Tips for getting a freelance visa in Berlin, Germany

germanToday I finally had my dreaded appointment at Berlin’s notorious Ausländerbehörde. But to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as horrible as word of mouth and message boards make it out to be — in fact, I walked out with a three-year, freelance visa on my very first try!

I took a lot of my cues from Rapt Cat, who makes a really nice step-by-step about the application process on her blog. But here’s are a few recommendations from my experience for others who want to work freelance in Germany:

  • Make the appointment ASAP. I know, it’s something we’re all eager to put off. But I had to wait nearly two months for my appointment, and if my visa wasn’t approved immediately I would need to wait another three months while being reviewed by the Bundesagentur Für Arbeit. If you need employment quickly, that can be a long wait.
  • Be on time. I’ve heard stories of people waiting up to an hour after their appointment, but my number came up a couple minutes early. It doesn’t make a good impression to come late and I’m sure they wouldn’t wait long anyway.
  • This is a job interview. Organize all your supporting documents with Post-Its and paperclips, so you can hand them over quickly.
  • Portfolio is most important. The mission statement, business plan and profits & loss statements don’t need to be fancy (in fact, I made a monthly expense sheet on Excel and they said it was too professional). Put the most time and effort into putting together an impressive portfolio.
  • Show that you bring something to the table, but without taking work away from a German citizen. I included travel articles about Berlin in my portfolio and they said that was perfect… They will approve people who can promote Berlin and make a worthwhile contribution. So if you have written blog entries about Berlin and can show you are getting comments and followers, definitely  include that.
  • Everybody says it, bring a German speaker with you. It really is so essential to have someone that can help you explain.

It’s funny because the person helping me scanned all my supporting documents (resume, mission statement, etc.) but didn’t even ask to see the residence permit application!  I think that really shows they are more interested in going by impression, as opposed to rummaging through a big stack of documents. Be prepared and you’ll do fine!

UPDATE (July 20,2014): My best friend followed the format of my application 100%, even using the same formatted “Profit Loss” statement, etc. She is an equally qualified journalist as well. Shockingly, she was denied a visa on the same day. She even had a German speaker present! The woman simply said, she couldn’t do it. Three months later, my friend finally has her freelance visa.  But it just goes to show you: sometimes it’s really only about luck!