While a lot of countries hand out employee visas, Germany is one of the few places in Europe that issues visas to freelancers, which has quickly turned it into one of the biggest hubs for freelancers, remote workers and digital nomads. In particular, Berlin has become a popular stomping ground for artists and programmers alike. This means that living a freelancer in Berlin has never been easier, but the spike in freelance visa applications also means that the process has become increasingly strict over time.
I went through my freelance visa application last week and learned that despite all my preparation, I had screwed up. Badly. To the point of nearly having to leave the country. All this, because of tiny details in the bureaucratic process that no amount of time or advice could have prepared me for.
But despite all that, I still came out with a 2 year freelance visa.
Below, I’ll be detailing my experience so that future freelancers don’t make the same mistakes I did. An added bonus (for you, anyway) is the valuable insight into the freelance visa process that I wouldn’t have been able to learn about if everything went smoothly. After all, no one says anything when you’ve done things right, but people are very quick to point out what you’ve done wrong – often, in excruciating detail.
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The freelance visa is officially called “Residence permit for a freelance employment – Issuance”, otherwise known as “Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen Tätigkeit – Erteilung”. German can sound so inviting, sometimes.
The freelance visa is typically 1-3 years in duration and allows you to live and work freely in the profession of your choosing within Germany, as well as allowing you to travel (more or less) as you like inside the Schengen Zone.
Perhaps the simplest way to describe the freelance visa is “anyone who isn’t employed by a company”. This can effectively be broken down into three more categories: regular freelancers, self-employed people and artists.
The difference between a “regular freelancer” and a “self-employed person” is that freelancers work on multiple projects or contracts with different companies (e.g. a marketing freelancer), while a self-employed person effectively operates their own business (e.g. a founder, sole trader or managing director of a company). The two visas are roughly the same, but self-employed people have a couple of extra documents to provide.
On that note, the so-called “artist visa” that many talk about is simply a subcategory of the “freelance visa”. Officially, there’s no such thing as an “artist visa”. Artists (e.g. artists, musicians, creatives, etc.) have a number of benefits such as cheaper artist’s insurance and a lower tax rate, but are officially categorised as a “freelancer”. There are also a couple of extra documents that artists need to provide which regular freelancers don’t need to bother with – more on this later.
If you are not a citizen or a permanent resident of the European Union and want to work as a freelancer in Germany, you will need a freelance visa. While this is more time-consuming to obtain compared to the Working Holiday Visa (which I’d recommend doing instead, if you’re eligible), it’s still very doable.
For the official list of documents required, go to this link.
One key thing to mention is that the website (and other people’s experiences) are not 100% accurate in detailing what you need to successfully get your freelance visa. Yes, I know, it doesn’t make any sense. I’ll explain this in more detail below.
But before we do anything else, I’d suggest booking a visa appointment as soon as possible. Go to the official Service Berlin website, click on the “Make an appointment” link at the bottom of the page and fill out your details to see all open appointments.
At first glance, it’s very likely that there’ll be nothing available. Don’t panic! Just keep checking early in the morning around 7am and throughout the day until you see a slot opens up. It’ll be seemingly at random, but you’ll find something that suits as long as you’re persistent.
While going through this visa application process, there are a few words and phrases that you’ll often hear repeated. The most common ones you’ll run into will be Anmeldung, Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and the names of a few forms you’ll have to complete.
What is “Anmeldung” and “Bürgeramt”?
Anmeldung is the process of registering yourself to a German address. This is a requirement of your visa (unless you apply from outside of Germany). The Bürgeramt is the local office where you can submit your Anmeldung forms.
To complete your Anmeldung, you’ll need two forms: the “Anmeldung bei der Meldebehörde” is the application form to register yourself at your primary residence, while the “Einzugsbestätigung des Wohnungsgebers” is a form that your landlord – or primary tenant – has to fill out to officially confirm that you now live at this address.
Both forms and more information can be found here (use Google Translate).
What is the “Ausländerbehörde”?
This is effectively the Foreigners Office that you’ll be dealing with. Here, you’ll need to bring the “Residence permit for a freelance employment – Issuance” form (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur freiberuflichen Tätigkeit – Erteilung).
