To be self-employed in Germany, you will need a so-called Germany Freelancer Visa.
This type of visa has risen in popularity in recent years, although the road to getting one is a long and often frustrating process of German bureaucracy.
What is a German Freelancer Visa?
As the name suggests, the German Freelancer Visa allows you to live in Germany and work as a freelancer. The overall “visa” is divided into two components:
- Freelancer (Entry) Visa. This is a National (D) Visa, which you have to apply for at the German Embassy where you live. This is only valid for a few months, but you need it so you can enter Germany and let the immigration authorities know you are entering with the purpose of working. Once in Germany, you trade the visa in for a Freelancer Residence Permit.
- Freelancer Residence Permit. This is what allows you to actually live and work in Germany long-term. You have to apply for the Freelancer Residence Permit at the Ausländerbehörde (German Immigration Office) after you arrive in Germany with the entry visa. Once you get the Freelancer Residence Permit, you no longer need the visa.
Types of Germany Freelance Visa
There are two types of Freelance Visas for Germany that you can apply for, based on your occupation:
- Visa for freelance employment (Freiberufler). You can receive this type of visa if you have an occupation that will have a positive impact on German culture and economy, such as an artist, writer, self-employed doctor, engineer, language teacher, interpreter, auditor, or architect.
- Visa for self-employment (Selbständiger). You can receive this type of visa if you are a company founder, a sole proprietor, or managing director/legal representative of a partnership or corporation and:
- There is an economic interest in Germany for your profession/business.
- Your profession/business will have a positive impact on the German economy.
- You have financed your profession/business through equity or a loan commitment.
Who Can Apply for a Germany Freelancer Visa?
Technically, everyone who fulfills the prerequisites and has an eligible profession can apply for a German Freelance Visa. You are considered a freelancer if you conduct independent scientific, artistic, literary, teaching, or educational activities. This includes, but is not limited to, the following professions:
- Patent attorneys.
- Commercial chemists.
- Tax consultants.
- Advisory people.
- Business economists.
- Sworn accountants.
- Tax agents.
- Photo reporters.
- Other similar professions. See the definition of self-employed individuals, as per Section 18 of the German Income Tax Act here.
Prerequisites for a German Freelance Residence Permit
Before you get a Germany Freelance Permit, you must comply with the following prerequisites:
- There must be an economic interest or a regional need for your profession.
- You must prove that there are clients interested in working with you. Your prospective clients have to write letters of intent, proving they plan to hire you. This is not a work contract, just a letter showing interest in your services or work.
- You must prove that you have enough money to live comfortably in Berlin. At least €9,000/year.
- You must have legal residence in Germany. You have to find accommodation and register your address at a local registration office, known as Bürgeramt.
- You must have an adequate pension plan if you are over the age of 45. This means that by age 67, you must have either:
- A monthly pension of €1,332.36 for a minimum of 12 years; or
- Assets amounting to at least €194,631.
How to Get the Germany Freelance Visa?
To get the Germany Freelancer visa, you need to:
- Apply for a Freelancer Visa at a German Embassy.
- Travel to Germany.
- Find accommodation in Germany and register your living address.
- Register with the Tax Registration Office (Finanzamt).
- Get health insurance.
- Apply for a Residence Permit for Freelancing.
Applying for a Freelancer Entry Visa
To apply for a Freelancer Visa, you have to contact the nearest German Embassy. You must request a National (D-Type) Visa for working or freelancing. The application process is naturally different in each Embassy, but generally, you should follow these steps:
- Locate the nearest German Embassy or Consulate. You can find the German missions abroad listed here.
- Make an appointment.
- Collect the required documents. Some of the documents are listed below, but keep in mind that each Embassy may have its own specific requirements.
- Submit the documents on the date of your appointment. You may also have to enter a visa interview on the same day or at another time, as per the Embassy rules.
- Pay the visa fee. You have to follow the instructions of the Embassy regarding payment of the visa fee. It can be online, through a bank transfer, or cash.
- Wait to hear back. It can take several weeks to three months for your visa application to be processed.
