What you need to register as a freelancer in Germany
Freelance work is becoming increasingly popular. But as an expat working in Germany, what do you need to do to set yourself up as a freelancer? Accountable, an accountancy app for freelancers that comes with a free tax registration tool, explains all.
Freelance work is more popular than ever, and with the great amount of flexibility that comes with being your own boss, it’s not hard to see why. But as a foreigner living in Germany, or someone looking to make the move to Germany, are you actually allowed to work as a freelancer?
Whether you’re just planning to dip your toes with a few extra hours a week, or you’re ready to ditch your full-time job and go all in, you need to make sure you’re permitted to work as a freelancer in Germany. Here's an overview of what you need to know.
Can I legally freelance in Germany if I’m not a German citizen?
Yes, foreign citizens can be permitted to work on a freelance basis in Germany. Despite its reputation for endless bureaucracy, Germany is actually pretty cool when it comes to allowing foreign workers to come here and set up shop.
While most countries require foreigners to have full-time employment with a local business in order to obtain a visa to live and work there, Germany encourages foreigners to work in more flexible ways, such as freelancing.
Do I need a visa to freelance in Germany?
Short answer: It depends where you’re from.
EU citizens and permanent residents, as well as people from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, are all allowed to live and work – and freelance – in Germany, without needing to obtain a visa or residence permit. However, you’ll still need to register as a freelancer with your local tax office.
Non-EU citizens without permanent residency in Germany must obtain a residence permit that allows them to undertake self-employed work in Germany. This means gathering together some specific supporting documents and information and attending an in-person interview, which usually takes place at the German embassy in your home country. However, if you are from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea or the US, you can apply from within Germany, at your local foreigner’s office (Ausländerbehörde).
I already have a working permit, does that mean I can freelance in Germany?
Not necessarily! You can check to see if your current visa or residence permit allows you to work as a freelancer by looking for the line “Selbstständige Tätigkeit gestattet” on the document itself. Check the extra sheet of paper which was given to you with your electronic residence permit card, or (if you have one), the sticker in your passport.
This line can be included on a work visa for full-time employment, and confirms that you’re permitted to work as a freelancer in addition to your full-time job. Keep in mind, however, that the main occupation listed on your visa must remain your primary source of income.
If you obtained a working visa as a software engineer, for example, and you’re employed as such in a full-time role, your freelancing activities cannot overtake your full-time job. If you start to generate more income from your freelance work, you’ll need to apply for a separate freelance visa.
If your current visa does not state explicitly that you can work on a freelance basis – that is, you don’t see the line “Selbstständige Tätigkeit gestattet” anywhere – you cannot freelance in Germany. In order to start freelancing, you’ll need to visit the foreigner’s office and apply either for an amendment to your existing visa to include freelance work, or apply for a freelance visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit).
Got everything ready? It’s time to register as self-employed!
In order to register your freelance business in Germany, you will need to fill out a form called the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (tax regulation questionnaire). This is also how you sign up for a VAT number, if you need one. The form can be collected and submitted at your local Finanzamt (tax office).
Ready to get started? Don’t lose time trying to fill out the complicated “Fragebogen zur Steuerlichen Erfassung” in German. Use Accountable’s free online tax registration tool, available in English!