Not Every Freelancer in Berlin Can Get an Artist’s Visa

Clowns are OK, though.

Clowns are fine, though.

Red Tape Translation has been reading a lot of blog posts lately written by Berlin expats who obtained their freelance artist visas and want to share their knowledge with the world. Most of them are incredibly helpful and well-meaning, but there is one discrepancy which might cause a bit of confusion on the Berlin freelance scene, and we’d like to help clear it up.

The term “freelance” is not quite the same thing in German as it is in English. Do you work for yourself? Make your own hours? Have more than one client and bill them? In Germany, you are self-employed, and you may or may not be further defined as freiberuflich (freelance) as well. Some types of work are considered trades (gewerblich) and require a business registration “Gewerbeanmeldung” and the payment of trade tax (Gewerbesteuer). Others are “freelance” professions, activities or services of a “higher art” that sometimes require a higher level of education.

Within this “freelance” category, there are professions in the industries that you’d typically get an artist’s visa for. An artists visa looks just like the normal self-employment work permit, but certain professions have been pre-approved for fast processing, which makes it easier to get. The most common fields of work that Red Tape Translation sees every day are: artists, musicians, actors, graphic designers, film-makers, and language teachers (particularly English teachers). It seems that in Berlin, applicants working in these fields get to bypass a spot of bureaucracy and, should all your ducks be in a row and they are satisfied with your application, you get your permit on the spot at your first appointment.

However, if you’re a “freelance software developer” or “freelance IT analyst” by your own definition, you probably won’t get your visa on the spot. You could get a work permit for self-employment (call it a freelance work permit if you like), but your application won’t be approved instantly, instead, it will be sent away to the Senatsverwaltung. They’ll check that Germany has an economic interest in your field. They’ll make sure you can support yourself. They’ll see that all your ducks are in a row, that you’ve got the right type of health insurance, a financial plan, some capital, some offers on the table, etc. The whole process can take 6-8 weeks.

One very common question is this: I now have an artist’s visa or freelance work permit, but what kind of work am I actually permitted to do? Can I stretch the boundaries? You’re permitted to do exactly what is listed on your work permit. So if you are a part-time clown, part-time English teacher, and part time app developer, make sure it all gets written on your work permit. Then you can have fun explaining your activities to the Finanzamt.


Red Tape Translation helps English speaking Berlin expats with bureaucracy and communication in German. Most of our work consists of telephone interpreting, certified English to German translations, and on-site interpreting at visa appointments at the Auslaenderbehoerde in Berlin.