- The Freelancer Visa you receive at the Embassy is valid for three months, during which you have to enter Germany and apply for a residence permit, which then replaces the visa.
- If you are from the USA, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, or South Korea, you can simply travel to Germany, get your accommodation, health insurance, and Tax Office registration settled, then apply for a Freelancer Residence Permit at the Ausländerbehörde. You do not need an entry visa.
Once you have your Freelancer Visa, then you can travel to Germany. This is when you can make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde and start preparing your documents. One of the main things you need to do is find potential clients who can support your application (if you haven’t already done so).
You also have to find a permanent place to live, register your living address, get health insurance, and register your freelance activity with the tax office. See these in more detail below.
Registering Your Living Address
One of the most important requirements of a Freelancer Visa is having a registered living address in Germany. The procedure of registering your residence is called Anmeldung. What you have to do is:
- Find a place to live. You can also find accommodation before you travel to Germany, but you have to register your living address within 14 days of moving in.
- Make an appointment at the local Resident’s Registration Office (Bürgeramt). Depending on the specific Registration Office, you could do this online without having to visit the office in person.
- Prepare the following documents:
- Your passport.
- The registration form. You can download this online or get it at the Registration Office.
- Rental agreement.
- Confirmation of moving in from your landlord. The confirmation must contain the landlord’s name and address, your move-in date, and your new apartment’s address.
- Civil status documents, such as birth or marriage certificates.
- Submit the documents (in person) at the Bürgeramt on the date of your appointment.
- Wait to get your Meldebescheinigung. This is the document confirming your residence registration, and you usually get the certificate on the same day.
- Wait to receive a Tax ID number. You need this number to register your freelance activity with the German Tax Office. This process could take a few weeks, so make sure to start the application process as early as you can.
Registering with the Tax Office
To begin freelancing, you have to register with the German Tax Office (Finanzamt) and declare your freelance activity or business and get a freelance tax number (Steuernummer). To do this, you have to:
- Complete the Questionnaire for Tax Collection (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung)*. You can complete this form online, via the website of the German Ministry of Finances (Bundesministerium der Finanzen) or you can request it from the Finanzamt. You should have the following information at hand:
- Your Tax ID Number. The one you received when you registered your address.
- Your bank information.
- A detailed description of your freelance activity or business.
- Find the local Finanzamt (Tax Office). Make an appointment, if one is required.
- Send the questionnaire to the Finanzamt in person. You may also be able to mail it, depending on the specific office.
- Wait to receive your freelance tax number (Steuernummer). It could take a few weeks, and you should receive it via mail.
*If you are a business owner: You have to register your business and get a license at the local Trade Office (Gewerbeschein) before you complete the Questionnaire for Tax Collection.
Registering with the tax office can be quite daunting and complex, especially for freelancers who have no experience with the German tax system. That’s why it is advisable to consult with tax professionals, such as Sorted, to assist you on these matters. They can assist you in preparing all the necessary tax reports, issuing invoices and submitting them to the tax office. You can also manage your taxes through Kontist.
Why submit your taxes through certified tax professionals?
- Sorted is a leading Germany-based company with a strong backing of serious investors.
- They cover the entire tax needs for the vast majority of the freelancers and self-employed professionals in Germany.
- Sorted supports you if you have domestic clients or even outside of Germany.
- With Sorted, you register as a freelancer, do your bookkeeping and submit yearly tax reports for free, until your revenue meets a certain amount or obtain clients in the EU.
- You can submit your tax reports electronically to the Finanzamt through Sorted. Sorted is connected directly to the Finanzamt through their official software provider, ELSTER.
Getting Health Insurance
Before you apply for the Freelancer Residence Permit, you likely have to get some sort of private insurance plan because statutory insurers might not accept to enroll you.
If you have applied for a visa to enter Germany, you should already have a health insurance plan, but it might not be sufficient to apply for the Freelancer Residence Permit. So for the period of time from entry to Germany and until you receive the permit, you have to get an expat health insurance plan for freelancers Germany, which is private.
