Step by step, our guide will lead you to all the important information you might need for your international work.

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The Guide

Temporary Short Stay

Non-EU nationals usually need a visa, known as Schengen visa or type C visa, for a short stay. However, visa-free entry is possible for some. The issuance of visas for short stays in Germany is regulated by the EU Visa Code.

Schengen area

The Schengen area, in which there are no de facto internal border controls, acts as a kind of connected "visa area". Passport checks usually take place only on entry into and exit from the Schengen area and selectively within the Schengen area.

Please note: The Schengen area is not the same as the EU! The area includes the non-EU countries of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein and also Gibraltar as of 2021, but not the EU countries of the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus.

A short stay in the Schengen area is limited to a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. All days of a stay, including the days of entry and exit

  • for a short stay,
  • contiguous or not,
  • within the last 180 days,
  • in all countries of the Schengen area

are counted as part of a short stay.

An extension of the short stay is only possible in exceptional cases (e.g. illness, flight cancellation). Application for a residence title for a long-term stay is also only possible in exceptional cases (see below) after entering Germany. Information on long-term stays can be found here.  

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Who needs a Schengen visa? Who is allowed to enter Germany without a visa?

EU regulations on freedom of movement do not apply to any non-EU nationals. This means that their entry and stay is subject to certain restrictions. For nationals of most countries, this means that they must apply for a Schengen visa (type C).

There are a few exceptions, however:

  • Nationals of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America can enter Germany without a visa and stay in the Schengen area for a period of 90 days within a 180-day period. They may also apply to the respective local migration authority for any residence title for a long-term stay (also for the purpose of gainful employment) (regulated by Section 41 of the Ordinance Governing Residence - only available in German).
  • Nationals of Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino may apply for a residence title for purposes other than gainful employment in Germany (e.g. study, family reunification).
  • Agreements are in place with many other countries that provide for visa-free entry for a short stay in Germany. These countries include most of the non-EU countries on the European continent as well as a number of Latin American countries, among others. An overview of these countries can be found here.
  • There are bilateral agreements in place between Germany and a number of countries that date from the time before the EU Visa Code entered into effect and remain valid today. In some cases, these provide for a visa-free stay beyond the rules of the EU Visa Code. Where applicable, bilateral agreements of this kind must be reviewed carefully in advance of your stay. An overview of these agreements can be found here.

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How long may a short stay in the Schengen area be?

A short stay in the Schengen area is limited to a maximum of 90 days within a 180-day period. This means that the last 180 days before any (planned) day of your stay must be reviewed and the days of the stay counted. At no time may the count exceed the 90-day limit. Thus, leaving the Schengen area does not reset the counter to "zero". The EU provides a calculator for this purpose. It also provides a detailed explanation of the rule in this document.

Example: You stayed in the Schengen area for a total of 50 days from 1 June to 20 July in France and Belgium (visiting friends and family) and also for a total of 35 days from 1 August to 4 September in Poland and Lithuania (holiday). Now, you are planning another stay in the Schengen area from 1 October to 10 October in Germany.

For each planned day of your stay in Germany in October, you must check whether visa-free entry is permissible (i.e. whether your stay qualifies as a short stay). In order to do this, you must check your previous days of stay in the Schengen area over the respective 180-day period prior to the respective day for each planned day of your stay:

     Days of stay in the 180-day period prior to 1 October: 50 + 35 = 85.

The stay on 1 October is possible (Day 86). A stay on 2 and 3 October is possible as well.

     Days of stay in the 180-day period prior to 4 October: 50 + 35 + 3 (1 to 3 October) = 88.

The stay on 4 October is also possible (day 89), but you must leave the country on the following day (5 October), as the maximum stay of 90 days will be reached on that day. You will not be able to stay from 6 to 10 October.

If you stay from 1 to 5 October, a new visa-free short stay in the Schengen area would only be permissible again from 28 November, since the day of stay on 1 June is no longer part of the 180-day period prior to November 28 and is therefore no longer counted. Note: 28 November does not mark the beginning of a new 180-day period; rather, the previous days of stay in the 180-day period prior to 28 November only amount to 89, since the day of stay on 1 June is now outside the 180-day period prior to November 28. You can also stay on 29 November, as the day of stay on 2 June is also now outside the 180-day period prior to November 29.

