Working as a freelancer is an increasingly popular choice for expats, especially for those who are entrepreneurs or working in creative fields. Cities like Berlin are major destinations for expats looking for a home base to start a new business, do programming or graphic design projects, or to provide any number of professional services without being tied down to a single company.
In this article, we’ll cover all the steps you need to take to get settled as a self-employed person or freelancer in Germany. Here’s the simple take on your apartment registration, health insurance, business bank account, residence permit and taxes.
What’s the difference between freelance and self-employed?
The first thing to know is that the self-employed (Selbstständiger) and freelancers (Freiberufler) have slightly different conditions when applying for German residency. Self-employed people have to declare additional documents when applying for a residence permit, which you can see in more detail below.
As a freelancer, you’re not required to submit a business plan or a company profile, because you’ll be creating work for various businesses, and not exclusively your own. Consider the following example—if you’re a freelance designer, you can submit invoices to your client as an individual. If you’re a self-employed designer, you can submit invoices to your client as an officially registered business.
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Registering your address
Now that you know how to classify your work, you’ll want to complete your Anmeldung, or official German address registration. This is for your home address, not the address of wherever you’ll be working if you work remotely.
To register your German address, you’ll need the following documents:
- Valid passport or national ID
- Rental confirmation form from your landlord (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)
- Registration form, either called Meldeschein or Anmeldung. These are only available in German, so fill this out beforehand
Keep in mind that the entire Anmeldung process is typically conducted in German, so be prepared. We recommend bringing a German-speaking friend with you, or sending a German speaker on your behalf, just to be sure. If so, they’ll need to take the documents listed above, plus an additional signed letter from you that gives them permission to act on your behalf, otherwise known as a Power of Attorney, or Vollmacht in German.
Getting health insurance
Being insured by a healthcare provider is a legal requirement to live and work in Germany, even if it’s not covered by an employer. Regular employees who earn a salary of less than €62,500 per year must be compulsorily insured within the public healthcare system. But as a freelancer or a self-employed individual, you’re given the freedom to choose. So it’s up to you to weigh out the pros and cons of public health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung), then enroll yourself in a health insurance plan.
The three most common public healthcare providers in Germany are TK (Techniker Krankenkasse), AOK and Barmer GEK. Your provider will issue an insurance card (Gesundheitskarte) with a chip that you must present at every doctor’s visit.
As for private health insurance, there are a multitude of private health insurers to choose from, and each provider’s plan will vary in price and coverage—so be sure to do some initial research. People typically recommend choosing a private plan if you’re young, in good health and may not settle down permanently in Germany. You can learn more about the difference between public and private health insurance in this article.
Once you decide on a public or private healthcare plan, here’s how to enroll.
- Choose a provider and find the right application form on their website
- Provide basic personal information like your name, address and nationality
- Provide employment information like your job title and start date
- Provide previous insurance information like whether you have been insured in Germany before, and by whom
- Send the completed form to the appropriate address, which is usually written on the form
- Submit a recent passport photo to be put onto your insurance card
- Set up a direct debit to get billed automatically
Opening a business bank account
Now that you’ve registered your address and enrolled in a health insurance plan, you’ll want to open a business bank account that allows you to make transactions exclusively for business purposes, which you need for accounting and tax reasons. There are various options from different banks, but the easiest account to open for freelancers and the self-employed is the N26 Business account. It only takes a few minutes to sign up online from your smartphone and you can manage everything directly from the N26 app—plus, it’s completely free. In fact, N26 will give you a free business Mastercard and send you 0.1% cashback for all purchases made with your N26 Business Mastercard, deposited automatically into your account each month.
As an N26 Business customer, you’ll also enjoy real-time features such as instant push notifications after every transaction, or instant money transfers to fellow N26 customers.
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Getting your residence permit
This is the last major step to be able to start working in Germany. For both freelancer and self-employed residence permits, you have to be able to show that you can sufficiently finance your life and your career without being a burden to the state. This applies to work in a variety of fields, including the arts. If you’re a freelance artist, journalist or musician, you must be able to demonstrate both a body of work and upcoming projects.
To get your residence permit in Germany as a freelancer, your application must include the following:
- Valid passport
- 1 current biometric photo
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof of residence (your Anmeldung document)
- Completed residence permit application form
- Curriculum Vitae (CV)—an updated document detailing your professional career, your diploma or degree, any qualification certificates, any references or sponsors
- Financing plan—this document details how much money you have to finance your employment, including liquid funds, tangible assets, loans and venture capital
- Revenue forecast—otherwise known as a profit/loss statement that details your projected expenses, including your rent, insurance fees and taxes
- €50 to €110 application fee, depending on the complexity of your case
If you’re going to be completely self-employed, you need everything above, plus a few additional documents:
- Company profile—this document details all the relevant information about your company including official proof of its existence, names of managing directors, total equity, annual turnover, official business address in your city, official function, and more
- Capital requirement plan—this document details all the potential costs you may incur or the funding necessary for you to start your company, including office renovations, licensing fees, vehicle rentals, and more
- Business concept—this is a precise written set of descriptions about your company including the industry, the target customers, marketing and sales strategy, and market forecasts and risks
- Business plan—this is a summary document of all the other documents above like your financing plan and revenue forecast that explains the high level function of your company
This may sound like a lot, but you can find templates of most, if not all, of these documents on your city’s official web service portal. You’ll have to interpret line by line in German, but the format is largely the same as comparable documents in your home language. If you’ve never completed these kinds of documents before or are unsure about the exact figures for your capital requirements or revenues, it’s advisable to submit your best estimates, or even better—simply call your local immigration office to ask.
Declaring your taxes
Once you’ve generated income from your freelance or self-employment work, you’ll have to declare your taxes. First, you need to get a personal tax ID, or Identifikationsnummer, sometimes referred to as a Steuer-ID, or Steueridentifikationsnummer. If it’s your first time living and working in Germany, your tax ID will be sent to you automatically by the state about one week after you register your address. If you’ve lived in Germany before, you can either fill in this form, or go to your local tax office to get your tax ID number on the spot from an official. You’ll need to take your passport with you. You only get one tax ID for life, so if you move back to Germany or change your address, you will not get a new tax ID number.
Second, you need a tax number or Steuernummer, which is separate from your tax ID. You’ll need both the tax ID and Steuernummer to declare your taxes. In order to get your tax number, you need to fill out this form, the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung. If you don’t speak German, there are many websites that offer a line-by-line translation of form in English, or other languages. Once the hard part is done, simply send it in a letter to your nearest tax office, which you can find by searching “Finanzamt + your town” on Google. That’s all it takes.
Just moved to Germany? Find more informative how-to guides for expats in Germany, such as how to find a flat, how to switch your bank account and how to manage your savings.
Moving to Germany means navigating a lot of bureaucratic red tape, but opening a bank account doesn’t have to be so complicated. With N26, you can open a German bank account in minutes, right from your smartphone. All you need is a German address—no Anmeldung necessary. You’ll get a local German IBAN, which means no worrying about inconvenient T&C’s that sometimes come with foreign IBANs. There are no hidden fees and you’ll always have access to English-speaking customer service, so the only thing left to worry about is settling in to your new home.