How to apply for a German freelance visa

The freelance visa is a residence permit for self-employment in Germany.

With a freelance visa, you can…

The artist visa and the language teacher visa are the same thing as the freelance visa.8 The application process is the same.

This guide explains how to apply for a freelance visa in Berlin or in your country. In other German cities, the application process can be different.

Who needs a freelance visa?

The freelance visa is a type of residence permit. You need a residence permit to live in Germany if you are not a citizen or permanent resident of the EU, EEA or Switzerland.

Who needs a residence permit ➞

Your current residence permit might allow self-employment. Look for these lines on your Zusatzblatt:

If your work visa or Blue Card allows self-employment, you can freelance part-time. To freelance full-time, you need a freelance visa.16

Freelance visa requirements

To get a freelance visa, you need…18

  • A local economic interest
    You must have clients in Germany or support the German economy.71 This is very important. If you don’t plan to have clients or employees in Germany, you might not get a freelance visa.68
  • Enough income
    You must make enough money to support yourself. In Berlin, your income must be higher than your rent + your health insurance + 563€ per month before taxes.53 The minimum income is different in other cities.
  • Self-employed work
    You must be self-employed.73 You can’t be an employee with social benefits. Fake self-employment is not allowed.3 If you only have one client, you might not get a freelance visa.
  • Permission to do this job
    You must have all the permits and special qualifications needed for the job.12 For example, doctors, engineers and lawyers need special qualifications. – Find the requirements for your profession

If you are over 45 years old, and you are not a citizen of Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey or the United States, you must have…58

  • A private retirement pension
    It must guarantee 1,503.34€ per month for at least 12 years when you are 67 years old.59
  • or a public pension
    If you are entitled to a public pension in Germany, Australia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, India, Israel, Japan, Canada, Kosovo, Morocco, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey or the United States. You are entitled to a public pension in Germany if you already made 5 years of public pension payments.60
  • or 216,481€ in business assets

You do not need to speak German to get a freelance visa.27

You do not need a degree, except if your profession requires one. For example, you can’t be a freelance lawyer without a law degree.12 – Find the requirements for your profession

Freelance visa alternatives

Your current residence permit might allow self-employment:

  • Work visa or Blue Card
    Look on your Zusatzblatt. Your work visa or Blue Card might let you work and freelance at the same time. Check your work contract; you might need permission from your employer to freelance.21 To freelance full-time, you need a freelance visa.
  • Student visa
    Your student visa does not allow self-employment by default.54 In Berlin, some student visas already allow self-employment.72 You can get permission from the Ausländerbehörde to study and freelance at the same time.2
  • Other residence permits
    Look on your Zusatzblatt to see if self-employment is allowed.
  • Permanent residence or EU citizenship
    You can already be self-employed. You don’t need a freelance visa.

More residence permit options ➞

How to apply in Berlin

You can apply for a freelance visa after you move to Germany:

  1. Come to Germany
  2. Apply for a freelance visa at your local Ausländerbehörde. You must apply at the Ausländerbehörde where you live. You can’t apply in another city.

You can apply in Germany if…

  • You are a citizen of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom or the United States9
  • or you already have a German residence permit, and you want to change it or renew it
  • or you have a National Visa for self-employment. You just need to convert it to a freelance visa

If you can’t apply in Germany, you must apply in your country.

Usually, you can’t start working before you get your freelance visa.35 Some people do it anyway. You might wait a few months with no income. It’s cheaper and safer if you apply in your country, then come to Germany when you are allowed to work.

Need help? An immigration lawyer or a relocation consultant can take care of everything. It costs 500€ to 2,000€.45 It’s a tax-deductible expense.

1. Come to Germany

Come to Germany and prepare your freelance visa application.

  • If you are a citizen of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, the United Kingdom or the United States
    You can come to Germany without a visa. You can stay 90 days in Germany without a residence permit. You can look for clients, and apply for the freelance visa in Germany.9 You can’t start working before you get your freelance visa. Some people do it anyway.
  • If you have a German residence permit
    Your current residence permit stays valid until you get your freelance visa. If your residence permit expires after you sent your freelance visa application, you don’t need to leave Germany.
  • If you have a tourist visa
    You can’t apply for a freelance visa with a tourist visa. Your application will be rejected. You must apply in your country.25

If these options don’t apply to you, you must apply for the freelance visa in your country.19

2. Prepare your freelance visa application

Before you apply for the freelance visa, you must…

If you bring your family to Germany, you can apply for their family reunion visa at the same time. You must prepare these documents too.

