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South Africans in Germany

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Freelancing in Germany

You can set up your own business in two ways, one is to work as a freelancer or as a self-employed entrepreneur (Gewerbe).  If you want to work as a freelancer in Germany, you will need to apply for a Residence permit for the purpose of freelance employment.

Freelance occupations can be practised for so-called Liberal professions (Freie Berufe) and can include artists, writers, language teachers, engineers, auditors, interpreters, Business or management consultants, architects, translators, and surveyors. Healthcare workers like doctors, dentists, vets and physiotherapists also fall under liberal professions. You can find more information about Freie Berufe at the “Institut für Freie Berufe” or at your local tax office. Also, see Section 18 of the Einkommensteuergesetz (EStG).

You have to work in your qualification, e.g a journalist cannot work as an artist

If your business idea is successful and you are thus able to make a living for yourself and your family, you can have your residence permit extended, initially for a maximum of three years.
If you set up a manual trade or retail business, you can apply for a settlement permit after three years.

Section 21 of the Residence Act –  Self-employment

(1) A foreigner may be granted a temporary residence permit for the purpose of self-employment if

  1. an economic interest or a regional need applies,
  2. the activity is expected to have positive effects on the economy and
  3. personal capital on the part of the foreigner or a loan undertaking is available to realise the business idea.

Documents needed for your residence permit application

Always confirm with the embassy what documents are required for your specific application.
Here are some that you might need

  • Application Form ( this form is the one on the German Embassy’s website)
  • Valid passport
  • Biometric photo
  • A Business plan with revenue forecasts
  • Resume or CV
  • Professional permit when needed for example to practice law
  • Proof of health insurance
  • If you are over 45, proof of adequate pension provision (2021 Info – a monthly pension of 1,332.36 euros (for at least 12 years) or an asset amount of 194,631.00 euros.

Finding contracts


At the time of writing, these two companies offer medical aid for freelancers in Germany

Liability insurance

It is advisable to take out liability insurance

Application tips

  • You must apply for an Employment visa in South Africa. There is no Freelance visa, select the employment visa that applies to you e.g holding a university degree, IT specialist, skilled worker etc. A Visa will allow you to travel to Germany.
  • Once you are in Germany, you will apply for a “residence permit for the purpose of freelance employment”. A residence permit will allow you to stay and work in Germany for a specified period.
  • If you are older than 45 years of age, you will need to submit proof of adequate pension provisions.
  • After 5 years you can apply for a settlement permit / permanent residence or “Niederlassungserlaubnis”
  • Add as much relevant reference as you can
  • If you have entrepreneurial experience, add proof thereoff. 

Pseudo self-employment

Known in Germany as Scheinselbstständigkeit.  When you are working as a freelancer but for example only have one client for over a long period of time you can be seen as Scheinselbstständig”.
Some companies prefer to use freelancers as they do not have to pay the social contributions for freelancers, although for all other purposes they are fully employed. 
If you are found to be Scheinselbstständig it can have legal and financial implications. 
Please read this article and make sure you are not “Scheinselbstständig”

Registering for Tax

As a freelancer or company, you must register for a tax number (Steuernummer), Format: 12/345/67890 or 3012034567890, that you use on your Invoices.

This number is related to your place of residence and if you move to a new town you will need to apply for a new number. Application is done at the Finanzamt.
You also apply for a VAT number (Umsatzsteuer-Id), Format: DE123456789,  at the Finanzamt.
Here is an example of the document that you will have to fill in to register for tax.

How to Berlin has an excellent article about registering for tax. Also, see the step-by-step guide from Mawista


Residence permit for a freelancerAufenthaltserlaubnis zur Ausübung einer freiberuflichen Tätigkeit
Fake self employmentScheinselbstständigkeit
liability insuranceHaftpflichtversicherung
Temporary employment via 3rd partyArbeitnehmerüberlassung (ANÜ)
Value added taxUmsatzsteuer or Mehrwertsteuer

Resources on the web

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Sozialversicherung / Social Insurance

The following Social Insurances are payable in Germany when you are a full-time employee or trainee: Krankenvesicherung / Medical Insurance Plegeversicherung / Long Term care

Income Tax / Lohnsteuer

We receive a lot of questions about income tax declarations and where to get help, especially getting help in English.First I have to state that


Health insurance is mandatory for everyone visiting or living in Germany.When living in Germany you can either take our private (privaten Kran­ken­ver­si­che­rung – PKV) or