January 16, 2019
When you move to a new city, there are few essential steps that you should take before you’re able to start working. Setting up as a freelancer in Berlin involves a good amount of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through. That’s why we’ve created a simple guide for you, covering the most important points when establishing yourself as a freelancer in Berlin like finding an apartment, registering at the tax authority, and picking the right health insurance for you. Here’s everything you need to know.
In the last couple of years, it’s gotten harder to find a well-located apartment in Berlin for a reasonable price. Not that it’s impossible, but the competition and the application volume is very high. We say brace yourself and start as soon as possible! The apartment search in Berlin is often associated with hours spent in WG-Gesucht and similar websites, sending dozens of emails, and rarely receiving any invitation for a visit. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in the city would be around 800€, 1200€ for two rooms and around 400€ if you decide to join a WG (a shared flat with others). Something you should keep in mind before signing a contract is that in most cases, you also need a German bank account and to pay a deposit three times your rent. We personally recommend N26. The Berlin-based startup lets you open an account and get a card in just a few minutes and you can then control everything from your phone or computer. Plus, their design is just great.
After finding a place to stay, your next destination should be the registry - or the Bürgeramt, in German – to get your official registration (Anmeldebestätigung). This key document is important for everything from getting health insurance to opening a German bank account. Getting it done can be a small odyssey, but once you have it, you will be good to go. Having in mind the huge number of people registering in Berlin every month, the next available appointment for an Anmeldebestätigung can be as far away as a few months ahead. Here you can find some tips and tricks on how to get your Anmeldebestätigung in just a few hours and skip the long waiting for an appointment at the regional registry. One trick is to check the Bürgeramt’s website to see if somebody canceled their appointment for that day, or you can directly call 115 at around 8-9am on the day and ask if there are free appointments available in any Bürgeramt in Berlin. Rather than signing up through their website, this can save you tons of time.
In order to get your Anmeldebestätigung in Germany, you need to have your Passport or ID, your rental contract, an Anmeldeformular and a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung. The Anmeldeformular is a registration form. You can print it at home, or pick it up at the Bürgeramt and fill it out as clearly as possible. The Wohnungsgeberbestätigung is a confirmation of your move, signed by your landlord. Your landlord should give you the form with the keys to your new flat.
Once you have successfully registered your address in Germany, you have no other choice but to set off on the German tax adventure and register as a freelancer at the tax authority. To kick off your freelancing career, you’ll need at least two personal tax numbers: a Steueridentifikationsnummer or Steuer ID (Tax Identification Number) and Steuernummer (Tax Number), which is crucial for issuing your invoices. Even though they might sound the same, there is a big difference between them so make sure to, apply for the right one.
If you want to sign up as a freelancer in Berlin, you would have to go to the tax authority and fill the Fragebogen zur Steuerliche Erfassung, which is the document where you explain what exactly your work consists of and a prediction of your next two financial years. In Germany, defining what kind of freelancer you are is a crucial point to consider regarding your taxes and VISA status. The freelance work type here is split into three different categories: you can be either a small business owner (Kleinunternehmer), freelancer (Freiberufler), or a tradesman (Gewerbetreibende). The main difference between them is that Freiberufler work mainly in the academic, education or creative branches (design, graphic design, writing, journalists, performing arts etc.). Gewerbetreibende is saved for people who require a physical location that constitutes a commercial place of business - for example a physical store or a market. Here you can read more about the exact jobs that fit under these classifications and what taxes you might be paying for each of them.
If you live and work in Germany, you’re obliged to have health insurance. As a freelancer, you have a lot of choices. Most Germans are members of the state health insurance system called Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (GKV). However, you have the right to choose if you want to be a member of the GKV or a private insurance company. If you’re planning to stay in Germany for a longer period of time, having state health insurance might be the best option.
Nonetheless, if you’re still unsure how much time you want to spend in the country, you can easily become a member of a private health insurance (Private Krankenversicherung,PKV) which in most of the cases can be less expensive. If you are an artist, and the VISA you are applying for states it, you may be able to access also the Künstlersozialkasse or KSK which can offer ‘discounted’ options for social insurance, health insurance and pensions. If this applies to you, be sure to check this option too. The third choice for expat freelancers is to buy an expatriate/international health insurance plan in your home country, which can be very inexpensive when compared to the German government insurance scheme, but also quite risky. Often times they are not recognised by the doctors or have very low coverage for dental or gynecological services. If you need detailed information on the pros and cons of the different health insurance options, continue reading here.
After you’ve taken care of your paperwork and you’ve signed up both in Bürger- and Finanzamt, you are all set up to start working. One of the best ways to get integrated into the city fast, meet like-minded people, and even find clients is by working from a coworking space. There are tons of benefits for freelancers and luckily Berlin has a lot to offer in this way. A coworking space is a physically collaborative shared workspace, which brings all kinds of creatives and entrepreneurs together. It’s a perfect place for startups, freelancers, digital nomads and even corporates searching for innovation. And it’s the biggest advantage towards the typical office space is that it pushes a collaborative exchange between its members and facilitates the creative process and networking.