As one of the economic leaders of the EU, Germany provides plenty of opportunities for young entrepreneurs looking to start their own business. Germany’s previously declining birth rate is one reason the country is now pushing for programs to attract young residents. Deutschland has even publicized tuition-free university programs to draw young foreigners into the country.
Due in part to these programs and the benefits Germany offers with its visas, the birth rate in Germany increased for the first time since the early 1970s. Germany is finally experiencing population growth.
The variety of visas that Germany has available is a testament to their willingness to open their country to expats. Residents from outside of the Schengen territories can apply for a visa for something as simple as learning German. However, while the government has made an effort to welcome foreigners, the process to get a visa can be quite lengthy.
The popular German Freelance Visa is no exception to this.
Germany is home to a lot of bureaucracy. Because they do things strictly by the book there, you should always tie up any loose ends when it comes to filing visa application paperwork. Not being thorough could set you back by days or even weeks, which can prove even more problematic because nomads on a Schengen visa cannot risk overstaying. Should you overstay your visa, you may be blacklisted, and all hopes of obtaining a Freelance Visa will vanish.
But don’t lose hope! Getting a Freelance Visa in Germany is still a very real possibility. To help you ensure that you have met all the requirements, we have compiled information and tips from nomads who have successfully obtained Germany’s Freelance Visa. In this article, you will find the following:
- The German Freelance Visa
- Are You a Freelancer?
- Who Needs a Freelance Visa?
- Basic Application Requirements
- Required Paperwork for the German Freelance Visa
- Basic Documents
- Professional Documents
- Financial Documents
- Business Strategy Documents for Business Owners
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Filing for the German Freelance Visa
- The German Freelance Visa in Summary
The German Freelance Visa
So, you visited Deutschland on vacation, you loved it, and you thought to yourself, “I want to move here!” Or, perhaps, you’ve never stepped foot in Germany, but you heard about Germany’s program and just knew that it was a great opportunity to travel. Either way, you found out about the German Freelance Visa and now you want to apply.
Unlike some other countries in the Schengen territory which have visa quotas, Germany has no restrictions on visas. The Freelance Visa is especially attractive as it is more than just a visa, it’s a temporary residence permit and a steppingstone towards permanent residency. Although the full process for permanent residency takes about three years, there are plenty of freelancers who have used this visa to make Germany their new home, work in the country, and travel around Europe’s Schengen area as they wish.
The Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen oder selbständigen Tätigkeit or Freelance Visa, has a validity period of anywhere between six months and three years. Usually, however, the visa is good for one year, after which, freelancers can reapply if they so wish.
The application process requires that you submit documents, attend a personal interview and prove that you fill an economic need within the country. You need to be able to show the government that you will have work and that you will benefit the German economy.
Are You a Freelancer?
The very first thing you must prove, though, is that you are a freelancer. There are two qualifying categories of self-employment with this visa: freelance (Freiberuflich) and business owner (Gewerbetreibende).
Freelancers work as their own bosses and offer services to their client base. German tax law is very specific about what qualifies as freelance work and what does not. The approved categories for freelance work are:
- Healthcare provider
- Tax consultant
Anyone who does not fit into one of those categories needs to apply as a business owner. It is not uncommon to be a one-person business (Einzelunternehmer). If you are considering becoming a business owner in Germany, do your research. You’ll need to find out if you need any special permits, certificates, or insurance to operate legally.
Writers, journalists, and artists of all types can also apply for the Artist Visa, a special subcategory of the Freelance Visa. While the processes are mostly the same, Artist Visa applicants will not be reviewed by the Chamber of Commerce and will receive their visa on the spot instead of waiting the two plus weeks it takes to review the regular visa application.
Who Needs a Freelance Visa?
Citizens from countries outside of the EU or EEA need permission to live and work in Germany. Anyone from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Japan, and South Korea can apply directly for the visa in Germany. Citizens of other countries must apply for the Freelance Visa at their nearest German consulate.
People who do not need a Freelance Visa are citizens or permanent residents of countries within the EU or EEA. You also do not need this visa if your current visa allows you to freelance. Find out if you have this permission by reviewing the information section of your residence permit.
If you are only passing through Germany and do not intend to put down roots of any sorts, you do not need the visa either. You can still work as a freelancer on a tourist visa as long as you are a legitimate tourist who will only be in the country for a short amount of time and you do not have German clients. The Freelance Visa is for those individuals who want to live and work in Germany on a longer-term basis.
The visa can be useful to students or workers with visas who want to begin freelancing. However, it is crucial that you maintain the occupation for which you originally received your visa.
