The Ever-Evolving FAQs for Freelancing in Germany

freelancing in germany

If you are reading this, you are obviously interested in becoming a freelancer in Germany. Well, you are in the right place!

On this page, you will find all the frequently asked questions that you need to know to kickstart your freelancing career in Germany.

Right from applying for a German freelance visa to freelance taxes and living day to day expat life in Germany.

1. Get your German freelance visa

All foreigners need self-employment or a freelance permit to start freelancing in Germany.

However, the requirements for a German freelance visa can differ from country to country.

Click on the following resources to determine the correct visa application process for your citizenship. Or continue reading more FAQs about working in Germany as a freelancer. 

What is the difference between German freelancers visa and an artist visa?

There is NO such thing as an ‘Artist Visa’ in Germany. It is a colloquial term used in Berlin’s immigrant community to simplify self-employment visa.

There have been several cases (particularly) in Berlin when the immigration office caseworkers promptly granted a permit for artistic activities and language teachers. Most likely due to a large influx of international freelance musicians, artists, designers, developers flocking to Berlin more than other  German cities.

Over time this came to contribute towards the ‘German Artist Visa’ myth within the international circuits. It’s not a special ‘visa category’ despite what you may have read or heard.

Germany grants ONE residence permit for a ‘liberal professional’ self-employed activity which is simply called ‘Self-employment visa’ AKA Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur selbstständigen Tätigkeit. 

FAQs: German Freelancer Visa

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GERMAN FREELANCER VISA AND GERMAN FREELANCE RESIDENT PERMIT?​

A visa is short for an entry visa. A visa application grants you entry into a country for a specific purpose e.g. tourism, study, work, family reunion etc.

Certain nationalities must apply for a visa before entering Germany. You will apply for an entry visa at a German embassy/ consulate from your home country. A typical German entry visa has a validity of 90 days.

A resident permit is granted by individual foreigner offices (Ausländerbehörde) in German cities. You may have to submit the same set of documents at the foreigner office which will be processed by a caseworker. If they are satisfied with the paperwork, you will be able to get a long-term resident permit.

A  typical German resident permit can last from 12 months to 3 years.

What is the difference between German freelancer visa and German self-employment visa?

Self-employment visa, freelancer visa or artist visa – These are one and the same thing just used interchangeably.

The official German term for this resident permit is Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur selbstständigen Tätigkeit. 

Self-employment in Germany has several sub-categories. Freelance is just one of them.

Many expat websites use the term freelancer visa because most foreigners come here to become freelancers instead of taking up other types of self-employment in Germany. 

Which nationalities do not need an entry visa to enter Germany?

Citizens of certain Non-EU nations, namely Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, some South American nations, and the United States may enter and stay in Germany for 90 days without applying for an entry visa from their respective countries.

These citizens can enter Germany and apply for a freelance resident permit without needing an entry visa. 

Which nationalities need an entry visa to enter Germany?

The citizens of the rest of the world (also known as Third-Country nationals) need to apply for a German entry visa from their home countries.

Once they have entered Germany they can apply for a German freelance resident permit at their responsible foreigners’ office. 

Can anyone apply for a German freelance visa?

Currently, there are no known restrictions for a German freelancer visa. Anyone who meets the requirements for this resident permit can apply for a German self-elf-employment visa.

Read the full list of requirements for the German freelance visa here.

Can I convert my current German resident permit into German freelancer visa?

Yes, if you have a long term valid German resident permit and you qualify for the requirements for the freelancer visa, you can definitely start the process to convert your current German resident permit into a German freelancer visa. 

This is how I converted my German job-seekers visa into a German freelance resident permit.

What documents do I need for German freelancer visa?

The document requirement can differ from case to case. Nationality and career history plays a big role in your visa application process. 

Here is a list of documents that I had to prepare for my visa application as a long-term resident in Germany

What expat health insurance do I need for my visa application?

Everyone needs health insurance in Germany – it’s mandatory.

You can easily signup with travel or expat insurances, however, not all of them are approved by German immigration authorities.

Here are some German foreigner offices approved health insurances that you can use for your German freelancer visa.

Long term health insurance for self-employed in Germany

Expat health insurances are temporary and often not accepted for visa extensions in Germany.

If your goal is to stay in Germany for several years, consider switching to a valid long term statutory or private health insurance – before your existing freelancer visa expires.

Read more about how to pick the right health insurance as a long-term resident in Germany.

2. Set up your business as a freelancer in Germany

Getting your German freelance visa is only the start. If you want to work as a freelancer you have to register yourself one with the German tax authorities (Finanzamt).

At this stage, you will have to formally decide the types of self-employment in Germany and the German tax system.

Registering as a freelancer in Germany with Finanzamt is a fairly simple process, but it can be really difficult for anyone new to the German language.

