If you want to be self-employed in Germany, you might need a freelance visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit). The freelance visa is a type of residence permit.

In this guide, I tell you if you need a German freelance visa, and how to apply for it. If you want the artist visa or the language teacher visa, the process is exactly the same. You can still follow this guide.

Who needs a German freelance visa?

You need a German freelance visa if:

  • You are not a citizen or a permanent resident of Germany, the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland. Since Brexit, UK citizens also need a freelance visa.
  • and 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
  • or you are a citizen or a permanent resident of the European Union
  • or you are a citizen of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland1, 2
  • or your current residence permit allows you to freelance. Look for this line on your residence permit. You must still use your residence permit for its main purpose. For example, if you have a work visa, you must keep your job. Freelancing can't become your main occupation or your main source of income.

If you are a student, your student visa does not allow you to freelance1, but you can have a student visa and a freelance visa at the same time1. More information here.

If you are an employee, you usually need permission from your employer to freelance1. Some work contracts don't allow you to freelance in the same industry as your job.

The German freelance visa requirements

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

  • You must live in Germany
    This means you must have an address in Germany. You must prove this during your visa interview. You do not need to do your Anmeldung to get a freelance visa.
  • 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
    You must make enough money to support yourself.
  • You must have clients in Germany
    You must prove that you will have clients in Germany. You only get a freelance visa if there is a "local economic interest" for your services. During your visa interview, you must show letters of intent from German companies who want to hire you.

Selbständiger or Freiberufler?

Before applying, you should know whether you are a freelancer (Freiberufler) or self-employed (Selbständiger). If you are Selbständiger, you need to bring more documents1, 2.

  • Freiberufler: Artists, teachers, scientists, engineers, software developers and other independent professionals are Freiberufler according to §18 EStG1. Use the incomplete list of freelance professions. When you apply as a Freiberufler, you don't need to bring as many documents1.
  • Selbständiger: If you are not a Freiberufler, you are Selbständiger. When you apply as a Selbständiger, you must bring more documents to your visa interview1.

For self-employed people (Selbständiger)

If you are a Selbständiger, these are the German freelance visa requirements1:

  1. There is an economic/cultural interest or a regional need for your work1. The regional part is important; you will 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, it's easier. You need fewer documents.

In Berlin, some Freiberufler get their freelance visa instantly. Others must wait a few months after their interview.

For students

Your student visa does not allow you to freelance. You must get permission from the Ausländerbehörde1.

If you study in Germany, and your freelance work is related to what you study, you don't need to prove that there is an economic or cultural interest for your work1. This guide has more information.

If your freelance work is not related to what you study, 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 during your interview1, 2. The artist visa is for artists, language teachers and journalists who want to live in Berlin1. It's not available in the rest of Germany.

For people who already have a German visa

If you already have a German residence permit that doesn't let you freelance, 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 must also prove that you are prepared for retirement1.

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

  • 1188.92€ in 2021 per month for at least 12 years by the time you are 67 years old
  • or at least 175,068€ in 2021 worth of assets1 by the time you are 67 years old

The freelance visa application process

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. This article about Scheinselbstständigkeit explains how it works.

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. See the required documents section below for more details.

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.

You can also apply from your home country. If you can't visit Germany without a visa, this could be easier for you.

  • Citizens of the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein do not need a freelance visa to freelance in Germany1, 2. 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, the United Kingdom and the United States can stay in Germany without a visa for up to 90 days1, 2, 3. They can come to Germany and apply for a freelance visa there. They can't work until they have a freelance visa, but they can look for clients and prepare their visa application1.
  • Citizens from other countries can't come to Germany without a visa1. You 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 6 months later.
    2. or you can apply for a Job Seeker Visa at a German embassy in your country1, 2. This visa allows you to come to Germany and look for a job. Once you have found a job, you can apply for the freelance visa directly from Germany. The job seeker visa is valid for up to 6 months. You can't do this with a tourist visa. If you come with a tourist visa, your freelance visa application will be rejected1, 2, 3, 4.

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.

If you need a residence permit to freelance in Germany, you can't work before you get the residence permit. You must have enough savings to wait for many months without working. If you don't have enough savings, it's easier to apply from your home country, and move to Germany after you get the freelance visa.

Related guides:

Step 2: Make your visa appointment

You must get an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. Book your appointment as soon as possible. It can take months to find an appointment. Your appointment could be months in the future. For the freelance visa, you must go to the Friedrich-Krause-Ufer Ausländerbehörde, not the one on Keplerstraße.

You can also go without an appointment, or send the documents by email.

Ausländerbehörde appointment ➞ If your visa expires soon

During your appointment, the interviewer can give you a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This temporary visa lets you stay in Germany until your visa application is processed. If you forgot some documents, the Fiktionsbescheinigung gives you more time to reapply.

Step 3: Open a bank account

You need a bank account to register your business, find an apartment, pay your visa application fee, pay your rent, and pay your taxes, etc. At the Ausländerbehörde, some interviewers also require bank statements from a German bank, not a foreign bank1.

