Preparing for a Freelance Visa Application in Germany
So, you’ve decided to follow your dreams, pick up shop, and move to Germany to pursue a freelance life untethered by formal 9-to-5 office hours. Congratulations! You’re at the beginning of a very rewarding journey. One word to the wise, however: outside of the usual stress involved with relocating to a new country, one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of freelancing as an expat in Germany is navigating the visa system. Just the word seems intimidating: a little stamp in your passport that can make or break your big schemes to build a fresh professional life in a new city. If you speak to members of the expat community, everyone will have their own stories of triumph and defeat at the Auslanderbehörde (the government office that deals with immigration), and personalized tips and tricks to ensure success. Here, I have compiled a surefire list of advice, based on my own personal experience with immigrating to Germany, and the countless hours of formal and informal conversations I’ve had with employers, other freelancers, friends and acquaintances around the sometimes intense, often confusing, and totally indispensable process of applying for a freelance visa.
Find Out What Kind of Visa You Need
First off, you’ll need to categorize the type of work you’re doing in order to identify the visa that will work the best for you. If you’re starting your own business, research if you’d be eligible for an Entrepreneurial Visa. If you’re freelancing for multiple international and/or German-based companies, there is a general Freelancer Visa that will probably cover all your needs. If your trade is more creative (design, arts, performance, writing), you may want to look into an Artist Visa, which is a slightly easier to obtain and leaves for a little more professional leeway. The tips in this article apply to all types of freelance visas, but of course, all visas have their nuances depending on what you want to contribute to the German workforce. I highly recommend doing some personal research to determine exactly what you’ll need. However, beware: once you are approved for the profession you’ve applied under, you can only legally work within in that field. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, you can’t suddenly pursue your big dream of becoming an opera singer without going through the process all over again. So make sure you have the contacts, incoming work, and skill set it takes to succeed in your chosen field before applying for a visa.
Bring a Translator, But Try to Speak the Language
If you don’t speak German, definitely find a translator to accompany you to your interview. They don’t need to be a professional—a bilingual friend is more than enough. Since this is your first time, the process is pretty straight-forward, and they’ll cover some fairly basic ground: what you do, why you’ve chosen to work in Germany, your employment history, etc. There’s no guarantee that your interviewer will speak English (which is good to remember when dealing with German bureaucracy in general), so being able to express yourself clearly is of the utmost importance. That being said, if you do have even a basic grasp of German, this is a good opportunity to practice. The immigration office wants to see that you are committed to building a life here, and even a few rehearsed lines just to set the mood typically go over very well. During my interview, I introduced myself and my translator in German and used a few simple sentences, and the interviewer commented on my language skills. It’s not a slam dunk, but it helped us both feel more at ease with the process.
You’re Not Going Anywhere Without Healthcare
In order to be approved for your visa, you will need comprehensive German healthcare. Recently, the rules regarding this have changed slightly, and temporary insurance such as “traveler’s insurance” is no longer accepted. Before even setting foot in the country, research healthcare options based on your income and coverage needs, because often the application process can be lengthy. Do not, I repeat, do not leave this until the last minute. When I was looking for a healthcare provider, I found an affordable broker who was able to fill out my application forms in German and walk me through the (at times convoluted) German healthcare system. You’ll have to pay for healthcare out-of-pocket (although there are certain state-run programs, like the Künstlersozialkasse , that provide financial assistance to freelance workers), so make sure you are choosing the most cost-efficient coverage. Also, the only way to have your visa status automatically revoked is to fall behind on your healthcare payments, so be sure to make it a priority.
Money, Money, Money
Like many things in life, much of your visa process will boil down to cold, hard cash. It may seem trite, but more than anything, the German immigration bureau wants to see that you will be able to support yourself in the long term if your income flow temporarily dries up or it takes longer than anticipated to get your business up and running. As a non-German, you’re not yet eligible for social services such as unemployment or welfare payment, so it’s extremely important to have a nest egg readily available, especially as a freelancer. Any money you can save before coming to Germany will work in your favor, as the Ausländerbehörde will ask to see proof of all your existing assets—basically your bank statements from any accounts you have open (if you can finagle a way to open an account in Germany before your interview appointment, even better). The more money you have stashed away, the more likely you are to get approved, as they will feel more comfortable in letting you loose on the German market if you have something to fall back on. Even a few extra thousand Euros can make a huge difference.
Don’t Lose Your Head!
This last piece of advice was the one that kept me sane during the months of preparation for my interview. Coming from America, I was conditioned to see immigration as this monstrous, cold-hearted machine that takes people’s lives and spits them out on the other side of the border. I was petrified that the slightest infraction would have me outright rejected from the system and unceremoniously returned to my home country with my tail between my legs. But when the red tape anxiety has got you down, it’s helpful to remember that Germany is actually in need of bright, entrepreneurial, skilled freelance workers, and your interest in working here is seen as a bonus, not a shifty scheme to profit from their social resources. Yes, the process is intimidating, there’s no doubt about that. But if you cross your T’s, dot your I’s, and move forward in a clear and transparent manner, there is no reason why your application wouldn’t be approved. And once you’re in, Germany is a fantastic country with great companies, and more and more opportunities for international freelancers. So take these tips, take heed, and buy yourself a nice, frosty pint of German beer when you finally get that stamp of approval.
Author: Cameron Cook