Hey you. Yeah, you dreaming of a new life in some far-off magical place. I’m here to tell you how you can make those far-off dreams a reality; particularly in Germany. I never had to consider the process of becoming an immigrant until I actually tried. It’s hard work, but not impossible. What makes it so utterly aggravating is that you don’t know where to get information, what to do, how to do it. Each country has a different visa application process. While they may share similarities, the requirements and experience will likely be different. I only have experience getting a visa in Germany, so this is what I can tell you.
I applied for a freelance visa in Germany. I am a university graduate from the United States, but due to my lack of German-language skills and my B.A. in journalism, I wasn’t exactly fit for a blue card. A blue card is a visa that people with a lot of experience or expertise in their career field get. To get this visa, your hiring company must show that you are an “expert” in the field and that they cannot find someone who can offer what you offer in the EU. Obviously, with my lack of German language and an arts degree, I wasn’t exactly eligible for this.
To get my feet in the door and since I don’t know what I want to do, I went the route of a freelance English teacher. I attended the intensive 120-hour, on-site course TEFL Worldwide Prague, which got me to Europe with a place to stay, bought me time to make arrangements and decisions, and exceptionally prepared me to be the best English teacher I could imagine. For any future TEFL Worldwide Prague graduates interested in teaching in Germany, this is especially for you my friends. I hope I can be a beacon of insights and advice for you on the incredible journey you are about to embark on.
There are ups and downs to choosing to be a freelancer (Freiberufler in German) in Germany. I didn’t know anyone who could help me and all of the people I met had such different experiences and advice that I didn’t know what to believe. To get advice on the visa process join expat Facebook groups, ask the people you meet, look for non-profit organizations who help people in your situation (like the Berlin Welcome Center,) and do some internet research.
If you have the money, you can use a relocation service. This will streamline your process, but you’ll be giving away money when you can find free advice elsewhere. There are a number of organizations in Germany to help you, give you advice, etc. The reason that the process is so daunting is because it is very disorganized and very bureaucratic. There are many reasons for this.
First, there is a large number of immigrants and refugees making it so that the workers and infrastructure can’t keep up, essentially derailing the organizational properties of the process. Two, it depends who you talk to. The best thing you can do is go to the ausländerbehörde and find out what you need. They will likely give you a sheet of paper with required documents. Three, it is nearly impossible to get an appointment. A lot of people will tell you to look every day at 10:00 AM to see if any cancellations have opened up slots online, but I’ve never been able to find an opening. You need to make an appointment at least 3 months in advance of the desired appointment time, if you want to go with an appointment. If you can’t get an appointment, you need to go on walk-in days. This essentially means you’ll be waiting in line for a long time. My best advice is to get to the building at least 2.5 hours before it opens to get a spot in line.
THE REQUIREMENTS FOR A FREELANCE VISA ARE:
- Biometric Photos
You can find this in Haus A of the ausländerbehörde or you can go to one of the many photo booths around Germany (usually in malls) and select the visa/passport option. Make sure that you don’t smile, look straight ahead and essentially take a mug shot.
- Health Insurance
This part was tricky because I didn’t understand what kind of health coverage I needed to satisfy the requirements. However, since I’m freelancing and making under a certain amount of money, I did not qualify for public health insurance. There are two types of German health insurance: the public government insurance or a private insurance. The best thing for you to do if you’re getting a freelance visa is look for German private health insurance. This will be less expensive and will cover what you need. A few companies to consider are: Mawista, BDAE, Health Insurance Germany, etc. Your best option is to find a German healthcare company that offers expat coverage. I got Mawista and would absolutely recommend it. I applied online for the second level (79 euros a month,) and within three minutes of my application I received my insurance cards and policy by email. Print all the documents the insurance sends you and bring that to your appointment.
- Minimum of 2 Letters of Intent with Duration and Salary
A letter of intent is a non-binding agreement from companies that are willing to hire you. Your best chance of getting these are by asking in person at the interview. Explain your situation and that you need them to get your visa and the company should be happy to write you one. Make sure the company indicates you will be working for them long-term. Even if they only say it’s got no end date, that’s good. The letter also needs to include a salary of some sort. As a freelancer, your income will likely be unfixed. Ask the employer to include the usual salary per hour and an estimate of the monthly salary you will make. Rounding up or making it seem like you’ll be making more is encouraged. As I mentioned, it’s not lying because it’s a non-binding agreement. Note, the more letters you can get, the better.
- Bachelor’s Degree + Certificates
I never realized how much of a trust-system we operate on in the USA. We tell an employer we graduated from a university and they essentially just believe us. Apparently, that’s not how it works in the rest of the world. If you’re coming from an English-speaking country, a copy, photo, or scan of your degree will do. If you’re coming from a country in which your degree is not in English, you will need to pay to get it translated by a certified source. Also, any certificates that you have that are relevant to the type of freelance work you are trying to do will be helpful to include as well.
- References + Portfolio
This requirement was a little confusing to me. Seeing as I had just graduated the TEFL course to teach English and wasn’t technically supposed to be working yet, I wasn’t sure what kind of references they wanted. Also, teaching English isn’t really something you can make a portfolio out of. I wasn’t specifically asked for any of these documents, but it was on the list of requirements. What I brought along, just in case, was the in-depth report that my TEFL instructor wrote about my performance.
