Thrive as a Freelancer in Germany: Our Ultimate Guide

When we think of Germany, the words economic powerhouse might be the first we think of. After all, a stable economy is one of the things Germany has been known for in the last few decades.

If we move to the more recent decade, though, we’ll see some particular sides of the economy growing. Like our topic for today: Freelancing.

The freelance scene here is not just growing; it’s thriving, drawing in a diverse pool of talented Germans and foreigners.

It’s weird because it’s one of those things I noticed clearly very early on.

There’s a sense of vibrancy that permeates the German freelance space – an energy that has captured and kept me intrigued during my time here.

It’s not just about the professional opportunities available, but also the communities that have sprung up around them – co-working spaces, networking events, and digital platforms where freelancers gather, share knowledge and collaborate.

Why Has Freelancing Become This Popular?

The appeal of freelancing isn’t just about the community or even the opportunities Germany offers. It’s also about the inherent benefits freelancing brings – flexibility, potentially attractive income, and the autonomy to chart your own career path.

In a world where the conventional 9-5 working structure seems increasingly outdated, freelancing presents an alternative where professionals can balance their work around their life, not the other way around.

It’s a path that allows you to work on projects that align with your passion and skill-set while defining your own working hours and environment.

Freelancing As A Dreamjob

If you’ve ever made a living as a freelancer, I believe you, too, must attest to the highs that come with this freedom – the ability to create and manage your professional identity, and the satisfaction of being your own boss.

So today, I feel like it’s my duty to take you with me on a journey where we dive a little deeper into the subject, discussing the essentials of freelancing in this country – the requirements, distinctions, and preparations you need to navigate your journey smoothly and successfully.

Whether you’re a prospective freelancer looking to take your first steps or a seasoned professional contemplating a move to Germany, I packed this guide to offer you precious insights drawn from a blend of research and personal experience, that I really wish I had some years ago.

Basic Requirements for Foreigner Freelancers

One of the foundational aspects of freelancing in Germany is understanding the country’s visa requirements. Your ability to legally work in Germany as a freelancer is contingent on having the correct visa. When I first arrived in Germany, one thing was clear: German bureaucracy can seem labyrinthine, but it’s ultimately about thoroughness and precision.

There are two distinct categories of visa requirements: short-term visits and long-term residency. A short-term Schengen visa allows you to stay in Germany and the other Schengen area countries for up to 90 days, but it doesn’t permit employment or freelance work. If you’re planning to freelance in Germany for longer periods, you’ll need a national visa, followed by a residence permit.

Specifically, for non-EU citizens who are interested in freelance work, Germany offers a “Freiberufler visa,” or the freelance visa. This is a category of the national visa and allows you to live and work as a freelancer in Germany.

Obtaining a Freelancer Visa involves demonstrating proof of freelance job prospects in Germany, adequate funds to support yourself, and health insurance coverage. Furthermore, you might also need to show proof of your qualifications, references, and a portfolio of your work.

It’s essentially about presenting a compelling case that your freelance work will be beneficial for Germany. The process may seem demanding, but it is doable with your fair share of preparation and documentation. Just keep in mind it might need time to collect these documents, so don’t leave things to the last minute.

Documents Required for the Freelancer Visa Application

Note: the specifics (in this and other sections of the article) can change rapidly, especially with regard to legal requirements. Always check the most recent information on embassy or consulate websites to ensure you’re fully up to speed.

  1. Valid Passport: This one’s a no-brainer – you’ll need your passport, and it should be valid for your entire planned stay in Germany.
  2. Two Biometric Photos: Make sure they’re recent and follow the size and format guidelines.
  3. Application Form: There’s a form called “Application for the Issuance of a Residence Permit”. Fill it out completely, double-check everything, and don’t forget to sign it.
  4. CV and Cover Letter: Just like applying for any job, you’ll need to dust off your CV and write a compelling cover letter.
  5. Health Insurance Proof: Germany takes health insurance seriously, so you’ll need to show you’re covered.
  6. A place to Stay: You need to show a rental agreement to prove I had somewhere to live.
  7. Financial Stability Proof: Basically, you’ll need to show them you can support yourself, whether that’s through bank statements or a letter of guarantee from a German sponsor.
  8. Work Portfolio and References: This is your chance to shine! Depending on your profession, show them your best work and any glowing recommendations you have.
  9. Business Plan and Revenue Forecast: This one takes some work, but it’s crucial. You’ll need to explain your business and provide a realistic forecast of income and expenses.