While you wait for an Ausländerbehörde appointment, you should also…

4. Apply for the freelance visa

There are 2 ways to apply for a freelance visa in Berlin:

How to get an Ausländerbehörde appointment ➞

5. Wait

The Ausländerbehörde will process your application. If you send your documents online, it takes a few weeks to get invited for an appointment. After your Ausländerbehörde appointment, it takes 6 to 10 weeks to get your freelance visa. If you wait more than 3 months after you apply, you can sue the Ausländerbehörde for inaction.20

In most cases, your current National Visa or a residence permit stays valid while you wait. If it expires, you don’t have to leave Germany. If your current residence permit does not allow self-employment, you must wait for your freelance visa to start your business.55

If your residence permit expires soon ➞

6. Go to your freelance visa appointment

Later, the Ausländerbehörde will email you. They will invite you for an appointment.

When you go to your appointment, bring…7

  • The required documents
    Bring all your application documents, even if you already sent them online.47 In your appointment invitation, the Ausländerbehörde might ask for more documents.
  • Your appointment confirmation, printed
    You can’t enter the Ausländerbehörde without it. They check at the door. You must print it.
  • Passport photo (35 × 45 mm)
    You do not need to cut the photos yourself; they have a tool for this. The photo should be less than 6 months old.36 – Where to get passport photos.
  • Cash, Visa, Mastercard or Girocard
    You must pay the 100€ application fee.44 You must sometimes pay later, when you pick up your freelance visa. This fee is tax-deductible, so keep the receipt.
  • A translator (optional)
    Many Ausländerbehörde employees only speak German. If you don’t speak German, bring an interpreter or a German-speaking friend.63 It’s not required, but it helps. I recommend Red Tape Translation. Relocation consultants and immigration lawyers can also translate for you.

The appointment takes 15 to 60 minutes.64 You spend most of that time waiting.

If they approve your freelance visa, they must print the plastic card. This takes a few weeks. You might get a temporary certificate while you wait. It allows you to start working, but it’s not a valid travel document. It does not allow you to re-enter Germany.

What happens at the Ausländerbehörde ➞

What happens after your appointment ➞

7. Get your freelance visa

6 to 10 weeks after your Ausländerbehörde appointment,22 you get 2 letters:

  1. The eID activation code
    This letter arrives first. Save it for later. You need it to activate the eID function of your freelance visa.
  2. Your freelance visa
    Around 2 weeks later, you receive your freelance visa, or an invitation to collect it at the Ausländerbehörde.28 If you did not pay the 100€ fee, you must pay it during your Ausländerbehörde visit. The fee is tax-deductible, so keep the receipt.

Your freelance visa is a plastic card. The expiration date is written on it. It’s valid for up to 3 years.17 If they are not sure that your business will work, you might get a shorter freelance visa.24

You also get a Zusatzblatt. It describes the conditions of your freelance visa. If you lived in Germany for over 3 years, you might get an unrestricted residence permit. It allows you to be self-employed, and have a side job. – More information

Check if the information on your freelance visa is correct. The Ausländerbehörde sometimes makes mistakes.

8. Start your business

How to start a business ➞

How to apply in your country

You can also apply for a freelance visa in your country, before you move to Germany.26 This is cheaper and safer, because you can start working as soon as you arrive in Germany.34

To apply in your country:4

  1. Get an appointment at the German embassy or consulate in your country.
  2. Go to your appointment and give your documents. The required documents are different in each country. Find the list on your embassy or consulate’s website.
  3. Receive a National Visa. It lets you to come to Germany and start your business.
  4. After you arrive in Germany, convert your National Visa into a freelance visa.

1. Get an appointment at the German embassy or consulate

Get an appointment at the German embassy or consulate in your country. It can take months to get an appointment.33

Find your German embassy or consulate ➞

2. Prepare for your interview

Before your embassy or consulate appointment, you must…

If you bring your family to Germany, you can apply for their family reunion visa at the same time. Prepare these documents too.

3. Go to your National Visa appointment

Go to your appointment at the embassy or consulate, and give your documents. If you have all the required documents, it only takes a few minutes.

