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What is a virtual phone number – and should you get one?

From globalisation to the increase in remote working, we look at why virtual phone numbers are on the rise, and how they can improve the way you live and work today.

What is a virtual phone number – and should you get one?
More people are realising the benefits of having a virtual phone number. Photo: Getty Images

One of the great benefits of the world’s technological advances that we enjoy today is communication. No, not TikTok – though it has its place – but the improved cost, convenience and flexibility of phone calls and messaging. 

The days of baulking at the cost of making an international call from your work phone, or paying for an expensive public payphone card to call home while travelling are long gone. 

More and more people – from those living abroad to travellers to business owners to workers – are using virtual phone numbers to save money, work remotely, run businesses and communicate across the globe in ways that were simply not possible in decades past. 

Together with telecommunication provider Zadarma and its nomadic entrepreneur and co-founder Dmytro Tokar, The Local fills you in on what a virtual phone number is and why this easy and inexpensive piece of tech is worth adopting. 

So, what is a virtual phone number anyway?

Instead of needing a fixed and physical connection, a virtual phone number is cloud based and uses the internet. This means you can use the number for calls and messaging from any device that has internet access. 

Calls can be redirected or routed from the one number to another device, IP address or number. So the same number could be seamlessly carried from the phone in your office across to your mobile phone if you are out and about, for example.

“You can think of it as a regular phone number with additional perks. It is easy to connect a number from another country, calls will be coming in via the internet and the caller will never feel the difference,” explains Zadarma’s Dmytro.

Whether for work, life or travel, learn more about virtual phone number services from Europe’s leader in business phone systems, Zadarma

Why get a virtual phone number?

For travellers and people living internationally, avoiding roaming charges and enjoying cheaper call rates is a big bonus. 

Using a company like Zadarma, for example, setting up a virtual phone number takes just five minutes – so it is very easy to be up and running quickly and from almost any country in the world. 

“At Zadarma, we take safety and security of our services and clients very seriously, so there are no risks associated with virtual number connection. Having a number in a different country can be beneficial for a variety of reasons from bureaucracy and banking to getting a call from your food delivery service,” says Dmytro.

Remote worker benefits

At Zadarma, many staff members work “nomadically”, something that Dmytro is very familiar with himself. It’s a set-up that suits the business and employees and hasn’t changed their performance, he says.

“We do not see the reason to limit our employees in any way. Some currently live and work from other parts of the planet.”

The key to making it work? Communication. “Communication cannot be overrated when it comes to remote employees. There can be months before meeting a new employee, but making the effort to establish a connection can ensure that everyone on the team is working towards advancing the company.”

For entrepreneurs like Dmytro, using Zadarma’s own communication tool and virtual phone numbers means he can connect all his employees to the one network, no matter where he or or his workers are based. 

And Zadarma is obviously not alone in this way of working – 69 percent of 1,300 CEOs surveyed in 2021 are moving toward a virtual workforce, according to KPMG.

Virtual phone numbers are particularly well-suited to remote workers, startups, remote companies, and people, whether working or not, who are regularly travelling. 

Click here to set up your virtual office in five minutes

Business benefits

In today’s modern world, where people are often not working from a fixed office, it is important for companies to adapt and use the tools available to them. 

“Work processes will never be the same. For most companies, the lockdown has proven that having all employees working from the same space is not a key to success,” says Dmytro.

“I believe the most important tool of all is a communication tool. Finding the one that can both accommodate the changing lifestyle of a firm’s employees and maintain quality communication standards within the company and with clients can be challenging, but it truly makes all the difference. That is why for the past several years we have been focusing on making Zadarma’s offering ideal for companies with all types of needs.”

Using a virtual phone number for your business means you can assign the number to a specific region, which is beneficial if you are running your business across more than one location but still want to establish a local or regional presence. There is flexibility but customers feel reassurance and trust in calling you. Professionalism is established and exorbitant long distance phone call costs are non-existent. 

Zadarma’s flexible business solutions mean connecting yourself or your team, with easy integration to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems and messenger programs. 

Safety and security

Working and living across borders, accessing devices in different locations using free wi-fi and the onslaught of people using digital tools with malicious intent can all lead to data and security breaches. 

Having a virtual phone number is an extra level of security to put your mind at ease. It means you can still be reached on your personal device, but without potential mobile hackers seeing your private number. 

“Being cautious can go a long way in protecting one’s privacy and securing the data. The internet can be a wonderful place with a variety of free tools but you always have to note how your information is handled,” cautions Dmytro.

Learn more about Zadarma’s affordable and easy virtual phone numbers – 30,000 numbers are available in 150 major cities worldwide, and they offer 24/7 support in seven languages

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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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