Germany – The land of beer and cash

Recognised worldwide for their love of brot (bread), wurst (sausage), and beer – which is consumed more than water – Germans are a lovely bunch.

The lengthy words of the German language and the grey clouds may be enough to put off curious travellers, but freelancers are an adventurous lot who will stop at nothing. You’ve heard that Berlin is the city for freelancers, so it’s time to roll up your sleeves and check out the German freelance culture.

Whether you’re planning on staying in a small scenic town or aiming to hustle on the streets of Berlin, you’ve got to set the groundwork first.  

If your destination is Berlin or Munich, be warned, finding a landlord who will happily give you the appropriate documents to register your apartment will be difficult.

Many locals will offer the opportunity to register using their apartment in exchange for money. But it’s always better to avoid doing this unless you want to get your first German fine.

Always ask if you will be able to Anmeldung (register) before moving in.

  • Register your apartment – Anmeldung

Within 14 days of arrival, your apartment must be registered at the Bürgeramt (citizen’s office)

First, get your rental contract and Wohnungsgeberbestätigung (or Vermieterbescheinigung), which is a form that must be signed by the homeowner or, with permission, by a fellow tenant. Depending on which region you’re in, the Bürgeramt will ask for one of these. To be 100% on the safe side, make sure you arm yourself with both.

Then, fill in the Anmeldung (Registration) form which can be found here. If you don’t have a native German speaker to help you out, try out this website and have your completed form delivered to your inbox.

Book an appointment with the Bürgeramt by dialling 115 or going to your city’s service portal and booking a termin (appointment) online. You could also go directly to a Bürgeramt and try your luck at getting served on the spot. Don’t forget the photocopies of your ID.

In places like Berlin, be prepared for a waiting period of up to two months.

  • Apply for a VAT number – Steuernummer

Not long after you register, you receive your Identifikationsnummer (ID number), Steueridentifikationsnummer (Tax Identification Number), or Steuer-ID (Tax ID) in the post. They’re numbers, but they aren’t the ones you need to freelance.

To obtain a Steuernummer (Tax Number), you have to fill in the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung and deliver it to your nearest Bürgeramt or Finanzamt (Tax Registration Office), though the latter usually has shorter lines. 

As you will be answering questions, you should take a native speaker with you. Tandempartners.org is a website that encourages people to teach each other languages. You can find multiple German-speakers there who can help. 

There you go, you have your Steuernummer and you’re set to go! What else do you need to know?

  • Choose carefully how you bank

You can now open your bank account, well done! The first thing you will notice in Germany is its cash culture. They love cash. To read more about their odd relationship with money, take a look at this article.

Because of this cash culture, financial technology is a bit behind. For example, your normal Girocard (debit card) won’t be able to buy things online, which is why you also get a credit card from your bank.

As a freelancer who could potentially receive money from other countries, you need to keep yourself abreast of the latest developments. Digital banks are on the rise and guarantee you smooth, straightforward banking.

N26 is a great example that is already popular in Germany, especially because it’s in English! Take a look at other options and decide for yourself.

That said, having a normal German bank account allows you to withdraw money free of charge, unlike online banks. Here are the pros and cons of regular banks in Germany. 

  • Insurance & Taxes

In Germany, health insurance is compulsory and can be either private or public. As a freelancer staying for a few years, it’s suggested to get private insurance, which can seem quite expensive to pay on one’s own. For an in-depth look at what type of insurance you can get, head over to this page.

As for taxes, to fill in your Mantelbogen (tax form) and Anlagen S (Tax form for freelancers), you can use the electronic tax declaration called “ELektronische STeuerERklärung – ELSTER”.

For annual incomes up to €17,500, you’re not obliged to charge VAT to your clients. The VAT tax is currently 19%. For more detail regarding taxes, read this. You might also want to consider doing your taxes with an online bank like Kontist.

That’s it! You’re ready to start your German freelancing journey. If you’re still insecure about this whole venture, check out these tips on what NOT to do when freelancing in Germany.

  • Cancel your VAT registration and disappear

Leaving so soon? All right, simply head over to your Finanzamt and tell them, or send them an email in German explaining that you will close your business and leave the country. Though I do believe you’ll miss those 80 cent ice-cold beers.

Still haven’t learned German? It’s understandable. By now, you will have bonded with your tandem partner or other German-speakers, so you can ask them to give you a hand.  

Now, say goodbye to Deutschland and buckle up for your next freelancing adventure! How about the UK?

By Awa Thiam

[Main photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash].