How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

Moving to Germany on a German freelance visa is a surprisingly straightforward and predictable process. Here's how it's done.

The German freelance visa allows you to be self-employed in Germany. This guide tells you everything you need to know about obtaining this visa: the required documents, the interview process, and what the visa allows you to do.

Useful German vocabulary

Before you start reading, you need to understand a few words of German, since we use those words a lot in this guide.

  • Anmeldung: The act of registering your address in Germany. You need to do this as soon as you move in.
  • Aufenthaltstitel: Residence permit. Although we use the term "visa" a lot in this guide, we are always talking about the Aufenthaltstitel. This is a sticker that is added to your passport. It looks like this.
  • Ausländerbehörde: The foreigners' registration office. They are responsible for giving or renewing German visas and residence permits. Your visa interview takes place there.
  • Bürgeramt: The citizens' office. They are responsible for all sorts of things: address registrations, driving licences etc.
  • Finanzamt: The tax office. They are responsible for everything tax-related.
  • Freiberufler: Freelancer, a category of self-employed worker. This title does not apply to all freelancers, only those with specific professions. See this guide for more details.
  • IHK: The Berlin Chamber of Commerce. This official entity provides advice and courses on starting a business in Berlin.
  • Gewerbetreibende: Tradesman, a category of self-employed worker. See this guide for more details.
  • Meldebescheinigung: The certificate you get when registering your address in Berlin. This confirms you live at a certain address.

Who needs a visa to freelance in Germany?

You need a visa to freelance in Germany if:

  • You are not a citizen or a permanent resident of the European Union
  • You want to be self-employed in Germany. This means freelancing or running your own business in Germany.

You do not need a visa to freelance in Germany if:

  • You are a citizen or a permanent resident of Germany
  • You are a citizen or a permanent resident of the European Union
  • Your current visa allows you to freelance (look for this line on your residence permit)

If you already have a visa in Germany, but aren't allowed to be self-employed, you can apply for a freelance visa in addition to your current visa. See below for more details.

The German freelance visa requirements

The freelance visa requirements vary depending on your country of origin and the nature of your work.

Before applying, you must know whether you are a freelancer (Freiberufler) or self-employed (Selbständiger). In general, if you are working alone and selling services, you are probably a Freiberufler. If you sell physical products or plan to hire employees, you are probably Selbständiger.

For tradespeople (Gewerbetreibende)

If you are a Gewerbetreibende, you must meet these requirements to get a German freelance visa1:

  1. There is an economic interest or a regional need for your business. The regional part is important, and you might not get a freelance visa if all your clients are in another country1.
  2. Your business is expected to have positive effects on the economy.
  3. You have personal capital or an approved loan to realize your business idea.

Essentially, you need to prove that you can support yourself after moving to Germany. During your interview, they will look at the feasibility of your business idea, the capital investment it requires, the effects on employment, and your contribution to innovation and research1. The better you prepare, the easier this interview will be.

For freelancers (Freiberufler)

If you are a Freiberufler, the visa requirements are the same, but some documents are not required for your visa interview. See the required documents section below for more details.

For students

There is a small exception for people studying in Germany and applying for a freelance visa:

A foreigner who has successfully completed his studies at a state or state-recognised university or a comparable educational institution in the federal territory or who holds a temporary residence permit as a researcher or scientist in accordance with Sections 18 or 20 may be issued a temporary residence permit for self-employment purposes by way of derogation from subsection 1. The envisaged self-employment must demonstrate a connection to the knowledge acquired during the higher education studies or the research or scientific activities.Source

In plain English: if you study in Germany, you can obtain a freelance visa without having to prove there is an economic interest for your work, as long as it's related to what they are studying.

For people who already have a German visa

If you already have a German residence permit, but can't be self-employed in Germany, you can apply for a freelance visa in addition to your current visa1. This allows you to freelance as a student1, or to have a side business as a full-time employee.

For people over 45 years old

If you are older than 45, you also need to prove that you have adequate preparations for retirement1.

You must prove that you are on a private pension plan that guarantees1:

  • 1131.52€ per month for at least 12 years by the time you are 67 years old
  • or at least 162 939€ worth of assets1 by the time you are 67 years old

The freelance visa application process

The complete list of requirements for the German freelance visa in English is on berlin.de. This section only clarifies some of those requirements.

Step 0: Know if you are a freelancer

Some employers hire "freelancers" to avoid paying social and healthcare contributions for their employees. This is called Scheinselbstständigkeit, or "fake self-employment", and it's illegal1, 2. Kathleen Parker from Red Tape Translation wrote an excellent article about Scheinselbstständigkeit and its consequences.

