Are you a citizen of the United States with a burning desire to live in Germany? Can you see yourself drinking steins of beer eating pretzels?! Do you consider yourself a hardworking, disciplined individual? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, you need to read this Guide for the German Freelance Visa Application!
I am writing this post from my personal experience getting approved for the German freelance visa for Berlin. Applying for a German freelance visa in other cities may differ slightly.
If you are a freelancer, Berlin is by far the best German city for you to move to for a few reasons. The number one reason is that Berlin is among the least expensive cities with the most economic interest. Working as a freelancer and creating your own business in Berlin is much easier than in Munich. Berlin is also a melting pot for creatives and entrepreneurs. The city of Munich has mostly financial based companies.
If you are an artist, Germany has an artist visa that is relatively easy and straightforward to obtain. That visa is for one year on the first application. My post is going to focus on getting the self-employed freelancer visa.
German Freelance Visa Application Guide
Disclaimer: This is post is not legal advice. I can not guarantee if you follow these steps that you would be approved for a German Freelancer Visa.
My Timeline and Back Story
In February of 2017, I made the decision that I was going to make a serious plan to move abroad. I thought it was a good idea to choose Germany based on the research I did. From what I was reading, my German freelance visa application had the best chance for approval in Berlin.
My occupational field is Property Management / Interior Design. I have worked as a property manager and an interior design consultant for a Seattle-based company for many years. Upon moving, I was still an employee of this company. The deal was that I was going to become a freelancer when my visa was approved. So I had the challenge of arriving in Germany and making a freelancer out of myself. Somehow I needed to find German companies who thought it would be a good idea to work with an American. I was not exactly the typical candidate filling out a German freelance visa application. In general, Germany wants engineers, software/web development, UX designers, etc. I am not those things.
Read more: about me and my story of traveling in Europe, a single woman.
Arriving In Germany
I arrived in Berlin on September 4th of 2017 and started the process right away. The visa wasn’t approved until March 15th, 2018! That was approximately six months after arriving in Germany. It was a much longer waiting period than I expected.
Getting a freelance visa for Germany is a lot of work. More work than I was anticipating, but my success story should keep you reading. I am a hardworking single woman and did not attend college. My dedication to making this move work is what made this possible.
I also attribute the success in obtaining this freelance visa to the relocation agency I hired in Berlin. A combination of a detailed application and a highly competent agent, and I got approved!
The Complete German Freelance Visa Guide
What is the German Freelance Visa?
I don’t mean to insult your intelligence by implying you don’t know what a freelancer is. As I am sure you know, it is an individual that works independently, not fully employed by one company.
On the first application, the German freelance visa is approved from 1-2 years, and on the renewal, up to three years. You will only be allowed to work in Germany in the occupational field of work listed on your visa.
In Berlin, to apply for a freelance visa requires that you have more than one client. This doesn’t mean at the same time, but you shouldn’t have just one client for the visa duration. You will need to be confident that you can get business from a couple of German companies or individuals. Lastly, you must apply for a freelance visa with some potential German clients.
Moving to Berlin with US only clients is fine, but before applying, you must have German clients that will write you a letter stating their intent to work with you. After arriving in Germany, you should make it your priority to get these letters.
German Freelance Visa Categories
A brief description of freelance visa application requirements
Each of these categories is vital when freelancing in Germany. I recommend that you think about this move and all the work required for approval.
Moving to Germany was the best thing that I have ever done. For me, it was worth all the time, money, and energy that goes into it.
Step-by-Step German Freelance Visa Application
Letter of Intent From German Companies
A qualifying letter of intent is written by a potential client that says they would hire you if you have permission to work. This letter also has to be from a company that is in line with the clients you would have. Don’t get a letter of intent from a coffee shop saying they would hire you if you are a graphic designer.
The letter of intent must be written in German and should include basic information on why YOU are valuable to the company over a German citizen.
An example letter will be available at the end of this post.
Visa Application Form & Biometric Photos
You will need to complete the official application. As well as prepare a biometric photo. Getting the picture is probably the easiest part of this entire process.