4. Receive your National Visa

In around 3 months, you must go to the embassy or consulate again.66 They will give you a National Visa. This temporary visa lets you come to Germany and start your business.

5. Come to Germany, start your business

With your National Visa, you can travel to Germany and start your business.40

After you arrive in Germany, register your address, get a tax ID, open a bank account and start your business.

How to move to Berlin ➞

How to start your business ➞

6. Convert your National Visa into a freelance visa

Your National Visa is valid for 3 to 12 months.29 After your arrive in Germany, you must convert it into a freelance visa at the Ausländerbehörde.

In Berlin, you must convert your National Visa 8 weeks before it expires, not sooner.39

To convert your National Visa into a freelance visa:

  1. Book an Ausländerbehörde appointment
    Start looking for an appointment 3 to 4 months before your National Visa expires. It’s really hard to find an appointment. If your National Visa expires soon, send your documents online, it’s faster.
  2. Go to your appointment
    During the appointment, they take your fingerprints for your freelance visa. It takes around 15 minutes.
  3. Wait for your freelance visa
    6 to 10 weeks, you get a letter. It’s your freelance visa, or an invitation to collect your freelance visa at the Ausländerbehörde.
  4. Activate your eID (optional)

Your freelance visa is a plastic card. It’s valid for up to 3 years. You can renew it before it expires.

Required documents

These are the required documents in Berlin.18 If you apply elsewhere, they require different documents. Check the website of the Ausländerbehörde, embassy or consulate where you apply. – Find your embassy or consulate

Your documents must convince the Ausländerbehörde that your business will work, and that you will make enough money to support yourself.

If you apply online, use PDF files or photos. Word documents and other formats are unreliable.37 If you have too many documents, merge them or make them smaller. You can also mail your documents.

If you apply in person, bring everything. Some Ausländerbehörde employees look at every document. Some ignore half of them. You never know, so you must bring everything. Missing documents can delay your application by a few weeks. Print everything on A4 paper. Do not staple the pages together.

Two types of freelance visa

There are two types of self-employed people. They get a different kind of freelance visa. The required documents are different.18

  • Freelancers (Freiberufler)
    Artists, teachers, scientists, engineers, software developers and other professionals with special qualifications. If you sell professional services, you might be a freelancer. Delivery drivers, influencers, website operators, most photographers and some teachers are not freelancers.62
  • Tradespeople (Selbständiger/Gewerbetreibender)
    If you are not a Freiberufler, you are Selbständig. If you sell products or apps, if you run a website, or if you are a co-founder, you are usually Selbständig.31

Are you a Freiberufler or a Selbständiger? ➞

Required documents for everyone

  • Passport
    If you apply online, include a colour scan of your passport. If you go in person, bring your passport. You get it back during the appointment; they do not keep it.75
  • Proof of health insurance
    You need valid health insurance. Travel insurance is not accepted. Ask a health insurance broker to help you choose health insurance.
    • Health insurance card
    • or proof of public health insurance
      Get a Mitgliedsbescheinigung nach 175 SGB V from your health insurer or your health insurance broker.
    • or proof of private health insurance
      Bring your insurance contract, a Mitgliedsbescheinigung, and bank statements that show health insurance payments. Get these documents from your health insurer or your health insurance broker.6
  • Proof of housing
    You need a place to live where you can register your address. If you apply in Berlin, your home address must be in Berlin.
    • Lease
      It must show the size of your apartment. Your apartment must be big enough. You must make enough money to pay your rent. It can be a temporary lease, a sublet or a student residence.41
    • and tenancy confirmation (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)
      Some temporary apartments and sublets don’t give you this document. You might not get a work visa without it.1 Bring it even if you registered your address.43
    • and registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung)
      You must registered your address to get this document. The Ausländerbehörde might accept other proofs of your address, or a Bürgeramt appointment confirmation.5
    • and proof of rent payments
      You must show what you really pay for housing. Print recent bank statements that show rent payments.52
  • Translations
    If your documents are not in German, bring translations. For certificates and official documents, bring certified translations. They sometimes accept untranslated documents, but don’t take the risk.32 Get translations from Red Tape Translation or Lingoking.

If you are over 45 years old, and you are not a citizen of Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey or the United States, you must have…58

  • Proof of retirement pension
    Prove that you will get a public or private pension when you are 67 years old.