This rule applies to all persons who a) are allowed to enter without a visa or b) have obtained a Schengen visa that is valid for more than 90 days. However, in many cases, a Schengen visa is only issued for a specific period of time. In particular, persons who successfully apply for a Schengen visa for the first time are usually granted the visa for the requested period only.

People who need a Schengen visa to enter the country are also often only granted a "single-entry" visa. This means that they may only enter the Schengen area once with their visa; the visa becomes invalid when they leave the country. If a Schengen visa has been issued repeatedly to an individual in the past, the person is often granted a "multiple-entry" visa when another Schengen visa is issued. These visas are often valid for one or more years, allowing entry to and exit from the Schengen area as often as desired provided that the maximum stay of 90 days in a 180-day period is not exceeded. In our experience, German diplomatic missions often issue the "multiple-entry" visa even on the first application.

Persons who may enter the Schengen area without a visa also have the right (similar to the multiple-entry visa) to enter and leave the country as often as they wish, again provided that the maximum stay of 90 days in a 180-day period is not exceeded.

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How do I apply for a Schengen visa?

The Schengen visa must be requested from the destination country. If your journey involves several Schengen countries, the state that is your primary destination in terms of purpose and duration is responsible for issuing the visa. If no primary destination can be determined, the visa must be requested from your first destination country.

If the focus of your trip/short stay will be in Germany, then your application for a Schengen visa must be submitted to the German diplomatic mission in your country of habitual residence, the country in which you are domiciled or your country of citizenship. If this country does not have a German diplomatic mission (for example due to war or political conflict), you must find out which diplomatic mission is responsible for processing visa applications instead.

In recent years, some consulates have "outsourced" the processing of applications to external service providers(in the UK, for example, the TLScontact agency processes applications from people who need a Schengen visa; in Turkey this is done by the iData agency- only available in German and Turkish). Information on which company is responsible for processing applications can be found on the websites of the German diplomatic missions abroad.

Electronic application for Schengen visas – planned from 2025

The European Commission is also currently working on the digitisation of Schengen visa applications. The plan is that applicants will only need to present themselves in person at a consular office of a Schengen country in certain cases (first-time application and submission of biometric data, new travel document, expiry of validity of biometric data). Outside of these circumstances, visa applications will be submitted via a centralised online platform. Accordingly, the visa will no longer be affixed to the passport as a sticker, but will be retrievable via an app.

Additional information

Required documents

The documents required for your visa application are listed on the websites of the responsible diplomatic missions. As a rule, however, you will need to provide the following documents:

  • a fully completed application form personally signed by the applicant (forms can be downloaded from the website of the responsible embassy)
  • a biometric passport photo that meets the criteria set forth in the Visa Code ( colour, 35 x 45 mm with a light background)
  • a recognised and valid passport (valid for at least 6 months after entry and no more than 10 years old)
  • proof that living expenses can be covered either by your own means or by third parties as stated in a declaration of commitment (for example from the inviting party)
  • international health insurance coverage valid for the entire Schengen area, which may be valid for stays for employment purposes as well. More informations can be found here
  • depending on the type of visa being requested, you may also need other documents such as:
    • letter of invitation
    • contract to produce a work
    • proof of scholarship, course of study, etc.
    • airline ticket reservation confirmation (the tickets do not have to be purchased, the reservation confirmation with the exact flight details is sufficient)
    • membership of an artists' association

As a rule, the applicant must appear in person and provide their fingerprints. Many diplomatic missions also conduct a standard interview independently of this.

In any case, long processing times for visa applications should be expected; this applies in particular to the scheduling of the necessary appointment. The Visa Code states that the subsequent decision on the issuance of the visa must be made within 15 days.