The biometric photo has some specific requirements. But not to worry, if you go to any of the photo studios in Berlin and ask for a Visa application photo, they know what to do.
Here are the Photo Requirements.
A well thought out business plan is necessary when applying for the German Freelancer visa. If you are an artist, jewelry maker, or musician, you don’t need an extensive business plan. I would recommend a basic plan with information on how you will succeed in the Berlin market. If you are a UX designer or website designer, or any other professional computer-based, be prepared to submit a more in-depth business plan.
The business plan needs to be written in German. I would suggest you hire someone to do the rewrite. Using Google translate is not cut it, unfortunately.
It is best to find someone that is a native German speaker. I hired someone who spoke German but wasn’t a native. Before submitting, it had to be rewritten, which was a bummer. I suggest using Fiverr.com
Main Criteria in German Freelancer Business Plan
My 29-page business plan took a few MONTHS to complete. You want to go into detail about these main points:
- Every facet of what your job duties entail
- Why you are the best in your field
- What qualities you have that stand out to employers
- Why you are more qualified than a German
- Why German companies need YOU
You will need to give a brief market analysis of the economic field and why you are essential in this equation. Point out historical facts on the Berlin economy. Then include where it is going, why you can attribute to helping accelerate the growth.
Lastly, you need to present a clear picture of your finances and your financial projections for success.
Yes, this is an incredible amount of work. If you are feeling lost or overwhelmed, I feel you. It might help to have a look at my business plan as an example. It will be available in English at the bottom of this post.
Financing Plan & Bank Statements
How much money do I need to show on my bank statements when applying for this visa? There is no hard and fast rule on how much money is required, as no amount is listed in the requirements.
I have learned from immigration attorneys and relocation agents, having two years of living expenses is a good idea! Since you will need to show a detailed financing plan within your business plan, that should be your savings goal.
Expense Items Are:
- Health Insurance
You can use many sites to get an overall idea of what the living expenses are in a city. For Berlin, I used this site to gather information for my business plan.
And remember, the currency will be in Euro, so look at the exchange rate for your dollar. It can be a kick in teeth sometimes.
Obtaining a German Bank Account
Another requirement to fulfill is to open a German bank account. Before getting this account, you will need to be registered and have your Anmeldung (registration paper).
I had a relocation agent to help book an appointment to open a bank account. I suppose it was possibly something I could have done all on my own, but it was lovely to have someone to help me.
Private Health Insurance
Never live in Germany without Health Insurance. Germans value the adequately insured above all else. It is illegal to live here without it. When you are traveling to Germany, arrive here already covered. There are several Expat insurance companies with great options. These plans are perfect for the internment period before your visa approval. Those companies are:
All these private insurance companies I mention all have policies for freelancers that are acceptable choices. But, it would be best if you got insurance with a German Health Insurance provider. Such as Hanse Merkur, my insurer.
A little catch 22 here, though. You can’t be approved for insurance with this Hanse Merkur unless you have your residence title (your visa). So wait, the immigration office favors that you have a German insurer, but you can’t get this without a residence permit? Yes, that is correct.
My relocation agent set me up with an insurance agent, who helped me choose the insurer and get PRE-Approved for coverage—pending residence status, of course. The agent helped me through the entire process, from submitting the forms to sending me to a doctor to do the physical.
Proof of Pension
The German Freelance visa application requirement for people 45 and over includes proof of retirement pension.
Apartment Registration at Bürgeramt
Once you are residing in Germany, you need to register your apartment. Book an appointment online for your apartment registration. The owner of the unit you are registering must complete a form to bring to the Bürgeramt. The signature needs to be in blue or black ink, and you need your passport with you.
The agency I hired helped me with questions, made my appointment, and went with me to get it.
When applying for the freelance visa, you need to include the ‘Meldebescheinigung,’ ‘Wohnungsgeberbestätigung.’ This will be an official letter issued by the landlord confirming your residence. In addition to this letter, you will need a copy of your rental contract.