Booking a visa appointment can be notoriously competitive, but luckily for you, the freelance visa appointments are much easier to come by compared to other visas such as the Working Holiday Visa. This is because your appointment will be held at the “other” Ausländerbehörde at Friedrich-Krause-Ufer 24.
Once you get there, you’ll most likely have to go Waiting Room E1.1 on Level 3 of Haus B, which is the second building on your right. Check your booking confirmation email to make sure you’re going to the right place.
Since this is the “Initial Issuance” part of the freelance visa (i.e. the first time you get it), your appointment is basically a short test to make sure that you:
- Have enough savings to support yourself financially.
- Have a plan on how to make money and create income streams.
- Have proof that you’ll benefit the German economy (or at least, the local community).
- Have the correct (i.e. German) health insurance which is compulsory for all residents.
- Are generally a good person that will have a positive impact on Berlin/Germany.
My interviewer flat-out told me that the “Initial Issuance” visa interview is basically “a quick review to see whether Germany should give this person a chance to prove themselves”. Her words, almost word for word. By comparison, the freelance visa renewal is much stricter as everything is run through a calculation of some sort (e.g. profit, loss, expenses, taxes, and so on).
This means that your application doesn’t have to be perfect. And even if it isn’t good enough to get your freelance visa, the Ausländerbehörde typically grants a grace period of anywhere between a few weeks or even months to sort yourself out.
Here’s the short version on applying for a freelance visa in Berlin:
- Book your Bürgeramt and Ausländerbehörde appointments as soon as possible.
- Arrive in Germany using the 90-day Schengen visa (no application required).
- Find a house, flat or shared flat, also known as a “WG” (or “Wohngemeinschaft”).
- Go to the Bürgeramt and complete your Anmeldung.
- Prepare all of your application documents (this may take a while).
- Go to the Ausländerbehörde and submit your visa application.
If you’re already in Berlin or are coming off another visa, you can skip steps 2 to 4.
Step 1: Book Your Appointments
There’s such a shortage of public service officers at the Bürgeramt, that you’ll have to book your appointment at least a month or two beforehand. The Ausländerbehörde is even worse – it’s often booked out for years in advance (no, you didn’t read that wrong).
Since Ausländerbehörde appointments are quite competitive to get, the best thing to do is check the website early in morning, every day, until you find someone who’s cancelled. Try and give yourself as much time as possible, but make sure it’s within your 90-day Schengen window.
Get your appointments booked as soon as possible – the earlier the better! That being said, if you can’t find an appointment before the expiry of your current visa (e.g. Working Holiday), you’ll be fine as long as the appointment was booked before your visa expires.
Step 2: Arrive in Berlin
A lot of countries have an agreement with Germany that allows them to stay for 90 days out of a 6-month period without a visa. Project Visa has some useful links that shows each country’s eligibility. If your country’s passport isn’t eligible for this, you won’t able to apply for any sort of Working Holiday Visa using the method on this page.
Step 3: Find Accommodation in Berlin
This can be tricky. The rental market in Berlin is so high in demand that most listings will get dozens, if not hundreds of applications – especially in the more desirable areas. An extra layer of difficulty with this is that you’ll need to sort out your Anmeldung, which a lot of temporary flats or sub-leases often can’t provide.
Still, it’s not impossible. Put some effort into your application, and show the landlord (or your future housemates) why you’d be a good fit.
You can find accommodation using a few methods:
- WG-Gesucht: the most popular website for finding houses, flats and share houses (“WG”).
- Facebook Groups: join as many rental-related groups that you can find. Here’s a few to get you started: Berlin Apartments, Flats in Berlin, Berlin Housing, WG Zimmer Wohnung in Berlin.
- eBay-Kleinanzeigen: German classifieds, sort of like Gumtree or Craigslist.
- Immowelt.de: another website for finding accommodation, where a lot of ads are by agents rather than landlords or tenants.
Also, try to ask around. Like job openings, a lot of WGs and flats don’t get advertised due to referrals and friends of friends. Obviously, this can be difficult if you’ve just arrived, but it’s something to keep in mind as you start meeting people.
