Visa - Residence/Settlement Permit - what's the difference?

Learn the right terminology from the beginning! In 5 minutes you will understand the difference between - visa, residence permit, settlement permit.

Visa (Visum)

Visa is a document for entry into the country and a short stay. In the embassy you get a visa ( not a residence permit).

The German Embassy recommends: Please submit your application as early as possible!

Two most common Visa types are Schengen visa and national visa.

Shengen Visa

With a Schengen visa, you may stay in the Schengen States for a maximum of 90 days per half-year, unless a shorter validity period is specified in the visa.

All visa offices recommend that you apply at least 3 weeks before the planned departure date. The normal processing time is 10 calendar days.

A Schengen visa is usually issued for a period of up to 3 months. As a rule, a Schengen visa cannot be extended. The Schengen visa is best suited to travel as a tourist through Europe.

National Visa

If you intend to enter Germany with a non-touristic purpose - e.g. job search, employment, study, family reunion - these are the purposes which imply a longer stay in Germany. The keyword here is the purpose. A national visa is always tied to a certain purpose.

Note from the German Embassy:*

Validity area of national visa

The national visa only applies to Germany, but entitles the holder to stays of up to 90 days per half-year in the other Schengen states without employment there.

Validity period of national visa

The national visa is valid for an initial period of three to six months. Depending on the purpose of the stay, a longer-term residence permit will then be issued by the competent foreigners authority in Germany. In the case of a planned stay of up to one year, e.g. for an exchange study or a one-year personnel exchange, the visa can also be issued for the entire duration of the planned stay.

Your passport must have at least two blank pages at the time of your visa application and, in the case of a temporary stay, must be valid for at least three months after the end of the planned travel period.

The visa itself may be valid for a short period of time. Remember, the visa is only an entry permit. An allowance for a long stay called a residence permit.

The EU Bluecard is not a visa but a residence permit.

Visa vs Residence permit/Settlement permit

You already know the difference between visa and residence permit. A visa is issued for a short period of time and is only issued in an embassy/ consulate for the purpose of entry.

A residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis) or settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis), on the other hand, refers to a longer stay (longer than 90 days). Residence permits and settlement permits are not obtained abroad but directly in Germany, in a so-called Immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde, ABH).

Residence permits are available for a limited period and for an unlimited period.

Note from the German Federal Employment Agency:**

Residence Permit [Section 7, Residence Act]

The residence permit is always temporary and issued for a specific purpose, for example to take up training or to engage in economic activity, to allow immigration of family members, or for humanitarian reasons.

Settlement Permit [Section 9, Residence Act]

The unlimited settlement permit is free of temporal or spatial restrictions and entitles the holder to engage in economic activity.

A settlement permit is an unlimited residence title.

The Bluecard is a temporary residence permit. You will never get the Bluecard abroad. Outside of Germany you will need to apply for a national visa first. After entering the country you go to the immigration authority and there you get a temporary residence permit - for example, the Bluecard.

Has the picture become clearer? If so, here are the steps you need to do.
If not, feel free to ask a question or drop a line below in comments.

* - German embassy in Russia
** - from "Employment of Foreign Workers in Germany. Questions, answers and tips for employees and employers" by German Employment Agency (

13.01.20 ©️ Jaroslav Plotnikov ( All articles )
Copy & share: