchild, for example), you’ll need an extra €342.62 per month on top of the relevant base amount.

Germany is a little less straightforward, with no explicit minimum income amount. You may need to have a minimum of €11,208 set aside in a special blocked account initially. Otherwise, the local authority you apply to may have some discretion over how much is enough.

Where is it easier to get permanent residency or citizenship later on?

The requirements for permanent residency in Austria and Germany are fairly similar. Both will require you to be legally and continuously resident in the respective country for five years. You’ll also have to be able to demonstrate integration by completing an integration course in Germany or Module 2 of the integration agreement in Austria. A part of completing either one of these is being able to pass a B1 German exam – the third level of six.

For German citizenship, this same level of German, plus eight years of residence in Germany – or six years of residence with a slightly higher level of German (level B2) will currently qualify you for German citizenship. However, this is set to change under a new draft law the current traffic light government intends to pass this year. For most applicants, it would keep the required language level the same at B1 but reduce the amount of time someone needs to have been resident in Germany from eight years to five.

Dual citizenship for non-EU nationals is also set to be allowed.

READ ALSO: TIMELINE: What happens next with Germany’s plans to allow dual citizenship?

Citizenship is likely to become easier in Germany but remain difficult in Austria, for retirees eventually looking to take it.
Photo by ConvertKit on Unsplash

Getting citizenship in Austria, by contrast, is certainly stricter. Applicants generally have to be residents in Austria for ten years before applying for citizenship, with five of those being as a permanent resident. Applicants also generally have to give up any previous nationalities they hold.

READ ALSO: ANALYSIS: Could Austria ever change the rules to allow dual citizenship?

All in all, the requirements for getting permission to retire in Austria or Germany are fairly similar. For those who make the minimum income threshold for Austria, applying may be a little more straightforward than in Germany – where local immigration officials may have a bit more discretion. However, Austria’s quota system means that a limited number of such permits are available.

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between permanent residency and citizenship in Austria?

Language requirements for both initial residence and permanent residence after five years are also largely similar between Germany and Austria. However, with Germany’s recently announced liberalisation of citizenship laws, getting citizenship in Germany is a bit more straightforward for those planning for a longer term stay in which the benefits of citizenship – particularly dual citizenship – are important to them.

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Former barracks running out of space as more migrants reach Germany

A short distance from the border with Poland, Olaf Jansen, the director of a migrant processing centre in eastern Germany, is looking anxiously at the numbers of latest arrivals.

Former barracks running out of space as more migrants reach Germany

The former barracks turned 1,500-bed facility in Eisenhüttenstadt risks running out of space soon as migrants are turning up in Germany in numbers not seen since 2015, when then chancellor Angela Merkel opened the doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and beyond.

The new influx has pushed Olaf Scholz’s government to take steps to limit entries into Germany, reignited a bitter debate over immigration and given a push to the far right in the polls.

READ ALSO: Why are some Germans turning towards the far right?

The Eisenhüttenstadt facility was already hosting 1,400 this week, and while every day, migrants who have received offers of more permanent housing move on, fewer are leaving now as cities and towns report shrinking capacity to take them in.

“Every day around 100 people arrive here. And that could go up to 120,” Jansen, 63, told AFP.

“If you add together the asylum seekers and those coming from Ukraine – who do not have to file (an asylum) application in Germany – it is like 2015,” he said.

Two routes

There had been an “explosion” in the “number of illegal crossings on the German-Polish border”, regional interior minister Michael Stuebgen said earlier this week.

“It has never been this high,” Stuebgen said of the number of arrivals in his region, Brandenburg.

Residents sit in the courtyard between housing blocks at Brandenburg's Central Immigration Authority (ZABH) center, housing some 1400 asylum seekers in eastern Germany, on September 28, 2023.

Residents sit in the courtyard between housing blocks at Brandenburg’s Central Immigration Authority (ZABH) center, housing some 1400 asylum seekers in eastern Germany, on September 28, 2023. Photo by Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

On Friday, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic will join hands to boost border controls to crack down on people smugglers.

To arrive at the Polish border and cross in to Germany, there are two main routes for migrants.

“Half of the migrants in Eisenhüttenstadt have come via Moscow and Belarus, and the other half took the route through the Balkans, which also goes through Hungary and Slovakia,” said Jansen.

Abdel Hamid Azraq, 34, from Aleppo in Syria is one of the recent arrivals.

“From Turkey to Greece it was $500 (471 euros). From Greece to Serbia, $1,000 and the same again to get to Germany,” he told AFP.

Azraq’s journey came relatively cheap, according to Jansen. “The sums asked for by smugglers are between $3,000 and $15,000, depending on the degree of comfort,” he estimated.

Syrians like Azraq make up the largest group at the Eisenhuettenstadt centre – between 15 and 20 percent. Other new arrivals include Afghans, Kurds from Turkey, Georgians, Russians, Pakistanis, Cameroonians and Kenyans.

In Jansen’s opinion, the move to beef up police checks at the borders is a positive step.

Staying put

“With every new control, more smugglers are stopped. One smuggler fewer means dozens of people who they cannot smuggle over,” Jansen said.

According to Jansen, Belarus has continued to send migrants from the Middle East into Poland, from where they travel on to Germany, a strategy already put into use by Minsk in 2021.

“It is 12 months now that we have a lot of arrivals coming from that country,” Jansen said of Belarus, recounting that migrants report being given “ladders and big scissors to make holes in the fences” put up by Poland to keep them out.

Around 80 percent of the migrants who arrive in Eisenhüttenstadt are escorted by police who stopped them close to the border. The other 20 percent make their own way there.

At the centre, where migrants normally stay three or four months before being sent on, new arrivals are able to make their first asylum request.

Around half of the migrants in Eisenhüttenstadt have a chance of having their requests granted, Jansen said.

The chances of staying look good for 24-year-old Iraqi Ali Ogaili, who told AFP he was a homosexual. In Eisenhüttenstadt , women and LGBT people have their own building to keep them safe.

Staying in Germany is the hope of many at the camp. Azraq told AFP he wants to “work, bring my family here, settle down and serve this country and German society”.