How Long Does The Visa Processing Take?

Now, about the waiting game. The processing time can feel like a rollercoaster ride. It can be anything from a few weeks to several months. Some of the things that might hold you up include incomplete or incorrect application details, a sudden deluge of applications at the embassy, or extra time needed to verify your documents.

Freelancing V.S. Self-Employment

Navigating the German professional landscape can sometimes feel like learning a new language. There are specific terms and classifications to understand, particularly when it comes to the distinction between a freelancer (Freiberufler) and a self-employed individual (Gewerbetreibende).

At first glance, the difference might seem negligible – after all, both involve working independently without the traditional constraints of employment. But in the eyes of German law, the difference is considerable and can impact everything from your tax obligations to your business registration process.

Freelancers, or Freiberufler, typically belong to what’s classified as ‘liberal professions.’ These professions encompass a wide array of fields such as art, literature, journalism, science, engineering, healthcare, law, and more.

The defining feature of a freelancer in this context is the provision of intellectual or creative services, often necessitating specific qualifications or skills. If you’re a software developer, writer, photographer, or consultant, you’ll likely fall into this category.

On the flip side, being self-employed, or Gewerbetreibende, means you engage in trade or commerce and generally do not require professional qualifications. Self-employed individuals might own shops, run restaurants, or engage in trades such as carpentry.

The key difference here is the nature of the work, which is typically more transactional than intellectual or creative.

The distinction between the two is not just academic; it carries practical implications for how you register your business, your tax obligations, and potentially, the social security contributions you’re liable for.

Misclassification can lead to a scenario of “fictitious employment,” where you might be legally considered an employee rather than an independent professional, exposing you to potential legal and financial consequences.

Trust me when I say, after navigating these complexities myself, it pays to get these details right from the beginning.

Tax Registration as a Freelancer

Tax registration is one of the pivotal steps to kickstart your freelancing career in Germany. It may seem daunting given Germany’s reputation for meticulous bureaucracy, but it’s not insurmountable.

My experience with German bureaucracy has taught me the importance of attention to detail and patience, and things are no different here, if not on the more-complex side.

Firstly, let’s understand the difference between the two primary tax identification numbers in Germany: the tax identification number (Steueridentifikationsnummer) and the tax number (Steuernummer).

  • The tax identification number is a unique 11-digit number assigned to every person registered in Germany, regardless of their employment status. This number stays with you for life and doesn’t change, even if you move around within Germany. It’s used primarily for personal income tax and is usually given to you when you register your address in Germany.
  • On the other hand, the tax number (Steuernummer) is assigned when you officially start your freelance business. The Steuernummer is a different 10 or 11-digit number issued by your local tax office (Finanzamt) that you need for business-related taxes, such as VAT.

    To obtain your Steuernummer, you need to fill out the “Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung” form (questionnaire for tax registration). This form is essentially an official declaration of your freelance business to the tax office. It asks for details about your business activities, projected income, and other relevant information.

    You may find it beneficial to consult with a tax advisor (Steuerberater) while filling out this form to ensure accuracy.

One thing to note is that obtaining a Steuernummer can take a few weeks. Patience is key in this country as everything takes time. You must also try to complete and submit the questionnaire as accurately as possible.

With your Steuernummer in hand, you should be ready to begin your freelancing journey in Germany. The next step is to delve into the details of setting up your business, something we’ll explore in the next section.

Setting Up Your Business

Having maneuvered through the visa processes and tax registration, the next major step in your freelance journey in Germany is setting up your business. It’s a step that involves a bit of paperwork but also marks the realization of your freelance aspirations. So let’s dive into it.

To officially register as a freelancer, you need to declare your freelance status to German authorities. This involves completing the “Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung” form, which we discussed in the previous section.

Submitting this form to your local Finanzamt declares your self-employed status and provides the authorities with relevant details about your freelance work.

This form might initially appear intimidating given its comprehensive nature, but it’s crucial to note that not all sections will apply to you. It includes information on your business’s legal form, address, the nature of your freelance work, start date of your activity, and your expected income.

