Visa Considerations for Digital Nomads in Germany
Determining whether a visa or residence permit is required when setting up in Germany is the first step. If you are a citizen of a European Union country and have the required EU passport, there is no requirement to have a visa or residence permit. This is also the case for those coming from Switzerland and the EEA countries. However, digital nomads coming to Germany in this situation need to register with the city they find themselves in if they plan to stay for longer than three months.
However, for those coming from third countries, the correct visa depends on how long you intend to go to Germany. If you are only planning a short-term stay, a Business Visa or Schengen Visa may be the appropriate visa for you. These visas are designed for stays of up to 90 days in a 180-day period. Although not designed for long term stays in Germany, it may be perfect for digital nomads who want to trial Germany without committing to living there. The Schengen and Business Visas are not required for those from all third countries. For example, if you come from the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and many other countries, it is possible to visit Germany without a visa. However, if you arrive in Germany on a Schengen Visa, it does not provide its holder with the right to work in or from Germany. To work from Germany, the digital nomad will require a long term visa or residence permit.
However, for those intending on staying longer, Germany provides the option of a Freelance Visa (Aufenthaltserlaubnis für selbständige Tätigkeit). Digital nomads can apply for this form of visa and, although it originally applies for three months, applicants can extend it for up to 3 years. If the “freelancing activity” is successful, the holder can start the process of applying for a German permanent residence permit.
The freelance visa is split into two types; the first type is for more liberal professions (“Freiberufler“) such as freelance roles in industries such as healthcare, law, tax and business counselling, IT professionals and certain scientific fields. The other is for more commercial activities (“Gewerbetreibende”) and consists of people or businesses looking to sell products. There are differences between the two types of applicants, as Freiberufler do not need to register in the German Trade Register or pay trade tax and also have different bookkeeping requirements. In contrast, those registered as Gewerbetreiende do need to.
If you set up as a Freiberufler in Germany, you will be liable for taxes in Germany.
Suppose an applicant seeks to establish themself in a typical freelancer role such as a Consultant, IT Expert, Software Developer, Webdesigner etc., and wants to live in Germany. In that case, they are permitted to have clients outside of Germany and Europe but they also need to find customers in Germany.
For those seeking to set up in Germany who have a full-time job overseas (outside of Germany and Europe), it is not possible to simply move to Germany and apply for such a German residence permit. They can do so if their company has a German subsidiary or branch office ready to hire them.
Application Process for the Freelance Visa
The next step is to determine whether you are eligible for a Freelance Visa. Here are some of the requirements you should check in advance of making the application.
- A completed visa application form,
- A valid passport,
- Full professional CV,
- One current biometric passport photo (make sure this fulfils the specified requirements),
- Address registration (Anmeldung) certificate,
- Proof of German health insurance,
- Qualifications (original and copy),
- Rental agreement,
- Evidence of a freelance plan,
- Portfolio (if you are in a creative field).
At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, our team is experienced in such applications and will ensure that your application fulfils the specified requirements. Requirements will vary depending based on your application. If you are looking to establish yourself as a digital nomad based in Germany, don’t hesitate to contact our office directly for professional support.
Once you have the required documents for your application, you need to meet with the Auslandsbehörde in the area you want to establish yourself. It may be necessary to have a short-term visa to come to Germany for this meeting. This process can also be time-consuming and can take up to 4 months from start to finish. Therefore, it is necessary to plan in advance. Our lawyers will guide you through this process.
Other Visa Options for Digital Nomads in Germany
Other options for digital nomads also exist. If your spouse is a German citizen and living in Germany, it is possible to join them under the rules of spouse reunification. Under § 28 AufethG (German Residence Act), it is within the rights of the spouse of a German citizen to come to Germany to live with them. The joining spouse must present valid evidence of the marriage and submit their visa application at the German consulate or the German embassy of the country where they have their permanent residence. The visa application must clearly show that it is for the purpose of family reunification. Once it is successful, the spouse can then establish themselves in Germany as a digital nomad.
However, spouse reunification is not limited to just those with German or EU citizens as spouses. It is also possible for citizens of third countries where they meet certain conditions. If the spouse in Germany holds a valid residence permit, whether a permanent residence permit or an EU Blue Card and has the required living space to host their spouse, it is possible to relocate to Germany.