Step 4: Go to the Bürgeramt (Anmeldung)
Don’t be late to your appointment! While the booking process is a mess, the appointments tend to start precisely on time.
If you haven’t managed to book your Bürgeramt appointment, you can try and find last minute cancellations on the day, or simply go to your local office and wait in line. It’s very possible to get a Bürgeramt appointment just by turning up.
Something to keep in mind is that while most officials at the Bürgeramt speak perfect English, they might get annoyed at the fact that you don’t speak German. Bring all the documents you need already filled out, and be as nice as possible. If you can bring a friend that speaks German, you’ll have a much easier time here.
On that note: I’m working on a project that matches newcomers in Berlin with German-speaking locals, specifically to help them with get set up with the bureaucracy (the Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and so on). This includes going to interviews and translation of documents! If you’re interested, get in touch here and let’s talk.
Everybody I’ve met who has had to go through the freelance visa process has spent a fair amount of time panicking, but don’t worry – the actual interview is quite simple. The most difficult (yet frustrating) part of the whole process is getting all the right documents together.
A quick note here: Germany typically doesn’t accept the idea that someone can do more than one type of work at the same time. For example, it’s not possible (in the eyes of the German government) for someone to freelance as a marketer but also work as a video producer and maybe do a little singing on the side. The best option here is to pick a title that is as vague as possible, while being specific enough (and with proof) that the Ausländerbehörde will accept it.
For example, I chose “Digital Strategy Consultant” which is incredibly vague and probably wouldn’t work for most people, except for the fact that I’ve had jobs where I specifically held the title of “Digital Strategist”, “Digital Manager” and “Digital Consultant”. With this, I can now issue invoices for anything that falls under this umbrella – digital transformation, marketing, analytics, UX, and so on – but only by using my official title.
That being said, I’ve heard that you can apply for more than one title, but this means you need to produce double the amount of letters of intent and/or fee contracts (more on this below).
According to the website, this is the complete list of things you’ll need:
This is self-explanatory. Also make sure your passport doesn’t expire halfway through the visa period you’re applying for.
A current biometric photo
You must have one passport photo “35mm x 45mm, frontal shot with neutral facial expression and closed mouth, looking straight into the camera, light background”.
You can get these either from a photography studio or from the many passport photo booths around Berlin, which is much cheaper. Look for the words “Photoautomat” or “Fotofix”. You can even look up some of their locations in Google. Just make sure they’re proper passport photo booths, not the art project ones around Berlin.
The form “Antrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels” (Application for Issuance of a Residence Permit)
Only required for first-time application. You can find this form in the language of your choice by going here and scrolling down to the section labelled “Forms”. Fill out everything and put your signature at the bottom.
This name is rather misleading, as it’s actually more like a simple summary of your current savings and investments. If you have money in different currency, make sure to convert it to Euros before writing down the total sum. I used XE.com to do my conversion, and also took care to label the date of the exchange rate calculation.
Again, this name is a little inaccurate. It’s a profit/loss sheet where you write down all of your expenses (e.g. rent, health insurance, etc.) and balance it against your potential income. Since it’s impossible to predict exactly how much your income will be, you’ll just have to come up with a number based on your previous related employment, or even just a gut feeling. They don’t check this number against anything, but it needs to be realistic as it’s meant to show the Ausländerbehörde that you can afford to live in Berlin.
There’s also a strange, unstated requirement here that your rent must be lower than about 35% of your potential income. The example I was given was “700 Euros rent means over 2000 Euros in income”, but I couldn’t get an exact percentage.
Proof of other regular income*
Since artists are stereotypically poor, this section is meant to show the Ausländerbehörde that you’re able to support yourself – either through other work (e.g. hospitality jobs, teaching, babysitting, etc.), past savings/investments, or even just someone who’s willing to support you, such as a parent or a sponsor. You’ll need to include this in your financing plan, and also provide a signed letter or some other form of proof as part of your application.
*Only applies for artists and language teachers. This is nice to have if you’re any other type of freelancer, but not necessary.
Letter of intent for collaboration
If you want to work on a fee basis, you’ll need at least two of what’s called a “letter of intent for collaboration”. This is simply a letter from a German company that states that they intend to hire you as a freelancer once you receive your freelance visa.