Required documents for a Freiberufler

If you are an artist or a language teacher, you can also bring…

  • Proof of financial support57
    If you can’t prove that your will make enough money, bring proofs of financial support. For example…
    • Your own savings
    • Regular bank transfers from your family
    • A letter from a guarantor

If you need a permit to do your job (lawyers, doctors, engineers), you must also bring…

  • Occupation practice permit (Berufsausübungserlaubnis)
    You must have all the permits and special qualifications needed for the job.12 For example, doctors, engineers and lawyers need special qualifications. – Find the requirements for your job

Required documents for a Selbständiger

  • Business plan
    This document is a roadmap for your business. It explains your goals, your strategy, your products and your customers. It should prove that there is a local interest for your products and services. – How to prepare a business plan
    • Firmenprofil
    • Geschäftskonzept
    • Kapitalbedarfsplan
  • Financing plan (Finanzierungsplan)
    This document details how you plan to finance your business. Use the official template.

If you start a business with other people, you must also bring…69

  • Shareholder agreement (Gesellschaftervertrag)

If you can, you should also bring…

Required documents if you apply in person

  • Appointment confirmation, printed
    You can’t enter the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment.
  • Application form (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
    If this is your first residence permit application, you must fill this form.42 – How to fill this form
  • Passport
    You get your passport back during your appointment; they do not keep it.75
  • Passport photo (35 × 45 mm)
    Only if apply in person. You do not need to cut the photos yourself; they have a tool for this. The photo should be less than 6 months old.36 – Where to get passport photos.
  • Cash, Visa, Mastercard or Girocard
    You must pay the 100€ application fee.44 You must sometimes pay later, when you pick up your work visa. This fee is tax-deductible, so keep the receipt.

Optional documents

These documents are not required, but some Ausländerbehörde employees ask for them. They make your application more convincing.

  • Resume or CV
    It proves that you have experience in your field. Remove irrelevant experience or summer jobs. Work experience is not required, but it helps.49
  • Cover letter
    It explains what you do, and how your business works. It helps Ausländerbehörde employees understand your plan. This is very useful if your German is not good. Write it in German. – Cover letter example
  • Portfolio or examples of your work
    It explains what you do. If you are an artist, this is very important.65 For example, you can bring photos of your work, posters of your events, screenshots of your website or apps or newspaper articles about you. You need printed examples; a website address does not work.50 If you can, fit everything on A4 paper.
  • Contracts
    It proves that you have guaranteed work. Signed contracts are better than letters of intent. They should explain what you will do, how long you will work and how much you will get paid.
  • Letters of reference
    These are letters from your previous employers, clients or professors that recommend you for your work. If you are a scientist or researcher, this is very important.46 The letters must be related to the work you do.
  • Proof or education
    If your education is relevant to your business, prove it. Bring the original diplomas if you can. Copies also work.38
  • Bank statements
    It shows how much savings you have.74 3,000€ to 5,000€ in savings is enough. If possible, use a German bank.61 If it’s in another currency, convert it to euros.

After you get your freelance visa

Bring your family to Germany

The family reunion visa lets you bring your family to Germany. If they have a family reunion visa, your family members can work, freelance or start a business in Germany.

You can apply for it at the same time as your freelance visa.

Activate your eID

You can use your freelance visa to log into online government services. For example, you need it for the Gewerbeanmeldung. You must activate this feature at the Ausländerbehörde. Activate your eID before you need it.

How to activate your eID ➞

Join the Künstlersozialkasse

If you are a freelance artist, publicist or art teacher, join the Künstlersozialkasse after you get your freelance visa. They will pay half of your health insurance, and half of your public pension insurance. It’s a really good deal.

How to join the Künstlersozialkasse ➞

Renew your freelance visa

Your freelance visa is valid for up to 3 years. You must renew it around 8 weeks before it expires.

How to renew a freelance visa ➞

You can also apply for permanent residence after 3 to 5 years.10

If you travel with a freelance visa

Your freelance visa lets you visit other Schengen area countries without a visa.

With a freelance visa, you can leave Germany for up to 6 months.23 To travel longer, you need permission from the Ausländerbehörde.

Make a tax declaration

Your immigration expenses are tax-deductible, so keep all your receipts. Remember to include them when you make a tax declaration. You will pay less income tax.

