Freelance visa Germany. A few words full of promise and paved with hurdles. The golden tri-force of your new life here. Well, you’d better buckle up!! This isn’t the easiest visa to get, unless you have the right skills and enough resources to convince the foreigner’s office that you’ll do well in Germany.
But, remember, you’re not alone! To help you with that, we’ve gathered the latest information on the process, required documents and what you can expect when applying. Consider this an educated foreword before you dive hard into the topic. Probably one of the best intros out there. (You might want to make a coffee for this though 🙂 )
What is the German freelance visa for?
Unless you’re an EU or EEA citizen, you need permission to live and work in Germany. With the Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen oder selbständigen Tätigkeit (in English the visa for freelance or self-employed work) you’re permitted to work in Germany in a specific line of work for a limited period. Different from the other types of work visas, this one isn’t tied a specific contract, but rather to a specific profession or business. Once approved, your visa is generally valid anywhere from 6 months to 3 years and allows you to travel in the Schengen area.
If you’re an artist, then you might qualify for the artist visa and skip parts of the visa process. This will be covered in a different article.
Before you start: make sure your profile matches the basic requirements
Aside from living in Germany, the freelance visa requires that you attend a personal interview and fulfill a regional or economic need. But due to the large number of documents and details you need to provide, it’s best to first do some in-depth research and ask yourself some important questions. The following ones are based on suggestions from applicants who have gone through the application process for a freelance visa in Germany.
Can you provide your work on a freelance or self-employed basis under German law?
In Germany, you have two categories of self-employment (“Selbständigkeit”); either your are Freiberuflich (Freelance) or Gewerbetreibende (business owner).
Freelancing is a category of self-employment, meaning that you are your own boss, offering services or products to clients. The German tax law specifies what type of work can be provided on a freelance basis, including categories such as: scientist, artists, educator, writer, lawyer, doctor, engineer, architect, tax consultant, accountant, health care provider, journalist, guide and translator. And that’s about it!
Everybody else has to open a business (“Gewerbe”). For most people working on their own, they will choose to be a one-person business (“Einzelunternehmer”). I actually wrote a little guide on everything you need to know when starting as a self-employed person in Germany this way.
Before applying, you should know whether you need a special permit, insurances or certification to do this work in Germany. Do your research and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask local associations (like a local chamber of commerce) or people in your industry on what you need to start working here.
Do you have enough assets with which to support yourself for 3-4 months?
Unlike a full-time work contract, freelancers and businesses don’t always have enough clients or work each month to pay the bills. This means that you need to have enough savings or earnings in other months to cover the dry spells, without having to look for additional income from a job, loan or relatives.
Is there a market for you in Germany and potential clients?
It’s important that know that you’ll have work once you get here and how to develop your business. Do you have the right qualifications and experience? What’s the competition like? Will you need to speak German? You’ll also need to have more than one client, so you don’t fall into a pseudo-self-employment situation (Scheinselbststandigkeit). Yeah, this topic confuses Germans too. But, if you have several paying clients, then you’re usually fine. The rule of thumb is that no one client should account for more than 80% of your income. Proving that there is a need for your skills on the local market can be done very differently depending on your profile. For example, there is a very well-know shortage of software engineers in Berlin. In this case, the market is very defined and it’s easy to prove that you are needed. In doubt, you can ask for assistance at the local chamber of commerce (IHK: “Industrie & Handelskammer”), who can help you to prove that.
Do you know what you can charge clients and what your expected expenses would be?
Your monthly profit will influence the type of bank accounts you’ll want to get, health insurance costs and most importantly – whether your German freelance visa application is approved. The institutions reviewing your freelance visa application in Germany want to know that your line of work pays well enough to support you. So, do some market research and check what the standard rates are for your skills, qualifications and services. Most professions have salary surveys you can find in German, such as this one for freelance journalists. On Google, you can try a request like this: “Honorar [your profession in German] Tabelle [insert most recent year here]”.
Freelance visa in Germany; application process overview
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to get started with the German freelance visa application process. As with the standard work visa, you will probably need to first apply for a visa that lets you enter Germany. Citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea or the USA are eligible to arrive on a 90-day tourist visa and apply for a work visa once they’re in Germany. Everyone else will likely need to apply for an entry visa It’s best to check with your local German consulate in advance.
Don’t worry, we’re here to guide you through this long process. Grab a chair, sip on a nice glass of wine and take some notes. Let’s go!
- Secure an entry visa and travel to Germany.
- Make an appointment with the Foreigner’s Office (Ausländerbehörde) in Berlin (or if you live somewhere else, find your local office here). It can take a couple months to get an appointment, so schedule one ASAP and while your temporary visa is still valid. While it’s sometimes possible to show up early in the morning and get an interview the same day, it looks better if you schedule one in advance.
- Get your life set up! While there’s no exact order to these, it might feel like a catch-22 when it comes to having the right paperwork at the right time. (Or like you’re looking for Permit #A38.) You need to have this sorted out
- Find a place to live – It’s a requirement for the freelance visa in Germany that you have your main home here. This can be difficult without an existing financial history in Germany. One common option is to move into a shared flat(Wohngemeinschaft/WG). Make sure you get a proper rental contract and that your landlord fills out the confirmation form (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung).
- Register Your Address (Anmeldung) – Appointments at the local administrative office (Bürgeramt) are very limited, so don’t put this off for too long.
- Open a German bank account – Keep your personal and business accounts separate and document your money transfer.
- Sign up for Health Insurance (Krankenversicherung) – Travelers insurance isn’t enough for German freelance visa. You can either sign up voluntarily for the public insurance (freiwillige gesetzliche Krankenversicherung), which guarantees sufficient coverage, or go with a private insurance company (private Krankenversicherung). If you go private, you need the details of coverage to show that it’s comparable with what you would get under public insurance.
- Attend a personal interview to submit your application and necessary paperwork. It will probably last 10-15min, conducted mostly in German. Be sure to arrive early as the building is relatively big and confusing. If you don’t feel confident with your German skills (and that’s fine), bring someone who is with you.
- Wait for an answer to your application. That can happen on the spot, 2 weeks or 2 months after the appointment. There is no rule for this. Patience is a virtue. When applying for a freelance visa in Berlin, if all of your ducks are in a row, you can walk out of the Ausländerbehörde with your shiny new visa already pasted in your passport. But in other parts of the country, it’s possible that you may have to wait. That can happen on the spot, a few weeks to a few months after the appointment for a decision, or that you need to come back with more documents to support your application. There is no rule for this — each case is different, and each immigration official grants visas based on their discretion.
- Finally start working with the freelance visa in Germany, with the help of your course, of this other dedicated post about all steps to take after this initial one.
This video is quite helpful as well to wrap your head around the freelance visa Germany application process too (source: make-it-in-germany.com).
Paperwork to bring to your personal interview:
Every applicant needs to explain their work, provide financial information, and show that they have potential clients. If you are starting a company, operating as a sole proprietor, opening a new business location or a managing director in a partnership or corporation, then you’ll need to prepare some additional documentation before and after you arrive in Germany. It’s best to review all this with an adviser if possible, to make sure you’ve done the right research and preparations.
The basic stack
The following list of documents is required:
- Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit form (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
- Biometric Photos
- Valid Passport
- Fee – This will be anywhere from €56 to €100 (unless you’re a Turkish citizen) and is payable in-person via cash or debit. You may also be charged for document copies.
- Proof of Health Insurance – see above
- Apartment Lease (Mietvertrag) or Proof of Home Ownership (Nachweis über Wohneigentum) – This document should include the monthly costs of rent and utilities.
- Landlord Confirmation (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) or Registration (Anmeldung) – see above
- Proof of an Adequate Pension Plan (Altersversorgung) – This is only required for applicants older than 45, except for citizens of the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and USA. Though if you are working towards a permanent residence in Germany, you will need this regardless of your age or nationality.
You will need to provide an offer from a private pension or life insurance plan, which when you turn 67 will provide you either with a monthly pension of €1.188,92 for 12 years or at least €175.068 in total. Alternatively, you can provide proof of sufficient private assets for retirement.
The advanced stack
- Finance plan and bank statements – Provide an overview of your current finances and bank statements to back up those numbers. Here you can also show if you’re getting any regular income from parents, alimony payments, or other work.
- Revenue forecast – Prepare a document that shows your projected income and expenses, as well as the financials of your freelance business, for at least the next year. Do your research and budget wisely to show that you can make it in Germany with your intended clients and work. Be sure to include the costs of setting up your business and projections for profit or loss. It doesn’t need to be 100% accurate — it just needs to show that you know how to make a budget.
- Curriculum vitae (CV) and cover letter – Display your relevant past work, experience and education. The cover letter, while not required, gives you the chance to explain why you want to live and work as a freelancer in Germany. It also helps to provide letters of recommendation from past clients or sponsors.
- Proof of diplomas and certificates – This is especially important if you’re legally required to have a permit or certification for your profession, but in general it’s good to have this paperwork with you to back-up the information on your CV.
- 2 letters of intent (Absichtserklärung zur Zusammenarbeit) – These letters are the most important items of your visa application. Letters of intent should ideally be written by local clients and explain the type and amount of work they want to hire you for. This shows that there is a local need for your services and that you have potential clients. They don’t need to be set in stone, but they do need to look official. Even if you already work with non-german remote clients through Upwork or similar platforms, you need to be working with local companies for your application.
