Your road to Germany
Visa and immigration process
You want to move to Germany to be self-employed, and you have learnt a profession or have a university degree. If you are a so-called “third state” citizen, i.e. a citizen of a state that is not a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area, you generally need a visa that allows you to enter the country. There are some exceptions; you can find the list here. You can apply for the visa in the German embassy or consulate in your country. This application should already describe in detail what business idea you have and how you plan to implement it in Germany. All the necessary information can be found on this page. Once you have obtained a visa and have travelled to Germany, you have 90 days to present yourself to the immigration authorities at your place of residence. That is where you apply for your residence permit. This allows you to live for a specific amount of time in Germany and to build up your company.
Roadmap to Germany
Would you like to start a business in Germany? Then you can apply for a self-employed work permit. But some professions require specific qualifications or authorisations. There are also different forms of self-employment in Germany, each with their own residence permit and requirements. You also need to decide beforehand where you want to live in Germany before submitting an application. The most important thing is to describe your business idea well and show that you will be able to provide for yourself in Germany through your self-employment. Therefore, check carefully whether you have completed the following steps before you go to one of the German diplomatic missions.
Step 1: Request an appointment at the German embassy or a German consulate.
You must submit your visa application to the German Embassy or a German consulate and submit all the necessary forms and documents there in person. The request for an appointment can be made online or by phone in most countries. Some embassies deliver appointments very quickly, but in other countries, it can take weeks or even months to get an appointment. Until your appointment, you must continuously check that you satisfy all the requirements for your planned self-employment and have prepared all the necessary forms and documents for your visa application. Have a look at our page Forms, documents and other papers, where we have compiled a checklist for you. On the page Make it in Germany, you can look for a German diplomatic mission in your country.
Step 2: Check if you want to establish a “trade” or a “freelance profession”.
In Germany, there are two forms of self-employment: trades and freelance professions. There are therefore also two different residence permits: § 21 para. 1 AufenthG for a trade, and § 21 para. 5 AufenthG for a freelance profession. You need to know what kind of self-employment you want to practise before your appointment. When you apply for a visa, you must state whether you want to start a business or exercise a freelance job under the point “Purpose of your stay in the Federal Republic of Germany”. So inform yourself beforehand, as different requirements depend on the type of self-employment. We have put together the most important information in our Glossary of Professions. We have listed the requirements you need to fulfil to obtain the visa and residence permit further down on this page.
Step 3: Check if you require specific qualifications.
Some professions require professional qualifications, a professional or university degree or a master crafts training. If this applies to the profession in which you plan to be self-employed, you first need to get your qualifications recognised. Our Glossary of Professions lists which professions require qualifications. If you still need to have your qualifications recognised, you can get detailed information on the recognition procedure for your qualifications at the website Anerkennung in Deutschland.
Step 4: Decide where in Germany you want to live
When you apply for your visa, you have to state where in Germany you would like to live and register your self-employment. This is because it is not the German embassy or consulate that inspects your business plan but the immigration authorities in your future place of residence. The immigration authorities in your future place of residence inspect your business plan and then approve your visa application. You should therefore think carefully about where you wish to live and inform yourself about the different regions and the economy in Germany.
Step 5: Write a business plan.
The business plan is the heart of your application. The business plan is obligatory and is the foundation for the decision of the immigration authorities regarding your visa application. In your business plan, you should describe: Why you want to be self-employed. What you want to do. What skills and qualifications you possess. Why your idea is good. Who your customers are. How you want to target your customers. Why the customers will come to you. How you want to finance your company. What own capital you possess. How much profits you will earn. On our page The business plan, you will find multilingual workbooks that will help you to create your personal business plan, and more information as well. If you have further questions or need help, please don’t hesitate to write us an e-mail.
Step 6: Be sure you have all the required documents for a visa application before your appointment.
In addition to the application form and the business plan, you still need other documents for your visa application. Before going to the in-person appointment at the embassy or consulate, you should check if you have all the necessary documents; otherwise you will have to submit the missing documents later and this will delay the examination of your application. The necessary documents for your application can generally be found on the website of the German embassy in your country. On our page Forms, documents and other papers, we have compiled a checklist of the supporting documents for your visa application. You also have to pay a visa fee of 75 euros (as of 2021) for the visa application at the respective German diplomatic mission. You can pay the fee in local currency.
Your visa application was rejected – what can you do?