Basic Application Requirements
Some of the most important factors in your application are proving your financial stability, showing that your business has a market in Germany, and presenting your financial plans. If your documentation for these three areas is unsatisfactory, your application will be rejected. Naturally, the German government is only willing to accept foreigners who can financially support themselves and add to the country’s economic growth.
1. Prove your self-sufficiency
One of the most common struggles of freelancers is to ensure a constant flow of work. This is especially true when first starting in a new market. Therefore, Germany wants you to prove your financial stability by showing that you can support yourself for at least three to four months.
The simplest way to do this is by presenting bank statements. These statements should come from a German bank account, but supplemental international bank statements are accepted, as well.
2. Find freelance work in Germany
You must have German clients to qualify for the German Freelance Visa. If you cannot prove that there is a “local economic interest” for your services by showing letters of intent from German companies that want to hire you, you will not get a Freelance Visa.
Analyzing your market in Deutschland is crucial for your visa application process, but also for getting your bearings in the country. Consider whether your qualifications are satisfactory, how much competition you are up against, and if you’ll need to speak German to adequately compete. Having the answers to these questions will help you better present yourself in the application interview.
Expats looking for work in Germany should be careful to avoid the quasi-self-employment situation known as scheinselbstständigkeit. This can occur if you are hired full-time by a German company that requests that you invoice them as a freelancer. The situations that can lead to scheinselbstständigkeit may vary, but the general rule is that if more than 83.3% of your income comes from one client, you must pay social contributions or pension in Germany.
In short, this is not a financially beneficial situation for freelancers.
If you have three to four paying clients, you can avoid this situation and prove local economic interest in your services. Depending on what type of freelance work you do, you may need to provide more proof. Should you need help proving that your skills are in dremand, you can request assistance from a local chamber of commerce. A financial advisor from this institution will be able to illustrate any needs or openings in the local market.
3. Provide a financial plan
Finally, providing a financial plan will greatly help your application. Presenting your interviewer with a professional report with operational costs, your rates, and expected profits makes your business more feasible. The more plausible you make your business seem, the higher your chances are of getting approved.
In your financial plan, you can also include the cost of your health insurance and the type of bank account you have. This document should provide a comprehensive outlook on your prospective financial state in Germany.
Required Paperwork for the German Freelance Visa
Once you know that you can meet the basic requirements for the Freelance Visa, you can begin gathering the required documents. This can be done before traveling to Germany, which is good because it can take some time. Letters of Intent from future clients can be particularly difficult to attain. As for everything else, we’ve divided the necessary documents into three sections. Applicants applying to be both freelancers and business owners in Germany need the following documents.
- Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels) – You can download this form here.
- Appointment confirmation – This includes all the information about your appointment. Your interviewer may ask to see it, so bring it along just in case.
- Biometric Photos – The Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde) will have a machine that allows you to take these photos, but you can also find one in a train station. For about 6€ ($6.75) you can get four biometric photos in a standard size. Just like with a passport photo, you should not smile for your biometric photos.
- Valid Passport – The interviewer needs to see your passport to officially identify you. If you happen to get your visa immediately, your passport will be needed as the sticker visa goes directly inside of it.
- Proof of Health Insurance – Health insurance is mandatory in Germany.
- Apartment Lease (Mietvertrag) or Proof of Home Ownership (Nachweis über Wohneigentum) if you own a property in Germany. The cost of rent and utilities needs to be included in this document, as well.
- Registration (Anmeldung) and Landlord Confirmation (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) – If you have yet to receive your registration, then at least bring proof that you’ve made an appointment to get it.
- Application Fee – This fee is usually around 56€ ($62) but can run up to 100€ ($112). However, Turkish citizens need only pay a fee of 28,80€ ($32). You can pay these fees in cash or debit depending on which Immigration Office you go to. For instance, the Immigration Office in Berlin only accepts cash. It’s possible that you will also be charged for making copies of your documents. Previous applicants recommend bringing at least 120€ ($135) in cash to be safe.
Regarding your character…
- Résumé (Curriculum vitae or CV) – Your résumé should highlight all relevant past work, experience, and education. Avoid including any irrelevant experience or summer jobs. Interviewers will accept CVs in English but having one in German is preferable.
- Cover letter – Although this is not required, it can help boost your application by allowing you to explain why you want to live and freelance in Germany. During the application process, you should try to give the best impression possible.