Usually, you need a registration certificate (Anmeldebestätigung) to get a bank account. Some banks let you open an account without it. I have an account with N26 since 2016, and I reviewed them already.

I recommend you to have 2 bank accounts: one for you, and one for your business. If the Finanzamt freezes your business account, you can still use your personal account. This is very important.

If you are moving to Germany, use Wise to transfer money from your home country to your German bank. This is how I moved my savings from Canada to Germany.

Related guides:

Step 4: Register your address

Registering your address in Germany is not required to get the German freelance visa. It is required for other things. You will get a Meldebescheinigung (also known as Anmeldebestätigung) and a tax ID. You need those to register your business with the Finanzamt.

Registering your address is simple:

  1. Book an appointment at the Bürgeramt for Anmeldung einer Wohnung. You 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 (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)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 get your Meldebescheinigung on time, you can bring your rent contract and the Wohnungsgeberbestätigung from your landlord instead1. You should also bring a proof that you already booked an Anmeldung appointment.

Related guides:

Step 5: Get health insurance

In Germany, everyone must have health insurance. You can't apply for the freelance visa without valid health insurance.

Many visa applicants are rejected because they have the wrong kind of health insurance. German public and private health insurance is always accepted. Expat health insurance from Feather, Ottonova and Care Concept is also confirmed to work. Cheap expat health insurance is often rejected.

Related guide: Which health insurance do you need for your visa?

If you just moved to Germany and never had German health insurance, you might be forced to get private health insurance or expat health insurance. Public health insurers often refuse to cover freelancers who just moved to Germany.

Just talk to a health insurance broker. It's the best advice I can give you. They will help you find the best, cheapest health insurance for your situation. You will be 100% sure that your insurance is valid for your visa application, and that you have good coverage.

I work closely with Feather and B-Protected since a few years. I know them personally. We met dozens of times and worked on many guides together. Feather helped me save over 400€ per month on health insurance. You can trust their advice.

Related guides:

Step 6: Gather the required documents

Required documents ↓

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

At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ What happens during the appointment

You must go to your interview at the Ausländerbehörde on Friedrich-Krause-Ufer. Your visit should take around 1 hour. Bring all your documents with you.

Your interview will probably be in German. Some interviewers speak English, but this is not guaranteed. If you don't speak German, bring an interpreter with you. If you can afford it, bring an immigration lawyer or a relocation consultant. I often work with Kathleen Parker from Red Tape Translation. She is my expert on German bureaucracy. Booka Local can also go to the Ausländerbehörde with you.

Step 8: Receive your freelance visa

At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ If your visa application is approved

At the Ausländerbehörde ➞ If your visa application is rejected

Some people get their freelance visa immediately during the interview1. This depend on your field, and on how well you have prepared. It's very random. Artists and language teachers almost always receive the visa on the spot. Software developers sometimes get it on the spot1, 2, and sometimes not.

When you get your freelance visa, it will be valid for a period between 6 months and 3 years1, 2. When your visa is about to expire, you can renew it. The process for the visa renewal is very similar.

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. If you are a Freiberufler (according to the Finanzamt's definition), you don't need one.1
  2. You must register your business at the tax office (Finanzamt). This is how you get a tax number (Steuernummer), a VAT number (Umsatzsteuer-Identifikationsnummer), and an entry in the trade register (Handelsregister).
  3. You must make sure your website follows the German and European Union laws.
  4. It's a good idea to get professional liability insurance (Gewerbehaftpflichtversicherung or Berufshaftpflichtverischerung) to protect yourself against lawsuits. You can also get disability insurance (Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung), in case you get injured and can't keep working.

Related guides:

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.

Some interviewers will look at every document. Some interviewers will ignore most of the documents. It's important to be prepared, but don't worry too much about every detail.

If you need to translate documents to German, use Lingoking.

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. If possible, these letters should be signed.
  • 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. If you need to translate documents, use Lingoking.
  • Cover letter (Anschreiben)
    Example 1 - example 2
    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. Don't forget to sign the letter. If you need to translate documents, use Lingoking.
  • 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 interviewers want statements from a German bank1. Just open a German bank account, and transfer some savings with Wise. 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)
    Detailed guide 1 - detailed guide 2 - example 1 - example 2
    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 Umsatzsteuer-Identifikationsnummer, health insurance and income tax. Some Ausländerbehörde employees prefer that you use the official template, not your own.
  • 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)
      Template
      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 important1, 2, 3. They prove that you can find work in Germany. Letters of intent in German and from German companies are preferred, and sometimes required1, 2. 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)
  • Appointment confirmation from the Ausländerbehörde
  • 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)

If possible, translate these documents to German. Lingoking is a great way to get official translations.

Frequently asked questions

How long can I leave Germany with a freelance visa?

You can leave Germany for up to 6 months1. If you want to leave for a longer period, you can request a special permission1.

Can I get a permanent residence with a freelance visa?

Yes. You can apply for a permanent settlement permit after 3 years1. If you are a freelancer (Freiberufler), you can only apply after 5 years1. You can find more information here.

Where to get help

Where to find help ➞ Immigration questions