After you have registered your apartment you must submit papers with the tax office “Finanzamt” to get a tax number. This tax id number needs to be on the German Freelance Visa application.
It’s a good idea to have a professional review of these forms before submitting them. My agent helped me complete the official form “Fragebogen zur steuerliche Erfassung” to send to the Finanzamt. It took a few weeks to get my tax number. I would urge you to submit for this right after getting your apartment registered.
Cover Letter & Letters of Recommendations
A well-written cover letter, in German, is also a requirement. This letter should contain why I want to live in Germany and the economic interest it holds for you. It is a good idea to point out your ambition and love for the country. Maybe you have a long-distance heritage in Germany? If so, include it.
Along with a cover letter, you need a couple of letters of recommendation, translated into German, from past employers. These letters could also be from a politician or esteemed colleague. I have included these letters in my Freelancer Starter Kit.
Must You Speak German for the German Freelancer Visa Application?
The short answer is no. It is not a requirement to speak German to get a freelancer visa in Berlin. *However, there is an asterisk next to the word “however,” you should know some German.
If you plan to go to your first appointment at the Bürgeramt alone, which I don’t recommend, you need to speak some German. Imagine going to the DMV and not being able to speak English. You can imagine the level of patience and friendlessness of the people who work is bureaucratic establishments. It is not the kind of appointment you want to roll up underprepared.
How to Learn German From Abroad
Before moving, I dabbled with apps and some audiobooks on learning German. I wouldn’t say that it is a complete waste of time, but you can do better.
Lingoda is an online program that I wish was available before I moved. I am confident I would be further along in my German learning. Lingoda is so fantastic because you can go at your own pace. The trouble I had with classes in a classroom was finding the time every week. If you take courses from a school that meets weekly, you miss a class when you miss a class.
Lingoda is unique because if you miss class 1.2, you can find another time when course 1.2 is available. This way of learning gives you the freedom and control of your schedule! The classes are very affordable and worth the investment if you take learning another language seriously.
German Freelance Application Guide | Relocation Agent
I applaud anyone that attempts to navigate this process of getting a visa in Berlin on their own. It’s achievable, certainly not impossible. But, it comes down to your level of commitment, attention to detail, and frustration threshold.
Moving to any foreign country is not easy. I suppose if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There are many necessary steps you must take that often don’t make a lot of sense. If you are looking for logic, you won’t find it. That is just the way it is, and you have to accept this early on.
A requirement I found strange is before applying for the Freelancer visa in Germany, you must have a residence in Berlin. How is that? Must I move to the city before being approved for the residence permit? And, then find an apartment and register as a resident. Can’t I apply beforehand? No, you can not. Serious applicants only in Germany!
When I moved to Berlin, I compared it to jumping off a cliff. I had no idea if I would be approved. I had to make the leap and risk it all. Sound scary? Yes, it was. I rolled up into Berlin with my two small dogs and five suitcases. But, luckily, I had hired a relocation agency to help me with:
Reviewing My Business Plan
Having a professional look over your plan to ensure it includes all the key points needed for approval is a must.
Help Completing the Official Visa Application
Filling out official forms can always be a little stressful. It was very relieving to have someone familiar with the process review these.
Assistance Getting the Tax Id
Much like all the official forms required, it can be stressful doing it alone. Having that extra set of eyes ensures everything will be done correctly. The tax id is so important; you don’t want to make any mistakes.
Health Insurance Agent Connection
Getting private health insurance is a requirement. My agent was able to help me get the process started before arriving in Germany. She was able to connect me with a specialist that I would not have been able to find on my own.
Opening a Bank Account
So many things to do, it is beneficial to have a native German book the appointment.
Apartment Registration at Bürgeramt
When arriving in Germany from the United States, you may be overwhelmed with all the official business that needs to take place. I was so happy to have someone accompany me to this first appointment for apartment registration.
Benefits of Relocation Agents
When hiring an agency, it is crucial to ask if they have had similar cases to yours in the past. You don’t want to be the agency’s first freelance case at the immigration office.
