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Lily Cichanowicz: Absolutely everything you must know to get your freelance artist visa in Berlin (updated)

(Author’s note: The original version of this guide to getting your freelance artist visa in Berlin ran on 7 February 2018. This updated version includes the next important administrative step to complete after you obtain your freelance visa and before you can start earning money. It’s important, but often overlooked.)

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re exploring your visa options as someone looking to expatriate to Berlin. Odds are, before you got here you also came across some horror stories or are simply feeling overwhelmed by the abundant yet tenuous information available online.

We are here, however, to say no need to fear! With proper preparation, obtaining your freelance visa in Berlin is well within your reach.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that each person’s situation will be different based on various personal circumstances including profession, country of origin, and marital status. This guide is intended for people looking to get their freelance artist visas in Berlin.

Who is the freelance artist visa for?

Note that the freelance artist visa only exists in Berlin. 

The freelance artist visa applies to myriad crafts and professions ranging from journalism and editorial work to photographers and filmmakers to web designers. While it’s great that the freelance artist visa is available to people from a wide range of creative professions, it can also create confusion because in German there is a significant difference between being freelance and self-employed.

One of the main ways to determine whether you are a freelance artist or as a self-employed person (Gewerbe) is by whether or not the work you create or produce is unique or if you are selling copies or reproductions of the same item over and over again.

  • If you are a graphic designer who makes mugs with cool artwork printed on them, but you sell 100 with the exact same design, you’ll want to opt for the self-employment visa.
  • If you’re a writer, on the other hand, who creates pieces on assignment for different clients, you actually qualify as a freelance artist because odds are, you’re not getting very far by selling the exact same article to 10 different publications.

In the end, it’s up to the discretion of the finance office to decide whether you are freelance or self-employed.

Now that we have all that squared away, it’s time to run through the different components you must present in your application. This checklist list is largely based on the official page, which can be found here.

Forms for Freiberufler Visa Application

There are a couple of forms you need to bring with you to your appointment. Here, you will fill in general information about your background and personal circumstances.

  • Application for Via or Residence Permit (Autrag auf Erteilung eines Aufenthaltstitels) It is only required for first-time applicants and can be downloaded in several languages including English and German.
  • It’s also wise would bring with you a printout of the appointment confirmation page (‘Online Terminvereinbarung’). The page contains your appointment number, which is what they announce on the TV screens in the waiting room.

Proof of Residence

To prove your residence in Berlin you will need to present your Anmeldung, which is a document verifying that you have a place to live. You get this at the citizen’s office (Bürgeramt) in your neighborhood. Usually, you have to make an appointment online, but sometimes there are walk-in hours during the less busy times of week. Bring your passport and have your address ready when you go. Technically you are supposed to get your Anmeldung within 2 weeks of moving to Berlin.

If you are subletting, it can be useful to also provide Untermietvertrag. This form is optional but it can be useful in helping you to avoid having to answer extra questions about the specifics of your living situation. On the form, the person who is on the lease of the place where you are renting can authorizing that you’re really living there.

Proof of Insurance

This one is especially important. You will definitely not get your visa if you lack health insurance coverage in Germany. Still, it can be tricky to get insurance without a residence permit! What many people do is opt for a private insurance plan. This option is usually cheaper, although it typically covers less and requires you to pay for doctor’s appointments and the like out of pocket. You’ll need to get your insurance plan and certificate written in German for the visa appointment, and not all insurances—especially traveler’s and European insurances will be accepted. For women, insurance must also cover pregnancy. Luckily, you can consult insurance brokers for free to ensure that your plan fulfills all necessary requirements.

Personal Information & CV

You will need to include a CV to prove that you actually have professional experience doing whatever you said you were going to do for work in Berlin. Of course, you can also include other things that make you qualified for this kind of work, especially in the event that you don’t actually have much experience yet. As with any CV, a lot of it is in the presentation. Even if you haven’t been paid to do the thing in question, but perhaps you’ve done some amateur photography work for a friend’s wedding or you wrote for the newspaper at your university. These things could still be legitimate entries on your résumé.

It’s also important to be fully certain about what your intended job title is in German because this part can be confusing for the immigration agent when translated.

The title that is ultimately printed on your visa will dictate what kind of work you’re permitted to do.

This is also a key element in deciding if you actually qualify for the artist visa.

Financial Documents

Another fundamental aspect of the application is your ability to prove that you will have enough money to support yourself each month. If it seems like you might end up needing to rely on Germany’s welfare system to stay afloat financially, it’ll be a lot harder to prove your case as someone who will positively contribute to the economy.

First of all, you’ll want a substantial sum in your (German) bank account. It is said that you’ll want at least 8,000 euros in your account. It is a bit elusive whether this is an official number but it tends to be the amount suggested by the Ausländerbehörde.

