How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

The process and the requirements for obtaining a German freelance visa or a German artist visa. This is how you become self-employed in Germany.

The German freelance visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit) allows you to be self-employed in Germany. In reality, it's a freelance residence permit, but everyone calls it the freelance visa. If you are applying for the artist or language teacher visa, the paperwork is exactly the same.

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.

This guide was reviewed by two Ausländerbehörde veterans: Kathleen Parker from Red Tape Translation, and Johanna Sieben from c/o Germany. It also integrates the feedback of dozens of applicants. We are immensely grateful for their help.

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
  • You are a citizen of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland1
  • Your current visa allows you to freelance (look for this line on your residence permit). However, the occupation for which you received your visa must remain your main occupation. If you have a work visa, freelancing can't become your main occupation or your main source of income.

You can add a freelance visa to your current visa. This is useful if you have a work visa or a student visa, but need to freelance.

The German freelance visa requirements

There are a few basic requirements for the German freelance visa:

  • You must reside in Germany
    This means you must have an address in Germany. You must prove this during your visa interview by bringing a rent contract and a Meldebestätigung.
  • You must have health insurance
    All German residents must have health insurance. Many applicants are rejected because they don't have the right health insurance. See the section below for more details.
  • You must make enough money
    The freelance visa is granted to people who make enough money to support themselves. During your visa interview, you must prove that your business idea will work, and that you will contribute to the German economy. This is why you need to bring letters of recommendation, a business plan, a proof of savings etc.

Selbständiger or Freiberufler?

Before applying, you should know whether you are a freelancer (Freiberufler) or self-employed (Selbständiger). The requirements for these two categories are slightly different1, 2.

  • Freiberufler: Artists, teachers, scientists, engineers and other independent professionals are Freiberufler according to §18 EStG1. You can find the full list of freelance professions here. When you apply as a Freiberufler, you don't need to fill as many documents1.
  • Selbständiger: If you are not a Freiberufler, you are Selbständiger. When you apply as a Selbständiger, you need to bring more documents to the visa interview1.

For self-employed people (Selbständiger)

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

  1. There is an economic/cultural interest or a regional need for your work. The regional part is important; 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 fewer documents are required. See the required documents section below for more details.

Some types of freelancers will get their freelance visa on the spot during their appointment, instead of having to wait a few more weeks.

For students

Students are allowed to freelance in Germany, but they must apply for a freelance visa first1. Don't forget that as a freelancer, you will need to pay more taxes, and your health insurance will be more expensive1.

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 don't need to prove that there is an economic or cultural interest for your freelance work. It must simply be related to what you are studying. This guide has more details on the subject.

If your freelance work is not related to what you are studying, the freelance visa requirements are the same as for everyone else.

For artists and language teachers

The artist visa is exactly like the freelance visa. The only difference is that you get it instantly, without any processing time1, 2. This visa is only granted to artists, language teachers and journalists who want to live in Berlin1. It is not available in the rest of Germany.

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 really are a freelancer

Some employers hire "freelancers" to avoid paying social and healthcare contributions for their employees. If you only have one client, your visa application will be rejected, because you are not really a freelancer. 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: Come to Germany

The first step is to come to Germany. You need to find German clients and a place to live before you can apply for the German freelance visa. It's easier to do that when you are in Germany.

  • Citizens of the European UnionIceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein do not need a freelance visa to freelance in Germany. If you come from one of those countries, you don't need to read this guide.
  • Citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States can stay in Germany without a visa for up to 90 days1, 2. They can simply come to Germany and apply for a freelance visa there.
  • Citizens from other countries can't come to Germany without a visa. They can get the German freelance visa in two different ways:
    1. You can apply for the freelance visa at a German embassy in your country1. Your documents will be sent to Germany for review. You will receive a visa 2 to 4 months later.
    2. You can apply for a National Visa at a German embassy in your country12. This allows you to come to Germany to find clients and an apartment. Once you are in Germany, you can apply for the freelance visa. If you do this, you must come to Germany with a National Visa. If you come with a tourist visa, your freelance visa application will be rejected1, 2.

If you can, start looking for a place to live before you come to Germany. You cannot get a freelance visa without a residence in Germany, and finding an apartment in Berlin is really hard. 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 on this page. You must book your appointment as soon as possible, because it could be in a few months. This is why it's the first step.

