Relocating to Germany as an expat is not for the faint hearted. But here we are. Wait, you want to be a freelancer in Germany? You’re one brave soul. Well, here is how you apply for the German freelancer visa (as an Indian national).
In 2018 I got my German freelance/ self-employment visa as a Non-EU national. This blog receives a lot of queries about how to apply for the self-employment permit in Germany so I decided to describe my experience in great detail. As you will notice in this post it was a very long (and incompetent) bureaucratic process but in the end, all was well.
Please note that this guide is relevant to non-EU citizens who are already living in Germany with a valid residence permit. If you are an Indian (or non-EU) national applying for a German freelance visa from India (or your home country), then check out this step by step guide. This process is also valid for other non-EU nationals from south-east Asia, Latin America, and other third countries.
Disclaimer: There are a few affiliate links in this post. I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Make Your First Appointment
Depending on where you live in Germany, the set up of your first appointment may differ from city to city. In some cities such as Berlin, you can simply book an online appointment and bring your documents to the day of your meeting.
In my district (a small city close to Nürnberg), I had to fill up the relevant visa application form, “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” and submit it at my local Rathaus (German for Town Hall). The Rathaus forwarded my application form to the responsible Auslanderbehörde (ABH).
After radio silence for a few weeks and some follow up calls demanding the status of my application, I finally received a response from my visa caseworker (Beamter) requesting a list of documents and finally kick start my German freelance visa process.
Prepare the Paperwork
Regardless of where you live in Germany, every ABH requires a more or less similar set of documents for this visa. Depending on your application, profession and your caseworker, ABH may ask you for additional documents.
I received a list of documents that they needed to process my visa application. It looked something like this:
Here is a list of typical documents that you should prepare for:
- Valid passport
- A biometric photo: This photo should not be older than six months
- A duly filled form “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” (Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit): Only required for first-time application
- Health insurance for freelancers in Germany: Ideally from a German statutory insurance provider. If you are applying from outside of Germany, then here is an overview of visa office approved German health insurances.
- Anmeldung (Proof of residency): This is the document that you receive when you register at visit your local Bürgeramt, or citizen office.
- Curriculum vitae: Details of your professional career, qualification certificates, diploma, references/sponsors) OR Portfolio (bring copies of any recent and relevant work, especially if your profession is more creative).
- Academic Certificates: Certificates of your Bachelor, Master and other studies
- Business Plan
- Revenue forecast: For this ABH accepts a tax declaration from past years
- Adequate pension plan: Only if you are above the age of 45
Take original documents to your appointment. Your caseworker will make a copy on the spot and return the originals to you right away.
BTW, if some of your documents are in a foreign language then you will need a certified translated copy in German.
A budget-friendly way is to order a certified translation through Lingoking – an international translation and interpretation service. With Lingoking, you can calculate the price of your certified contract translation in TWO steps using their stupid-simple online calculator.
Just enter the number of pages and language combination and Voila! Get your contract translation costs in real-time.
You May Also Like: All About Freelancing in Germany
Bring Your Own German (if you don’t speak fluent German)
On the day of the appointment bring a native German speaker with you. You don’t need a professional translator for this. Ask a German friend to help you in exchange for a nice meal and beer. Or take your German SO if you have one!
Ideally, you should go there prepared to communicate in German. There’s a very little chance that your caseworker will speak English or any other language – a good fact to remember when dealing with German bureaucracy in the day to day life. Even if your German is pretty basic, just muster up some courage to speak some. Best way to do this is to practice with a German friend before the meeting.
Even writing down some common phrases help. You want to demonstrate you’re committed to building an integrated life in Germany. Besides this, it also eases the mood a little bit at an otherwise bland and super official proceeding.
Be Ready For Additional Appointments and Paperwork
Almost halfway through my visa application process, I was asked to drop in and bring additional documents – a business plan, details of my past and current clients. That and my application was being forwarded to the Institute für Freie Berufe (IFB) for further assessment.
At this point, I’d started to panic. On paper, I met all the requirements for this visa, but my mind was manifesting all kinds of worst-case scenarios.
Another scenario that I was completely unprepared was the length of this process. Of course, I knew it takes a few months. Most of the sources, even the official ones state that it can take up to three months to get your self-employment visa.
Here is the timeline of my German self-employment visa
- Early Dec 2017: Application sent to the Rathaus. I didn’t expect any response until January 2018 since Dec is the shortest work month in Germany.
- Jan 2018: No response from Rathaus or ABH. Here’s when I started to follow up with the Rathaus. They tell me to connect with the AHB directly. ABH tells me to contact Rathaus instead. Fun times!
- February 2018: Finally a response from ABH for the first meeting with required documents
- March 2018: Radio silence
- April 2018: I receive a new request to submit additional document
- May 2018: Radio silence and no response to my follow up calls
- June 2018: My existing visa came close to its expiry date in early June. Still no answer to my phone calls for an appointment. I made an unscheduled visit as my last resort and got told off by my case-worker for dropping in without an appointment. I managed to get a temporary three-months visa (fiktionsbescheinigung) with just one day left on my current one.
- July 2018: Radio silence. I call up IFB in desperation, and they inform me that they already ‘processed’ my case a few weeks ago.
- August 2018: Finally I receive a written confirmation in August end that I have the approval. Phew!
- September 2018: I receive my visa in September end after another couple of visits to ABH
This entire ordeal was after I’d been working as a freelancer in Germany for almost a year – with proof of regular income et al! Needless to say, it made me very envious to read ‘success stories’ of people flying in from the US or Canada and getting their freelancer visa ON. THE. FUCKING. SPOT!
Have a lot of patience. A LOT!
Germany is notorious for being overly bureaucratic. And for the right reasons. I had to wait for nine months to get my self-employment visa processed.
My application ping-ponged between my local Rathaus, the ABH, and the Institute für Freie Berufe (IFB) before getting approved. I had to submit additional documents, attend additional meetings to convince my case-worker and follow up with all the above mentioned amts several times to get some clarity. All that was extremely draining and affected both – work and personal life.
But when you are down with the red tape anxiety, it’s helpful to remind yourself that Germany is in need of bright, entrepreneurial, skilled workforce. Your motivation to work and set up a business here is seen as a positive trait, not as some sneaky scheme to benefit from their social system.
So even if you find navigating the visa system intimidating, I’d say that it is a great learning experience. And once you get your visa, an extremely rewarding one. After all, now you get to fulfil your dream of having an independent professional career abroad.
So keep your head up, stay cool and once you have your self-employment visa – go out and treat yourself with a nice German beer.
Got your German self-employment visa? Now learn about Registering as a Freelancer With German Tax Authorities.
Have you applied for a German freelancer visa? How was your experience? Are you still sane? Let us know in comments below!