German Self-Employment Visa For Non-EU Nationals: Do You Meet All the Requirements?

Getting a German self-employment visa is not a fabled myth.

It is just…a very polarising topic. Some say it’s very difficult to get, and yet others have received in on the spot on their first visit to the AHB.

Your experience can vary depending on your nationality, your skills, earning potential, work history or maybe even your visa caseworker’s mood that morning. Then it is either a very long frustrating process or an extremely straight forward deal. My self-employment visa took NINE torturous months to process…NINE! I’d describe how that went, but it would take up a whole new blog post.

This blog post was originally published in my expat life blog. Read more about freelancing in Germany here.

When I was applying for my self-employment visa, I could not find any info relevant to MY nationality. I am an Indian passport holder.

Almost every ‘get your German freelance visa’ guide was by someone from the US, UK, Canada or Australia. You see, Germany permits a visa-waiver program to citizens of 62 countries. Under this visa-waiver program, the nationals from these countries can enter Germany without needing an entry visa. India isn’t one of these 62 countries.

Expat freelancers in Germany are kind of rare. But, if you are a non-EU, Southeast Asian expat freelancer, then congrats! You’re officially a unicorn!

First of all let’s see the requirements for the the German self employment visa.

You Must Be a Legal Resident in Germany

You need to be living in Germany legally before applying for a self-employment visa. As soon as you find your permanent accommodation in Germany, you should register yourself at your local citizen’s registration office or Bürgeramt. This procedure is known as ‘Anmeldung’. Once the registration process is completed, you’ll receive the confirmation for the current address registration ‘Meldebescheinigung’.

Note that if you are a resident of one of the ‘rest of the world’ countries, you may have to apply for an entry visa from your home country. I have written a guide for applying for German freelance visa from India here.

There are some situations in which you could apply for a self-employed visa while you are in Germany:

  1. You successfully wrapped up your German university degree, and now hold the 18 months job search visa.
  2. You are the spouse of a person legally residing and working in Germany.
  3. You currently hold a full-time employment visa and want to switch to self-employment (possible under certain circumstances)

You Must Have a Valid Health Insurance

All German residents must have health insurance.

You should know that by now. If you are a new arrival in Germany, then you’ll need an insurance plan that is meant for self-employed people. If you have been on a regular health insurance plan in Germany, then you will have to switch once you register as a freelancer.

Bear in mind that health insurance for self-employed people is VERY expensive.

In Germany, the employer pay for almost half of the health insurance premium and the rest is shared by the employee. In your case you are wearing both hats- so you have to pay for both employer and the employee part of the monthly premium.

You have the option to choose either public or private health insurance. Both insurances charge according to your monthly income. The public health insurance premium is about 14% of your gross income. But and that’s a BIG but, public system has a maximum premium cap.

So after a certain income threshold, you end up paying a flat rate regardless of how high your monthly income gets. Last time I checked this threshold was at about €5,500 (gross) per month. I will create a separate blog post to explain the German healthcare for self-employed in detail.

You Must Earn Enough Monthly Income to Support Yourself…

…without relying on the German social system.

This is a no-brainer. A German self-employment visa is just like a regular job visa. You should be able to financially support yourself through your business. Your caseworker will ask you for some kind of proof of income.

I was asked to submit an income tax statement, and since I’d only freelanced for a few months, I submitted some of my invoices, the copy of contracts which showed my hourly rate or project fees.

I also used an income overview that my tax consultant prepares for each month. Heck, I even printed out a couple of my Upwork contracts. That seemed to have done the trick as well.

The minimal monthly income could be different depending on your location. Some places are much more expensive than others. I live in South Germany, where the cost of living is higher. In some cities, you could get away with €700 per month, whereas in some €2k netto won’t cut it.

Besides this, the general assumption in German work culture is that freelancers are experts in their field and have a high earning potential, even higher than the salaried employees.

Keep in mind that your ABH caseworkers may also believe the same. So the safest bet for you is to aim for a higher than average monthly net income from your business.

You Must Have German Clients

This one is iffy. Depending on who you ask, you will get a different reply. German Act on the Residence, Economic Activity and Integration of Foreigners in the Federal Territory clearly states that

(1) A foreigner may be granted a temporary residence permit for the purpose of self-employment if
1. an economic interest or a regional need applies,

2. the activity is expected to have positive effects on the economy and
3. the foreigner has personal capital or an approved loan to realise the business idea.

This means the applicant has to demonstrate that they have existing or potential clients in Germany. You can prove this by showing invoices or contracts or through the letter of intent by German businesses.

In my case though, I was able to get my self-employment visa without any local contracts. When I applied for my self-employment visa, all my clients were from Upwork. And none of them from Germany!

However, I’ve had email inquiries from a few German businesses, and I’d also worked on two short term projects with German clients. But nothing ongoing. My recommendation would be to work with as many German clients you can. The visa applications are analysed on their own merits, and it’s best to cover all your bases.

You Should Register With the Finanzamt as a Self-Employed Entity

This is not a must for this visa, but for German tax purposes and it shows your seriousness if you already come prepared with your tax ID. You need your tax ID and (or) VAT number to invoice your clients. Your local Finanzamt will also decide what kind of self-employment entity you are — a freelancer OR a trader — based on the info you give them.

This is a whole new can of worms within the German tax bureaucracy, so make sure you get this one right during your Finanzamt registration. If you get it wrong, you could potentially end up paying more taxes and submitting various kind of accounting documents at the end of the financial year.

Read Next— how to register yourself as a self-employed entity with the Finanzamt.

Have you ever applied for a German self-employment visa? How was your experience?

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