One key consideration during this process is whether you’ll require a trade license (Gewerbeschein). As we discussed earlier, most freelancers, classified as Freiberufler, won’t need this. However, if your business activity is commercial, you’d fall under the Gewerbetreibende category and need a trade license.

Setting up your business also involves understanding and adhering to specific regulations or laws related to your freelance work. These can range from industry-specific rules to general regulations about data protection, health and safety, and more. A local legal advisor can be helpful in navigating these requirements.

Finally, there are some financial and legal preparations to consider. You’ll need to look into health insurance options, as having health coverage is mandatory in Germany. You also need to consider liability insurance, depending on your line of work.

Additionally, it can be wise to plan for retirement early on, and there are various retirement-saving options for freelancers in Germany.

As a freelancer, you might also need to deal with Value Added Tax (VAT) and understand the rules around invoicing. In Germany, small businesses earning less than €22,000 in the first year and €50,000 in the subsequent years can take advantage of the Small Business Regulation (Kleinunternehmerregelung) and are exempt from charging VAT.

Navigating these aspects of setting up your business can be complex, but the reward is the ability to work independently, backed by the reassurance that you are fully compliant with German laws and regulations.

Choosing the Health Insurance

When you’re starting out as a freelancer, the glamour of independence can be intoxicating. But there’s a flip side to this coin that I quickly learned about: the need to be my own HR department. Health insurance and retirement savings took center stage in this newfound role.

Health insurance isn’t a luxury in Germany, it’s mandatory. While exploring options, the two main routes I was able to find were the statutory health insurance, known as Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (GKV), or the private health insurance, called Private Krankenversicherung (PKV). Each option has its pros and cons.

GKV charges based on your income, and PKV rates depend on your age and health. It’s a bit like choosing between an apple and an orange, there’s no one correct answer for everyone – you need to pick what suits your circumstances best.

Tips on Choosing Between the Two

The GKV pathway is often considered the ‘universal‘ route. If your income fluctuates or you’re just starting out on your freelancing journey, GKV could be a more accommodating companion. It ties premiums to your income, making it feel like a safety net during lean months.

GKV is also somewhat family-friendly. If you have non-working dependents – say, a spouse or children – GKV extends its coverage to them at no extra cost. It’s like the ultimate buy-one-get-one-free deal!

The PKV route, however, has its unique charm. It’s often seen as the ‘personalized’ choice. PKV determines premiums based on your age, health, and the level of coverage you choose.

So, if you’re a young, healthy freelancer just setting out, PKV could provide broader coverage and additional perks at potentially lower premiums. It’s like getting an upgrade on a flight – you’re paying for extra comfort and services.

If you’re looking for income-sensitive premiums and family coverage, GKV might be the road you want to take. But if you’re seeking comprehensive, tailor-made benefits and are willing to pay for them, PKV could be your path.

Choosing the right health insurance is like choosing the right pair of shoes for a long journey. It has to fit you well and make the journey comfortable. As with most things in life, there’s no universally ‘correct’ path – only the path that’s right for you.

Securing the Future: The Renteversicherung Options

Planning for retirement is a lot like packing for a long trip. It seems far off in the distance, but the sooner you start preparing, the smoother the journey will be.

As a freelancer in Germany, one important piece of that preparation puzzle is understanding the Renteversicherung or the pension insurance system.

In Germany, we’ve got a saying – “Vorsorge ist besser als Nachsorge,” which translates to “Prevention is better than cure.” When it comes to securing your future, this holds particularly true.

The state pension scheme, known as Gesetzliche Rentenversicherung, is the basic framework for retirement security in Germany. For employees, it’s mandatory, with contributions split between the employer and the employee.

But for freelancers, things are a bit more flexible, allowing you to opt in voluntarily.

Contributing to Gesetzliche Rentenversicherung can be like putting some of your earnings into a time-locked safe. It’s a long-term plan that guarantees a monthly pension when you retire, regardless of market fluctuations.

However, the exact amount of the pension will depend on your earnings and the length of your contributions.

The Options You Have

Then there are the private pension schemes – the Riester-Rente and the Rürup-Rente. These are more like choosing the right luggage for our travel analogy. You have the flexibility to pick the size (how much you contribute) and the style (how you want to receive the benefits).