You can also queue very early in the morning and visit the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment. For the freelance visa, you must visit the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde, not the one on Keplerstraße1.

If you can't get an Ausländerbehörde appointment before your residence permit or Category D visa expires, it is automatically extended until the date of your Ausländerbehörde appointment1.

If you have a Schengen visa (Category C or tourist visa), you must go to the Ausländerbehörde before it expires. You can't extend a Schengen visa1, 2. If your Schengen visa expires soon, go to the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment.

Before you show up to your appointment, make sure you have all the required documents.

During your appointment, the interviewer can give you a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This document lets you stay longer in Germany. This gives you time to reapply if some documents are missing, or to wait until your visa is approved.

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. Some interviewers also require you to show bank statements from a German bank, not a foreign bank1.

This step can be tricky:

  1. You can't open a German bank account without a Meldebescheinigung (or Anmeldebestätigung)
  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 Meldebescheinigung1, 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 promise to bring them a Meldebescheinigung later.

You do not need a business account1. If you already have a German bank account, you can use it for your business.

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 (also known as Anmeldebestätigung).

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. You should also bring a proof that you already booked an Anmeldung appointment. 

Related guides:

Step 5: Get health insurance

Health insurance coverage is mandatory in Germany. You need to have health insurance before you apply for the freelance visa.

Many applicants are rejected because they have the wrong kind of health insurance. You must have public health insurance from any German insurer, or private health insurance from the list that's approved by BaFin1. Public health insurance costs are based on your salary. Private health insurance costs are based on your health. Public health insurance also covers your children1.

Temporary health insurance from ALC, Mawista and Care Concept is sometimes accepted when you apply for the first time. However, these companies offer very limited coverage, and you should switch to a real insurance company as soon as possible. Temporary health insurance won't be accepted when you renew your visa12.

Step 6: 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.

The letters of intent will be the hardest to find. You should look for them as soon as possible.

Step 7: Go to your visa interview

You must go to your interview at the Ausländerbehörde on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer. You should have received the details of your appointment by email when you booked it. Arrive in advance. This will give you time to find the right office, floor and room. You can find these details in your appointment confirmation. Once you are at the Ausländerbehörde, sit in the waiting room and wait until your number is called.

Your interview will probably be in German. Some interviewers speak English, but this is not guaranteed1. If you don't speak German, bring an interpreter with you. If you can afford it, bring an immigration lawyer or a relocation consultant.

If you are well-prepared, the interview should only last a few minutes1, 2. If you are missing some documents and your current visa expires soon, do not panic. The interviewer can extend your current visa for up to 90 days with a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This will give you time to reapply.

Step 8: Receive your freelance visa

Some people will receive their freelance visa immediately after the interview1. This depend on your field, and on how well you have prepared. Artists and language teachers almost always receive the visa on the spot.

Most others will have to wait a few weeks1. The interviewer will send your documents to another office for review. You should receive a letter 6 to 8 weeks later1.

If your application is rejected, you will get a letter that explains why. You will have some time to appeal or return to your home country1.

When you get your visa, it 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. The process for the visa renewal is very similar.

The freelance visa is a sticker that goes in your passport. It allows you to freelance in a specific field. If you applied as an IT specialist, you can't teach piano lessons. You would need to go to the Ausländerbehörde to add a category to your visa.

Step 9: 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 Gewerbeschein from the municipality. If you are a Freiberufler (according to the Finanzamt's definition), this is not necessary.1
  2. You must declare your business to the tax office (Finanzamt) by filling the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung. This is how you get a tax number (Steuernummer), a VAT number (Umsatzsteuer-Identifikationsnummer), and an entry in the trade register (Handelsregister). Everyone who runs their own business must declare it to the Finanzamt.
  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 or Berufshaftpflichtverischerung) to protect yourself against lawsuits.

Related guides:

Need help with your website?

When I'm not working on All About Berlin, I work as a frontend developer for clients all over the world. I help startups go live, and show small businesses how to build their online presence. If you need a hand, let's get in touch.

Required documents

The following documents are required when applying for a German freelance visa. Some of these documents are not mentioned on the official documentation on Berlin.de, but they are still required. The documents you bring should be in German if possible. Some interviewers do not speak English.