Then, once you have gotten the residence permit and are considered a full, legal resident of Germany, you can enroll under whichever type of plan you choose, public or private.
Applying for the Freelancer Residence Permit
Once you have all the necessary certificates and tax numbers, you can finally apply for a Freelancer Residence Permit. The process is as follows:
- Book an appointment with the Ausländerbehörde (Immigration Office).
- Collect all the required documents. Including your Residence Registration Certificate,
Freelance Tax Number, and letters from prospective employers.
- Show up on the date of your appointment and enter the interview.
- Wait to receive your visa. The processing time changes between states, so it can be anywhere from one to twelve months.
The Ausländerbehörde authorities will ask to see whether you have job prospects in Germany – at least two. Your potential clients will have to write a letter attesting to the fact that they plan to hire you for your services.
Once you have gotten the Freelancer Residence Permit (the last step on the visa process), you can start working.
Health Insurance for Freelancers in Germany: Statutory or Private?
There are two types of health insurance in Germany: public and private. Freelancers in Germany have the option to opt-out of public health insurance and get a private insurance plan instead. Private insurance is often an appealing option for self-employed individuals, especially if they are young and healthy because the cost can be lower than that of statutory insurance.
Why? Well, under German law, for public insurance, you have to pay a monthly contribution which is about 14.6% to 15.6% of your monthly income. If you are employed, you pay half the contributions and your employer pays the other half.
But, as a freelancer, you have to pay all your contributions yourself, to a maximum of approximately €400/month. This is why many freelancers opt-out of statutory insurance and get a private insurance plan, which will cost less.
Required Documents for Freelancer Visa
The documents you have to submit at the Ausländerbehörde when applying for a Freelancer Visa for Germany include:
- Your passport.
- Passport-size picture of yourself. It must be recent and follow the Germany visa photo requirements.
- Application form for Freelance Residence Permit (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels).
- Your income estimation.
- Letter of Intent for Collaboration. Your prospective clients (you need at least 2) should write a letter, confirming they plan to collaborate with you once you get the visa. This is only necessary if you will work on a fee basis.
- If you will work as an artist and language teacher: Proof of regular income. Such as from your own savings, regular transfer, or by submitting a “declaration of obligation” from a third party.
- Health insurance. Statutory health insurers may not agree to enroll you without a visa, so you may have to get a private insurance plan initially.
- Certificate of Address Registration in Germany.
- Your rental lease and confirmation from your landlord (if applicable).
- Proof of home ownership (if applicable).
- Proof of retirement plan (if you are over the age of 45). This can be your own savings, pension rights, operating assets, or proof of a private pension or life insurer.
- Your CV.
- If you are a university graduate: Proof of degree from a recognised university or training institution.
- If you will work as a company/business owner:
- Your business plan.
- Your financing plan.
- Registration with the Trade Register.
- Letter from your university, confirming that the knowledge you acquired in university is relevant to your business idea.
- You will have to submit many of these documents to the German Embassy in your country as well when you apply for the entry visa.
- The documents have to be in German or English. If they are not, you must have them translated.
Freelance Visa Fees
You have to pay two visa fees when applying for a Freelancer Visa:
- The Embassy fee: €75
- The Ausländerbehörde fee: €100 (€28.80 for Turkish citizens)
Can Students Freelance in Germany?
International students (non-EU) cannot freelance as part of their Student Visa. However, if you find prospective employers and meet all the other self-employment prerequisites, then you can apply for a Freelancer Visa at the Immigration Office, following the same procedure as everyone else.
What If I am Already in Germany?
If you are in Germany with another type of Residence Permit or with a long-stay visa for working purposes, then you can apply for a Freelancer Visa at the German Immigration Office (Ausländerbehörde). You have to meet all the prerequisites that make you eligible for freelancing.
However, you cannot apply for a Freelancer Residence Permit if you are in Germany with a tourist visa or other short-term visa. If you are in Germany as a tourist, you will have to return home and re-apply for the appropriate visa which is a National D-type visa for employment.