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VISAS

Working remotely from Germany: What are the rules for digital nomads?

Nowadays, more people than ever enjoy remote working arrangements that allow them to relocate anywhere in the world. If you're a digital nomad looking to travel to or live in Germany, here's what you'll need to know.

Digital nomads at a coworking space in Germany
Digital nomads work at a Coworking Space at Grönwohld Campsite in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, working remotely has become the new normal. For many people, the traditional office has now been usurped by flexible working arrangements that include days working from home or in a coworking space. 

Looking more closely, however, you’ll see that the concept of flexible, remote working is really nothing new. Long before the pandemic, legions of freelancers and remote workers had cottoned on to the fact that all they really needed to carry out their jobs was an internet connection and a laptop – and that travelling the world wasn’t something that needed to be reserved for holidays.

This generation of remote workers have become known as digital nomads, and many of them are heading to Germany. 

Is Germany a good place to be a digital nomad?

According to Tara Burgess, a full-time traveller who’s written extensively about being a digital nomad in Germany, Germany has numerous attractions for digital nomads. 

Public transport is good, there are numerous interesting cities to choose from, and the cost of living is cheaper than you might expect for one of Europe’s major economic powerhouses. 

Though the Internet hasn’t quite caught up with the modern world just yet, you’ll generally be able to find cafes and coworking spaces with perfectly reliable connections that will enable you to do most types of remote work. And in expat-friendly cities like Berlin, the majority of people speak very good English. 

READ ALSO: 8 reasons expats should try coworking in Germany

Do I need a visa?

That all depends on how long you intend to stay and what residency rights you already have in Germany. If you’re lucky enough to have citizenship in another EU country like France or Portugal, you’ll automatically have the right to live and work in Germany without applying for any sort of residence permit first.

However, bear in mind that you will have to register at a German address if you plan to stay for longer than three months – and this Anmeldung (registration) is also a prerequisite for setting up things like a German bank account. 

Man works in cafe
A man works on his laptop in a Berlin café. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Immanuel Bänsch

With citizens of non-EU or so-called ‘third’ countries, thing get a little more complicated. Many others nations like Australia, Canada, Japan – and now the UK after Brexit – have agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area without needing a visa. For digital nomads who like to switch location regularly, this 90 days is likely more than enough time to get a taste of living in Germany before moving on to their next location.  

For people from countries without these reciprocal agreements who only want to stay in Germany a short time, a Schengen Tourist Visa or a Business Visa will also allow you to stay for up to 90 days. However, neither of the above options technically allow you to work while living here.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard to police whether somebody’s doing work on their laptop while in the country, so many digital nomads do slip under the radar, but if you want to keep everything above board, securing a visa is the best option. 

Does Germany have a ‘digital nomad’ visa? 

Adapting to the changing world of work, a number of countries – including Estonia and Spain – have recently introduced special visas aimed at attracting digital nomads. These visas are designed to make it easy to live in the country while carrying out work for foreign clients, as many freelancers who like to move around do. 

Unfortunately, Germany hasn’t tailored its immigration system to this new generation of workers to such an extent. At the moment, there’s no specific digital nomad visa available for this type of remote worker – though that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.

READ ALSO: Berlin named top city worldwide to earn money while travelling

What other kinds of visas are there for digital nomads? 

For self-employed people who want to spend a prolonged stretch of time in Germany, the most obvious choice is a freelance visa

This type of visa is aimed at people who work remotely for a number of different clients, but don’t necessarily own their own company. The typical image is of freelance graphic designers, coders and writers sitting in slick cafes with glossy laptops, but you can freelance in almost any profession there is. 

In Berlin, there’s also a special type of freelance visa known as an artist’s visa, which is aimed at freelance musicians, artists and writers in particular and tends to be issued faster than an ordinary freelance visa. 

Artist with light installation
American artist Adela Andea stands in front of her light installation at an exhibition in Unna, Germany. Freelance artists can apply for a special artist visa if they plan to live in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Dieter Menne

To get hold of a freelance or artist visa in Germany, you’ll have to prove that you’re able to support yourself and contribute to the country financially. This generally involves getting letters of intent from future or current clients stating that they plan to use your services in the coming months. In addition, you’ll need to show you have a decent stock of savings in case any of your work falls through – usually around €10,000. 

