When I first came to Germany, I honestly didn’t know what to expect when it came to the process of obtaining any type of visa — whether it was a Freelance or Employer Visa. As with all governmental processes though, it should have been expected on my part, that it would not be an easy one. Not to mention, Germany is quite traditional, making the process…well…just that. However, I personally moved to Berlin, so I can’t really speak for how the process is handled in other German cities. And to be completely honest, this entire process was well worth it.
Regardless of traditional or not and how wonderful it is here, I wish there was some type of clear-cut documentation, files, and most importantly, a list laid out there detailing everything I needed to know and do, pointing me in the right direction toward obtaining a visa. I wished there was someone to note the small things they don’t tell you before you get in line.
So I decided I would do just that. I documented a lot of what I did, situations I ran into, and processes I had to go through and figured since I have it, I should share it. If you’re a Wunderlist user, check out my list for “What you need to get your German Freelance Visa”, which can be added to your own docs so you can have it handy and check things off as you go. I found that super helpful.
There are tidbits of information, subtasks and also downloadable files in it to make life easier for you. Here though, I figured I’d take the opportunity to explain what you need in a bit more detail (in order of importance). Seems like a lot, and it is, but you’ll be glad you read it.
1. A German or someone fluent in German
After laughing at this being number one priority, keep in mind that I did in fact list it as number one priority for a reason. For the sake of your own sanity, and probably the German employee you’re speaking with, you should buddy-up with someone who is a native or fluent in German.
As I said earlier, most of these places and processes are very traditional, and the odds of the employee speaking well enough English to communicate with you or be comfortable enough doing so is slim-to-none. Also, you run a big risk of certain information getting lost or misconstrued which isn’t the best thing considering what information you’re trying to share.
I really don’t know how I would have completed half of any task on this list so far without having my significant other.
Note: If you can’t do this, you better Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, or German-course it up.
2. Register as a resident
In order to do almost everything else on this list, you first need to become a resident. You can do so at the Bürgeramt. Make an appointment, bring every document you have with you (Passport, home/apartment rental contract, etc.). In this task item, you’ll find the documents you need to download and fill out to file your residency and the link for the Bürgeramt.
Please note: You will get turned away for everything else without this.
3. Open a bank account
This is pretty self explanatory. Bring your proof of residency and passport. A few things to note though:
- There are two types of cards here, which is similar to the US. One is a bank (debit) card and the other is a credit card. However, your debit card cannot be used for the likes of online purchases and such. That is what the credit card is for. And the credit card cannot be used for ATM withdrawals.
- Credit doesn’t work the same way here as it does in the United States. If you screw up your credit here (which is seemingly impossible compared to the US credit system), you should hire someone to manage your money.
- Credit Cards aren’t paid off monthly in amounts that you decide. If you spend €800, you will be charged €800 on your upcoming credit card bill.
STOP: Okay, high-five. The pre-visa process is done. Pat yourself on the back. Now, we’ll go into what you need for the actual visa application.
What you need to actually apply
In the list you’ll find everything needed from this point forward. Remember, in order to even get your paperwork in, you’ll need to make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. I know, big German word. Funny thing is, that’s one of the smaller ones.
1. Visa Application Form
They have forms in English, but it’s best to have your German-buddy there to help. Keep in mind, there is a fee that you are charged to apply for a visa when you hand your papers in. No more than €50 and there is an “interview” that comes with it where your information is reviewed.
2. (2) Biometric Photos
You can get these at a lot of the local shops that take photos here. I googled it for you already, so check it out.
3. Health Insurance
As you’ll see in one of the downloadable documents I provided, you will not be accepted for any visa without health insurance. It’s vital. The good thing is you have Public and Private to choose from. I personally was insured with TK.
You can sign up for TK Health Insurance using this link. They take all of the pain out of signing up by making it easy, expedited and entirely in English (I wish this was around when I needed it).
Bonus: Most people who sign up using that expedited service (that I just linked you to) typically get covered in one week or less (TAKE IT, trust me).
If you can’t get your German health insurance for whatever reason, it’s best if you have Traveler health insurance just in case. Better safe than sorry.
Much like any application, you need a CV or Resume to prove you have experience in the field you’re in.
5. Cover Letter
To go along with your CV, a cover letter is needed. It’s essentially a mission statement with your profession, what you do, and why you’re interested in obtaining a freelance visa in Germany.
Whether you work as a writer or in a digital field, this work should be printed and presented in a professional manner. They won’t be checking out your awesome new website.
7. A Business Plan
This is your proof that you actually thought out your future in a different country. Some things you should include:
- How you’ll be generating new clients and freelance work
- Events, meetings, etc. for networking
- Goals you plan to achieve
8. Profit & Loss statement
Put together a revenue and expenses excel sheet for 12+ months. Here (and in the list) is a link for a mock-excel document I put together for 6 months with both low and high monthly income numbers, accounting for tax, and what I assume is the average for bills, rent, etc. here in Berlin.
9. Printed Bank Statement
In this case, more money isn’t more problems. The more cash in the bank, the better you look. The German government wants to know you’re not going to come knocking on the German Bank door if you go broke.
If you can, ask a friend or relative to wire you some money if you don’t have it. That bank account just needs to look safe. In Germany, it’s all about financial safety.
10. 2-3 Recommendation Letters
This is essentially letters of recommendation from potential employees stating they will and/or are providing you with N hours of weekly work over the course of the next N months.
More than a recommendation letter, a signed freelance contract holds much more weight.
- These letters or contracts can be either in or outside of Germany. They do not have to be German-only companies.
- On the letters of recommendation or contract, you should not work more than 25 hours, or it can be argued that it is a full-time job.
11. Tax Accountant
You need a Tax ID before you even touch any freelancing in Germany. So you’re going to need one to handle your finances to prepare for taxes each month/annually and all things related to the tax authority. Finding one eliminates a lot of paper work you yourself need to fill out, and less hair you have to rip out of your head. I’d argue this is as important as finding a german or german speaking individual.
This is a process that can take up to 3 months depending on your level of education, salary, country you are from, etc. Some people receive their visa within 2 weeks and others it takes 2 months. But above all, patience is key. This is also a much easier process if you’re getting your visa through an employer, but hey, if freelance is what you want, here it is. Patience was not something I had a lot of, so I highly suggest it. It doesn’t speed up the process, nor does it make it easier. But hopefully this list and these notes will make it a bit more lax for you.
Again, all of the resources from above can be found in the checklist as well. If you’ve gone through this process before also and have a similar or different story, I’d love to hear it. Did I miss something? Let me know! And if you are about to start this process, let’s chat! Feel free to ask any questions you may have and I’ll do my best to answer them based on my experience. You can tweet me @imcatnoone.
If this helps or you think it will help others, please give it a recommend and share.