How to get a freelance visa in Germany is easily one of the most common questions that I receive by email from readers on this blog. A lot of people read my guide to getting a residency permit in Berlin, but that covers getting a basic work permit for people who have a job waiting for them in Germany.
But a lot of people want to move to Germany to freelance or start their own business, rather than getting a typical startup job in Berlin.
I’ve lived in Germany for almost 7 years. Nowadays, I live in Germany on a permanent residency visa and am self-employed. I also have a few friends who live in Germany as freelancers. So I thought it would be good to put together all my experience from talking with immigration lawyers, numerous tax advisors, and my friends at the Finance Office (Finanzamt) 😉
Read on for information about:
- Who needs a visa for freelancing in Germany?
- Freelancing vs. self-employment in Germany
- Which professions are recognized for freelancing in Germany
- Visa requirements for work visas in Germany
- Step by step: How to get a freelance visa for Germany
- More resources for getting a freelance visa in Germany
Disclaimer – This does not constitute legal advice. This guide is based on my experience and those of people I know who have been through the process. If you have specific legal questions surrounding your eligibility for a visa, the process, etc. do be sure to contact a qualified immigration lawyer in Berlin. You can find my recommendation at the end of this article.
Who needs a visa for freelancing in Germany?
Unless you’re a citizen of an EU or EEA country, you need a work visa in order to live and work in Germany. The specific visa that you’re going to need is the Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen oder selbständigen Tätigkeit.
Generally, these visas are issued for a specific amount of time (anywhere from 6 months to 3 years) and need to be renewed regularly. Your visa is tied to whatever profession that you apply to practice with the visa. For instance, if you apply to work as a software engineer, you can’t do that and also work as a freelance journalist.
Freelancing vs. Self-employment in Germany
This is the first and most important distinction you need to make for yourself. In a lot of countries, pretty much anyone can just be self-employed as a freelancer. You take clients, you issue invoices, you get paid, and you pay taxes.
However, in Germany there is a distinction between a freelancer (Freiberufler) and being self-employed (selbständig).
- Freelancer or Freiberufler – There are two main requirements you need to meet in order to be considered
a freelancer in Germany. First, you need to be practicing a so-called “liberal profession” (listed below),
AND you need to have a recognized university degree or comparable education or experience. The difficult part,
if you don’t have a degree, can be proving that “comparable education”. More on that later. The important thing
is that you will have higher taxes if you are working as a Gewerbe instead of a freelancer. So, if possible,
you probably want to be register as a freelancer.
- Self-employed or selbständig/Gewerbe – Basically, if you don’t qualify to be a freelancer, you are automatically a Gewerbe. This often includes selling physical products, commercial activity. Basically anything that you can’t derive from being a somehow intellectual practice (e.g. where you sell your services based on your knowledge such as consulting) but are involved in commerce. In many cases, your freelance activity may evolve into a commercial activity depending on how you practice it.
If you’re curious, this is the exact list of “liberal professions” recognized by Germany for freelancing:
The freelance work includes the self-employed scientific, artistic, writing, teaching or teaching work, the self-employed work of doctors, dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, notaries, patent attorneys, surveying engineers, engineers, architects, commercial chemists, auditors, tax consultants, advising people and business economists, sworn accountants, tax officers, naturopaths, dentists, physiotherapists, journalists, image reporters, interpreters, translators, pilots and similar professions. ( See the original German here )
Tangential topics to getting a freelance visa in Germany
There are a number of things you’ll need to do in the process, which is quite a lot list to include here. That includes:
- A valid tourist visa
- Getting an apartment in Germany
- Registering your address (Anmeldung)
- Open a German bank account
- Sign up for heath insurance (Krankenversicherung)
All of these things are prerequisites for applying for a freelance visa. Believe it or not, you can do all of these things without having a residency permit.
What’s important for you to know is that applying for a freelance visa can take 3-4 months, so the most important thing you can do is to prepare as much as possible BEFORE you arrive in Germany. You can even request an appointment before you arrive in Germany through the relevant Foreigner’s Office (Ausländerbehörde).
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get residency as a freelancer. Then we’ll look deeper at the specific process of applying for the freelance visa.
How to get a freelance visa in Germany
An important note is that many of these processes can be done in parallel, so you don’t necessarily need to wait for one item in this list to finish in order to move onto the next one.
For example, once you have a German address and have registered with the city, you can immediately open a bank account and get health insurance. You can also create your appointment to register your apartment or your visa appointment before the other paperwork has been completed, so as to secure your place in line.
In cities like Berlin, the wait time for such appointments can be very long, so booking them several weeks out may be necessary.
- Get a relevant tourist visa – Do double-check whether applying for a freelance visa can be done on a tourist visa based on your country of citizenship. For example, US citizens can apply from within the country, but Brazilians cannot. This is up to you to research.
- Make an appointment at the foreigner’s office – Most of these Ausländerbehörde have an online appointment system. Appointments are often booked out far in advance so try and schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
- Find an apartment in Germany – Make sure you get an apartment that will allow you to get an Anmeldung (city registration), because that is one of the most critical documents you’ll need to start a life in Germany.
- Register your apartment (Anmeldung) – Depending on the city, again these appointments can be very far out in the future. Make sure you bring all the required documents printed out, both originals and photo copies, and fill out the form in advance. Note that some cities may require you to bring the rental contract (Mietvertrag) and others, like Berlin, require a confirmation of moving in (Einzugsbestätigung). Check the requirements in your city. ( This is where you can book an appointment in Berlin, for instance)
- Get a German bank account – Make sure you get a bank account that will be located within Germany. I personally use N26 as my main German bank account.
- Get health insurance – One of the most popular options in Berlin is TK . I use a different provider but they’re more local.
- Attend your visa appointment – Bring someone with you who speaks German if you do not speak German yourself. Bring ALL your documentation, passport, originals. If you think you might possibly need something, bring it with you. If you can afford it, bringing an immigration lawyer is a great option. Missing a document or having a misunderstanding can cause serious delays or rejection of your application.
- Wait – How long you have to wait depends on the city you’re in and how many other people are currently in the queue for consideration.
- Receive your visa and begin working! – If all goes well, you’ll receive your visa as expected. Usually you’ll get a new appointment via email for pick up once your application has been accepted.
Ultimately, you will also need to register at the Finanzamt (Tax Office) in order to get your Steuernummer (Tax ID) so that you can pay taxes. Dealing with taxes as an expat in Germany is a whole different guide for another time 😉
If this entire process takes longer than the duration of your visa, you may need to apply for an extension of your visa in the mean time. You’ll then receive something called a Fiktionsbescheinigung. I’ve done this once before when I was too slow to apply for my initial visa, whoops! The main issue there is that on such an extension, you can’t leave the country.
Visa requirements for work visas in Germany
The most important thing you need to know about Germany is that German bureaucrats love paperwork. Unless you have a piece of paper to prove something, you might as well be lying to them. The other important thing to know is how rigid and inflexible the system can be. You need to have all of your documents PERFECT in order to appease the requirements. Do not bother if you do not have all the required paperwork
Documents for any work visa
These documents are required pretty much no matter which German visa you are looking to apply for, whether it’s the basic residency in Germany, the Blue Card, a freelance visa, self-employment visa, or permanent residency.
- Application Form – Called Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels
- Biometric Photo – You can take these in tons of passport photo machines in train stations in Germany, make sure to bring coins so you can pay for them.
- Valid Passport – The longer your passport is valid, the longer you have not to need to get the visa transferred to a new passport.
- Fee payment – Make sure you have a German EC card that will work in their payment machines or bring cash. The cost ranges from 56€ to 100€ (or up to 28.80€ if you’re a Turkish citizen)
- Rental Contract (Mietvertrag) – Needs to be the original document with all signatures.
- Proof of Health Insurance (Krankenversicherung) – This is NOT a copy of your insurance card or policy, you need to get a letter from your health insurance company that confirms your membership. You can call or email them and they will send you a very specific letter, just tell them you need it for the Foreigner’s Office.
- City registration (Anmeldung) – Again, should be the original version.
- Proof of pension plan (Altersversorgung) – Only applies if you are over 45 years old.
Additional documents for freelancers
- Finance Plan and bank statements (Kontoauszug)– You need to prove that you are earning money and will be self-sufficient. Payments from clients, deposits that come from parents, all of these things can show financial stability.
- Revenue Forecast (Ertragsvorschau)– Show exactly how much money you expect to earn, and include the costs of running your business and what business expenses you plan to have.
- Cirriculumn Vite (CV) and Cover Letter – Reinforce experience in the field you’re applying to work in. A cover letter is optional, but there’s a chance (in German) to explain your motivation for living and working in Germany. You can include letters of recommendation (again, ideally in German) from past clients.
- Diplomas and certificates – Did you ever think you’d need your college diploma? Guess what, bring this with you. The person at the foreigner’s office will look in the ANABIN database (click “Suche” to look for your institution).
- Two letters of intent from prospective clients – One of the most important things is that getting a freelance visa should be in the economic interest of the city you’re applying for the visa in. The letters (again, in German) should explain why they want to hire you, and what kind of work you’d be doing. You would still be able to work for non-local clients if you get the visa, but you should really have local clients for the application process.
- Current contracts - Samples of current contracts are a good idea, to demonstrate the kind of work you do and your fees.
- Work samples - If relevant, you can bring work samples with you.
Read the visa requirements for freelancers in Berlin. You always want to make sure you have at least one piece of paper for every bullet point in this list.
TIP – If you have existing supporting documents in another language and need them to be translated to German, you can use Lingoking to get certified translations into German. Whenever possible, do provide your documentation in German!
Additional documents for self-employment
If you’re going to be self-employed, or a Gewerbe in Germany, you need these additional documents:
Make sure that you provide this information in German if possible, again you can do that with a service such as Lingoking .
Read the visa requirements for self-employment in Berlin. Again, every single bullet point means at least one piece of corresponding paperwork. And yet again, get your documents translated into German if you do not speak German.
TIP – You can look for the IHK office in the city you plan to relocate to, and they may be able to help you with these documents. For proper consulting they will charge you, but they have a lot of expertise in the area. For example, the IHK Berlin .
More resources for getting a freelance visa in Germany
- German Freelance Visa Help – This is a Facebook group dedicated entirely to the purpose of helping people get freelance visas. You can ask people who’ve been through the process in different cities what variations there may be.
- Hire an immigration lawyer – Sometimes you just want to have the advice from a qualified professional. I’ve personally consulted with Jurati about visa questions in the past and regularly recommend them. They speak English and have affordable hourly rates, and as far as I know, can even handle the application process for you.