Since it’s not a contract, it’s not binding in any way – all it needs to prove is that a German business needs you (specifically) to be based in Germany (specifically) to help them using your freelance skill. This is to prove that you will be a benefit to the German economy. That also means that “European” isn’t enough – they need to be a business incorporated in Germany.
Each letter should specify your title in the organisation (i.e. the same as the title you’re applying for in your visa application), the scope of work, payment rates and a description of the work you’ll be doing. Ideally, these should be written in German or with a German translation. It doesn’t need to be an official translation – asking a friend to translate your letters onto another piece of paper is enough.
As mentioned above: I’m working on a project that matches newcomers in Berlin with German-speaking locals, specifically to help them with get set up with the bureaucracy (the Bürgeramt, Ausländerbehörde, and so on). This includes going to interviews and translation of documents! If you’re interested, get in touch here and let’s talk.
My interviewer didn’t bat an eyelid at my English letters, but then again, her English was almost perfect – a rarity in most German bureaucratic offices. You might not get so lucky, so it’s probably safest to get a translation organised. I simply ran out of time before my appointment.
Two letters is the minimum, but more is always better! I personally provided three. A friend of mine also carefully worded her recommendation letters to imply intent for future work, which may have helped a little.
If you somehow have secured contracts already, bring these in. Since these are actual contractual agreements, they’re far more valuable than letters of intent.
That being said, I really don’t understand why they’ve listed this as a requirement, since you typically need a freelance visa to secure any sort of contract. So if you haven’t secured any fee contracts yet, the letters of intent above are enough – you can skip this section.
Your CV will need to prove that you are qualified to do the work that you’re getting your freelance visa for. Be sure to include any relevant details of your professional career, qualification certificates, diploma, references and/or sponsors as necessary. It’s also a good idea to spell out your freelance work title at the top and throughout your CV to make it obvious what sort of work you’re planning to do during your time in Berlin.
If a professional permit is required for your freelance occupation (e.g. a license to practice law, medicine, electrician, etc.), you will need to produce the original copy.
If you can’t get an original copy, try and get a certified copy – or just a regular, printed copy if you can’t obtain that. In the off chance that your interviewer has a problem with this, they’ll tell you specifically what’s required and provide a reasonable time frame (usually with a small visa extension) to organise a solution.
Whether you’re a resident, freelancer, expat or anything else in between, health insurance is a compulsory requirement for anybody living in Germany. Travel insurance may be enough to satisfy the requirements of the Working Holiday Visa, but for the Freelance Visa, you’ll need to get private health insurance.
As a freelancer from a foreign country, we’re unfortunately very limited in terms of which health insurance provider we can choose. German private health insurance is also quite expensive and doesn’t make any sense (at least to me – this is a whole other rant), so this is basically a mandatory, ongoing ~€200 fee to stay in the country. Your visa is invalid as soon as you cancel your health insurance, so there’s really no way out of this.
If you’re an artist, there’s an artist’s association called “Künstlersozialkasse” which reduces the amount of health insurance you need to pay for by 50%. Unfortunately, I didn’t apply for my freelance visa as an artist, so I don’t know much about this.
Note: If you’re an artist and had to go through this process, please let me know in the comments below and I will include your experience here!
Through a series of recommendations, I spoke to an insurance broker named Dietmar Grabow from HanseMerkur near Alexanderplatz. While I’m still not a fan of German health insurance in general, Dietmar turned out to be very friendly and informative. He deals almost exclusively with expat freelancers and also has a tiny, fluffy dog to keep you company as you figure out the details.
You can find further details about health insurance in the document “Information on adequate health insurance” here, but Dietmar was very patient in explaining how it all worked.
Simply go to his website send him an email to book an appointment. You’ll need to get a basic health check-up and it takes a day or two to process, so don’t leave this until the last minute! If you end up visiting Dietmar, tell him “Chris says hi” 🙂
Lease or proof of home ownership
You will need the original document that proves that you’re renting or own the home you’re living in. This will vary depending on your situation – simply ask your landlord or main tenant on how to get this document for your appointment. In my case, it was an official sublease document labelled “Untermietvertrag”.