Below are some helpful resources and more FAQs about the entire process. 

Other must-have insurances for freelancers in Germany

Health insurance is not the only essential insurance that freelancers in Germany need.

It is highly recommended to have private liability insurance when you live in Germany. Most German freelancers don’t start their business without a Verdienstausfallversicherung (Loss of Earnings Insurance) and Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung (Occupational Disability Insurance).

Here is a list of essential insurances & tools for every expat freelancer in Germany.

FAQs: Getting started as a Freelancer in Germany

How can you find clients in Germany?

Now that you are in Germany, you have to find clients. Did you know that remote work is quickly becoming a big trend in Germany? Here is a list of websites where you can find remote work in Germany – whether freelance projects or (full-time work).

If you are interested in becoming a freelance marketing consultant like me, here are some of the high paying remote marketing jobs that can earn you adult-sized paychecks.

What is Scheinselbstständigkeit or fake self-employment in Germany?

There is a so-called ‘fake-freelancing or fake-self-employment‘ trap in Germany. Those found guilty can expect repercussions, back payments and get their self-employment privileges or licence revoked.

As a responsible freelancer in Germany, you are expected to educate yourself about this. Learn here what is Scheinselbstständigkeit or fake self-employment in Germany (& how to avoid it)?

Can I freelance while employed full-time in Germany?

Depends on your German national visa and your employers’ policy. Check the accompanying documents with your visa. Does it say Selbständige Tätigkeit gestattet? If yes, then good news for you. You can take up freelancing in Germany besides your normal work. But before you take on your first client, you will still need written permission from your main employer that you can actually freelance in Germany or not.

Can I freelance as a student in Germany? 

According to § 21 paragraph 6 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG), non-EU students may freelance in Germany along with their studies.

As a full-time student, you are permitted to work 120 days or 240 half-days. There’s no upper limit on your income. You will have to pay freelancer taxes once you cross a certain income threshold.

You have to apply for a separate German freelance permit to be able to work as a freelancer in Germany.

Existenzgruender.de explains here in more detail.

Can I work remotely while living in Germany?

Yes, you can! I have been working remotely in Germany since 2014, so way before Corona pandemic enforced a nationwide remote work situation.

In the post-Corona world, you can expect to find a number of remote jobs in Germany as a freelancer. Here are some high paying remote marketing jobs that you can do in Germany (or pretty much anywhere really!)

Where can I find remote jobs in Germany?

Online, mostly! I found a lot of remote work in Germany using platforms such as Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Freelancer.de etc. Here is a list of websites that regularly post remote work in Germany.

Can I work via freelance marketplaces as a freelancer in Germany?

Yes, absolutely! I got my German freelancer visa with only Upwork clients in my portfolio. At the end of the day, your visa officer is concerned about your monthly or yearly income, and not the geographical origin of your clients. Having said that it is helpful to have some German clients to avoid raising any unnecessary issues during your visa processing.

3. Managing finances as a freelancer in Germany

As a freelancer in Germany, you will have to create invoices for your client and even do some accounting on your own. Here are some beginners guides on how to create legal VAT invoices in Germany and what to do when a clients misses a payment.

Financial stability as a freelancer in Germany

As a freelancer, you can go broke at the drop of a hat.

Financial stability is really important, especially for freelancers. And even more so if you live in a foreign country.

Project-related disputes with the clients or accidental third party damage can cost several thousands of euros. Clients may pay late or straight away refuse. These are rare scenarios but they need to happen just once to disrupt the normal flow of your life.

Here is a guide I wrote on how not to go bankrupt as a freelancer in Germany.

FAQs: Finances as a Freelancer in Germany

Do I need a separate business bank account in Germany as a freelancer?

In principle, the scope of services of a private current account and a business account is very similar. However, it is advisable for business owners to open a separate account for business purposes, even if the number of monthly transactions is low in the beginning.

Read my reviews of the best (ENGLISH) business bank accounts in Germany for freelancers. 

Should I hire an accountant or do my own bookkeeping?

Both options are possible. However, it may cost more to hire an accountant to handle your monthly bookkeeping. There are also several accounting and invoicing tools that can automate the entire bookkeeping process for you and cost only 5€ per month.

Read about my round-up of the best (ENGLISH) accounting tools for freelancers in Germany

How do I create VAT invoices in Germany?

Your invoices have to be legally valid to get paid by clients in Germany. Read my guide on how to create German VAT invoice (and download FREE invoice templates!).

What should I do when a client is late with a payment or does not pay at all?

Every freelancer has to deal with late-paying clients. Sometimes, they may not pay at all.

There are specific best practices and legalities around sending payment reminders in Germany.

Here is how you deal with unpaid invoices in Germany (AKA how to send a Mahnung to your clients). You can also download FREE German payment reminder in this post.

