If you are a freelance artist, publicist or art teacher, you should apply for the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK). This guide explains how and why.

What is the Künstlersozialkasse?

The Künstlersozialkasse (KSK) is a social fund for freelance artists, publicists and art teachers. It's funded by the government, and by businesses who hire freelance artists1.

When you are a KSK member, they pay half of your health insurance, and half of your public pension insurance.

Why join the KSK?

Because it's a really good deal. The Künstlersozialkasse helps you get public health insurance and save for retirement. In most cases, it's free.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • There is a lot of paperwork
    The KSK application process is a bit hard. It takes a few months to get accepted. If you don't speak German, you might need a translator.
  • You can't always keep your private health insurance
    With the KSK, if you earn less than 64,350€ per year, you must switch to public health insurance. Most of the time, it's a good thing, but you might prefer to keep your private health insurance. More information here.
  • It can limit your options
    If you have other sources of income, it can be complicated. You can't earn more than 520€ per month from other freelance activities (1,300€ in 2021 and 20221). You might need to refuse some contracts to stay in the KSK. You can still have a side job and stay in the KSK.
  • Backpayments
    When the KSK accepts you, your membership starts on the date you applied. You must pay health insurance and pension insurance for the time you waited. If they take 5 months to accept you, you must pay KSK contributions for those 5 months. These backpayments can be very expensive. More information about KSK backpayments.

How much does it cost?

In most cases, nothing. You pay the same price as before, but you get more benefits.

Public pension insurance is optional for most freelancers, so you probably don't pay for it. If you join the KSK, it's required. You must pay for it.

So when you are in the KSK, you save ~9.35% of your income on health insurance, but you must pay 9.3% of your income for public pension insurance. In the end, you pay around the same price.

In other words, you save money on health insurance, and reinvest it in your pension. This is a really good deal.

Income
per year
Normal cost
Health insurance only
KSK member cost
Health insurance + pension
15,000€ / year 230€ / month 230€ / month
25,000€ / year 390€ / month 385€ / month
35,000€ / year 545€ / month 540€ / month
45,000€ / year 700€ / month 695€ / month
55,000€ / year 850€ / month 850€ / month
70,000€ / year 900€ / month 990€ / month
Over 84,600€ / year 900€ / month 1,075€ / month

If you earn over 64,350€ per year, you pay a bit more. You pay up to 175€ per month more, but you contribute up to 1,311€ per month to your public pension. This is the best pension plan you can find.

Should I join the KSK?

Yes! The KSK is always worth it, except if you stay only 1 year in Germany.

If you earn more than 64,350€ per year, the KSK can feel more expensive, but it's still worth it, because you get a really cheap pension plan.

    Who can join the KSK?

    Freelance artists, publicists and some freelance teachers. This includes…

    • Performance artists
      Actors, comedians, magicians, dancers and many more.
    • Visual artists
      Photographers, video editors, dancers, painters, graphic designers, web designers, game designers, UX designers1, illustrators and many more.
      • Photographers are sometimes accepted. Artistic and press photographers are accepted, but wedding and portrait photographers are not always accepted1. You must sell artistic work, not technical work1.
      • Tattoo artists are almost always rejected1, 2.
      • Web designers must prove that they do design, not programming or maintenance1, 2. Designing websites is art, so it's accepted. Programming and maintenance is technical work, so it's not accepted.
      • Fashion designers can't sell their own clothes1. Designing clothes is art, so it's accepted. Making clothes is manual craft, so it's not accepted.
    • Musicians
      This includes singers, DJs1, audio designers, voice actors, and many more. Your music must be the focus of the event. For example, wedding musicians are not accepted.
      • DJs must prove that they create art1, 2. Making music is art, so it's accepted. Playing someone else's music is technical work, so it's not accepted.
      • Orchestra musicians are rarely accepted, because they are rarely self-employed.
      • Wedding singers sometimes get rejected, because their music is not the focus of the event. Some get accepted. You never know.
    • Publicists
      This includes writers, journalists, bloggers1, 2, authors, reporters, copywriters, copy editors, YouTubers1, influencers, some translators, and many more. You must work in an artistic or journalistic context. It must require some creativity. Working on artistic texts is art, so it's accepted. Working on scientific texts is journalism, so it's accepted. In general, if you get credit for your work, it's probably artistic or journalistic enough.
      • Translators are not always accepted. Verbatim translations are not creative enough1, so they are rejected.
      • Publishers are rarely accepted, because they are distributors, not artists or publicists. They don't create their own texts.
      • Curators are not always accepted. They must make money from their own content (books, catalogues), not from administrative tasks.
    • Teachers
      This includes art, design, writing and music teachers. You must teach other people to become professional artists or publicists1. You can't only teach refugees or old people, because that's social work1.
      • Dance teachers are only covered if they teach dance as art, not as entertainment, sport or therapy1, 2, 3.

