As a citizen from a member state of the European Union, you don’t need a visa or permit to be self-employed in Germany. To start a business or be self-employed in Germany, you will only have to inform the trade or tax office of the activities you plan to do in your business.
If you are not a citizen of a member state of the European Union, you need to apply for a permit to work as a freelancer or to set up a business. The requirements to apply for the freelancer and self-employment permit are similar, but you will be issued a permit either to work as a freelancer or to be self-employed as the owner of your business. If you qualify, you could also be eligible for an artist visa.
If you have graduated from a (free!) German university and have obtained a residence permit for employment as a researcher or academic, you are already eligible to receive a residence permit for self-employment if your intended work is related to your previous work. The permit will be valid for a maximum of three years.
Where to apply
You will be applying for the permit either from Germany, from your home country or another country you have been residing in before moving to Germany. Some people are allowed to apply for the permit while they are in Germany, while others have to apply from their home country. If you are a citizen of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Switzerland or the United States of America, you are allowed to enter Germany without an entry visa and start applying for a freelancing or self-employment visa once you’ve entered the country. You should, however, apply for the permit within 90 days of entry and before you start working in Germany. Citizens from other countries will have to apply from their home country or get an entry visa before applying for their freelancing or self-employment visa in Germany.
How to apply
The authorities that are responsible for the decision about your application are the State office for Residents’ and Regulatory Affairs and the Foreigners Office. When you apply for a permit to these authorities, you will need to prove you fulfill the requirements of either the freelance or self-employment visa. You will also need to complete the application forms the authorities will provide you with, take biometric photos and get health insurance from a German insurance provider. Freelancers will also need a few “letters of intent” from potential future clients, a CV and a cover letter.
Before you apply to the permit, you will have to register your German address with the local municipal office (“Bürgeramt”) within 14 days of moving. You will receive your certificate of registration, which you’ll need to get health insurance, get a self-employment or freelance permit and anything else that requires you to prove your residence is registered. If you don’t register your address, you could get fined and your permit may be denied.
The appointment for your application will take place at the Foreigners Office. The interview will take about 10 minutes. You will either be approved or rejected on the spot, be asked to provide more supporting documentation or your application will be sent to the Federal Employment Agency and you’ll receive a decision in up to three months. When your application is approved for freelance work, you can only take on projects that fit in the job description of the freelance title that has been stamped in your passport.
Freelancer visa requirements
To be eligible for a freelancer permit, you should have more than one client and you should not be deemed as an integral part of a client’s organization. If your application is successful, you will be issued a permit for self-employment purposes. The permit will be valid for three years and can be extended.
Self-employment visa requirements
To obtain a permit for self-employment as a business owner, you have to prove that your business fulfills an economic interest or regional need in Germany. The business should also be able to generate a positive effect on the economy and financing for your activities must be secured. Whether these requirements are met, depends on several factors. The diplomatic mission where you will apply for your permit will decide on the viability of your business idea, your experience as an entrepreneur, the amount of the initial investment and the contribution your business will make to employment, education, innovation and research. If you meet the requirement for the permit, you will be allowed to be self-employed in Germany.