Crucially, you’ll also have to prove that there’s a local or regional interest in your work. Put in plain English, this means that if none of your clients are German, you won’t be granted a the freelance visa. If you don’t have any German clients right now and plan to work as a digital nomad in Germany for a prolonged period, it could be worth making contact with some German firms and seeing if they’d be interested in your services.

With a buzzing international start-up scene in places like Berlin and Cologne, it may not even be necessary to speak brilliant German to win clients – though it certainly helps when dealing with the day-to-day bureaucracy involved in running a freelance business. 

READ ALSO: The complete guide to getting a freelance visa in Germany

What else should digital nomads know?

If your main residence is in Germany and you’re carrying out work on German soil, you will generally be expected to declare your freelance income and pay tax in Germany – even if many of your clients are based elsewhere. 

If you’re a bit daunted by the task, it can be worth hiring a tax consultant who can help you find out all your tax deductible expenses like coworking spaces and travel.

It’s also a requirement of most visas that you have some form of health insurance while living and working here, which can get expensive.

However, if you don’t plan to stay for too many years, you can probably find cheaper private options of health insurance for freelancers for the duration of your stay. 

With all the rules involved in staying on the right side of German law, it may seem to defeat the object of the footloose and carefree digital nomad lifestyle. But once you’re set up in the country, you’ll be part of a vibrant community of remote workers in the heart of Europe – the perfect location from which to see other cultures and tick numerous other European countries off your bucket list. 

Member comments

  1. What I would like to know, is if there is any legal / tax implications for me, as a person contracted to a company in Germany, specifically Berlin, if I work some period of time from another country or city. My employer is restricting me from working from some other city more than 4 weeks a year, as they mention there ‘could be’ tax implications, but they are not clear as to what that would be, and I guess they just want to cover themselves and keep us working close to the office….

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VISAS

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

Soon those non-EU nationals requested to have a Schengen visa to travel to European countries will no longer need to go to a consulate to submit the application and get a passport sticker, but will be able to apply online. 

REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

The European Commission has proposed to make the Schengen visa process completely digital.

The special visa, which allows to stay for tourism or business (but not work) in 26 European countries for up to 90 days in any 6-month period. 

Nationals of third countries such as South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka need the Schengen Visa to visit Europe, but they are not needed for other non-EU nationals such as Britons or Americans. You can see the full list of countries who need a Schengen visa here.

The proposal will have to be approved by the European Parliament and Council, but is in line with an agreed strategy that EU governments are keen to accelerate in the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Once agreed, the system will be used by the countries that are part of the border-free Schengen area. These include EU countries, excluding Ireland (which opted out), and Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus (which do not issue Schengen visas). Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland, which are not EU members but have signed the Schengen Convention, will be part of the new system too.

Paper-based processes required applicants to travel to consulates to submit the application and collect their passports with the visa, a procedure that “proved problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Commission said.

Some EU countries have already started to switch to digital systems but not all accept online payments for the visa fees. 

When the new system will be in place, the Commission says, applicants will be able to check on the EU Visa Application platform whether they need a visa. If so, they will create an account, fill out the application form, upload the documents and pay. 

The platform will automatically determine which Schengen country will be responsible for the application and applicants will be able to check their status and receive notifications. Travellers will then be able to access the visa online, and if needed extend it too.

“Half of those coming to the EU with a Schengen visa consider the visa application burdensome, one-third have to travel long distance to ask for a visa. It is high time that the EU provides a quick, safe and web-based EU visa application platform for the citizens of the 102 third countries that require short term visa to travel to the EU,” said Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

“With some member states already switching to digital, it is vital the Schengen area now moves forward as one,” said Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas.

However, first-time applicants, people with biometric data that are no longer valid or with a new travel document, will still have to go to a consulate to apply.

Family members of citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area, as well as people who need assistance, will also be able to continue to apply on paper. 

The EU Visa Application platform will be used from third countries whose nationals must be in possession of a visa to enter the EU and is different from the ETIAS (European Travel Information Authorisation), which is currently under development.

The ETIAS will be used by non-EU nationals who are exempt from visas but who will need to apply for a travel authorisation prior to their trip. This will cost 7 euros and will be free for people below the age of 18 and above 70. 

Based on the discussion between the European Parliament and Council, the Commission could start developing the platform in 2024 and make it operational in 2026. EU countries will then have five years to phase out national portals and switch to the common online system. 

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