How to get a German freelance visa as an expat
When I tell people I meet that I’m a freelancer in Germany, they always want to know: “That’s so random. How’d you end up there?”
Despite the stereotypes about German bureaucracy, the truth is that Germany has the friendliest visa laws in the European Union. Moving to Germany on a freelance visa in Germany is a surprisingly straightforward and predictable process — and one that allows you the full freedom to work in Germany and jet around Europe.
The German government doesn’t currently have any quotas for these visas (I’m looking at you, England) and there are no special requirements or hurdles you have to jump. As long as you have clients, an income and a desire to move to the land of Brezels and Bier, you can get set up here in no time.
Step 1: Start looking for a place to live
If you can, start looking for accommodation before you come to Germany. The first thing you’ll need to do when you arrive in Germany is establish a residence, so it’s useful for you to start your apartment search before you get here so you have a few options lined up when you land.
- For WGs (apartment shares): WG-Gesucht.de
- For apartments: ImmobilienScout24.de
Want to move to Berlin? I regret to inform you that there is an acute housing crisis in Berlin. Whether you’re on the market for a room or your own place, finding a place that isn’t a sublet is likely to be a long and arduous process. (Just want to emotionally prepare you for that…)
You need to establish your residence in order to apply for your freelance visa — so get cracking!
Step 2: Fly to Germany
Yep, just book a flight and come over! If you’re a citizen of certain privileged countries, including the U.S., Canada and Australia, you can begin the process of getting your freelance visa once you are here. It’s perfectly legal since you’re covered under the Schengen visa.
This is the easy part. ;)
Step 3: Get registered as a resident
Once you’ve settled in, you’ll need to officially register yourself as a resident with your local Bürgeramt, or city hall. The Anmeldung is something every German resident and citizen must have — it tells the government who you are and where you live — so you’ll find yourself in line with everyone who has just moved, not just recent arrivals like yourself.
Appointments at the Burgeramt fill up fast — the wait can even be months long — so book yours online as soon as possible.
In the meantime, print and download your application here and enlist the help of a German-speaking friend to help you fill it out.
Be sure to set up a reminder for yourself so you don’t forget to show up! If you miss this one, you may not get a new appointment easily.
In my experience, it’s usually hit or miss in terms of English-speaking staff, so it might be better to bring that German-speaking friend if you don’t have some basic German skills down. But as long as you have your documents, you should be fine.
By the way — if for any reason you do end up missing your appointment, you can try your luck by showing up at the Bürgeramt as soon as they open their doors (usually around 8am) and grab a number. Bring it a book though, it may be awhile.
Step 4: Make your visa appointment
Right after you have your Anmeldung, you should sign up for your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde too.
Ausländerbehörde, which means “foreigners office” is a long, scary word that all foreigners living in Germany come to know and find mildly annoying. It’s where you’ll be heading to get your freelance visa.
Just like your Anmeldung, these appointments can be hard to come by, so it’s in your best interests to grab yours as early as possible.
Consider your appointment your deadline for all the following documents:
1. Visa Application Form + €50
You’ll submit this form and fee during your interview along with the rest of the documents.
2. (2) Biometric Photos
There are passport photo booths at U-Bahns all over Berlin. These are NOT biometric, so save yourself the grief of bringing the wrong photo size to your interview. There are shops all over town that offer biometric photos — get them done there.
3. Health Insurance
In Germany, most people are covered by public insurance. But since you’re a freelancer and a foreigner, the office will accept private health insurance, which you can easily obtain with Mawista. Their coverage is reasonably priced and pretty comprehensive. I even have dental insurance included on mine (Mawista Visum).
I chose to set the duration of my health insurance at one year, just so the visa office could see I was set up for a longer term instead of just a few weeks. No questions there.
Bring a CV to help you reference your professional or career experience. Mine was in English and it was just fine.
5. Cover Letter
It’s also helpful to bring a cover letter. My friends and I have had varying experiences with this — some interviewers simply don’t care, but remember you’re here to make a great impression. It doesn’t hurt to over prepare.
This part really counts too. You don’t have to be an artist to have a portfolio. If you manage websites, bring a print out of some of the pages you helped produce. If you write, bring your written work. If you’re a UX designer, bring your sketches and notes too.
Again, you want to sell yourself as a smart and competent professional to boost your chances of getting a visa.
8. Profit/Loss statement
This is less work than it seems. Simply put together a spreadsheet with your total expected revenues per month vs. your total expected expenses, including taxes, bills and business costs. This gives them a sense of your income, something they’ll use to judge whether you will be contributing to the economy here in Germany.
9. Printed Bank Statement
This is one of your most important documents. Your interviewer will look at your cash reserves to judge whether you’re a safe bet or a potential burden to the system. After all, your visa does not come with access to the social safety net here.
Try to get as much money as you can in here when you print out your bank statement ahead of your appointment.
10. 2–3 Statement of Work Letters
There’s a little confusion out there on what’s actually needed as far as work references. To be eligible for a freelance visa, you do not have to present work contracts or any formal documents. Rather, it’s enough to come with a couple of references from companies stating that they know you, that they’ve worked with you before, were pleased with the results and would work with you again in the future.
During my first appointment, my interviewer asked why I had no statements from German employers and declined to award me a visa until I could come up with some.
An immigration lawyer later told me that while it’s helpful to show statements German-based employers, this is NOT legally required. There’s a little bit of wiggle room for interviewers to come up with their own demands based on their temperament and all you have to do is push back.
Optional Step: Hire a Lawyer
Speaking of lawyers, should you hire one? It’s up to you. I went to my first visa appointment with a friend and failed to get the visa — partly my fault and partly due to a grumpy interviewer. (This can make all the difference, unfortunately.)
During my second interview, my lawyer handled everything, including the interviewer, and my visa was approved within ten minutes.
It’s not cheap, but if you can afford it and it puts you at ease, I say go for it.
Attend your visa appointment
Be sure to show up on time for your appointment and pay attention for your number to be called. If you miss it, your number won’t be called again until the end of the day — and that’s a big IF.
It’ll be the luck of the draw with your interviewer. Be sure to smile and be confident and warm no matter how they react to you. Be committed to making a great impression no matter what.
If you’ve brought a friend along, be sure to introduce them as your friend and translator. If you’ve brought an immigration lawyer with you, they’ll take the lead.
As you know by now, there are a lot of documents you need to bring with you. If anything goes wrong in your appointment today though — whether it’s an additional necessary document or something that isn’t quite right, your interviewer will most likely give you a visa extension to give you time to gather the appropriate docs for your next interview.
At least you don’t have to worry about your 90-day visa running out and leaving you in a tough spot.
So don’t stress. As long as you’ve prepared, you’ve done all that you can do.
Got yourself that visa? Congrats!
Depending on circumstances, your interviewer may decide to give you a visa on the spot. This is great news! They may give you anything from a 6 month to a 3-year visa, in which case you’re good to go until it’s time to renew.
If you’re a foreigner with a freelance visa, you are NOT eligible for:
- Unemployment money
- Full-time work/employment
Once you have your freelance visa, you can apply for a Tax ID (Steuernummer) and start invoicing clients. German taxes are pretty complicated though, so you should hire an accountant to help you navigate your options. As with all bureaucratic things in a foreign country, this isn’t something you want to mess up.
But that can wait until tomorrow. For now, you’ve got what you wanted. Relax and get yourself a beer. You’re officially a resident of Germany!
Nandini Jammi is a B2B copywriter and product marketing consultant based in Germany. Learn more here.