Where to get help

An immigration lawyer or a relocation consultant can answer your questions.

Touring Artists helps artists immigrate and start a business. Their help is free. They speak English.

German freelance visa help is a useful Facebook group. People help each other with their freelance visa application.

Other places to ask immigration questions ➞

The Ausländerbehörde can answer your questions, but they are very hard to contact. They can take months to answer. Sometimes they don’t answer at all.

How to contact the Ausländerbehörde ➞

Sources and footnotes
  1. Elliot Herman (October 2023), multiple relocation consultants (October 2023) 

  2. Berlin.de, §21 Abs. 6 AufenthG, germany-visa.org, Mainz University (2015) 

  3. Red Tape Translation, Reddit 

  4. DARE Consulting (page 8) 

  5. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (December 2023), Berlin.de 

  6. Berlin.de 

  7. Berlin.de 

  8. c/o Germany, bbk Berlin 

  9. §41 AufenthV, Berlin.de 

  10. §21 Abs. 4 AufenthG 

  11. Example 

  12. Berlin.de 

  13. europa.eu, ind.nl, HousingAnywhere 

  14. §29 AufenthG 

  15. Red Tape Translation 

  16. Red Tape Translation 

  17. §21 Abs. 4 AufenthG, VAB 21.4 

  18. Berlin.de (for tradespeople), Berlin.de (for freelancers) 

  19. Multiple relocation consultants (October 2023) 

  20. §75 VwGO 

  21. allrecht.de, reddit.com/r/germany 

  22. Berlin.de 

  23. §51 Abs. 1 AufenthG, Berlin.de 

  24. VAB 21.4.1 

  25. Auswärtiges Amt, §3 AufenthG 

  26. make-it-in-germany.com 

  27. make-it-in-germany.com 

  28. It depends on your case worker (October 2023) 

  29. Ina Bozhilova at Noah Mobility (July 2023), Berlin.de 

  30. Red Tape Translation 

  31. §21 AufenthG, §18 EStG, 2 K 7356/18 

  32. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (May 2023), Touring Artists 

  33. Touring Artists, DARE Consulting (page 14) 

  34. Berlin.de, Multiple relocation consultants (October 2023) 

  35. Berlin.de 

  36. It depends on the case worker. Multiple relocation consultants (November 2023) 

  37. Berlin.de 

  38. Facebook (2018) 

  39. Berlin.de, Elliot Herman (October 2023), Anja Kunzke (October 2023) 

  40. Berlin.de 

  41. VAB 2.4 

  42. Berlin.de, Berlin.de 

  43. Facebook 

  44. Berlin.de 

  45. Multiple relocation consultants (November 2023) 

  46. Berlin.de, raptcat.com (archived), Facebook (2018) 

  47. Elliot Herman, relocation consultant (December 2023) 

  48. Emily at Archer Relocation (November 2023) 

  49. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (December 2023) 

  50. Facebook (2018) 

  51. Multiple relocation consultants (November 2023), German embassy (US), visaguide.world, Facebook (2023) 

  52. Berlin.de, Berlin.de 

  53. VAB 2.3.1.1, confirmed by an applicant (December 2023), Emily at Archer Relocation (December 2023) 

  54. jurati.de, muenchen.de, ToyTown Germany (2013) 

  55. Touring Artists 

  56. Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation (2018) 

  57. Berlin.de 

  58. Berlin.de, Berlin.de, §21 Abs. 2 and 3 AufenthG, VAB 21.2 

  59. VAB 21.3 

  60. VAB 21.3 and 9.2.1.3a 

  61. Facebook (2018) 

  62. Accountable.de, Accountable.de, All About Berlin 

  63. Touring Artists 

  64. Touring Artists 

  65. Touring Artists 

  66. Touring Artists 

  67. Touring Artists 

  68. Berlin.de, Sebastian Hoffmann (August 2023), Sebastian Hoffmann (December 2022), Sebastian Hoffmann (January 2023), exception (2023), exception (2021) 

  69. VAB 21.4.2 

  70. VAB 21.1.1 

  71. §21 Abs. 1 AufenthG 

  72. Employee at the Thai embassy in Berlin (December 2023) 

  73. Fiona Macdonald 

  74. Facebook 

  75. Facebook (2022) 

  76. Immigration lawyer on Facebook (December 2023)