Our partner Expath offers relocation services including support with authorities, language courses, visa issues and workshops for freelancers and companies. After 16 relocations across the globe, and many stints under her belt as a freelancer, Shirley McDonald-Link is now working for Expath as a Customer Success Manager. We are more than thrilled that she shared her insights to help freelancers to shape their next move.
Freelancing in Germany: Is it really as good as it’s sometimes cracked up to be? Or is it actually something to steer clear of?
I was recently asked to outline the classic challenges that foreign freelancers are most vocal about when venturing into the freelance market in Germany. Here’s a quick peek at the first 3 that came to mind.
First challenge: get into the country and get permission to stay for the long haul
If you come from Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, UK or the USA, you can legally come to Germany visa-free and apply for a long-term residence permit from within Germany. This ‘visa-free’ stay is valid for 90 days, so you may consider booking an appointment to apply for your permit at the local immigration authorities before you relocate to keep well within the time restrictions. Make sure to secure an appointment to submit your application prior to the expiration of your 90 day ‘visa-free’ stay!
Citizens of a member state of the EU, EEA and Switzerland do not require a visa although there are certain immigration provisions that still need to be fulfilled in individual cases (eg. Switzerland). Registration as a freelancer with the local tax office in Germany also remains a must.
If you don’t come from one of the aforementioned countries, you will likely require a visa to be able to work as a freelancer in Germany before you leave your originating country, and to convert said visa into a long-term residence permit, once you’re in Germany. Expath’s online Toolkit for Getting a Freelance Work Permit will walk you through this application process in Berlin. Alternatively, get in touch with us for further guidance on your personal immigration situation!
Second challenge: befriend Germany’s reputedly traditional (and reportedly tiresome) bureaucracy
Once you’ve completed your first task of registering your residence (also known as ‘Anmeldung)’ within the first fortnight of being in Germany, you’ll realise that being organised, disciplined, and ‘having your paperwork in pristine order’ is going to be key to your survival and success in Germany! Even in this age of digitisation, Germany requests that you keep a paper trail of your business activities. You’re well-advised to keep all of your incoming and outgoing invoices, receipts and account slips for a decade!
There’s undoubtedly good reason for the number of independent workers in Germany increasing steadily over the past twenty years, from half a million freelancers in 1992 to triple that by 2020. However, the heightened flexibility enjoyed by freelancers as to when to work, where to work, how - and how much - to work, vis-à-vis their salaried-counterparts, is sorely amiss when it comes to insurances, taxation, finances & banking.
With these processes less than simple to navigate, take the time to engage a reputable tax advisor or sign up on the online platform, Sorted, to be paired with an English-speaking certified tax consultant.
Third challenge: secure regular projects and generate a reliable, steady income
This is unfortunately the never-ending-story pain point in the life of the freelancer! In exchange for gaining the flexibility I mentioned earlier, as well as the freedom to strike a healthy work-life balance, freelancers forgo the conventional stability of salaried employment. This not only makes the search for accommodation in Germany even more difficult than it would normally be (and that’s tough enough!), but it also renders it necessary to relocate to Germany with ideally no less than 6 months of savings. It also means, in the long-term, that freelancers really need to have a good number of clients and income sources (also to protect against the infamous ‘Scheinselbstständigkeit’ (pseudo self-employment). More on that hot topic here in Video #9 of Expath’s Toolkit Freelancing in Germany!
While all good things come in threes, don’t lose sight of the fact that finding your feet in Germany is actually closely reliant upon your finding the right words to use as you settle! While living in Germany, a freelancer’s ability to clearly communicate with existing, and potential, clients in German is far more than just the proverbial German “i-Tüpfelchen” (icing on the cake): it is the key ingredient that will significantly help to clinch the deal! Last, but not least, don’t underestimate the value of small-talk: therein often lies the key to flourishing happiness on both business and social scenes!
Unfortunately , it’s a misnomer that being a freelancer in Germany is an easy employment route to pursue - just relocate and set yourself up? As they say here: “schön wärs” (it would be nice)! The reality is that there is a lot of leg work to do prior to, during and after moving to Germany but it can be well worth the effort!
If you want to know even more about Expath and get more exciting tips as well as an overview of Expath's offerings for freelancers, check it out here or contact Shirley directly. If you want to know more about all the tools needed to succeed as a freelancer in Germany, organizing clients, invoices, bureaucracy and how to make sure you get paid what you deserve - check out the podcast episode from Expath with Nick from the Uplink team.