On the application form, which can be found in Annex I to the Visa Code, it is possible to indicate the purpose of the trip under Item 21: tourism, business, visiting family or friends, cultural, sports, official visit, medical reasons, study, airport transit, other (please specify). The purpose you specify must be credible and reasonable; otherwise, the visa may be denied. The supporting documents relating to the purpose of the journey mentioned in Annex II of the Visa Code should be submitted to demonstrate the validity of the purpose specified. If the purpose of the trip is specified as "cultural", such documents may include invitations, entry tickets, enrolments or programmes stating (wherever possible) the name of the host organisation and the length of stay or any other appropriate document indicating the purpose of the journey.

Regardless of the stated purpose of the journey, Section 30 BeschV applies, i.e. artistic performances are permissible as long as they take place in accordance with the conditions specified in Section 22 BeschV, even if the stated purpose of the journey is visiting family members or tourism.

If the applicant cannot provide proof of sufficient financial means or if the costs of the stay are being covered by a host institution, a declaration of commitment must be submitted. In order to obtain such a declaration of commitment, the person who bears responsibility for these costs must present proof of their solvency to the local immigration authorities in their place of residence. Information about the procedure using Berlin as an example can be found here.

Proof of rootedness in the country of origin is particularly important, as it forms the basis for the return prognosis made, which ultimately determines whether the visa is granted. Rootedness can be proven, for example, through evidence of family ties (by means of marriage certificates, children's birth certificates) and on the basis of property deeds or proof of employment. If such evidence cannot be provided, it is advisable, especially for artists, to submit information on future artistic activities outside the Schengen area, for example performances, rehearsal periods, exhibitions and similar activities.

If your visa application is rejected, you have one month to file a remonstration with the relevant diplomatic mission via the Administrative Court of Berlin. A remonstration procedure can take several weeks to months, while a lawsuit may last for anything up to a year.

Our experience has shown that remonstration proceedings can be successful if further evidence can be presented in support of your application. In particular, if the artist is invited to attend publicly funded events, the host institution should provide letters of support emphasising the necessity of the artist's participation in the event and/or the importance of the project for cultural exchange. It may also be helpful to have politicians or public figures submit letters of support.

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European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS)

The European Commission is currently preparing a new electronic registration procedure for short stays (planned for 2024). This system is intended for people who may enter the country without a visa for a short stay. Similar to the ESTA system for entries into the U.S., the process will involve entering personal data via an online portal and paying a fee of 7 euros for pre-authorised entry. ETIAS authorisation will not have to be obtained for every entry but instead should be valid for several years.

You can find additional information here and here.


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Can I work during a short stay?

The question of whether non-EU nationals need a visa or other work document to engage in gainful employment is decided on a national basis (there is very limited coordination within the EU on this issue). For information on other EU countries, we recommend searching the MIP network for other information centres.

In Germany, this issue is regulated in the Employment Ordinance (Beschäftigungsverordnung/BeschV), which governs access to the labour market for non-EU nationals. Section 30 of the Ordinance specifies a list of activities that are not considered gainful employment for the purposes of residency law. Section 22 BeschV is particularly relevant with regard to artistic activities. It states that the following artistic activities are not considered "gainful employment" (even if they are paid) and that no special visa must be obtained to pursue them:

  • persons, including their support staff, who, while retaining their ordinary residence abroad, engage in lectures or performances of special scientific or artistic value or performances of a sporting nature in Germany, if the duration of the activity does not exceed 90 days within a period of twelve months (Section 22 No. 1 BeschV),
  • persons employed in the context of festivals or music and cultural events or posted in the context of guest performances or foreign film and television productions, if the duration of the activity does not exceed 90 days within a period of twelve months (Section 22 No 2 BeschV),
  • persons performing in one-day shows or events* for up to 15 days a year (Section 22 No. 3 BeschV),
  • photo models, advertising models, fashion models (Section 22 No. 6 BeschV).

*A "one-day show or event" is "when a special event, which is also recognisable as such to the outside world, is organised outside the normal course of business. A one-day performance is generally announced in a special way, e.g. through advertisements or posters. Performances may not take place on more than two days in a row" (Source: Visum-Handbuch des Auswärtigen Amts, under Künstler 2)b. - only available in German). Any preceding rehearsals on up to two days do not count (Source: Fachliche Weisungen - Fachliche Weisungen Aufenthaltsgesetz und Beschäftigungsverordnung, 19c.22.3 - only available in German).