The Riester-Rente is particularly popular among those with children, as it offers certain allowances for each child. On the other hand, the Rürup-Rente, also known as Basis-Rente, is often favored by high earners and freelancers for its generous tax advantages.

Deciding between these options requires a good understanding of your financial position and your long-term goals. It’s essential to do your research, perhaps even consult a financial advisor, and remember that it’s never too early to start planning.

Tips for Thriving as a Freelancer in Germany

Now that we’ve navigated the main stages of setting up as a freelancer in Germany, let’s put a cherry on top with some exclusive tips. As a newbie, there can be a lot to take in, but with these twelve nuggets of wisdom, you’ll be well on your way to starting the journey on the right foot.

1- Master the Language:

While many Germans speak English, understanding German will make it easier for you to communicate with clients, navigate German administration, and integrate into local professional networks.

2- Understand German Business Etiquette:

Punctuality, direct communication, and formal greetings are valued in German business culture. Adapting to these norms can make a positive impression on clients.

3- Join Local Freelance Associations:

Germany has numerous associations, such as VGSD and Berufsverband Freie Fotografen und Filmgestalter, that provide networking opportunities, legal advice, and support specific to freelancers in Germany.

4- Explore Co-Working Spaces:

Popular in Germany, co-working spaces can be great places to meet other freelancers, share ideas, and even find potential collaborators.

5- Consider Legal Insurance (Rechtsschutzversicherung):

This insurance can cover legal disputes with clients or suppliers, which could save you significant costs in the long run.

6- Stay Up To Date With The Changes in Regulations:

Germany’s rules for freelancers can change. Follow relevant publications and consider joining local business groups to stay updated.

7- Use Local Invoicing Software:

Germany has specific invoicing requirements. Local invoicing software will ensure your invoices are compliant and easily understood by your clients.

8- Remember the IHK Contribution:

Many freelancers must pay a yearly contribution to the local Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK). Make sure you budget for this.

9- Think Green:

Sustainability is highly valued in Germany. Consider how you can make your business eco-friendly – this can also be a selling point for potential clients.

10- Know Your Rights and Obligations:

German law grants freelancers certain protections, like copyright over their work, but also imposes obligations, such as data protection. Make sure you understand these and implement them in your system and strategy.

11- Check for Local Grants and Funding:

Various German cities and states offer grants or funding for small businesses and start-ups. See if you’re eligible for these.

12- Invest in Quality Equipment:

German clients often value quality and precision. Ensure your tools and equipment reflect this, whether that’s a high-quality camera for a freelance photographer or reliable software for a freelance programmer.

The freelancing journey is often like a roller coaster, with its challenging ups and downs. It’s your resilience, creativity, and adaptability that will help you turn every obstacle into an opportunity.

It’s an exhilarating path, filled with opportunities to grow, learn, and shape the work-life you’ve always dreamed of.

Viel Erfolg on this exciting adventure! I can’t wait to see where your journey takes you. After all, your freelancing story in Germany (I assume) is just beginning.

While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this blog post, it is intended to provide general guidance only. It does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with a professional advisor. I am not a lawyer, tax advisor, or certified professional in this field. Therefore, it’s crucial that you consult with a professional advisor or legal counsel to understand your individual circumstances before making any decisions based on the information provided here. I cannot be held liable for any errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or misleading statements in this post, or for any actions you take based on the information contained herein. Please use this guide as a starting point for your own research and due diligence.

Nabeel Kallas


  1. “Small Business Regulation in Germany” – German Federal Ministry of Finance. Available at:
  2. “Value-Added Tax (VAT) in Germany” – German Trade and Invest (GTAI). Available at: (Again, the exact URL to the relevant information would need to be confirmed through a current search on the website.)
  3. “VAT for businesses” – European Commission. Available at:
    • The VAT Act 2019: Link
  4. German Tax Office:
    • General guide for freelancers: Link

Nabeel Kallas

Nabeel Kallas is the writer behind and founder of Calling Germany Home. He is a 26-year-old medical doctor, who decided to call Germany his and his career's new home. Nabeel's unique combination of medical expertise and keen cultural curiosity equips him with a distinctive perspective, enabling him to bring insights and experiences from Germany to the whole wide world.

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