Are you considering moving to Berlin and doing business solo? You have come to the right place. Berlin’s creative vibes, affordable living, and dynamic ex-pat community are ideal for freelancers, but above all, the city has one of the most diverse freelancer ecosystems globally, allowing you to work across many different industries and fields. However, becoming a freelancer in Berlin involves some work before you can get started.
Assuming that you already have an awesome portfolio and a broad professional network, to succeed, there are several other things you need to arrange for a successful start.
Preparing for and Getting a Freelance Visa
Keep in mind that getting a visa and regulating your residence is a lot of work. For that reason, let’s explore the key aspects of a freelance visa Berlin-specific guide to help you manage the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.
To work as a freelancer in Germany, first and foremost, you need to regulate your residence.
If you are a permanent resident or German citizen, a permanent resident or citizen of the EU, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, or Liechtenstein, or you already have a regulated stay in Germany that allows you to work there, in this situation, you don’t need to worry about getting a freelance visa. However, in any other case, you need to apply for a freelance visa to establish a residence in Germany and get an Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur selbstständigen Tätigkeit, which is, in fact, a residence permit for self-employment.
Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Korea, and Japan can apply for a freelance visa in Germany. However, non-EU nationals that need a visa for entering and/or working in the country should get one in the German Embassy/Consulate in their country of residence.
Registering Your Address in Berlin
Once you find a place to live, the next step is to register your address (Anmeldung) at the local citizen service office (Bürgeramt). According to German law, anyone that stays longer than three months in the country must do so within 14 days of moving into a new home. The registration certificate plays a vital role in the following.
- Getting a tax number
- Opening a German bank account
- Obtaining health/medical insurance
- Concluding other contracts, like the Internet, phone, electricity, and gym membership.
There are over 40 Bürgeramts in Berlin, and you can register at any of them. You must also appear in person (or be represented by someone with a power of attorney) since the registration can’t be done online.
Register with the Finanzamt and Choose Your Self-Employed Status
Once you have arranged your residence in Berlin, to start working, you must register as a freelancer in your local tax office (Finanzamt).
To do that, you need to complete a tax registration form (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung) online. Once completed, print the form and send it by post (or take it personally) to your local Finanzamt. The document is only available in German, which means that you need to plan if you need help filling it out. After submitting your registration, in a few weeks, you will receive your tax number (Steuernummer) by post. Remember to always include this number in all future invoices to your clients.
When you register your status with the Finanzamt, you need to identify what type of business you are conducting. According to German law, there are two different categories of self-employment:
- Freiberufler (freelancer): independent professionals with special qualifications who sell their services, like, engineers, scientists, artists, interpreters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and accountants. If your business falls under this category, you do not need a trade license, do not need to pay trade tax, or enroll in the German Trade Register.
- Gewerbliche Tätigkeit (self-employed) is open to all other occupations that don’t qualify for the official freelancer definition.
Notably, the tax office will be the one to decide whether your profession is considered freiberuflich or gewerblich once you register your business with them. So basically, they will have the last say.
Obtain Health Insurance
Being health-insured is mandatory in Germany, and as a freelancer, you will need to cover your own insurance cost. Once you’ve registered your business, you also need to get yourself a health insurance plan (if you haven’t got one when regulating your residence).
There are two kinds of health insurance– public and private, and you can opt for any of them, depending on your health, family status, and income. Nevertheless, before deciding, keep in mind this information.
- Public health insurance (Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung ) – is the most typical coverage and mandatory to be paid according to their income and thus people will have different rates regardless of age or state of health.
- Private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung) – is for people who do not qualify for the public system for various reasons – or for those who choose it as an option when earning a gross income above the income threshold for compulsory insurance.
Learn about (Pay and Manage Your) Taxes
As a freelancer in Berlin, you need to familiarize yourself with the German tax system and the types of taxes relevant to freelancers. A financial year opens on January 1 and runs to December 31. Once the year is finished, you need to make your income tax return, which is usually due by the following year’s July 31.
When you start, it is always a good idea to look for professional advice from a tax advisor (Steuerberater). Having one will help you understand the taxation system, deal with the tax office on your behalf, optimize your expenses, and maximize your tax return. Alternatively, you can do this by yourself (submit your return online) using the electronic tax declaration system called Elektronische SteuerErklärung – ELSTER.
Finally, even though you may already have a reliable client network, getting new clients in a new city is essential. Naturally, you can use the Internet and networks like LinkedIn or Indeed, but in a vibrant city like Berlin, you need to take full advantage of the events happening all around the clock. Use Google or Facebook to scout exciting networking events and opportunities in your field of work, or use co-working spaces to meet people, learn about new entrepreneurship initiatives, and exchange ideas.
To succeed in Germany, learning the language is usually a prerequisite. However, Berlin is a city where it is far easier to set up your own business than in other cities, even when you do not know German. Furthermore, the living costs are half of what is paid in the other European cities like Paris or London.
Berlin offers excellent space for experimentation, creative collaborations, and innovation. Ultimately, it is the place to be if you want to have a quality social life. So, get out there, get sociable, and enjoy it!