    Full list of job titles (PDF, in German)

    The KSK does not accept…

    • Programmers
      Software developers, web developers and other IT workers can't join the KSK, because it's technical work, not art1. Bloggers and web designers can join the KSK, because they are publicists.
    • Artisans
      If the biggest part of your job is to make things — even things that you design yourself — you are probably an artisan. The KSK might reject your application. The KSK often rejects photographers, tattoo artists and fashion designers because of this1, 2, 3.

    For some professions, it's harder to apply. You need really strong proof that you are an artist, not an artisan or a technical worker. In that situation, I recommend to hire an expert to help you.

    What are the KSK requirements?

    When you apply for the KSK, you must prove that you meet those requirements1, 2, 3, 4. You must send a lot of documents to prove that.

    You are an artist, publicist or art teacher

    This means that…

    • You work in an artistic or journalistic context
      Creativity and originality is a big part of your work. If your work is original enough to have copyright, it should be okay. If you don't get credited for your work, it's probably not creative enough. For example, wedding singers don't work in an artistic context, so they sometimes get rejected. Some dance teachers teach fitness, not art.
    • It's your main job
      Creative work must be the biggest part of your work, and the biggest part of your income. You can have other sources of income, but it gets complicated.
    • It's not temporary
      You plan to do this kind of work for a long time, not just a few months1.

    You make money with your work

    This means that…

    • You work for profit
      It's a business, not a hobby. You must charge money for your services.
    • You make at least 3,900€ per year
      You must make at least 3,900€ in profit as a freelance artist, publicist or art teacher1. In the first 3 years of your career, there is no minimum income1. After you join the KSK, your income can go below 3,900€ per year 2 times every 6 years1. There is no maximum income1. This does not apply for 2020, 2021 and 2022, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

      You are self-employed

      This means that…1, 2

      • You have many clients
        You are not working for only one agency, orchestra, theatre group, film production or art school.
      • You are an independent worker
        You are not treated like an employee. You choose how much you charge, when you work, and where you work. For example, if you have to practice with your orchestra every day, or you are an extra in a movie, you might not be independent. The KSK can reject you because of fake self-employment. It depends on many different things.
      • You take risks
        You take entrepreneurial risks, because you are self-employed. Your employer is not protecting you. For example, if you have a seasonal contract, or you get paid even when you are sick, the KSK can reject you.

      These documents explain who is self-employed, and who is not:

      You can be Freiberufler or a Gewerbetreibende1. It does not make a difference.

      You work in Germany

      This means that…

      • You work from Germany
        You must work from Germany at least 25% of the time, even if your clients are in other countries. You don't need German clients to join the KSK1.

      All German residents can join the KSK. You don't need German citizenship. Your nationality does not affect your application.

      You are not an employer

      This means that…

        • You have maximum one employee
          You can only hire one other employee1. You can hire as many apprentices, minijob employees, and freelancers as you want1.

          How to apply for the KSK?

          You do not automatically join the KSK. You must apply for it. If you don't join the KSK, nobody will force you.

          Is it hard to apply?

          It's not that hard. If you clearly meet the requirements, then it's easy. If your case is not clear, then it's a bit harder.

          You must send a lot of documents to prove that you are an artist, publicist or art teacher. This includes a resume, a portfolio, bank statements, letters of reference, reviews, contracts, invoices and more1. It takes a few days to gather all the documents.

          You must do everything in German. If you don't speak German, you will need a translator1. The KSK often asks more questions, and they rarely speak English.

          Staying in the KSK is easy. Once a year, you must tell them your predicted income. Each year, the KSK audits 5% of its members. If this happens to you, you must show tax declarations and other documents from the last 4 years. It's more work, but it's not hard.

          How long does it take?

          The KSK needs 2 to 4 months to decide, but they can take up to 1 year1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If you prepare your application well, the KSK sometimes decides faster.

          After you fill the registration form, you have 4 weeks to send the required documents. Then the KSK needs 2 to 4 months to make a decision. They often ask more questions, or ask for more documents.

