How I got the “German Freelance Visa” in Berlin, April 2017
*Updated January 2019 (health insurance requirements below)*
My experience, in grave detail of how I got my residence permit in Germany as a freelancer, aka “The German Freelance Visa”. The first half of this article walks you through an overview of the process, the 2nd half provides details of all requirements.
(I am preparing for my visa renewal, which I will document and paste the link here when it’s ready, so check back soon!)
Before we dig in, check out this nifty Info Pack that will help you prepare. It includes: your tasks upon arrival, visa requirements checklist, revenue plan (P&L), financial plan, an example letter of intent, and tons of resources: tax calculator, coworking spaces, networking, finding a flat, registering your address, bank accounts, expat communities and health insurance.
Now… congratulations, you’re about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of your life.
I set out to get the “German Freelance Visa” so that I could gallivant around the Schengen zone for as long as I wanted, low-key live in Barcelona, marry a Spaniard and live happily ever after.
I sold everything and moved without having ever been to Berlin, not knowing a single person or a lick of German. I was in Berlin — in the dead of winter — for 3 weeks before it sunk its teeth into me. I was never leaving and my life was forever changed.
Funny how that’s a common theme among travelers and expats.
As you’ve probably figured out, for non-EU citizens, staying in Germany (or most of Europe) for longer than 90 days requires a visa or residence permit.
But Germany is awesome and will give you the opportunity to come and contribute if you meet the requirements and gather all of the necessary documentation. Hooray!
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. Everyone’s experience and situation is different. I’ll link the professionals and resources that helped me along the way. **
Overview of my approach:
- Do your research
It’s good to know if you’ll qualify as a freelancer, an artist or a self-employed person.
It’s also important to know whether or not you can apply for the residence permit from within Germany or if you need to apply from your home country. You can find information regarding that here.
Everything I outline in this article applies to freelancers and artists applying from within Germany.
I recommend scheduling a coaching session with the visa coaches at Expath to figure out exactly where you fit in.
2. Find a flat & register as a resident
Once you move into your flat, you’ll need to officially register as a resident of your new address at the Bürgeramt (registration office). They will issue your Anmeldung.
This is a crucial step upon relocating to Germany. All of the articles on the internet will say that “you can’t move forward without doing this first”, but that’s not entirely the case. You can get a bank account, you can get health insurance, and you can start getting your shit together.
But you are not official in Germany unless you do this and you will definitely not get the visa without this.
I’m telling you this because it’s very likely that you’ll show up here, unable to find a long-term flat for a few months (in Berlin, at least), and you’ll start knocking other visa-related stuff off the list before you’re able to settle into your own flat.
Anyway, to register, bring your proof of residence:
- Rental contract
- Anmeldeformular (registration form)
- Wohnungsgeberbestätigung (landlord confirmation form)
- Consider bringing a German speaker
If you need assistance filling out the Anmeldeformular, you can fill it out in English through SympatMe. They’ll email you a copy of it along with a copy of the Wohnungsgeberbestätigung (landlord confirmation form) for your landlord to fill out.
As for registering at the Bürgeramt: You’ll need to go in person to your local Bürgeramt, or registration office, and submit your application form.
3. Open a bank account
I highly recommend N26 for your personal banking. Everything is managed in a mobile app and the card is contactless. They also offer business banking.
You should already know this but just in case: keep your business and personal income/expenses separated from the get-go.
For transferring money across borders use Transferwise.
4. Join coworking spaces
Now that you’re starting to get your shit together, you need to start networking. A crucial part of your application includes 2–3 letters of intent from potential future clients (which I will elaborate more on below).
The best way to get plugged into Berlin is by joining coworking spaces. As a freelancer, you already know that your coworking space becomes your second home when you finally find your tribe.
I’m equal parts home-body and noncommittal, so I also use this app called OneCoworking that allows me to try out all of the different coworking spaces around Berlin (and the rest of the world while I’m traveling).
After 8 months of flirting around I found my home at betahaus.
You should also attend meetups, startup events, art exhibitions, concerts, etc. There are bazillions every day in Berlin.
5. Make your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde (foreigner’s office) before your 90 days as a tourist are up
By this I mean, before your 90 days are up, go online and book your appointment. The earliest available date could be 4–8 weeks away.
I scheduled my appointment on day 35 out of 90 and the earliest available appointment was April 18th, 20 days after my 90 days expired… you follow?This is OK provided that you schedule the appointment before your 90 days are up.
You also have the option to show up at the Ausländerbehörde as a walk-in at 6am when it opens, but be prepared to be turned away if you already have a standing appointment.
6. Gather all of your documentation (listed below)
Before we dive into documentation, there is something you should think about..
To put it simply: this is German bureaucracy we’re talking about so you’ll need to fit inside of a box.