You will only need your passport for just about everything and anything in Germany. Seriously, grocery shopping, getting data for your phone, etc. Bring your passport but have extra ID just in case. Some examples include your social security card, birth certificate, and driver’s license.
- CV (Resumé)
You need to have your resumé to get your visa. Also, while they don’t specifically ask for it, having a cover letter that explains your education, your certifications, the job offers you have and what you plan to do to get more/network is very helpful. It shows you are serious about your application process and looks good. Having more than they ask for is always a plus.
- Rental Contract + Anmeldung
The first step before you do anything else when moving to Germany is to register at an address. Find an apartment that offers Anmeldung (registration.) To register, make an appointment with any of the local Bürgeramts. Bring your passport, the Anmeldung application form, your rental contract, and the landlord confirmation that you moved here, and it takes about 5 minutes. To get your visa, you will need to show the original rental contract you signed. The rental contract must include the monthly cost of rent and the approximate size of the rental property in square meters.
- Recent Bank Statement
You will need to provide a recent bank statement. I went in the first week of June, so I brought along the May bank statement. My bank is fully online, so I went online and downloaded the files and printed them. I printed both my savings account and checking account. This pretty much just shows them how much money you have. I also printed my May spending’s report. Since I pay rent in cash and withdraw the money from the ATM, I highlighted where I withdrew the rent amount and marked it. They say the more money you have the better, but I only had around $800 to show for it and was given my visa without a problem.
- Preparing a financial plan doesn’t hurt.
You may not need it, but it won’t hurt. As a freelancer, your income won’t be fixed. Try to estimate (make yourself look better than it is.) Show the difference between your monthly costs (rent, good, transportation) to your month revenue. I didn’t provide this, but it might be good just to have.
The cost of a freelance visa in Germany is between 50 euros and 100 euros. Mine cost 56, however I’m not positive that is fixed. You need to bring the payment amount in cash. When they grant you your visa they will give you all of your documents back and your passport with its new visa already in place. Then they will give you a plastic card and tell you to go to the kassenautomat. If you’re in this location, it is in Haus A on the first floor (so, go up the stairs once.) There are small signs on the walls pointing you in the right direction. Stick the card into the ATM like machine, insert your cash, and boom. You’re good to go and have a visa! Congratulations!
RUNNING OUT OF TIME?
If your 90 days is approaching and you will be illegally in the country before you have an appointment, you will need to go to the ausländerbehörde without an appointment. You will need to wait in line and tell them that you are applying for a freelance visa, but your 90 days are almost over, and you need an extension. They will give you a Fiktionsbescheinigung, or a temporary residence permit. This will essentially re-start your 90 days, but you are not eligible to work on it or leave the country. If you leave the country with it, you will not be allowed re-entrance.
Yes, visiting the ausländerbehörde can be scary. People will speak German to you. If you at least try basic phrases (hallo, entschuldigend, dankeshön, tschüss,) you will be demonstrating that you’re trying. Politely ask them to speak English to you. The less time that you’re in Germany the more understanding they will be.
THE PROCESS: STEP BY STEP INSTRUCTIONS
The two times that I visited the ausländerbehörde I had dramatically different experiences. When you arrive, look for the signs outside the buildings where people are lining up. The sign with say Haus A, Haus B, Haus C, etc. On the signs it will say a list of country names. Look for your country and line up outside that door. If you have an appointment, your visit will be more streamlined. If you don’t, be prepared for anything.
Both of my visits took between 4-5 hours total, without appointments. The first time I went, when the doors opened at 10:00, it was a race to the second floor to get in another line. The second time I went, the security only allowed small groups of people in at a time. The first people you will talk to are the women who give you a waiting number. Have your passport in hand to show them and your temporary residence permit if you have one. Tell them you are there to get a freelance visa. They will give you a waiting number on a printed ticket much like the DMV in the USA. You will wait for your number to appear on a screen in one of the waiting rooms. When your number appears, to the right of it will be the office number you need to go to. Find the door, walk in and begin the process.
IMPORTANT BUILDINGS: EXPLAINED
Throughout your process you will visit between 2-3 different buildings. Here are the differences:
- Bürgeramt: the Bürgeramt is the government building that you will go to register (Ammeldung.) Once you register, you will automatically be given a tax number and tax ID (Steuernummer und Steuer-ID.) You will need to provide this number to your employers. 3-5 weeks after you register, return to the Bürgeramt without an appointment and ask for your tax ID number. You will also go here if you need to get a Certificate of Good Conduct to work with children (Führungszeugnisses.)
- Ausländerbehörde: this is the immigration office. This is where you will go to get your visa, get information on your visa requirements, get a temporary residence permit to extend your stay, or re-apply for your visa.
- Finanzamt: This is the local tax office. You will go here for anything regarding taxes, just be sure to visit the website and put in your zip code to find the location you should visit.
It can be daunting, but it is not impossible. You can do this! Use whatever charms you have working for you to your advantage. Mine is that I’m a young-lady completely alone in a foreign country. I was as polite as I could be and said thank you a lot.
You can do this. Create a community in Germany for support and remember why you are here. It seems scary looking at the process head-on, but it isn’t impossible. Best of luck and if anyone needs advice or questions, contact me. Go be young, go be bold and welcome to freelance community of Germany.