          If the KSK rejects you, you must send more documents to appeal their decision. This takes more time.

          Should I pay someone to help me?

          Yes. You can do everything alone, but it's easier if an expert helps you.

          There are good reasons to hire an expert:

          • They speak German
            If you don't speak German, they can talk to the KSK for you. They can translate everything for you.
          • They know what the KSK wants
            They quickly tell you if you qualify for the KSK. They can verify your documents, optimize your KSK application, and improve your chances of getting accepted. People often get rejected because of small mistakes. Experts help you avoid those mistakes.
          • They tell you exactly what to do
            They give you clear instructions and tell you exactly what documents you need. They can explain everything to you. It makes the application process less confusing.

          People who can help you ➞

          Step 0: Get your residence permit

            If you need a residence permit to work in Germany, get that first. Apply for the KSK after you get your residence permit.

            Do I need a residence permit? ➞

            Step 1: Get health insurance

            The KSK is not a health insurer. You must choose health insurance yourself, and the KSK will pay for half of it. You can choose any public health insurance1. In some cases, you can also choose private health insurance.

            If you don't have health insurance yet, talk to a health insurance broker. Health insurance is complicated for freelancers, and it's easy to make mistakes. A broker will help you choose the right insurance for your needs. Tell your broker that you plan to join the KSK.

            While you wait for the KSK's decision, you also need health insurance. During that time, it's better to have public health insurance to avoid KSK backpayments.

            When the KSK accepts you, you might need to switch to public health insurance. In some cases, you can also keep your private health insurance.

              Step 2: Fill the registration form

                Fill the registration form and submit it. This takes a few seconds. If the KSK accepts you, your coverage starts from the date you fill this form1, 2.

                KSK online registration form ➞

                You will get a confirmation email a few minutes later. You will get another email with a reference number (Aktenzeichen) a few hours later. You need this number when you fill the application form.

                After you fill this form, you have 4 weeks to send the required documents1.

                Step 3: Fill the application form

                  Download the application form and fill it. This takes around 1 hour. You must know your social insurance number and your tax ID.

                  The application form is in German. The instructions are at the end of the form. These English instructions can help.

                  KSK application form ➞

                  Form instructions (in German)

                  Step 4: Collect the required documents

                  Collect the required documents. This takes a few hours.

                  These documents must prove that you meet the KSK requirements. If you prepare well, your application will go faster.

                  You can hire an expert to review your documents. They can improve your chances of getting accepted.

                  List of required documents ↓

                  Step 5: Send everything to the KSK

                  After you fill the registration form, you have 4 weeks to send your documents.

                  There are two ways to send your documents:

                  • By post (recommended)
                    Put all your documents in an envelope, and send it by registered mail to Künstlersozialkasse, Gökerstraße 14, 26384 Wilhelmshaven.
                  • By De-Mail
                    If you have a De-Mail account, you can use it to send your documents. It's easier to apply by post, but De-Mail is useful if you are currently travelling, and you can't receive post.

                  Print all your documents on A4 paper. If you have documents in other sizes, make an A4 photocopy. Do not staple the documents. They will be scanned page by page1.

                  Do not include books, pamphlets, business cards, CDs, DVDs or USB drives, only A4 documents. If you want to show external websites, print screenshots of them.

                  Step 6: Wait

                  The KSK will answer by post. It takes 1 to 6 months1.

                  While you wait, you can send more documents to support your application. Just include your reference number.

                  They will probably ask more questions, or require more documents. Don't take it personally. Answer their questions quickly. It shows that you care, and it makes them work faster.

                  You have around 4 weeks to answer before they delete your application. Most KSK applications are rejected because applicants are too slow.

                  Required documents

                  You don't need to include every document in this list. You must only prove that you meet the KSK requirements. You must help a stranger understand what you do, how you earn money, and why you are eligible for the KSK.

                  Application documents

                  • KSK application form
                    The German instructions are at the bottom of the form. This English guide shows you how to fill this form.
                  • Passport
                    Include a photocopy of your passport.
                  • Residence permit
                    If you need a residence permit to live in Germany, include a photocopy of it.
                  • Direct debit authorization
                    This allows you to pay the KSK automatically, instead of making manual bank transfers. It's optional, but recommended.

                  Proof that you are an artist, publicist or art teacher

                  When you fill the KSK application form, you must select one or more activities. You must include proof for each of those activities, so don't select too many of them.