Rental cost / expenses for property
This is very simple if your contract is “warm” (i.e. all expenses included), in which case the document above covers all the bases. If your rental situation is “kalt” (i.e. expenses not included, or “cold”), you will have to produce statements for bills such as internet, electricity bills, and so on.
Adequate pension plan
This is only necessary if you are above the age of 45. Check the website for more details.
Proof of main residence in Berlin
You will need to prove your main residence in Berlin, which can be shown with either the lease document provided by your landlord or a certificate of registration at the main residence (“Meldebestätigung”). If you can’t find these, your Anmeldung document should be sufficient.
Step 6: Go to the Ausländerbehörde
If you’ve made an appointment, this bit is easy – it’s a simple matter of arriving on time.
But if you haven’t managed to make an appointment, you’ll have to get to the Ausländerbehörde before it opens, write down your name, and hope they give you a ticket when they open. But if you’re persistent with checking every morning, getting a visa appointment really shouldn’t be a problem.
Step by step, here’s what you need to do:
- Get to the Ausländerbehörde at your scheduled appointment time. Make your way to Level 3 of Haus B, which is the second building on your right. Check your booking confirmation email to make sure you’re going to the right place. Don’t be late, or you will automatically forfeit your spot!
- Wait for your number to come up on the screen.
- Give your documents to the person behind the counter. Try and be as friendly as possible. If you speak German (or have a friend that does), that’s a big plus. If not, send me a message here and let’s see if we can organise a local that could help you out.
- They’ll check that you’ve brought everything, then you’ll be asked to go back to the waiting room and wait for your number to be called out again.
- Receive your shiny new visa! You’ll have to pay a fee on the way out, so bring cash if you don’t have a IC card. Debit and credit cards won’t work.
- If you don’t get your visa, they’ll give you instructions on what was wrong with your application and give you some options on what to do next.
Now that the nitty gritty of the freelance visa application process is out of the way, I’m going to tell you a story about my experience. This cleared up a lot of the common advice (and confusion) that I was given before going to the Ausländerbehörde.
Spoiler alert: a lot of the advice was wrong, and it created a whole number of new problems for me.
Here’s how it went.
At 6am on a freezing Tuesday morning, I set out with my German friend (to help with translations, but mostly for moral support) from Schöneberg to catch an early train to the Ausländerbehörde. I was nervous but ready, and had all my documents neatly organised into plastic sleeves in a green folder.
We made our way to the Ausländerbehörde at Friedrich-Krause-Ufe 24, spoke briefly to a very unhelpful man at the help desk, and walked into Haus B to the third floor. My email confirmation said Waiting Room E1.1 or E1.2, but E1.2 was totally empty so we made ourselves comfortable in E1.1, amongst a number of other sleepy, grumpy-looking people.
After about fifteen minutes of waiting, my number flashed on the screen so we gathered our things and made our way to our designated office. Sitting inside was a young-ish looking lady with a serious look on her face.
“Deutsch oder Englisch?” she asked.
“English would be great, if you don’t mind!” Knowing that I didn’t have to rely on my friend to translate, I relaxed. For about five seconds.
“Sure. So, first of all, I must tell you that you are in Germany illegally and will have to leave the country.”
The Comedy of Errors: An Unfortunate Series of Events
While all my documents were perfectly in order, my biggest mistake stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t officially on the 90-day Schengen Zone Visa. This created a whole host of problems in a domino-like effect.
Here’s how it went:
- My Working Holiday Visa had expired and I (thought I) was on my 90 Schengen days (I wasn’t); which meant…
- I had overstayed my Working Holiday Visa; which meant…
- The visa appointment I had re-booked was made after the expiry of my WHV; which meant…
- I was not safe by the loophole of “book a visa appointment before your WHV expires and you’ll be fine, even if it’s outside your visa’s expiry date”; which meant…
- I was therefore technically in Germany illegally; which meant…
- The police had come by my flat to see if I was home (I wasn’t, thankfully); which meant…
- The visa application had become more complicated, since other official institutions had gotten involved in my affairs.
Let’s dig into the details here.
Firstly, “Visa” vs “Residence Permit”
Although the terms “visa” and “residence permit” sound like the same thing, they’re not. The difference is in the details.