You also need to know whether you are a freelancer (Freiberufler) or self-employed (Selbständiger). Self-employed applicants need to bring more documents to their visa interview.

Step 1: Move to Germany

Depending on your country of origin, you may be allowed to stay in Germany for up to 90 days without a Schengen visa (also called a Schengen visa). You can also get a Job Seeker Visa and stay in Germany for up to 180 days.

If you can, start looking for accommodation before you come to Germany. You cannot get a freelance visa without a residence in Germany, and the Berlin rental market is extremely competitive. The sooner you start, the better.

Related guides:

Step 2: Make your visa appointment

The next step is to get an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. For the freelance visa, you must visit the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde, not the Keplerstraße one1.

You must book your appointment as soon as possible, because it could be 3 months in the future. You can also queue outside early in the morning and visit the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment.

If you can't get a visa appointment before your Schengen visa expires, you can allegedly stay in Germany until the date of your appointment. There is a lot of contradicting information about this from Ausländerbehörde employees, relocation lawyers and bloggers. The official answer is that no, you can't extend a Schengen visa like thatGo to the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment, it's much safer.

Before you show up to your appointment, make sure you have all the required documents. We explain these requirements below.

Related guides:

Step 3: Open a bank account

You will need a bank account to find an apartment in Germany, to print a bank account statement, to register your business with the Finanzamt, and to pay for your visa application fees.

This step can be tricky:

  1. You can't open a German bank account without a Meldebescheinigung
  2. You can't get a Meldebescheinigung without an apartment
  3. You can't get an apartment without a bank account

The easiest way around this is to open an N26 account. This bank does not require a Meldebescheinigung, so you can open a bank account as soon as you arrive in Germany. Some banks will also let you open an account if you bring them the Meldebescheinigung later.

Related guides:

Step 4: Register an address in Germany

Before you apply for the German freelance visa, you must register a residence in Germany and obtain a Meldebescheinigung.

Registering your address is simple: 

  1. Book an appointment at the Bürgeramt for Anmeldung einer WohnungYou can go to any Bürgeramt in Berlin.
  2. Fill the Anmeldung form, gather the required documents, and bring everything with you to your Anmeldung appointment.
  3. Receive the address registration confirmation (the Meldebescheinigung) at the end of your appointment.
  4. Bring the Meldebescheinigung to your visa interview. This is the proof that you live in Germany.

The Anmeldung requires a confirmation of occupancy from your landlord (Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers)1. This means a hotel room or a vacation apartment is not enough. You need a real residence in Berlin to get a Meldebescheinigung.

If you can't do your Meldebescheinigung on time, you can bring your rent contract and the Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers from your landlord instead1.

Related guides:

Step 5: Gather the required documents

See the "Required documents" section below for detailed information about the documents you must bring to your freelance visa appointment. If you need help with the paperwork, look at the "Need help?" section below.

Step 6: Go to your visa interview

Your interview will likely be in German. If you don't speak German, bring an interpreter with you. If you can afford it, bring an immigration lawyer.

If you are well-prepared, the interview should only last a few minutes1. If you are missing some documents and your current visa expires soon, do not panic. The interviewer can extend your current visa with a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This will give you time to reapply.

Step 7: Receive your freelance visa

A few weeks to a few months later1, you will receive a letter that tells you to get your visa from the Ausländerbehörde1.

Your visa will be valid for a period between 6 months and 3 years12. You can apply for a visa renewal when it's about to expire, as long as you still meet the requirements.

Your visa only allows you to work in specific fields. If you apply for a freelance visa as an IT specialist, you can't open a cupcake shop. You will need to reapply for the visa.

Step 8: Start your business

Once you have your visa, you still have some work to do before you can run a business in Germany.

  1. If you are a Gewerbetreibende, you must get a Gewebeschein from the municipality. If you are a Freiberufler, this is not necessary.1
  2. You must declare your business to the Finanzamt by filling the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung. This is how you get a Steuernummer, a VAT number, and an entry in the trade register. Everyone who runs their own business must do this.
  3. You must make sure your website follows the German and European Union regulations. There are lots of little rules that expose you to legal problems.
  4. It's a good idea to get professional liability insurance (Gewerbehaftpflichtversicherung) to protect yourself against lawsuits.

Related guides:

Required documents

The following documents are required when applying for a German freelance visa. This information comes from the official page on Berlin.de, with clarifications from various sources.