Basic documents

Professional information

  • 2 or more recommendation letters
    Some interviewers will ask for letters of recommendation1. 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, but it's better to have it in German.
  • Cover letter (Anschreiben)
    Some interviewers simply don’t care about your cover letter, but it's good to have one. It should be in German, in case your interviewer doesn't speak English.
  • Portfolio / examples of your work
    You must demonstrate that you can do your job. Bring printed samples of your previous work. You must be able to show your work during the interview, so a website address will not work1.
  • 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 education (optional)
    If you have relevant degrees or certifications, they can prove that you are qualified. Bring the original diplomas, and copies for the interviewer1, 2.
  • Passport
    The interviewer will use your passport to identify you. If you get the visa immediately, the interviewer will put it in your passport. The freelance visa is a sticker that goes in your passport1, 2.

Proof of self-sufficiency

  • Bank statement (Kontoauszug)
    This shows how much savings you have. It proves that you have enough money to support yourself while you start your business. The more money you have in your account, the better. In general, bank statements from foreign banks are accepted, but some people were asked for statements from a German bank1. According to this poll, 3000€ to 5000€ in savings is enough1. If necessary, convert the amount to Euros1.
  • Revenue forecast / profit and loss statement (Ertragsvorschau)
    Example 1 - example 2detailed guide
    Make a spreadsheet with your expected monthly revenue and expenses for your business. Do not include your own rent and expenses. This helps the Ausländerbehörde see if you will contribute to the German economy. Don't forget to include the VAT, health insurance and income tax. 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 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.
  • Proof of regular income (artists and language teachers only)
    If you are applying for as an artist or language teacher in Berlin, you must prove that you will have a regular income. This can be your own savings, regular bank transfers from your family, or a letter from a guarantor1.

Business strategy

  • Business plan (not required for Freiberufler)
    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 Freiberufler)
      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 Freiberufler)
      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 Freiberufler)
      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 or contracts (Absichtserklärung)
    Template - example - detailed guide
    These letters come from potential clients that want to hire you. They are not necessarily contracts; they only show that companies have the intention to hire you. These letters are really important12, 3. They prove that you can find work in Germany. Letters of intent in German and from German companies are preferred, and sometimes required12. Signed contracts are better than letters of intent. Some Ausländerbehörde employees want letters with salary information1.

Complete document checklist

This list contains the same documents as above. You can use it as a checklist when gathering the documents.

  • Address registration confirmation (Anmeldebestätigung)
  • Bank statement (Kontoauszug)
  • Business plan (not required for Freiberufler)
    • Company profile (not required for Freiberufler)
    • Capital requirement plan (not required for Freiberufler)
    • Business concept (not required for Freiberufler)
  • Cash for the application fees, ~120€
  • Cover letter (Anschreiben)
  • CV or resume
  • Financing plan (Finanzierungsplan)
  • Freelance visa application form (Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels)
  • Letter of confirmation from your landlord (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)
  • Letters of intent from German companies x 2-5
  • Passport
  • Passport photos x 2
  • Portfolio / examples of your work, printed
  • Professional permit (optional)
  • Proof of adequate pension plan (if you are over 45 years old)
  • Proof of education (optional)
  • Proof of regular income (artists and language teachers only)
  • Proof of health insurance coverage
  • Recommendation letters x 2-5
  • Rent contract
  • Revenue forecast / Profit and loss statement (Ertragsvorschau)

Don't forget to bring a German translation of these documents.

Need help with your visa application?

The "Working and Living in Germany" hotline can answer your visa questions. It's an official hotline that helps people settle in Germany. They offer help in English and in German.

The Berlin Chamber of Commerce (IHK) also answers questions in English and in German. You can call, email or visit them. However, they only help business owners, not freelancers.

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.

Look at our list of English-speaking relocation consultants and our list of English-speaking lawyers to get professional help.

Comments

  • Sep 18th, 2018 Nicolas Bouliane wrote:

    Hello Viki. The German freelance visa requirements are the same for all of Germany, so you can apply from anywhere in Germany. This website is mostly for Berliners, so I mention office locations in Berlin. However, you can get a freelance visa anywhere else in Germany.

    Good luck!

  • Sep 18th, 2018 Viki wrote:

    I am living in a work exchange situation about 2 hours outside of Berlin, I see that this and many guides are specific to Berlin. Do you have to live in Berlin to apply for a freelance visa?

  • Leave a comment