4. Understand VAT for freelancers in Germany

If you are freelancing in Germany you should have some background knowledge of how VAT works in the EU.

As an international freelancer in Germany, you will end up working with clients from other EU countries as well as those outside the EU. VAT rules vary by the regions and mistakes can cost dearly.

What is Kleinunternehmerregelung?

Business owners with low turnover are classified as small entrepreneurs. If your turnover in the previous year did not exceed € 17,500 /€22,000 from 2020) and turnover in the current year is unlikely to exceed € 50,000.00 then you are considered Kleinunternehmer or small entrepreneur.

If you use Kleinunternehmerregelung or the small business regulation, you do not have to charge VAT on your turnover.

FAQs: VAT for Freelancers in Germany

How much VAT should you charge your clients in Germany?

For a freelancer in Germany, the normal VAT rate is 19%. The reduced rate for VAT is 7% and applies to some special product categories.

Where can you get your VAT ID in as a freelancer in Germany?

A freelancer in Germany can request a new VAT-ID from local tax authorities when they register as a freelancer in Germany.

When you check ‘request VAT ID’ option in your self-employment registration form, your Finanzamt sends you a VAT-ID through the post in a few weeks.

I have clients from other EU countries. How much VAT should I charge them?

Your invoice for your EU clients should show VAT reverse charge.

There is a reversal of the tax liability within EU countries, called the “reverse charge procedure”.

How do I charge VAT to my non-EU clients?

If you have a client from a 3rd country (such as the US, UK, India, UAE etc) then your best bet is to ask them beforehand if they have any VAT obligations. Depending on this you can either charge VAT or leave it out.  

What is advance VAT return AKA Umsatzsteuervoranmeldung (UStVA)?

Advance VAT return is the process of making an advance payment of VAT to the tax office. The advance VAT return must be submitted either once a month or once a quarter or once a year.

When should you file Advance VAT Return to Finanzamt?

Freelancers are obliged to submit an advance VAT return by the 10th of each month.

How can you file Advance VAT Return to German tax authorities?

You can submit an advance VAT return as a freelancer in Germany using ELSTER or any popular online tax filing tools that can be integrated with ELSTER.

Is there something else to keep in mind about VAT for freelancers in Germany?

Yes, there are some more details that you should keep in mind about VAT as a freelancer in Germany. Here is a list of VAT guides that you can read.

5. Understand German freelancer taxes

Taxes in a foreign country and language is not everyone’s cup of tea. As an expat you may find the tax system too complicated, and too difficult to manage by yourself.

If you are freelancing in Germany you should have some background knowledge of the German tax system.

How to file your German freelancer tax in English

If you’re a freelancer or a sole trader with very simple tax reporting requirements, then you can use one of the many taxation tools designed specifically for the German tax system.

Read my step by step guide on how to file your German freelancer tax in English all by yourself.

FAQs: German Freelancer Taxes

Where can I learn about German freelance tax ids?

First and the foremost, learn about various German tax IDs – National tax number, German freelance tax ID and VAT number.

Will I need a tax consultant or can I file taxes myself?  

 

Can I deduct home office as a business expense?

Yes. However, in German law, a home office should be a proper room with walls and a door. Putting a work desk in the living room corner does not count as a home office. Also, the home office should only be used for work-related activities. You cannot use one room as a guest room or home office. It should be used exclusively for your freelancing work.

Read my guide on how to set up a home office in Germany.

What else can I deduct as business expenses in Germany?

This post covers several business expenses relevant for freelancers in Germany.

6. Expand your freelance business in Germany

Now that you know the most important details about working as a freelancer in Germany, here are some details about how to grow your business in Germany.

Pension schemes for freelancers in Germany

If you plan to stay in Germany for the long term, then you might want to learn about pension schemes for self-employed people in Germany.

FAQs: Growing your freelance business in Germany

Am I allowed to hire an employee or a Mini-Jobber?

 

Can I outsource work to other freelancers?

 

16 Comments

  • Ashley

    Thank you Yamini for this. Really insightful.

    I would like to know based on oyur personal experience sif I can do freelance work under the 18-month post graduation visa, also while still having a part time job? Or do I need to change to a freelancer visa? Is it possible to hold two different visas at the same time?
    I am a non-EU citizen for context.

    My part time work pays for my insurance, Social security and taxes. The freelance would be for a company based in Germany

    • Yamini

      hey Ashley thank you! 🙂 For reference, I freelanced while I was on my 18-mon job seekers visa, however, I registered my business with Finanzamt as soon as I started freelancing. I’m not aware of freelancing and having a part-time job at the same time.

      Maybe you can look into nebenberufliche Selbständigkeit – which basically means having a side freelance business while you’re employed full-time.

      • Viktoria

        Hi Yamini, I’m so grateful I found your website! All this information is so valuable – thank you!

