This is a guest post by a Berlin-based freelance journalist Rachel Stern. You can check out her official website or follow her on Twitter.
Whether you’re seeking new career opportunities or political refuge from the U.S., Germany is a vibrant country for Americans to live and work in. It is expected to add up to 760,000 new jobs by the year’s end, many in marketing or research where native English speakers or people with an international background are in high demand.
Nationals of certain countries are allowed to apply for German freelance visa after they have arrived in Germany, however for most countries they require that you apply for one at their local embassy or consulate before coming to Germany.
But if you first come to the country as a freelancer, acquiring a visa can be more burdensome — though manageable if you cover all of your bases. Here are my tips of successfully acquiring a German freelance visa, taken from first-hand experience in Berlin at the Ausländerbehörde (or in less intimidating language: foreigner’s office).
Where to Start
First, you will need to head to the Foreigner’s Office Website to book an appointment. You can select “Residence Permit for the Purpose of Freelance or Self-Employment — initial Issuance”. This simply means it’s your first time applying for German freelance visa. The freelance status applies to independent contractors, whether a journalist like myself or engineer.
As an American, you can come to Germany on a three-month tourist visa, and book an appointment during this time. However, if an appointment does not free up until after this period, you have until the date of your appointment to remain in the country.
What You’ll Need
1. Two or three letters from potential freelance employees
These need to be in German, and demonstrate specifically how much you will earn per project/assignment or hour you work. But these letters have to demonstrate that you are contributing to the local economy and possess a skill that Germans don’t.
Nowadays usually just being a native English speaker won’t cut it, but showing a more specific requirement — such as specifically American English or doing market research for a North American audience — will. In the end, they will want to see that you will have at least 800 euros coming in a month, but this will vary based on the city you’re living.
Still, these letters don’t have to turn into paid work. They just have to say that the companies or contractors would be willing to work with you.
2. Documents showing your professional background
You’ll need to bring along a CV/resume. Since this is Germany, it can be very long (up to four pages) and also should include a photo, date of birth and place of birth. If possible, bring along your actual degrees, such as a bachelor’s, but if you don’t have these, a copy (as I used) is usually fine, especially if translated to German. They will also want documents they can easily scan: I brought along a few copies of articles I had written, but graphic artists can also scan their designs for example.
3. Health Insurance
It’s illegal to live in Germany without it so you’ll need to bring proof of it along. However, this presents a Catch-22 if you’re applying for a visa for the first time. Most health insurance requires a work permit to receive it, yet you need a work permit for health insurance. How do you get around this? You can first acquire short term health insurance through Care Coverage or Mar Vista. Women also need to have insurance that includes pregnancy coverage, whether or not that is part of their future plans.
4. Revenue Forecast
You will find Financing Plan and Capital Budget Plan forms on the website you apply for your appointment. Usually you can leave big chunks of the form blank, such as staff expenses. But you can include day-to-day expenses, include health insurance if you have private coverage.
This registration document just shows that you have registered your address. You can make an appointment here or simply show up at the office of the district you are living along with your housing contract. Another Catch-22 is that you will usually need an Anmeldung before becoming a Hauptmieter, or the main person on a housing contract. But you can often sublet a place or join a shared flat (WG) without one.
6. Get a Bank Account
Usually you have to register for an account in person with your Anmeldung on hand. But you can also sign up for one from afar at Deutsche Kredit Bank. It helps to show you have a sizeable amount of savings in here (I’ve heard the ‘magic number’ is 4,000 euros but this varies) and/or that you have steady income. I personally printed out bank statements from the past year in order to demonstrate this.
7. Two Biometric Passport Photos
Note, though, that your facial expression in these has to be neutral. My first application was turned away because of my smile. I did not look so happy in the next ones I submitted.
Photo: German flag (CC BY 2.0) by fdecomite