A “visa” is what allows you to enter the country/region (such as the 90 day Schengen Visa), usually for a shorter period of time. Some countries such as Australia get this on arrival, whereas other countries such as India must apply for it in advance at the destination country’s embassy.
By comparison, a “residence permit” is what allows you to stay in the country for a longer period of time, which is why many Australians, Americans, Canadians (and so on) typically arrive in Germany on a visa then apply for a residence permit.
It sounds almost like the same thing, and the confusion is exacerbated by the fact that most people say “Working Holiday Visa” and the “Freelance Visa” when they’re actually talking about the “Residence permit for the purpose of attending the Working-Holiday- and Youth Mobility-Programme” and “Residence permit for a freelance employment”.
I also use these terms interchangeably (sorry), purely because it’s too time-consuming to try and explain the difference to someone who isn’t interested in hearing about the finer technicalities of border bureaucracy (which is most people).
Keeping this in mind…
Some passports, such as my Australian one, allows tourists to stay in the Schengen Zone for up to 90 days without having to apply for a visa. Many expats believe – and told me – that I would automatically switch to my 90 Schengen days as soon as my Working Holiday Visa expired.
This was incorrect.
You must leave the Schengen Zone altogether and return to get a new stamp in your passport for the Schengen Visa to take effect. This can be a flight to literally anywhere outside of Schengen (e.g. London) and back on the same day. It’s a purely a technicality.
If you don’t leave the Schengen Zone and come back, you are officially in the country illegally. Like I was, unknowingly.
Booking an Appointment Before/After Your Residence Permit Expires
One way to get get around this requirement is to book an appointment as soon as is possible through the website before your residence permit expires (e.g. Working Holiday Visa) – even if the appointment itself is after the expiry date. The Ausländerbehörde in Berlin understands that getting an appointment is highly competitive and is quite forgiving in this regard.
My problem was that I had booked my appointment during what I had thought were my 90 Schengen days (which had never officially started). If you do that, or, book your visa appointment after your previous visa expires, your status in Germany is officially illegal.
Booking an Appointment Outside Your 90-Day Schengen Visa
If you’re coming off another residence permit (such as the Working Holiday Visa) and book your appointment before it expires, your permit to stay in the country is extended and you’re in the clear. Simply go to your appointment and you should be fine. Just don’t leave the country until your new visa is issued.
If you’re in Germany on your 90-day Schengen Zone Visa and book an appointment for after it expires, this is different story. This easy, on-arrival visa allows you to enter the Schengen Zone and travel freely for 90 days without having to apply for anything, but it also isn’t a long-term visa, nor is it a residence permit. Once your 90 days are up, that’s it – you’re now technically in a black/grey area and it’s totally up to the goodwill of your interviewer to accept your application or not.
There have been many reports of people overstaying their Schengen Visa days after being told to do so by a case worker at the Ausländerbehörde – or in some cases, even the security guard at the front of the office – and getting their new freelance visa without any problems. That being said, this is not official policy, so I would highly recommend getting this statement in writing. And definitely don’t leave the country before your appointment as border security has no way of confirming your story!
Everybody (both official and anecdotal) has contradicting information on this, so the only surefire way of avoiding any problems is to either:
- Leave the Schengen Zone altogether and come back for your appointment (within your 90 days).
- Simply line up early in the morning around 8am and get a walk-in appointment.
While it’s widely known that the residence permits have some wiggle room depending on your booking date, the Schengen Visa has no real leniency policy for late applications.
Berlin vs Other Cities in Germany
As far as a city’s bureaucracy goes, Berlin is possibly the most relaxed city in Germany. This means that both the Bürgeramt and the Ausländerbehörde (unofficially) doesn’t mind that much if you’re a little late with your appointments, don’t have a comprehensive set of all the required documents, and so on. This has a lot to do with Berlin’s reputation as an international hub that attracts people from all walks of life, and they have an incentive to continue this trend.
Anywhere else in Germany (I was told by my interviewer), they most likely would not be so forgiving or understanding.
That being said, the fact that the police had been contacted and they had come by to my registered address meant that my visa application had become more complicated, with other official institutions getting involved. If this hadn’t happened (I was told, once again), my lateness wouldn’t have really been a problem.