It is, however, a lot of money to have on hand as a freelance creative. See if you can have someone lend you the money just so it appears on your account for the appointment. Then, print your bank statement showing your balance and include it in your portfolio. It is also best to open a German bank account before your appointment. This will also require your Anmeldung and passport.

Next, include a monthly Profit/Loss statement or “revenue forecast” on Excel. This should outline the estimated income you’ll have each month plus a list of your estimated expenses. Even though it is likely to be pretty speculative, you want it to look like you’ve given some thought to how you’ll support yourself. Of course, make sure it’s realistic, and use the clients from your freelance job offers, which brings us to our next point.

Freelance Job Offers

Since a key aspect of the visa application involves your ability to prove that you will be helping the German economy, you’ll want to show that you already have some work lined up, the more convincing the better.

The freelance job offers don’t have to be written in German, but doing so is a good idea if possible. If the company has a letterhead, it’s always a nice touch in the name of legitimacy. As for the content of the letters, you’ll want the job offers to state the amount of money the company will be paying you and when you’ll potentially start working.

If it helps you to get more offers, see if people in your network can provide you with letters that simply declare their intent to hire you (say, on the grounds that you get your visa). This way, the letters aren’t binding, and you don’t have to feel overly presumptuous for asking people to write them for you. The more you can have the merrier, but two or three will suffice.

Portfolio

Be sure to include some hard copies of your work in the form of a portfolio. For people who design websites or work in the fine arts, bring print outs or photos of things you’ve created. This will really help to solidify your case and is something many note as one of the aspects that was more relevant during their appointment. You can include a couple of letters of recommendation from previous employers here, too.

Final Details

You will definitely need official biometric photos for the agent to make your actual visa. There are very specific requirements for your biometric photos so don’t fool around here. Many photo shops around the city that are qualified to take biometric photos, like Photo Selcuk on Oranienstraße, so all you have to do as walk in and have them snap a few.

Another perk of the artist visa is that if your application is accepted you will often receive your visa the day of the appointment. Therefore, in the midst of scrambling to pull together your visa application, don’t forget your passport, as this is where your visa will go if your application is accepted.

You’ll also need to pay the processing visa fee in cash so bring around €100 in cash with you. It’s unlikely that it was actually cost that much, but it’s better to be safe and avoid a hassle. Be sure to save this receipt, just in case!

Finishing Touches

There are a few ways to make the appointment go more smoothly. One of which is to bring along a German speaker! Bureaucratic officials in Germany are not allowed to speak English with you. It’ll help your case immensely if you have a German-speaking buddy there to advocate for you. If you haven’t made a German-speaking friend yet, you can always consult services like Red Tape Translation.

Looking professional can go a long way. Dress in business casual attire, and organize your materials so that it’s easier for the agent to find the corresponding documents as she runs through her checklist of requirements. The more prepared and well presented your documents are, the less likely it is you’ll be asked unexpected questions that you’ll have to answer on the spot. Try to arrive at the Ausländerbehörde with some time to spare before your appointment because the compound is a bit confusing to navigate.

What to do next?

Once you obtain your freelance visa and finish riding that high of finally being able to start a new life here in Berlin, there are still some bureaucratic tasks that need attending before you start working.

For one, you will need to apply for a tax number (Steuernummer). This number is essential if you plan to earn start invoicing clients and earning money. You’ll need to include this on every invoice you send to clients.

To do this, you’ll need to take the personal identification number (Personenidentifikationsnummer) you received in the mail after registering your address at the Bürgeramt through your Anmeldung. If this number hasn’t materialized, no fear! You can also request it via walk-in appointment at the Finanzamt. Also note, that while the personal identification number is often called the Tax ID, this is NOT your Steuernummer. You can only receive that by formally applying.

Once you’ve got your freelance visa and personal identification number handy, you’ll need to fill out this application form. You can then mail in the form to the Finanzamt in your district, but it will be processed much more quickly if you deliver it in person.

If you are intimidated by the look of all this paperwork in German, try setting up an appointment with the folks at Expath Berlin, which is a company that provides numerous services and advise to expats in the city.

LILY CICHANOWICZ

Finally, good luck! As long as you come with all items on this checklist, you should have no problems obtaining your freelance artist visa.

About the author:

Lily Cichanowicz is an American freelance writer and journalist currently based in Berlin. In the form of cultural analysis, her writing is a critical exploration of everything from the personal to the political, and her aim is to share the insights she has with readers.

On her website, you can find a curated selection of her favorite pieces.

You can see more of Lily’s posts about Germany and Berlin here:

Lily Cichanowicz’s Viva 6! Six genuinely cool cities in Germany that aren’t Berlin

Lily Cichanowicz: Berlin’s coolest spots for creative minds

Berlin Dreams: The land of opportunity in a changing world

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