- Current contracts – If you’ve already got clients signed on to work with you, bring this along to show your earnings and type of work you provide. (But note that you can’t start working for German clients from Germany until you have your permit sorted!)
- Work samples – Experienced freelancers in Germany recommend bringing printed copies of 4-6 examples of your work.
Additional stack for business owners/Gewerbe only
Those documents following here are only required for business owners, while the rest are required for both freelancers and self-employed business owners applying for the visa application in Germany.
- Business Plan – A full overview of your company and concept, your educational background and career (CV), information on the capital required to start the business, a detailed budget and predications of income, costs and any profits/loss.
- Company Profile – For this form, you’ll need to dive in deep. Provide the company name, contact information, registration, function and details about your company management, licenses, sister companies, board of directors, assets, worldwide income, staff numbers and an overview of the business’ activities. If you are a daughter company, provide all the information about the parent company as well as your location in Germany.
You’ll also need to give details about your role in the company, education background, language skills (English or German is required) and career.
Important: You’ll need to provide two copies of each required document in German or English.
- Business Concept – Describe the products and services you’ll be providing, the industry and market conditions, target client group, your marketing and sales strategy, any partners or staff, company legal form, as well as information on your office space and location.
- Capital Requirement Plan – Outline your initial investments and startup costs, as well as working capital for operations.
Freelance visa Germany: what happens after the appointment?
If you don’t get immediate approval for your German freelance visa, then prepare to wait a while. It’s not uncommon to be sent away from the Ausländerbehörde because you’re missing a document and be given an appointment to return in a few weeks or months. During this time you’re probably not legally permitted to work in Germany. If your visa expires soon you may receive an extension (Fiktionsbescheinigung), so you can stay in Germany until you get an answer. During this time you’re not legally permitted to work in Germany unless your visa specifically says so.
When you receive your visa, you can move to register yourself as a self-employed person. A detailed guide that way to do this.
How to get help to understand what i did wrong the first time around?
Because all freelance visas in Germany are approved on a case-by-case basis, it’s not always clear what helped or hurt each individual application. But there are some common mistakes that you need to avoid: missing deadlines, asking for lots of exceptions, insufficient funds or projected income, missing paperwork (always check if an original is required!) or insufficient health care coverage. If you’re worried, there’s also the option to talk to a visa consultant. They can look over your paperwork and advise you on the requirements and next steps for becoming a freelancer in Germany.
However your specific case goes, know that international freelancers have had many different experiences navigating their way through the seemingly endless bureaucracy tunnel.
I can recommend that Facebook group too, where people seem to be actively exchanging their experiences on the matter and don’t hesitate to give each other a hand.
Freelance visa Germany application experiences
Sometimes, it can really help and give you confidence to read what others have gone through. Some people have posted their experiences. Here are a few links
- Be My Travel Muse
- Page Rollison on Medium
- Cat Noone on Medium
- Nandi Jammi on Medium
- Kat Loughrey on CloudPeeps blog
How I can get help or guidance?
You can of course decide to talk to immigration specialists. For more general questions, you can also call a dedicated hotline setup by in cooperation with many different German administrations. They can answer your questions in English. More info about this hotline this way.
Aside from the Facebook group mentioned earlier, you can also turn to this one: Problems and Challenges with Ausländerbehorde and Einbürgerungsamt (Berlin). It’s not a good idea to expect professional advice but it’s a great way to get real-life feedback from real people.
Under which conditions can my visa expire or be terminated?
Once you have acquired your residence permit in Germany, it’s also useful to be aware of how it can be terminated. As mentioned by the German residence act, this is how it can happen:
- Your visa has reached expiration date, and it hasn’t been renewed.
- Your visa has been revoked by the German authorities or if you have been deported from the country, in case of criminal behavior for example.
- If you leave the country indefinitely. This means officially setting residence somewhere else or leaving for longer than 6 months. It’s usually 6 months, but sometimes can be more if you happen to leave because you serve Germany’s interests, in the case of humanitarian campaigns for example.
- If you apply for asylum after being granted a residence permit.
How is the artist visa for Germany related to the freelance visa?
Freelancer and self-employment visas are options for foreigners living anywhere in Germany, but Berlin offers one exceptional option: the so-called “freelance artist visa.” Basically, because Berlin is such an attractive place for creatives, the local foreigners’ office has an expedited visa option for artists, musicians and writers, where you can apply for a freelance visa and potentially get it the same day. (It doesn’t actually say “freelance artist visa” — it is a normal Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen Tätigkeit.) This special option exists nowhere else in Germany — one more reason to move to Berlin!
Tip: Be sure to get as much paperwork prepared before you head over. You don’t want to realize that you need a bunch of paperwork from your last country of residence! Having the necessary documents mailed internationally can slow down the freelance visa process in Germany significantly.
I hope this massive intro helped you to get a plan together. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments and share your doubts/experiences. Good luck with your application!