Not All Passports Are Equal
Back to the story.
At this point, my friend had gone silent and I was internally panicking, though I kept a respectful tone while explaining my situation. My interviewer listened, and luckily sounded quite sympathetic with my misunderstanding of the Schengen laws and bureaucratic process – although her face was stone-hard and unforgiving.
“This makes sense. I will have to speak to my supervisor to see if it is still fine for me to process your visa application. Leave your documents here. If I don’t call you back for a while, everything is probably fine and I will be processing your visa. If I call you back in a few minutes… we’ll see.”
I thanked her and we went back into the waiting room. Five of the most nervous minutes in my life slowly passed, and I started to feel hopeful. Nevertheless, I was looking through Google Maps on the phone to figure out my exit plan, just in case things went wrong.
After about twenty minutes, my number came up on the screen again, and we went back into the office to find my interviewer stamping my passport with a 2-year freelance visa. Feeling relieved and now intensely curious, I asked her what had happened.
“Basically, you’re lucky you have an Australian passport,” she told me. “Germany has a good relationship with Australia, which means you have one of the few passports that are ‘privileged’ in this country. If you were from somewhere else, it’s possible we would not be having this conversation.”
I also learned – or rather, had confirmed – that these privileged nations include all of the EU/Schengen Zone, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan, Canada, and (sometimes) the United States. By default, this means you have a better chance of being treated better and having minor problems overlooked.
That being said, I also know plenty of people from elsewhere who have successfully received their freelance visa without any problems, regardless of their passport. My situation was quite unique because of the number of mistakes that were made.
Temporary Visa Extension vs Getting Your Visa Instantly
While I got my visa straight away, most people I know received an extension first (usually for 3-6 months based off their Working Holiday Visa) while their documents got “reviewed”. This is quite common, but the Ausländerbehörde is also very lazy at following up so it’s a good idea to book another visa appointment close to the end of your visa extension date. “I didn’t know” or “you didn’t tell me anything” isn’t an excuse when it comes to German bureaucracy.
This review process tends to happen more frequently for the subsection of freelance visa applicants in the middle ground between “artists” (DJs, dancers, visual artists, etc.) and “in-demand technical professionals” (programmers, software engineers, data scientists, etc.).
For those two categories above, your visa will likely be issued instantly. For everyone else, the German government is reviewing your application to see if there is a “demand for your skills” in Berlin. Whatever that means.
There’s a lot of scaremongering around the process for obtaining a freelance visa in Germany, but seriously, it’s really not that difficult as long as you sort out your documents well in advance and don’t mess around with technicalities in visa periods and Schengen Zones. The most difficult things to organise are your “letters of intent” and a portfolio – that’s it.
Also, bringing along a German speaker really helps. Few things are worse than being questioned about your reasons for staying in the country, and slowly annoying your interviewer by not speaking their language. If you need help with this, write to me here and let’s talk further.
Whether it’s experimenting with the limits of flying one-way without proof of onward travel or buying multiple SIM cards to find out the best SIM cards for each country, I hope that my time spent as a human guinea pig helps you out, even if it’s just a little bit. That being said, this freelance visa application process was one of the scariest ones yet!
But don’t worry, just don’t be like me and you’ll be fine 🙂
Other Things to Consider
Once you’ve finished the stressful process of settling in, you’ll probably want to set up a bank account and phone number. As far as bank accounts go, all expats (and even many locals) unanimously recommend N26, an online bank with no account fees and free withdrawals. Their app is easy to use, and more importantly for expats: it’s the only real English banking option in Germany. If you need to convert currencies, TransferWise is the fastest and cheapest option (by far!).
As for setting up a phone number, I’ve written guide on getting a SIM card in Germany. I’ve also written an article about various apps and services to help you navigate Berlin, mostly about the best ways of physically getting around. Although intended for tourists, the same services apply for those who have decided to make the move a bit more permanently. There are even a few referral codes in there to help you save a bit of cash! Let’s help each other out
If you’ve found any of my writing helpful, please be sure to link it to anyone you think might benefit from it.
Viel Glück, willkommen in Berlin und bis spaß!