If you work for an established company based in Germany and reach the required EU Blue Card salary requirements, it is possible to apply for an EU Blue Card. The EU Blue Card can only be applied for by those with recognised university qualifications and where they have a solid job contract or job offer. Should the applicant be approved of the EU Blue Card, they can apply for a German permanent residence permit after 33 months or 21 months if they achieve a B1 level of German.
Setting Up a Business in Germany
For those looking to establish a start-up company or business in Germany, our lawyers are here to help you. Our lawyers will guide you through the process of business immigration as an entrepreneur. Under § 21 AufenthG (German Residence Act), it is possible to move to Germany to establish a business or enterprise as a form of self-employment. To apply for this visa, the entrepreneur must present their business plan and ensure that it fulfils the requirements (such as having a positive impact on the economy, it will provide jobs etc.)
If you pursue this option, our lawyers will not only assist you in the application process for the self-employment visa, but they will also advise you on the appropriate business model and how to form that model successfully.
Tax Considerations for Digital Nomads in Germany
One field of concern for digital nomads in Germany is tax. If you are registered as a freelancer in Germany, and your business is in Germany, you will be liable for tax in Germany. However, if you are working for a company outside of Germany, you are generally liable for tax where the company conducts business. However, this becomes complicated in situations where you are registered as living in Germany. In such cases, you can run the risk of double taxation, whereby you will be taxed in the country your company conducts business and in Germany.
For this matter, it is advisable to speak to a professional. Our lawyers will outline the laws relating to double taxation in your case in a personal meeting. Such rules vary depending on whether double taxation agreements are in place and what exactly they allow.
Where to Set Up in Germany
As a digital nomad in Germany, you have many options for where to base yourself. Berlin remains at the forefront of European cities for those looking to experience dynamic energy and creativity. With a wide range of co-working spaces and a culture of welcoming start-up companies, many digital nomads find the atmosphere in Berlin to be suitable to their demands. Many successful start-up companies have found great success in Berlin in recent years. With this success in mind, it is not surprising that Berlin has a large community of digital nomads.
Cologne, Düsseldorf and the Rhineland also present themselves as suitable locations for digital nomads. Cologne is also a city with many ex-pats, diverse cultures and an international flair. The Rhineland has the advantage that many big cities such as Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bonn are located near each other and are linked by public transport and motorways. Cologne offers many green areas, social outlets, and cultural experiences in terms of work-life balance. Although the region consists of many big cities, it is not difficult to escape into the countryside. Co-working spaces are increasing in these cities, and this trend is likely to continue following the pandemic.
Other cities of cultural interest include Munich and Hamburg. Munich is a business-friendly city located in Bavaria with a growing culture of start-up companies and co-working spaces. Digital nomads in Munich can expect a clean and upscale city with plenty to see and do. Munich is one of the most culturally significant cities in Germany, and it provides a plethora of restaurants, museums, beer gardens and much more.
Hamburg is located in the north of Germany. Hamburg is home to a growing community of digital nomads with many co-working spaces already established. As a port city, those based in Hamburg can experience a much different atmosphere than those in other major cities in Germany. Hamburg has a long history of trade and international commerce, ensuring that today’s city has a vibrant and diverse feel. This history also contributes to its business-friendly nature.
These cities listed are just some recommendations for those digital nomads looking to reside in Germany. However, as this area becomes more prevalent, it is clear that Germany has an enormous amount to offer.
Our Legal Services for Digital Nomads in Germany
At Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte, our legal team is ideally placed to assist digital nomads with visas and other issues in Germany. Our lawyers are your one-stop-shop for all your legal needs as a full-service law firm. From our offices in Cologne, Aachen and Düsseldorf, and conference rooms nationwide, our lawyers advise our global clients across all areas of German law. Our experienced team of business immigration lawyers will oversee your visa applications and ensure they meet the set criteria.
Once set up in Germany, our team will advise you on your rights under German employment law and can be relied upon in times of difficulty. If you need professional assistance with visas for digital nomads, please do not hesitate to contact us now by phone, by email or by using the contact details below. Our lawyers look forward to working with you.