Often agencies develop relationships with the people working in immigration, so you start with a competitive edge. This relationship won’t impact immigration but possibly can help when following up for the status. Having someone able to get in touch with someone at the foreign affairs office is worth it alone.
Part of my relocation package was assistance in registering my apartment in Berlin. I got an Airbnb for my first two months living in Berlin. Something essential to ask when setting up your accommodations is whether that apartment is registrable in your name with the city of Berlin. If it’s a sublet, and you can’t register it in your name, do NOT take it. Without having a place registered in your name, your visa will not be approved.
Paperwork Submission & Appointment Assistance
Getting a relocation agent was a no brainer for me. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate this process independently, even if I DID speak German. Having my agent complete all the forms I needed along with handling the submission, was priceless.
The real bang for my buck came when I had gone into to submit for the visa. The process of even getting an appointment is a stressful one. You make the appointment online, which sounds pretty straightforward, but nothing like this is.
The appointments always fill up so quickly, so you need to check daily and on the hour to hopefully to snag one as soon as they are released. The appointments are always a couple of months out. When you have an agent, they handle all this for you!
What to Expect When First Applying
The process of how submission generally works may soon be changing as a result of the pandemic. The process for me was to book an appointment to go to the Office of Immigration. At this first meeting, you are only handing in your documents in person. I felt like this could have been done more efficiently online. TIP: Don’t look for logic in these processes; you will get a headache.
On this day, you should receive a temporary extension that will supersede the 90-holiday visa that you likely came in on. They will issue this temporary visa and send your file to the Business Administration office for review. Once this office has its opinion on your business, they make a recommendation. Then immigration makes the final decision and gets in touch with you to come back for the answer.
Again, having an agency hold my hand through this process was very comforting. Moving abroad is a mix of emotions, and having someone be there for you is helpful.
Important Things to Consider | Berlin Freelancer Visa
- Until you have your visa, you are legally not allowed to work for any German companies. If you were freelancing with American clients, that is permitted.
- The freelancer visa is issued for no more than two years the first time. Up to 3 years the second time.
- The process from submission to visa approval can take up to 8 months or longer. Likely no faster than six months.
- Make it a priority to understand how this will impact your taxes owed. US citizens must file every year. You will get an exclusion of up to $104,000 for foreign earned income. If you make more than this annually, talk to an accountant. The tax rate in Germany is higher than in the US.
Residing in Germany
More good news, and I say “good news” sarcastically… There is a housing shortage in Berlin! Add that to the list of “should I do this?” If you have a decent budget for rent + utilities (upwards of 1200 euro per month), you might have an ok time finding a place alone.
Berlin is so competitive in terms of housing. Mainly because there are some incredible finds on rent prices. Those prices increase all the time, but finding a stunning apartment for around 800 euros a month is not unheard of. But the competition is fierce.
I would advise getting an agent. The same agency that helped me with my visa has an apartment finder package. I used this service and would highly recommend it. The agent will help you gather all your papers and set you up to look like the best candidate applying for the place.
Not to scare you, but sometimes there are 50 + people waiting to complete an application for the same apartment. Agents usually have a leg up on the individual people applying, owners do prefer to work with professionals, and if you don’t speak German, it isn’t easy.
Also included in this service is a tour of the different neighborhoods in Berlin. If you are moving with children, this service will help find the neighborhood you need.
Guide to Getting a Freelance Visa Berlin Starter Kit
When I started this process, I had no actual guide to what the hell I was doing. Having seen examples of what I needed before starting this process would have been a game-changer. Here is an opportunity to see what I submitted with my German Freelance Visa Application.
What is included in this kit?
- A PDF copy of my 29-page Business Plan (in English) + German version of Profit and Loss Statement
- 2 PDF copies of my letter of intent. In English
- PDF Copy of my Cover Letter. In English
- PDF Copy of my letter of recommendation. In English
- Certified Tax Consultant Contact Info
- 30-minute phone call with me to answer any questions about your personal freelance situation
- Email introduction to the relocation company I used
Freelancer in Berlin InfoProduct on sale
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