                  KSK application form — selecting a profession
                  • Examples of your work
                    For example, websites, art, photographs, content that you have published, newspaper articles about your work, concert tickets. Anything that proves that you do creative or journalistic work.
                  • Proof of your creative career
                    This proves that you are a trained artist. For example, school diplomas, scholarships, certificates, and prizes you have won.
                  • Membership to artistic or journalistic associations
                    This proves that you are a professional artist. For example, if you are part of one of these associations, include your certificate of membership.
                  • Letters of reference from your clients
                    For example, a letter from a client that explains what kind of work you do for them1.
                  • Advertising material
                    For example, posters for your shows, photos of you on stage, business cards, social media profiles, or a website that advertises your services. Posters from big venues and ads in famous magazines help a lot.
                    • Personal website
                      If possible, your personal website should show that you sell your services.

                  These documents must be less than 1 year old. The documents can come from another country1.

                  Proof that you make money with your work

                  These documents prove that you make money from artistic activities. They are also used to estimate your future income, and calculate your KSK contributions.

                  • Invoices with bank statements
                    Include invoices for your artistic or journalistic work. For each invoice, include a screenshot of the bank transaction. You must prove that the invoice was paid.
                  • Contracts
                    Include the full contract, with the signature.
                  • Other sources of income
                    For example, affiliate income and Patreon sponsors. If your source of income is not clear, explain it in a separate document. This helps the KSK understand what you do.

                  These documents must be less than 6 months old. The documents can come from another country1.

                  Health insurance documents

                  Documents for students

                  If you are a student, you need these documents.

                  • Enrolment certificate (Immatrikulationsbescheinigung)
                    You get this from your university after you pay your registration fees.

                  Documents for parents

                  If you have children, you need these documents.

                  • Proof that you are a parent (Nachweis der Elterneigenschaft)
                    For example, your children's birth certificates, recent tax assessments, or proof that you get child allowance1.

                  Documents for teachers

                  • Proof of artistic education
                    If you are a teacher, you might need this document. On page 3 of the application form, check if your profession requires it.

                  After you join the KSK

                  Backpayments

                  When the KSK accepts you, your membership starts on the date you applied. You must pay health insurance and pension insurance for the time you waited. If they take 5 months to accept you, you must pay KSK contributions for those 5 months.

                  What happens depends on the health insurance you had while you waited:

                    • If you had public health insurance, you can get a refund from your health insurer. You can use your refund to pay the KSK. The cost will be almost the same. If you earn over 58,050€ per year, you could pay a little more.
                    • If you had private health insurance, you can sometimes get a refund from your health insurer. You can use your refund to pay the KSK backpayments. If you don't get a refund, you will pay twice for your health insurance for the months you were waiting.
                    • If you had expat health insurance, you can sometimes get a refund from your health insurer.

                    You pay every month

                    You must pay the KSK every month. There are two ways to do it:

                    Costs depends on predicted income

                    Every year, you must tell the KSK your predicted income for the next year. The KSK uses your predicted income to calculate your monthly payments. This is called the Jahresmeldung. You do it online1.

                    If your predicted income is wrong, it's okay.

                    • If your predicted income is too low, you pay less than you should. The KSK will not ask you to pay more1. Good for you.
                    • If your predicted income is too high, you pay more than you should. The KSK will not give you any money back1, 2. Bad for you.
                    • If your prediction is really wrong, then you can make a correction (Änderungsmitteilung). The KSK will adjust your future payments. They will not ask you to pay more for the past months. They will not give you any money back.
                    • If you make bad predictions on purpose, the KSK can fine you up to 5,0001, 2. They can also kick you out. They can't ask you to pay more for the past months.

                    There are random audits

                    Every year, the KSK verifies 5% of its members. They choose at random. If they verify you, you have 4 weeks to send them your tax declarations of the last 4 years1, 2. They will check two things:

                    1. you still meet the KSK requirements
                    2. you did not lie about your predicted income

                    When you leave Germany

                    If you leave the European Union, you can usually get a refund for your public pension insurance payments. You only get the part that you paid (9.3% of your income), not the part that the KSK paid.

                    If you can't get your pension payments back, you will get a German pension when you retire, even if you live in another country.

                    How to get a pension refund ➞

                    Questions and answers

                    Can I have private health insurance with the KSK?

                    It depends.1 You can only have private health insurance if…1, 26

                    • You were a freelancer for less than 3 years§3.2, §6
                    • or you earn more than 64,350€ per year for 3 years in a row.§7

                    Your private health insurance must offer similar coverage to public health insurance. Expat health insurance is not accepted.

                    The KSK will pay half of your private health insurance1. They will pay up to 9.65% of your income; half of the cost of public health insurance. If your health insurance costs more than that, you pay the extra cost alone.

                    You must pay the private health insurer yourself. The KSK will not give you money back, but they will lower your pension insurance payments1.

                    For most KSK members, private health insurance is a bad idea. Public health insurance is a better, safer option for you. Private health insurance only makes sense if you have a very high income, and you don't plan to have children.

                    If you are not sure about this, talk to a health insurance broker. They will help you choose the best health insurance for your needs.

                    Can I have another source of income while in the KSK?

                    Usually, yes. It depends on what you do1:

                    • Freelance artist + regular job
                      If you are a freelance artist and an employee, you can usually stay in the KSK.
                      • If your job is a minijob
                        If your job pays less than 520€ per month, the KSK pays for half of your health insurance, and half of your pension insurance. Your job makes no difference1.
                      • If most of your income is from your job
                        It depends on how much you earn from your job1, 2.
                        • If your job pays under 42,300€ per year
                          The KSK pays half of your pension insurance for your freelance income. Your employer pays half of your pension insurance for your employee income. Your employer pays half of your health insurance. The KSK does not pay for your health insurance.
                        • If your job pays over 42,300€ per year
                          You get kicked out of the KSK. You earn too much as an employee.
                      • If most of your income is from freelancing
                        The KSK pays half of your pension insurance for your freelance income. Your employer pays half of your pension insurance for your employee income. The KSK pays half of your health insurance. Your employer does not pay for your health insurance.
                    • Freelance artist + other freelance income
                      It depends on how much other freelance income you have1.
                      • If your other freelance income is less than 520€ per month (1,300€ in 2021 and 20221)
                        The KSK pays for half of your public pension insurance, and half of your health insurance.
                      • If your other freelance income is more than 520€ per month (1,300€ in 2021 and 2022)
                        The KSK pays for half of your public pension insurance. It does not pay for half of your health insurance. This could change soon1, 2.
                    • Freelance artist + full time student
                      The KSK pays for half of your public pension insurance. It does not pay for your health insurance.

                    Does my health insurance cover my family?

                    Yes. You have the same benefits as everyone else. If you have public health insurance, it covers your children, and your unemployed spouse (Familienversicherung). You have the same benefits as other people with public health insurance.

                    If you have private health insurance, you usually need to pay more to cover your family. The KSK does not pay for this. In this case, you should consider public health insurance. Talk to a health insurance broker. They will help you decide.

                    Do I get unemployment benefits?

                    No. Unemployment insurance is optional for freelancers. The KSK won't help you pay for it.

                    Need help?

                    There are people who can help you apply for the KSK. They can review your documents, answer your questions, and talk to the KSK for you.

                    A consultation costs between 75€ and 200€. It's a tax-deductible expense, so keep the receipt1.

                    Contact the KSK

                    If you speak German, you can call or email the Künstlersozialkasse.

                    Organisations for artists

                    Many organisations offer free consultations, support and workshops for artists. Before you pay for an expert, check if you can get help for free.

                    List of organisations — Kreativ Kultur Berlin

                    Künstlersozialkasse experts

                    • Alex Holz at Kulturspace
                      KSK and health insurance expert, native English speaker. His consultation fees are low. Alex helped me write this guide.
                    • Kathleen Parker at Red Tape Translation
                      Relocation consultant with a lot of KSK experience1, native English speaker. Their consultation fees are low. Kathleen reviewed this guide.
                    • Andri Jürgensen (Kiel)
                      Lawyer for artists and KSK expert. He speaks English1.
                    • BKMB Medien und Künstlerberatung
                      KSK and pension experts. They speak English.
                    • BIGmedia (Munich)
                      General consulting for freelance artists.
                    • DKMB
                      Insurance broker and KSK expert. Alexander Schwartz speaks English.
                    • Freie Wildbahn (Arnsberg)
                      KSK experts. They speak English.
                    • Expats in Wonderland
                      Relocation agency with KSK experience. They speak English.
                    • Inbound media service
                      KSK expert. They speak English.
                    • MKK Consult
                      Consultant for freelancers in arts, media and culture. KSK expert. He speaks English.

                    Communities who can help