- Recommendation Letters – Interviewers often ask to see letters of recommendation. It’s advisable to have two or more available, should you need them. These can be from previous clients or employers and should recommend you for the profession you want to pursue in Germany under the Freelance Visa. If possible, try to get these letters signed.
- Diplomas and academic certificates – If German law requires you to have a certification for your business, it must accompany your application. For everyone else, having proof of these simply helps boost the credibility of your CV.
Regarding your work…
- 2 or more Letters of Intent (Absichtserklärung zur Zusammenarbeit) – These should come from German clients who explain the kind of work they intend to hire you for, as well as the amount of work that will be needed. These are vital to prove that your work has a market in Germany. While international, remote clients are good for your business, they alone are not enough for your application. You need to prove that you are working with German clients.
- Current contracts – In the event that you already have contracts lined up, bring them along with you to demonstrate the work you will provide and future earnings you will receive.
- Portfolio – Printed examples of your work will help convince your interviewer that you can do your job. Even if your work is online, find a way to bring a tangible copy. Simply showing a website address is not enough. You should have at least printed five examples of your work.
- Professional Permit, if applicable – Freelancers working in the fields of law or medicine, for example, will need a professional permit. Should your work require a permit, be sure to bring it to your interview.
- Financing plan (Finanzierungsplan) – As discussed above, your financial plan should give your interviewer an overall idea of your financial situation. This document needs to lay out how you plan to finance your business. It should also list all liquid funds, assets, loans, venture capital and anything you think is relevant to describing your finances.
- Bank statement (Kontoauszug) – Bank statements are necessary to prove the numbers in your financing plan. They will also help prove your self-sufficiency. Your statements will show the interviewer how much money you have saved. While foreign bank statements can be accepted, interviewers generally ask to see statements from a German bank account. Most expats who received the Freelance Visa in Germany would say that you need between 3.000€ ($3,370) and 5.000€ ($5,615) in savings to be approved.
- Profit and loss statement – This document should include your expected income and expenses for the next year. It also needs to include the financials for your business. This is your opportunity to illustrate that you’ve done your research and made a budget that will allow you to survive in Germany with your line of work and clients. The costs of setting up your business and any projected profits or losses should also be in this document.
- Proof of a Pension Plan (Altersversorgung) – This requirement is usually limited to applicants over the age of 45. However, applicants from the US, the Dominican Republic, Turkey, Iran, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan will also need this. Those looking to make Germany their permanent residence will need this regardless of their nationality. You must provide an offer from a private pension or life insurance plan that can guarantee you at least 1.188,92€ ($1,336) a month for 12 years or a total amount of 175.068€ ($196,750) when you reach 67 years of age. It is possible to provide proof of private assets you plan to use after retirement that meet the designated financial minimum.
Business Strategy Documents for Business Owners (Gewerbe) Only
- Business Plan – Your business plan should feature exactly how you plan to make your business work and grow. Overall, it should be a summary of your company and its concept. In this document, you’ll need to include a business concept, company profile, and capital requirement plan. Your business plan can be in either English or German.
- Business Concept – This document defines the products and services you will provide in Germany. It must also outline your industry, target client group, and the market conditions. You can include your sales and marketing strategy here, as well. If you already have information on your office, location, and staff then include that, too.
- Company Profile – This is probably the most detailed of all documents in the business plan. Here you must include all the most important information surrounding your company. The company name, registration, contact information, details about management, any board of directors, licenses, assets, and worldwide income should all go in this document. If your company is a daughter company, then you’ll also need to include information about your parent company. Additionally, you’ll need to give specific details on your role in the company, as well as, your career, educational background, and your language skills in English and German.
- Capital Requirement Plan – In this document, you need to outline your startup costs and the working capital for your startup operations. This is where you can include information on licensing fees, equipment or vehicles purchased, and real estate.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Filing for the German Freelance Visa
Once you’ve gathered all your documents, you can begin the application process from your home country to save yourself time once you arrive in Deutschland.
Before You Go to Germany
Remember that if you are coming from a country that has a 90-day Schengen visa, there’s no need to file any visa paperwork before traveling to Germany. These countries are the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, South Korea, and Japan. All other countries must have a visa to travel to Deutschland; that means all countries outside of the EU, EEA, and without Schengen territory privileges.
Individuals who fall into that category have two options. The first is to apply for the Freelance Visa at their nearest German embassy. They can submit all of their documents and their application together, all of which will be sent to Germany and get reviewed by the Immigraion Office. In this case, the time it takes to receive the visa can be anywhere between two and six months.