        Question: end of 2019 I became unemployed and beginning of 2020 I got a Steuernummer (kleine Unternehmen). However, during 2020 I didn’t do any freelance jobs – I remained unemployed and received the benefits until November 2020 when I started a new full-time job.

        If I understand correctly, I still need to declare income taxes for 2020 as both freelancer (0€), unemployed (x€) and employed (x€). The employed + unemployed I can together through Elster on my own – but how does it work for the freelance part?

        Would truly appreciate your support!

        Sunny regards,
        Viktoria

        • Yamini

          Hey Viktoria, I’m not informed about taxation in regards to benefits, so I cannot give you a helpful answer 🙂 So sorry! I’ll leave this comment here so someone else could pitch in and share their knowledge about this.

        • Viktoria

          Hi Yamini, thanks for the reply and leaving my comment nevertheless! 🙏🏻

          I try to summarize my question, maybe it’s something you have an idea of still: if I didn’t work as a freelancer during 2020 = made €0 – do I still have to file EÖK and Incometax as a freelancer?

          Thank you for your patience and kindness! ✨

          Warm regards,
          Viktoria

          • Yamini

            Hey Viktoria, no problem at all 🙂 I’m just guessing now but Finanzamt expects us to declare income even when earnings are low. I suppose they would be interested in checking how much you earned in 2020 (if at all). Maybe you can give them a quick call and ask them what to do 🙂 Viel glück and hope someone else can answer your question here.

  • Carmen

    Hi Yamini,

    Sorry, me again! I still have a few questions and would love to pick your brain on them!

    I am on a student residence permit at the moment and would like to freelance as a consultant on a project basis (I believe it’s the Freier Mitarbeiter category). I am studying my master’s in economics; my bachelor’s was in business administration and I have worked as a full-time consultant previously in Australia. I want to seek permission to freelance according to Section 21.6 as you mentioned above.

    My questions are:

    1. Due to the lack of Ausländerbehörde appointments, I have emailed the office directly seeking permission. Their reply was, I needed to supply them with a Honorarvertrag / Arbeitsvertrag (mit Angabe der Dauer der Beschäftigung und der Vergütung); which I translated to be a proper contract. It sounds rather paradoxical that I need to secure a contract before I get permission to do so? Have you had any experience with this by any chance?

    2. For the freelancer registration and freelancer tax ID with the Finanzamt, do I need to supply proof that the Ausländerbehörde has given me the permission to do so? I am just mindful that this process could take a while and I want to get started on the process since I already have a tax ID with my initial Anmeldung.

    3. For the small business VAT exemption declaration, do I have the option to apply for this initially as I do not know how much I will earn and if this changes later on in the year I can change it and get a VAT number then? Is the exemption applicable if I have other EU (non-German) clients? Does this implicate the VAT reversal points above?

    Sorry for the lengthy message! Appreciate your help/suggestions!

    Best regards,
    Carmen

    • Yamini

      Hi Carmen,

      No worries, I’ll take a stab at it.

      1) For freelancing you’d need an ‘Honorarvertrag’ or letter of intent from potential clients. It’s not so uncommon to secure clients before you get your freelance permit. In fact, even preferred by ABH since it proves that your skills are in demand locally. For reference, I had already been registered with tax authorities, and working as a freelancer here for a year before I got my official freelancer resident permit. I should add that this was after finishing my masters in Germany and was on an 18 months ‘Job seekers resident permit’ at the time.

      2) You can apply for your freelance tax number already. As mentioned above, I did the same as soon as I finished my masters in Germany.

      3) You can apply for VAT ID at any point. So if you are unsure about your income in the initial phase, you can apply as a ‘Kleinunternehmer’. Later when your income exceeds the minimum threshold, you can request for a VAT ID from Finanzamt.

      I hope this helps! 🙂
      Yamini

  • Yuliya

    Hi Carmen,

    Thank you for the great blog.

    Do you know is it possible to register once and freelance across multiple professions? For example design and yoga teacher?

    Thank you!

  • Carmen

    Hi there!

    Thank you for such a thorough blog!

    I wanted to following up on the part on freelancing as a student:

    “CAN I FREELANCE AS A STUDENT IN GERMANY?
    As of 2019, students from a non-EU country may freelance in Germany along with their studies. You have to apply for a separate German freelance permit to be able to work as a freelancer in Germany.

    However, as a full-time student, you are allowed to work about 180 hours per year. There’s no upper limit on your income. You will have to pay taxes once you cross a certain income threshold.”

    Do you have an official source / reference and the required documents and steps? I am having some difficulty with the Immigration Office but cannot seem to locate any official information online on freelancing as a student. Also, do you know if my clients can be within EU but outside Germany? Really appreciate your help on this!

    Thank you!

    Best,
    Carmen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *