How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

How to apply for the German Freelance Visa

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.

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. If you are applying for the artist or language teacher visa, the paperwork is exactly the same, and this guide also applies for you.

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. I am immensely grateful for their help.

Who needs a visa to freelance in Germany?

You need a visa to freelance in Germany if:

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

You are not allowed to freelance with a Student Visa1, but you can have a student visa and a freelance visa at the same time1.

The German freelance visa requirements

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

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.

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 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, you need to bring fewer documents to your visa interview. Applying as a Freiberufler is much easier. See the required documents section below for more details.

In Berlin, some Freiberufler will get their freelance visa on the spot during their appointment, instead of having to wait a few months.

For students

Students can freelance in Germany if they have a freelance visa1. However, when they become a freelancer, their taxes and health insurance can become more expensive1.

If you studied 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 studying1. 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 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 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 also need to prove that you have adequate preparations for retirement1.

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

The freelance visa application process

The complete list of requirements for the German freelance visa in English is on 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. There is 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. 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.

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.

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. Officially, you can't extend a Schengen visa1, 2. You are supposed to leave Germany before it expires. If your Schengen visa expires soon and you can't get an appointment, go to the Ausländerbehörde without an appointment.

In reality, many people overstayed their 90 day Schengen visa and waited for their appointment1, 2. This is officially forbidden1, but even some Ausländerbehörde employees say it's okay1, 2.

During your appointment, the interviewer can give you a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This visa lets you stay in Germany until your visa application is processed. 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 (optional)

Having a bank account in Europe will be very useful. 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 other banks 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.

If you are moving to Germany, use TransferWise to transfer money to your German bank account.

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

Health insurance coverage is mandatory in Germany. You must 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, private health insurance, or expat health insurance. Public health insurance costs are based on your salary. Private health insurance costs are based on your health. Expat insurance is temporary insurance. You must switch to public or private insurance as soon as possible. Expat insurance is not accepted when you renew a visa.

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

Expat health insurance from Feather, Ottonova and Care Concept is confirmed to work. We work with Feather a lot, and we trust them. They can get you insured within 24 hours. If you don't get your visa, you can cancel the insurance.

You can get help from a health insurance broker. Brokers help you find the best health insurance for your situation. B-Protected has a lot of experience with health insurance for expats. They speak English.

Related guides:

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. We trust Kathleen Parker from Red Tape Translation and Johanna Sieben from c/o Germany.

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 with a Fiktionsbescheinigung. This will give you time to get the missing documents and reapply.

If you don't get your visa during the interview, you don't need to pay anything. You only pay the visa fees when you receive your visa.

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. Software developers sometimes get it on the spot1, 2. I am a software developer, and I did not receive my visa immediately.

Others will have to wait a few months1. The interviewer will send your documents to another office for review. In Berlin, you will receive your visa 3 to 6 months later1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. In Munich, it can take 6 to 12 months1, 2. I applied in Berlin on October 11, 2018, and I received my visa on January 22, 2019. It took 3 months and 11 days. I paid 54€ in fees when I received the visa.

If your application is accepted, you will get a letter that tells you to pick up your visa. Follow the instructions in that letter. You will need to go to the Ausländerbehörde. They will collect the visa fees and put the visa in your passport.

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 years1, 2. 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. 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, 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 certified translations of your documents, use Lingoking. You can get your translations done online at a really good price.

Basic documents

Professional information

Proof of self-sufficiency

Business strategy

Complete document checklist

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

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.

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.

The Berlin Ausländerbehörde offers free immigration advice in German, Turkish, Farsi and Arabic. You might also be able to get help in English.

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