Basic documents

  • Freelance visa application form, filled (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
    Templatedetailed guide
    This form is available in German, English, French and Italian. For instructions on how to fill this form, see this guide. This is only required if you apply for the first time1.
  • 2 biometric photos
    Detailed guide
    You need two 35 x 45mm biometric pictures. There are many ways to get biometric photos in Berlin, including from the photo booth at the Ausländerbehörde1.
  • 28 to 100€ for the visa application fees
    The Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde only accepts Girokarte and cash1, no credit cards. The visa application fee is between 28€ and 100€1. Bring 120€ or more in cash, just to be sure.
  • Proof of health insurance coverage
    Detailed guide
    Health insurance coverage is mandatory in Germany. As a freelancer, you can choose between public and private insurance. You must bring written proof from the health insurance company that it fulfills the statutory requirements under Article 257 par. 2a SGB V1. In plain English, this means that your health insurance coverage must be approved by BaFin and work in Germany1. Expat insurances like Care Concept are good to get your visa, but they're not the best idea in the long term. If you can, get proper health insurance from a German insurer.
  • Proof of residence in Berlin (Meldebescheinigung)
    Detailed guide
    This is the Meldebescheinigung you received when you registered your address in Berlin (the Anmeldung). If you lost it, you can ask for a replacement. A rent contract and a written confirmation of occupancy from the landlord (Einzugsbestätigung des Vermieters) also works1, 2.

Professional information

  • 2 or more recommendation letters
    Some interviewers will ask for letters of recommendation. These are letters from your previous employers, clients or professors that recommend you for your work. The letters must recommend you for the profession you are getting a visa for.
  • CV or resume
    Bring a resume to help you reference your professional experience. Make the resume relevant to the visa you are applying for. Don't include irrelevant experience or summer jobs here. The resume can be in English.
  • Cover letter
    Some interviewers simply don’t care about your cover letter, but it's good to have one.
  • Portfolio / examples of your work
    You must demonstrate that you can do your job. Bring samples of your previous work. You must be able to show your work during the interview, so links to a website will not work.
  • Professional permit (if applicable)
    If you need a permit to perform your profession (for example, law or medicine), bring it to your interview.

Proof of self-sufficiency

  • Bank statement (Kontoauszug)
    This proves that you have enough savings to sustain yourself. The more money you have in your account, the better.
  • Revenue forecast / profit and loss statement
    Example 1 - example 2detailed guide
    Make a spreadsheet with your expected monthly revenue and expenses. This will help the Ausländerbehörde judge whether you will contribute to the German economy. Here is an example profit/loss statement from Cat Noone. You can also use the official form.
  • Proof of adequate pension plan
    If you are over 45 years old, you need to prove that you have adequate preparations for retirement. See the "German freelance visa requirements" section above for more details. Proof of a pension plan is not required for these nationalities: Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and the United States of America1.

Business strategy

  • Business plan (not required for freelancers)
    Detailed guide 1 - detailed guide 2
    In order to get a German freelance visa, you must prove that there is an economic interest or a regional need for your services. In your business plan, you must highlight how you plan to find work and grow your business1. This document is a summary of the company profile, capital requirement plan, business concept and financing plan. You can write your business plan in English or in German.
    • Company profile (not required for freelancers)
      Template
      This document gives all the important information about your company: official proof of its existence, names of managing directors, total equity, annual turnover, official business address in your city, official function etc1. The company profile can be in English or in German1.
    • Capital requirement plan (not required for freelancers)
      This document details all the expenses you plan for starting your business: equipment purchases, real estate, licensing fees, vehicle fleet etc.
    • Business concept (not required for freelancers)
      This document contains the industry, the target customers, marketing and sales strategy and the market forecasts of your company.
  • Financing plan / Capital budget (Finanzierungsplan)
    Template - detailed guide
    This document details how you plan to finance your business. In this document, you must list your liquid funds, tangible assets, loans, venture capital etc.1
  • 2 or more letters of intent
    Template - detailed guide
    These are letters are statements from potential clients that they want to hire you in the future. They are not contracts; they only show that some people have the intention to hire you. These letters are not listed in the requirements, but they are really important12. They prove that you will have enough work to support yourself. Letters of intent in German and from German companies are preferred12. Signed contracts are even better.

Need help with your visa application?

If you are not sure about the freelance visa application process, you can call the "Working and Living in Germany" hotline. This is an official hotline that helps people settle in Germany. They offer help in English and in German. The Berlin Chamber of Commerce (IHK) also offers help in English by phone, by email and in person.

If you still need help, there are other resources. For instance, this Facebook group can answer some of your freelance visa questions. The Berlin Freelancers Facebook group can also help you.

You can also look at our list of English-speaking relocation consultants and our list of English-speaking lawyers to find professional help.