Immigration For Members

EXPLAINED: How to get a freelance visa for Germany from outside the EU

Becca Warner
Becca Warner - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How to get a freelance visa for Germany from outside the EU
A woman composes a letter on a laptop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Acer Computer GmbH | Acer Computer GmbH

Moving to Germany as a freelancer can be a great way to get started, but there are hurdles to clear when applying for the visa. From gathering letters of intent to securing official appointments, Becca Warner outlines what you need to know about the process.


Wearing pyjamas at your desk, café WiFi, chasing invoices – the life of a freelancer can be an unpredictable one, but it comes with its own rewards. Freelancing is on the rise in Germany, and for many people wanting to move here, it’s a great way to get a foothold in German life plus permission to stay for up to three years.

This being Germany, the process involves a small mountain of paperwork - and some official lingo. To start with, what most people will conversationally call the 'freelance visa' or 'freelance artist visa' is actually called a ‘residence permit for a freelance employment’ - or Aufenthaltstitel zur Freiberuflichen Tätigkeit. 

The process is manageable, but does take a bit of forward-planning - especially if you're coming from outside the EU. For those lucky enough to be EU citizens, you can move to Germany as a freelancer without needing a residence permit, but non-EU citizens will need a visa.

I recently applied for (and secured!) my freelance residence permit from the UK, and learned plenty along the way. Here's what you can expect. 

First things first. Are you a freelancer?

Freelancers work for multiple clients, and belong to a specified list of professions that includes everything from a veterinarian to a translator or a tax advisor. If your profession isn’t on the list, you will likely fall into the broader category of ‘self employed’, which is slightly different and requires a bit more paperwork.


If your work is considered ‘artistic’, you might qualify for what is often referred to as the ‘artist visa’, which is simply one subcategory of the freelance residence permit. It’s unique to Berlin and Hamburg, and has the added bonus that it can be granted on the spot during your interview.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about becoming a freelancer in Germany

Let the paperwork commence: what you need for your application

To apply, you'll need a long list of documents, including the application form, any professional permits required for your profession, a CV/resume, and a breakdown of your housing or rental costs.

Some of these will be straightforward to obtain, but some are a little trickier.

  • Anmeldung. If you’re applying in person, you’ll need to show your registration certificate. This states your official registered address, and you need to attend an appointment to get it. Not all rentals you'll find will offer Anmeldung (even those that should), and it can be particularly challenging in Berlin


  • Letters of intent. These are letters from prospective clients saying that they’d like to work with you, and can be shown instead of fee contracts. They must be from organisations based in Germany, and they should ideally state an amount of money that you will be paid – for example a project fee, or an hourly or daily rate plus an amount of time per week/month. They are non-binding (unlike a contract), and lots of German organisations will be familiar with what they are. You need at least two letters for each type of freelance work you’re applying for. The amount of money stated on the letters will be used to calculate whether you will have enough money to live on – your expected income from clients outside Germany is not considered here. I was advised to aim for a total of at least €12,000 to appear on the letters, though this is by no means a hard and fast rule. This is a useful example letter

Forms for visa applications at the Foreigners' Office.

Forms for visa applications at the Immigration Office. All non-EU nationalities have to apply for a residence permit to start up a business, even if they already have a visa for that purpose. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jonas Walzberg
  • Health insurance. This is super important in Germany. Everyone is required to have adequate health insurance cover, and some travel or expat health insurance policies will be rejected by some authority case workers. This can be difficult to navigate, and can change over time. To figure out the best option for you, consider speaking to a health insurance broker – it’s free, and they can offer a solution personalised to you

Don’t assume your case worker – the person who reviews your application – will speak English (though many do). Use a tool like DeepL to translate all your documents. For particularly important documents like your letters of intent and CV, it can be worth paying for a professional translation. Keep some budget aside for this (€250-500). 

Getting an appointment at the immigration office (prepare to refresh, refresh, refresh…)

If you’re a citizen of a country that is allowed 90 visa free days in Germany, you have the option to travel to Germany and apply once you get here. Everyone else must apply in their country of residence, via the German embassy. Processing times can be long, and you should expect to wait a few months for a reply.

If you’re applying from within Germany, you will need to attend an in-person appointment at the Ausländerbehörde. Getting an appointment is one of the most difficult parts of the application process, particularly in Berlin. Since the pandemic, it’s generally no longer possible to queue outside the building for an appointment – you have to do it online.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany's new 'opportunity card' and other visas for job seekers


Be ready to spend many hours (even weeks) refreshing the appointment booking page. In the glorious moment that you make it through to the calendar page, you may find that the available appointments are anything between two and five months in the future. Bizarrely, some people have had better success requesting an appointment via fax. 

Timings: what happens when?

Your exact steps will depend where you’re applying from. If you’re applying from abroad, it’s a case of gathering your documents, sending them off, and settling in for the wait. If you’re applying in person, here’s a general idea of how to think about your timeline:

  1. Start looking for an Ausländerbehörde appointment as soon as you can, if you’re applying in person.

  2. Figure out your accommodation, and book an Anmeldung appointment. Bear in mind that once you have registered (Anmeldung), you are no longer considered a ‘tourist’ and therefore are not legally allowed to work in Germany until your freelance residence permit is granted. For this reason, you may want to try to time your Anmeldung appointment to be just a couple of weeks before your Ausländerbehörde appointment.

  1. In the meantime, start gathering your letters of intent. The dates on your letters should be recent, ideally within two months of when you send your application or attend your appointment. Of course, it may take a bit of time to build those relationships. Keep in mind that in the months leading up to your applications, it’s best not to do any work for the German clients who write your letters. Though this is perfectly legal, I was advised that it can cause some suspicion.

  2. Once you get to your appointment, your residence permit could be granted on the spot, or there could be a bit of a wait - so be prepared for extra delays. 

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

What if I get rejected?

I asked Kathleen Parker, an expert from Red Tape Translation, about the most common reason people’s applications are rejected.

“More often than not," she says, "it's because they don't have a clear reason for being in Germany. People say ‘look, I've got this very successful Amazon business and I've got clients from all over the world’, but there's no clear tie to Germany.” 

But being turned away immediately is a pretty rare occurrence.

“Don't freak out about being rejected," says Parker. "Rejections don't really happen that often – it's more likely that you will get an opportunity to resubmit something or make a change.”


Because the process can take some time, however, it's a good idea to prepare for the unexpected - and don't get discouraged by setbacks.

"Don't assume that you will get approval when you go to the office, because something might happen that sends it in a different direction, and you might have to wait longer," Parker cautions. 

Ultimately, it's a case of being in it for the long-haul and making sure you've got the funds to finance yourself during the (often lengthy) wait until your visa gets approved.


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