Travel documents


Country Report: Travel documents Last updated: 06/04/23


Paula Hoffmeyer-Zlotnik and Marlene Stiller

Persons with refugee status are entitled to ‘travel documents for refugees’ (‘Reiseausweis für Flüchtlinge’) in accordance with Article 28 of the 1951 Refugee Convention. The travel document for refugees is either automatically issued together with the residence permit after status determination has become final, or it is issued upon application. The document shall adhere to European standards[1] and therefore has to include a storage medium with the facial image, fingerprints etc.[2]

The duration of the travel document for refugees is ‘up to three years’. Alternatively, it can be issued as a preliminary travel document, i.e. without an electronic storage medium, for ‘up to one year’.[3] A prolongation of the document is not possible, so refugees have to apply for a new document once the old one has expired. If their travel document expires on a journey, they may exceptionally apply for a travel document for aliens (see below) from abroad.[4] In these cases applicants need a valid residence permit and the embassy checks whether a cessation of the German residence permit due to an absence of more than six months from Germany can be assumed.[5] If the beneficiary has been absent for more than six months, it is assumed that the responsibility for the beneficiary has been shifted to the state where the beneficiary is present. However, the travel document is usually valid for the same period as the residence permit.

In cases where the validity of the residence permit will expire during the time abroad, the beneficiary is required to apply for a renewal of the residence permit prior to his absence. Since online applications for the renewal of residence permits are not (yet) possible and the application for a renewal needs to be done at the responsible local authority (see Residence permit) the beneficiary needs to make sure that his application for a renewal of residence permit is done prior to his journey. If the application for renewal has been lodged prior to the expiration, a ‘Fictional approval’ (Fiktionsbescheinigung) is granted, which secures the legality of the stay in Germany until the renewal and equally allows travelling abroad and re-entry to Germany in combination with the expired residence permit.[6]

Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection can be issued with a ‘travel document for aliens’ (‘Reiseausweis für Ausländer’) if they do not possess a passport or a substitute document and if they cannot be reasonably expected to obtain a passport or a substitute document from the authorities of their country of origin.[7] This is a general provision which applies to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as well as to other aliens with residence status in Germany.

While it is generally accepted that refugees and their family members cannot be reasonably expected to obtain a passport from the authorities of their country of origin,[8] this is not the case for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection. Guidelines by the Federal Ministry of Interior stipulate that persons who cannot be deported for legal or humanitarian reasons generally cannot be expected to travel to their countries of origin if this is necessary to obtain a passport.[9] This applies to beneficiaries of subsidiary protection as well. However, if it is possible to obtain a passport from an embassy in Germany, beneficiaries of subsidiary protection are generally required to do so. If they argue that this is impossible for them, they have to apply for a ‘travel document for aliens’ on individual grounds and have to demonstrate that they cannot be reasonably expected to get a passport on individual grounds. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection often face difficulties in demonstrating that they cannot be reasonably expected to get a passport.[10] In one recent case, the Federal Administrative Court rebutted the assumption that beneficiaries of subsidiary protection can reasonably be expected to obtain a passport of the embassy of their country of origin if they require the beneficiary to sign a ‘repentenance statement’ (Reueerklärung).[11]

The duration of the ‘travel document for aliens’ is usually equivalent to the validity of the residence permit that a foreign citizen has in Germany.[12] For beneficiaries of subsidiary protection this is one year with an option of renewal(s) for two years (see Residence permit).




[1] Council Regulation (EC) No 2252/2004 of 13 December 2004 on standards for security features and biometrics in passports and travel documents issued by Member States, OJ L385/1.

[2] Section 4(4) Residence Regulation (Aufenthaltsverordnung).

[3] Section 4(1) Residence Regulation.

[4] Section 4(1) No. 1, Section 5 and Section 7 and Section 11 Regulation on Residence.

[5] Foreigners Office, Visumhandbuch, Fiktionsbescheinigung, 487 (pdf Version), 70. Ergänzungslieferung, December 2019.

[6] Foreigners Office, Visumhandbuch, Fiktionsbescheinigung, 295 (pdf Version), 70. Ergänzungslieferung, December 2019.

[7] Section 5(1) Residence Regulation.

[8] Verfahrenshinweise der Ausländerbehörde Berlin (Guidelines for the Aliens Office Berlin), 12 September 2016, available at:, 492.

[9] Federal Ministry of Interior, Allgemeine Verwaltungsvorschrift zum Aufenthaltsgesetz (General Administrative Guidelines for the Residence Act), 26 Oct. 2009, no.

[10] Federal Association for Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (BumF), Passbeschaffung & Identitätsklärung, available in German at:

[11] Federal Administrative Court, Decision BVerwG 1 C 9.21, 11 October 2022.

[12] Section 8 Residence Regulation.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation