Two months before my visa expired, I was already stressing out about obtaining a freelance visa in Germany. To be honest, I worried for nothing so let me share my experience and hopefully it’s useful to someone out there.
Firstly, some background info. I’m an Australian citizen, came to Germany on a working holiday visa. There was a technical error on my visa as I was granted permission to be a freelancer. That was super for me and made it easier to find work. I was registered as a Kleinunternehmerin and already had a tax number from the Finanzamt.
If you’re in Berlin, there are essentially two freelance visas you can apply for:
1. Work freelance visa
2. Artist freelance visa
The artist freelance visa falls under the usual work freelance visa, and is only applicable if you’re a resident in Berlin. So what are the main differences between the two?
Work freelance visa
- You can be in any profession, such as web programmer, marketing, accounting, and so on.
- It can take three months or more to process your visa application as it gets sent to the Bundesagentur Für Arbeit (Federal Employment Agency) to be reviewed. In the meantime, the visa you currently hold gets extended. If you hold a tourist visa, it will get extended while you apply for the visa, but in this period you will still not be allowed to legally work.
Artist freelance visa
- Your profession needs to be related to “art” or journalism. It’s quite subjective and you might need to be creative with your job title. If I were to apply for this, I wouldn’t call myself a Marketing Consultant, but perhaps a Creative Director.
- Your visa application is reviewed on the spot and you’d be approved (or rejected) on the day. This is good if you’re on a tourist visa and need to start working ASAP. Edit: Seems like if you apply for the artist freelance visa and they’re not sure if you really fall under the category, your application will be sent to the Bundesagentur Für Arbeit and it will take up to three months to review everything.
As I already had a visa that allowed me to work, I didn’t have a time constraint and didn’t need the freelance visa immediately. It actually worked in my favour as my working holiday visa got extended for for three months while I waited for my application to be processed.
Documents you need
Whether you apply for the work or artist freelance visa, you need to make a convincing case that you’re capable of finding work and supporting yourself. Think of the process as almost like a job interview where you’d be selling yourself to the interviewer through documents. Here’s what I was advised to take in:
- Filled out visa application form (edit: residence permit form to be precise)
- 2 biometric photos
- Application fee (they have a machine that takes cash, EC card, and credit cards)
- Anmeldung paper
- Health insurance
- Portfolio of your works (especially important if you’re applying for the artist freelance visa)
- Mission statement: Your profession and what you do (think of this as a cover letter)
- Business plan: How you’d be generating new clients and work. I listed networking events, learning German, setting up a website, and e-mailing potential contacts. I also wrote down KPIs to make these goals more tangible.
- Profit & Loss statement: It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a simple cashflow of your revenue and expenses for the next 12 months.
- Bank statement: The more, the better. This is probably the biggest deciding factor whether you get approved or rejected. A bank account with less than 3,000€ and no cash coming in would raise some eyebrows.
- 2-3 recommendation letters. This is probably the hardest to do if you haven’t worked in Germany yet. You can get around this by asking your former employers to write you something nice, and also ask potential German employers that they’re willing to hire you or purchase your works. I had been freelancing with various clients already, so I got them to write me something in German, along the lines of “Yi has worked on these projects… she was awesome… will hire her again for future projects.”
It took exactly three months for my two-year freelance visa to be approved. Looking back, here are some tips to make the process less daunting:
- Take a German-speaker with you. Nevertheless, do learn a bit of German beforehand such as greetings, what kind of work you do, and how your friend is here to help you translate. I think walking in with a bit of German shows that you’re trying already to be integrated into the country and it makes a good impression. Think about it, if you walked into the U.S. immigration office knowing zero English, they won’t be too impressed.
- Have ALL your documents ready and marked. I labelled everything with a small post-it-note tab so when the interviewer asked for a document, I can quickly hand it to him/her without having to go through sheets of paper.
- If your temp visa extension is about to expire and you still haven’t heard anything about your visa, book an online appointment. My temp visa was going to expire 1 August, and on 25 July, I still didn’t receive any news. Instead of rocking up to the Ausländerbehörde on 31 July and having to wait hours, I made an online appointment for 6 August. As long as your visa hasn’t expired when you make the online booking, it automatically gets extended until your online appointment.
- Come prepared, be confident, and smile. Being friendly goes a long way and it never hurts to triple check things. I even made additional copies of the documents just to be safe. Yes, sometimes I’m TOO organised.
Just a disclaimer that I’m not an expert in this field and I’m simply reflecting on my own experience. I did see an immigration lawyer beforehand to go through the documents I needed and I can highly recommend Katja Ponert from VPMK in Berlin. For health insurance, I can also recommend Mike Woodiwiss from Spectrum International. If you need help with German documents, calls or meetings, get in touch with Redtape Translations (I haven’t used them personally but have heard positive things about them).
Comment below to share your visa experience, tips or if you have any questions. 🙂