The second option is to apply for a National Visa at their nearest German embassy. A National Visa will permit them to travel to Germany to find an apartment, clients and everything else necessary for the Freelance Visa. When they arrive in the country, they can begin the process of applying for the visa. Bear in mind that foreigners can only do this with the National Visa. If you travel to Germany with a tourist visa and apply for the Freelance Visa, your application will be rejected.
Make Your Visa Appointment
There is a very long wait for visa appointments in Germany. It can take up to two months to get an appointment, so it is best to schedule one with the Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde) as soon as possible.
On rare occasions, you can walk in and have an interview on the same morning. However, having an appointment is best. If you do not already have a standing appointment, it is more likely that you’ll be turned away. To find the office that corresponds with your future place of residence click here.
Scheduling your appointment before you even touch down in the country is preferable because, once you’re there, the clock is ticking. You don’t want to risk overstaying your 90-day visa. Some expats will tell you that if your appointment was made within the 90 days, you’re safe, but we don’t recommend taking the chance. Book your appointment as soon as you can.
If your visa is about to expire when you finally have your interview at the Immigration Office, your interviewer can help you. There is a visa called a Fiktionsbescheinigung which is a temporary residence permit that allows you to stay in Germany while your application is being processed. This visa also covers you if you are missing any documents and need to reapply.
Sign Up for Health Insurance
Health insurance is a basic requirement of the Freelance Visa as it is illegal to not have insurance in Germany. Germans take this very seriously. Plenty of applicants for this visa get rejected simply because they do not have the right type of insurance.
You must choose between public and private insurance. German coverage is preferred, of course. Public insurance (freiwillige gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) is usually for employees. Self-employed individuals and freelancers generally get private insurance (private Krankenversicherung).
When choosing between the two systems, it’s best to think of where you see yourself long-term. If you feel like you want Germany to be your forever home, then public insurance might be for you. With this system, you pay in and contribute to the public system. On the other hand, if you want to live the digital nomad lifestyle, then private might be the better option. Bear in mind that as soon as you opt out of public health care, it’s quite difficult to reverse your decision.
Nomads who are hesitant about investing in insurance before their visa approval often sign up with companies that serve expats like Ottonova or World Nomads. They offer coverage for both your travel and your stay in Germany. The government currently accepts both companies as proof of insurance in the application process.
While those plans work great to get you through your appointment and the waiting period for your acceptance, they aren’t the best because they offer minimal coverage. As soon as your visa is approved, it’s recommended that you switch. Once you’ve been given the visa, you can spend your time mulling over other plans without any pressure.
Find a Place of Residence
Having a residence in Germany is necessary for your Freelance Visa. Depending on which German city you’re planning to call home, house hunting may be tricky. Berlin, for example, is notorious for being a difficult place to find an apartment.
Beginning your search overseas can help immensely. As a foreigner who is probably lacking German financial history, your options may feel limited. Renting a room in a shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft or WG) is a common solution for that problem. A popular website for finding WGs is WG-Gesucht. As for a full-fledged apartment, you can look on ImmobilienScout24.
You’ll need paperwork to prove your residence, so be sure to get a proper contract in your name. It’s also very important that your landlord fills out a confirmation form (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung). This will be necessary at your address registration (Anmeldung) appointment.
Arrival in Germany
Book your ticket and pack your bags, it’s time to make your way to the land of Bier und Brezels. With your head start on the visa process, you’ve already got a foot in the door. Now, it’s time to set yourself up in the country.
Register Your Address
If you were able to find a place to live and got a contract and a confirmation form, then you should get your address registered. Your address registration form is a tiny, albeit important document that you’ll need for most paperwork in Germany.
Book a registration appointment at the local administrative office (Bürgeramt) as soon as you can. Although appointments at the Bürgeramt also fill up, you can try showing up at 8:00 am when they open. Walk-in appointments are possible, but you are guaranteed to have a long wait.
It’s a good idea to bring a friend with you who speaks German. While some government workers speak English, you shouldn’t expect all of them to.
For the appointment, you will need to bring a completed copy of the Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit, as well as your ID or passport. If you are married or in a partnership, you’ll have to present a certificate that’s translated into German. The form you’ll receive is called a Meldebescheinigung or Anmeldebestätigung and will be required at your visa interview.
Get a German Bank Account
Another thing you’ll need to do upon arrival is to open a bank account. To do this, you’ll need your Meldebescheinigung. However, it’s also quite difficult to get an apartment without a bank account. That’s where the German bureaucracy starts to
complicate the process. Getting an account with N26, an online German bank designed for nomads, is a good way around this issue. They don’t require a Meldebescheinigung.
