Diksha Dutta, Communication Project Manager, AsiaBerlin, an initiative by Berlin Senate Department
Why do I love Berlin? There are many dimensions to this answer but let’s just focus on the professional dimension aspect for now. For someone like me who thrives on entrepreneurial energy and being able to venture into creative projects one after another, Berlin has all the ingredients to be my dream city.
This city is not just a home to startup success stories like Zalando or N26, but also a city of solo entrepreneurs or rather micro-entrepreneurs. I moved to Berlin in the winter of 2017 to work with a startup in the fashion tech space. After six months, I switched to freelancing in mid-2018 and worked on various projects within the Berlin tech scene that I am truly passionate about. Over the last two years, I have worked as an Editor for a publication focused on the data economy, as a communication consultant for tech startups, an event moderator and I also conduct specialized workshops focused on leadership communication.
I am often asked how I ended up being a freelancer in Berlin and how can you apply for a freelance visa? Before I give you tips, there is a disclaimer: I was already a full-time employee in Germany before embarking on my self employed adventure. The information in this article is not legal advice but is a compilation of my personal experiences and stories I have heard from other freelancers in the city. You will find most information about the paperwork required for a Freelance Visa on the official Ausländerbehörde Berlin website but here are a few tips (especially for Indian citizens) that could help you in planning a freelance career in the city :
Non-EU Freelancers in Germany
If you are talented, getting a Freelancer visa in Berlin is smooth, but the situation gets a little tricky if you are a Non-EU and Non-American citizen. Within the non-EU nations: Nationals of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, or the United States of America can enter Germany without a visa. They are required to apply for a residence permit prior to obtaining employment. Citizens of these countries can contact their local Foreigners’ Authority directly and may also do so after arriving in Germany. Persons looking to obtain employment shortly after entering Germany are advised to submit an application for the relevant visa prior to entering the country.
This rule applies to all: a foreigner may be granted a residence permit for the pursuit of a self-employed occupation if
- an economic interest or a regional need exists,
- the occupation is expected to have a positive impact on the economy and
- the implementation is financed by equity or a loan commitment
Citizens from other countries (such as India and other third world nations ) can’t come to Germany without a visa. You can get the German freelance visa in two different ways:
- You can apply for a freelance visa at a German embassy in your country. Your documents will be sent to Germany for review. You will receive a visa 2 to 6 months later.
- or you can apply for a Job Seeker Visa at a German embassy in your country. This visa allows you to come to Germany and look for a job. Once you have found a job, you can apply for a freelance visa directly from Germany. The job seeker visa is valid for up to 6 months. You can’t do this with a tourist visa. If you come with a tourist visa, your freelance visa application will be rejected.
Your qualifications are in perfect sync with your profession
If you are an engineer and now want to become a full-time copywriter or a creative designer- sorry, this will not work. A prerequisite to getting the freelance visa is that your master’s or bachelor’s qualification matches the kind of freelance work you want to do in Germany. For example, since I have a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and communication, I am eligible for work related to these fields as a freelancer. You will need details of professional career, qualification certificates, diploma, references/sponsors. In my case, I took proof of international journalism assignments, communication/marketing projects, and published work.
Letters of recommendation/ existing freelance contracts
Berlin is a city full of freelancers and that is the reason it has a thriving co-working culture. Before you apply for the freelance visa, you will need at least two declarations of intent from future clients (with information on the type, scope, and description of the occupation). It is ideally preferred that your clients are German companies. It is not a written rule but definitely helps. I would also recommend taking the letters of reference written in German.
Have a registered address in Germany
Don’t underestimate this. Finding a registered apartment in Berlin is quite a hunt. And even if you find a short term apartment, most times getting an Anmeldung (certificate of registered address in Germany) is not easy to procure. Please note that proof of the main residence is the most important thing to start any bureaucratic work in Germany. You cannot even open a bank account in the country if you do not have a registered address. Here are some resources and groups you could join to start your apartment hunt:
Open a bank account and have a tentative financial plan
You could open a bank account with many banks such as N 26, Holvi, and Kontist- all of them are expat and freelancer friendly banks. It is recommended to have sufficient money in your bank account when you apply for a freelance visa, ideally somewhere around 5000 Euros. It is an assurance that you will be able to take care of your expenses for the next coming months even if you lose a client or two. You will also need to prepare a financial plan for the next two years indicating your revenues, expenses and profits. This is a fairly simple document for freelancers as compared to what you would have to when you are forming a company. Find a sample below what you could present as a freelancer financial plan.
Most freelancers find it difficult to secure public health insurance in Germany. As I was a full-time employee, I continued by the public health insurance plan later after switching to freelancing. It is recommended to be in the public system if you plan to live in Germany for longer or probably are planning to be a permanent resident eventually. It is illegal to reside in Germany without a health insurance plan. Here is a good article that compares all healthcare insurance options in Germany.
A quick checklist to start preparing for the freelance visa application
- Start Networking in Berlin
- Make your appointment at the Ausländerbehörde
- Find a flat
- Register Your Address (Anmeldung)
- Open a bank account
- Transferring Money
- Proof of Main Residence in Berlin
- Health Insurance
- Letters of Intent
- Bank Statements
- Finance Plan
- Revenue Forecast
- Work Samples
- Letters of Recommendation from past clients
- Cover Letter
- Application Form
- Biometric Photos