How to Apply for Permanent Residency in Schengen Countries – Many potential expats struggle with making the right choices about visas or even knowing where to get accurate information about them, so we have written this blog post to provide some initial guidance.
The first step to permanent residency in the European Union (EU) is obtaining a long-stay visa, which authorizes you to live in your intended country for longer than 90 days and up to 1 year or more. You will usually have to get this long-stay visa while still living in your home country.
The next step will come after you’ve traveled to your ideal European country with your long-stay visa. Shortly after arriving, you will apply for a temporary residence permit. This is typically valid for one or two years depending on local regulations. Though each country has specific rules, temporary residence permit holders will qualify for permanent residency after five years, sometimes with citizenship as an option as well.
Even as most Schengen countries offer permanent residence status after 5-7 years of continuously living in the intended country, not all long-stay visas or residency cards count towards citizenship or permanent residency. Each country also has its conditions and pathways to citizenship/permanent residency. Based on our experiences working with expats, we’ve created this guide to offer an overview of the requirements and correct paths to follow when applying for permanent residency in Schengen countries.
Knowing Exactly What Makes Up the Schengen Area
Before you decide on a country or visa, it’s essential to recognize the difference between the European Union and the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area comprises 22 EU Schengen countries and 4 non-EU countries: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, and Cyprus are part of the EU but not the Schengen Area. The latter four countries have nearly identical rules to the Schengen States, while Ireland has a policy of its own.
The Schengen Agreement is a treaty that enables those within Europe to travel through the Schengen region without being subject to border checks at internal borders. If you were so inclined, you could drive straight from Portugal to Finland across 9 different countries without having to show your passport to anyone. The requirements for maintaining residency in any Schengen country are highly similar and may include the following:
- Obtaining a job contract with a local employer or having other financial means to sustain yourself
- Meeting the appropriate amount of time required to be spent in that given country every year – at least 183 days in most cases
- Holding a rental lease or a property title
- Registering for public health insurance
Understand Options And Pathways To Permanent Residency in Schengen Countries
There are several options for obtaining permanent residency in Schengen countries, but you must realize that the timeline and conditions vary from country to country. The fastest pathway to EU permanent residency is via so-called Golden Visas, which are granted after an applicant makes significant property purchases or investments in certain countries. However, the most common route tends to be through a work visa or a family reunification visa.
Even though they are increasing in popularity, most European countries do not have pathways to permanent residency using digital nomad visas. Hence, if you arrive using the digital nomad visa and wish to stay longer and start working toward long-term residency, you may need to apply for a different visa, and your accrued time under the digital nomad visa may not count toward residency. Also, the EU Blue Card isn’t treated the same by all participating EU countries, so counting the years you lived in one EU country towards permanent residence in another EU country may not be as easy as you’d hope. Our founder David discovered this frustrating fact when moving from Germany to Portugal.
Getting Familiar with Residency Requirements in These 6 EU Countries
After living in Germany for at least five years, you may be eligible for the German permanent resident permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis). Some long-stay visa options include:
- the EU Blue Card,
- the residence permit for family reunification,
- the employment residence permit,
- and the German freelancer visa.
You can also apply for the German Permanent Residence Permit after just 2 years if you graduated from a German university and have lived and worked in Germany for those two years. Those that are married to a German citizen may apply for the Permanent Residence Permit after 3 years, but this may also be fast-tracked if you are a highly qualified professional. Recently, Germany also added a new law that allows skilled workers under 27 years to apply for permanent residency after 3 years.
However, you must prove that you can support yourself and your family members in the long term and show proficiency in the country’s German language and legal, social, and cultural systems. Additionally, you must demonstrate proof of accommodation, have abstained from all serious crimes for at least 60 months, and voluntarily contribute to the state pension insurance. Naturalization (becoming a German citizen) is possible after living in Germany for 8 years.
After 5 years of living in Portugal, you can choose between permanent residency or citizenship. Many expats have found out that the D7 visa is one of the most practical visa options for entrepreneurs and retirees. It only requires you to earn a passive income of at least €760 per month, though this is subject to change. Your passive income can come from pensions, transferable equity, real estate, intellectual property, or financial equity. Other pathways to Permanent Residency include marriage and study. In addition, the Portuguese Digital Nomad visa program counts toward permanent residency, as long as you make over €2,820 per month. Being married to a Portuguese citizen shortens the time required to obtain permanent residency or citizenship to just three years.
After five years of continuous residence in Sweden, you can apply for long-term resident status (permanent residency). However, you also have to prove that you can continue to support yourself and your family. Visa options that count toward permanent residency in Sweden include:
- the Swedish work visa,
- spouse/family reunification visa,
- the EU Blue Card, and
- the self-employment visa.
You must live in France for five years to apply for permanent residency, which is valid for ten years and is renewable. Those five years equally qualify you for French citizenship. In France, you have the following visa options as a pathway toward permanent residency:
- Carte de Sejour – a residence permit for those entering France under the French long-stay visa and will either validate their visa as a residence permit (VLS TS) or apply for a residence permit within 3 months of arrival. This residency is valid for one year and renewable.
- The EU Blue Card
- Carte de Resident – for spouses of French citizens, expats retiring to France, parents of a French-born child, or those that renewed their Carte de Sejour for more than 3 years continuously.
You must live in Belgium for at least 5 years before qualifying for permanent residency or citizenship. Belgium has many visa options that count toward residency, such as the EU Blue Card and temporary work residence permit for entrepreneurs. You’ll need to submit an application that proves that you haven’t left Belgium for more than six months in that qualifying 5-year period.
Why Expats Pick Citizenship Over Permanent Residency
The path to citizenship or permanent residency for many countries in the EU is often similar. Indeed, the benefits provided are almost the same. Still, choosing whether to select permanent residence or become a citizen is a serious decision.
Permanent residency permits allow you to live within a country of which you are not a citizen for a longer period of time and are renewable in perpetuity. While you may not be a citizen, it means you may enjoy equal treatment as nationals in terms of employment opportunities, employment conditions, welfare benefits, social assistance, social benefits, tax reliefs, healthcare, and free access to the entire territory of that country.
Of course, permanent residency isn’t the same as citizenship, and having a permanent residency permit does not give you the same rights as a citizen. For example, one of the most significant disadvantages of the Schengen residence permit is that you won’t be allowed to live in another European state and transfer your accrued residency time to that state. Other disadvantages include not being able to vote in national elections, run for office, get involved in that country’s national security, and receive consular assistance when traveling abroad under the visa conditions required for the host country’s citizens.
The duration of your permanent resident status is also subject to country-specific restrictions. It’s equally possible to lose that permanent residency if you leave your designated country for a particular period, typically at least 183 days per year. For instance, if you don’t live in Germany for longer than six months, you may lose your permanent residency permit there. In short, permanent residence status must be maintained while citizenship lasts until you decide to renounce it.
Still, many expats choose permanent residency instead of citizenship because some countries do not allow for dual citizenship. Some countries are comfortable with you keeping other countries’ passports when becoming a naturalized citizen, while other countries require that you turn in all of your foreign passports when becoming a citizen.
Start Your Journey To Permanent Residency in Europe
Depending on the Schengen country you want to live in, getting permanent residency usually takes care of all the issues that expats deal with daily. That said, it’s imperative to choose the correct visa from the onset and fulfill the appropriate requirements and restrictions to make your application for permanent residency easy at the end of the day.
These reasons are why you should take advantage of our tailored Consulting Services to explore the complete picture based on your needs and goals. Our 1-on-1 Coaching and Timeline Planning services as well as our Expat Tools will help you plan out the next several years as you work toward permanent residency in your dream country!