In other words, you need to know exactly what your “freelance profession” is going to be. Are you a writer? a translator? a designer? a developer? Pick your thing and stick with it. Your title needs to be consistent throughout your entire application. Consistency is key.
Otherwise your case worker might question or be confused by your application because you might fit into two boxes, or you might look more like a self-employed person.
If that’s the case, they’ll send your application off to the Bundesagentur für Arbeit for further review and you’ll wait in agony for up to 6 months.
Make it easy for them to approve you on the spot by... fitting in the box :)
*Also note that whatever freelance job title gets stamped on your passport is the only type of work you’re legally allowed to take on.*
Now for the fun part: documentation
- Proof of main residence in Berlin:
This is your Anmeldung and rental contract.
2. Health Insurance:
If you are afraid to get a long-term health insurance before you receive an answer, you can get travel health insurance for 3+ months. I got traveler’s insurance through World Nomads to cover me through the date of my appointment.
However, this does not fly as your form of health insurance for the visa application. You need something legit and tbh, German providers are preferred.
*Important Update: when you go in for your renewal, the expectation is that you’ve switched/are switching to a legit private health insurance company or that you’ve made it into the public system. The general consensus is to get into the public system via TK — and you can use this tool to get yourself signed up (it’s easy and in English). **
3. 2-3 “Letters of Intent” from potential future clients
These are letters from companies or individuals you’re going to work for.
As to whether or not they need to be from German companies is something you will get loads of mixed reviews on. Just know that letters from German companies, written in German, are preferred.
Also note that these letters are non-binding. They’re simply letters that state, I want to hire this person as a [insert your official freelancer job title] to work X hours per week for X months.
Make sure they’re not trying to hire you full time! I would personally keep it below 25 hours per week so that you can take on other clients.
Extra points if they state why they want to hire you. I asked mine to state that they want to work with me because of my education from X university where I completed X degree, or the fact that I have clients in X industry.
The best way to get these letters? Get plugged in. Join coworking spaces and get to know the local startups and small businesses. Make the connection and then just ask for it. In my experience they were more than happy to help, even if they end up not actually hiring you.
4. Bank Statement:
The more money in your account, the better.
5. The application form:
You will need to complete the Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels. You’ll find this on the official website in multiple languages. Fill it out and bring it with you to your appointment.
6. Revenue Forecast:
Fill out this sheet to show what your expected income and expenses will be over the next 3 years. You can find this linked at the bottom of the official website.
Profit & Loss Excel Sheet — not required but also not a bad idea:
Create a basic spreadsheet showing your expenses and revenues for the next 12–36 months. Don’t forget to include 19% income tax and your health insurance.
7. Finance Plan:
This is a sheet you’ll fill out that states exactly how much money you’ve got. Obviously you should have bank statements and other documents to back up the numbers you fill in here. You can also find this linked at the bottom of the official website.
8. Cover Letter:
Write one page about yourself, what you do, your professional background and why you’re here.
It’s also a good idea to include your game plan for how you plan to find work and networking events you’ve been attending, coworking spaces you’ve joined, etc.
They might not read it but if they ask you for it you’ll be glad you have it.
You’ll need to write out in detail all of the relevant client’s you’ve worked with and projects you’ve worked on.
10. Diplomas and/or Certificates:
If you possess a degree or certificate related to your profession bring the original(s). It’s not a bad idea to bring your diplomas either way.
11. Letters of recommendation from past clients:
My case worker asked for these during my appointment. I asked 5–6 previous clients write letters of recommendation for me.
Remember above where I mentioned that your freelancer’s job title needs to be consisted throughout your application? Keep that in mind here. Make sure they’re using the same title that you’re applying with.
12. Printed Portfolio:
Bring at least 5 printed work samples. They’re not gonna check out links to your latest projects.
13. Biometric Photos:
You’ll find a machine at the Ausländerbehörde. It costs around 6 € and get 4 biometric photos in the standard size.
If you have a resting bitch face then having your picture made should be a breeze.
The day of your appointment
Show up at the Ausländerbehörde 20 minutes before your appointment time, chill out and wait for your translator to arrive.
Bring cash with you, as you’re going to have to pay 58€–110€.
The interview itself will take no more than 10 minutes if you have all of your documentation ready and organized.
And then a few things could happen:
- You’ll be approved or rejected on the spot
- You’ll be asked to provide more documentation
- Your application will be sent off to the Bundesagentur für Arbeit for further review and you’ll receive a decision in up to 3 months
Taking the Leap
The hardest part of this entire experience was getting on the flight to Europe having no idea if I’d sink or swim when I got here.
Do your research, save your money and then jump.
I highly recommend scheduling a visa coaching session with Expath.de while you’re still at home in research mode. They’ll be able to answer a ton of questions and give you advice based on your specific situation.
The up-to-date knowledge and guidance you’ll get from them cannot be found browsing articles on the internet.
Thanks for reading :) If you enjoyed this article, hit the clap button. It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.
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