In some casess German banks will let you open an account if you promise to bring them your Meldebescheinigung after you receive it. Having a German bank account is essential to the process. It’s required for your apartment, to register your business with the Finanzamt, and to get bank statements. It’s important that you keep your personal and business bank accounts separate, as well. While that’s not explicitly stated anywhere on the application, it will simplify the process when presenting your financial statements
Network to Find Clients
Digitals nomads who were successful in their German Freelance Visa applications advise newcomers to join a coworking space. Coworking spaces are a great way to plug into the freelancing scene, especially in Berlin. This will help you network and find potential clients that you will need to get your visa.
There are services that allow you to try out different coworking spaces to find the one that best fits your work ethic. Remember that you cannot legally work until you receive your visa, so these spaces should only be used to network and research until that happens.
The Freelance Visa Application Interview
Finally, you’ve set yourself up in Germany, gathered all your paperwork and now it’s time to go to your visa application interview. Remember that in Deutschland you can never have too many documents. Bring everything you have as it’s never a bad idea to be overprepared. Arrive early and pay close attention to the numbers being called. If you miss your number, it may not get called again until the end of the working day.
Bear in mind that this is an interview, so do your best to make a great impression. Be confident, polite and smile no matter what. You don’t know what kind of interviewer you will get but be committed to presenting the best version of yourself at all times.
If you decide to bring a German-speaker along with you, then you can simply introduce them as your friend and translator. Conversely, if you decide to find an English-speaking immigration lawyer then they will do the talking for you. Either way, you can expect the appointment to be brief. Your interview will probably last around 10 minutes.
Once the interview has finished, there are a few things that can happen. The best-case scenario is that your visa is approved on the spot. Should that be the case, you may get your visa right then and there.
A common outcome of the interview is that your interviewer will request more documentation. This is quite possible considering German bureaucracy. Fortunately, your interviewer will most likely give you a visa extension that will allow you to stay in the country to get your documents in order and reapply. However, your follow up appointment may be three to four months away.
It’s also possible that your interviewer will send your application off to Bundesagentur für Arbeit (the Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs) for further review. In this scenario, you may have to wait for three months to hear back with a decision. Again, if you do not have a visa you are legally not permitted to work in Germany, so don’t take any risks.
In the worst-case scenario, you will be rejected. This isn’t uncommon, but you’ll have to figure out what went wrong. In fact, this is why some applicants hire an immigration lawyer from the beginning. There are other resources out there to help you get your application in order, as well. The German government offers a ‘Working and Living in Germany’ hotline that you can call to get free advice on your situation.
The German Freelance Visa in Summary
Now that you know everything that goes into applying for the Freelance Visa in Germany, it’s time to evaluate your candidacy. In summary, whether you ought to apply for this visa depends on a few deciding factors. First, you’ll need to reflect on the threshold qualifications of financial stability, having a market in Germany, and providing a financial plan that includes operational costs, your rates, and expected profit.
Then, determine which visa best fits your situation: the freelance (Freiberuflich), artist, or business owner (Gewerbetreibende) frameworks. Taking time to evaluate your business plan will help you decide which of these three categories you fit best. This will then help you properly organize yourself and your visa application.
Maximize your time by scheduling your appointments ahead of time, booking flights, getting health insurance, and searching for a place of residence. Then, you’ll need to fly to Germany to continue the process. Once in Germany, you’ll need to sign an apartment lease, register your address, and get a German bank account.
While you wait for your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde, you’ll need to organize all the required documents for your application, including your completed application form, proof of health insurance, a résumé and Letters of Intent from future clients, bank statements, your financial plan, and other supporting documents.
As you apply for your Freelance Visa, know that there is plenty of help available to you. Germany boasts a plethora of expats, many of whom have this exact visa and would be happy to share their knowledge with you. The German government also offers resources to help with the process. There are also many English-speaking immigration lawyers who can help guide you as well.
If you have doubts about visas in general, be sure to read our FAQ article on Visas, Passports, and Citizenships. You can also learn more about Visa-Free Travel and how you can freelance from any number of locations without needing to set down roots or even get a visa in any one place. More research and preparation will give you a better chance of getting Germany’s Freelance Visa, but it can also help you see that it’s not the only option available to you.
If you are looking for a more holistic approach to planning your international lifestyle, Nomad Capitalist is dedicated to helping individuals increase their freedom, reduce their taxes, and grow their wealth faster. We can help you determine if the German Freelance Visa is the right fit for you and, if it is, we will work with you to complete the process and execute your entire plan successfully.