These regulations apply to both employees and self-employed persons. They apply to Schengen visa holders and for nationals who can enter the Schengen area for a short stay without an entry visa.

The exceptions outlined above do not apply to individuals engaged by a German establishment in the field of performing arts (such as a theatre, an orchestra, an opera or a musical or circus troupe). All performances and rehearsals, whether paid or unpaid, require a visa or residence permit authorising employment.

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I would like to stay for more than 90 days but do not want to move to Germany or do not yet know if I want to move to Germany.

Non-EU nationals usually need a national visa for stays in Germany of more than 90 days within a 180-day period. The visa is usually valid for 3 months and can be "converted" into a residence permit after entry. If only a temporary stay is intended, a national visa of longer validity may be applied for, which entitles the holder to take up employment or self-employment, depending on the purpose of the stay. This is particularly useful if artists wish to stay in the Schengen area for more than 90 days for a production or a tour without establishing habitual residence.

However, applying for a longer-term national visa can be fraught with challenges. Sometimes the German diplomatic missions abroad are not familiar with the procedure.

In any case, the foreigners' registration office at the intended place of residence must approve the issuance of a national visa. This means that the application may take up to four months to process. The approval of the Federal Employment Agency may also be required. However, once the visa has been issued, the approved employment can be taken up upon entry.

Nationals of privileged third countries (pursuant to Section 41 AufenthV- only available in German) may apply for a residence permit after entry. Prior to this, they must register their residence in Germany; hotels and other short-term accommodations may serve as a residence in these cases. Once the application has been filed, residence remains legal even after 90 days have elapsed, until the Foreigners' Registration Office has decided on the application. However, the applicant is not permitted to engage in gainful employment before a residence permit has been issued (or may only engage in those activities not considered gainful employment under the BeschV).

If the residence permit has not been issued by the end of the stay, the application can be withdrawn and regular departure is possible. However, in order to avoid the initiation of criminal proceedings, you should ensure that you can prove that an application was submitted within 90 days.

As of 2020, it is also possible to apply for a residence permit to seek employment pursuant to Section 20 German Residence Act (only available in German). Anyone who holds a recognized academic degree is eligible. Information on recognized degrees and the possibility of transcript evaluations for non-recognized degrees can be found on the ANABIN website of the Central Office for Foreign Education (only available in German).

A residence permit for the purpose of seeking employment can be issued for a maximum period of six months and entitles the holder to participate in "work trials" to a certain extent (maximum of 10 hours per week). Detailed information on the issuing procedure can be found here. The idea is that employment is secured during this period and a German residence permit for the purposes of engaging in this employment is then requested, for example pursuant to Section 18b German Residence Act (only available in German). It is therefore advisable to state the aim of taking up employment when applying for the aforementioned residence permit for the purpose of seeking employment. Although the possibility of applying for a residence permit to take up freelance work pursuant to Section 21 (5) German Residence Act is not ruled out when entering the country with a visa for the purpose of seeking employment, legal assistance may be required in this case. The issuance of a national visa to seek employment pursuant to Section 20 German Residence Act can be very restrictive in some diplomatic missions.

It is also possible for a national visa to be issued for special purposes, i.e. purposes not explicitly provided for in the legislation. This is regulated by Section 7 (1) (3) German Residence Act (only available in German). A national visa of this kind can be granted, for example, to persons who receive a scholarship in Germany for a certain period of time or who are invited to complete an artist's residency. It is important to note that the visa is only issued if the scholarship or the host organisation of the residency can cover all living expenses. A residence permit pursuant to Section 7 (1) (3) German Residence Act does not entitle the holder to engage in gainful employment. The scholarship or residency programme in which the artist is participating is usually explicitly mentioned in the visa. The validity of the visa depends on the duration of the scholarship or residency programme but may not exceed a period of one year. Therefore, it does not need to be "converted" into a residence permit by a municipal migration authority. Since the migration authority must approve the issuance of the visa, a processing time of three to four months is to be expected. However, it is possible to apply for a residence permit for another purpose (e.g. for freelance work pursuant to section 21 (5) German Residence Act) without any problems before the national visa expires.

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