If the German embassy or consulate has rejected your application, you should first enquire about the reasons for the rejection. Often there are formal reasons (e.g. missing documents) that need to be submitted later. You probably need to rewrite and improve your business plan if the reasons are substantive. Once you have completed and revised your documents, you can apply for a visa again. Get support - send us an email! Note: You can appeal and ask for a reconsideration within one month of the rejection. However, we would recommend the first approach.
Step 7: Your visa application was approved
You have been notified by the German embassy or consulate that your visa application has been approved and that you can enter Germany. Now you need to think carefully about what documents and documentation you need for your immigration to Germany. The most important ones are your personal documents, such as your birth certificate, your school and university diplomas or professional qualifications, your driver’s licence or your marriage certificate. It is especially important that you have health insurance. The German embassy or consulate will request proof of health insurance at the latest when you pick up your visa.
The most important requirements for obtaining the visa and the residence permit
If you want to immigrate to Germany to be self-employed, your self-employment must fulfil certain important conditions. You will have to write a business plan and make clear that you fulfil the following conditions:
- your self-employment can be financed through your own capital or an approved loan.
- your self-employment is sufficient to finance your living expenses in Germany.
If you are older than 45, you must also prove that you have assets of at least EUR 195,000 for your old-age pension. This does not apply to people from the following countries: Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Turkey and USA.
If you are starting a business, the following additional requirements apply:
- your self-employment must be economically interesting in the region where you wish to be self-employed,
- your self-employment must have a positive impact on the economy.
You’ve arrived in Germany – what happens now?
You should now follow the steps below to start on your journey to becoming self-employed in Germany.
After entering the country, you must apply for a “self-employment” residence permit in accordance with § 21 AufenthG [Residence Act] within 90 days (the period of validity of your visa) at the immigration authority responsible for your future place of residence. For trade, you must apply for § 21, Paragraph 1 of the Residence Act and § 21, Paragraph 5 of the Residence Act for a freelance profession. It is essential to obtain all the forms, documents and any other required documentation in addition to the application form. The documents are usually identical to those you submitted when applying for your visa. If you have not made any changes, e.g. to your business and financial plan, then you do not have to generate them again.
- You must prove that you have a place of residence by, for example, means of a rental agreement. You must also prove your monthly rental costs or the monthly costs for the (own) apartment or house in which you live.
- You must prove that your main place of residence is in Germany.
- The immigration authorities can set their own requirements, e.g. that you must provide a notarial deed on the formation of a company and, if necessary, a partnership agreement or an excerpt from the commercial register or registration in the commercial register. You will need to ask your immigration authority which documents are required.
- Citizens of Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, the USA, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland who may enter Germany without a visa (§ 41 para. 1 clause 1 and 2 Residence Act), must submit all the required documents, including a business and financial plan, to the responsible immigration authority when applying for a residence permit.
Tip: We have compiled the documents required on our page Forms, documents and other papers.
When applying for your residence permit, you must provide evidence of adequate health insurance for you and your family (if you have entered the country with your family). In Germany, you can have “statutory health insurance” and “private health insurance”. However, if you have arrived with a visa, “private health” insurance is your only option. “Statutory” health insurance is only possible if you have already been insured in Germany for twelve months. Find out early on with which health insurance company you are taking out private insurance and be sure to seek advice. You can find information regarding health insurance on the page Health insurance companies.
Step 4: Recognition procedures to obtain equivalence for your studies or professional qualifications
For freelance work and many occupations in the trades, you must provide evidence of professional qualifications. For this, you need a recognition procedure and, in most cases, a qualification intervention for your studies or professional qualification to be recognised as equivalent. Before you enter the country, you should check whether you need recognition for your self-employment. You can check our Glossary of professions to see whether a recognition procedure is required. If you need professional recognition but have not yet started the process, you should go to a support centre. The support centre will provide you with more assistance and also support you in your quest for qualification.
If your self-employment is one of the “freelance professions”, then you must register your self-employment with the tax office. If your self-employment forms part of the “trade” definition, you must register your self-employment with the trade office. We have listed what you need to consider when registering your self-employment on our page Forms, documents and other papers. You can check where the relevant office for your region is located on the Entrepreneur platform page.
Exception for certain academics
If you have a recognized German university degree or a university degree that is comparable to a German university degree, you can apply to the German embassy for a six-month stay in Germany in accordance with § 20 (2) of the Residence Act. In these six months, you can plan and prepare for your self-employment. However, you must ensure your own living expenses during this time. The disadvantage is that the preparatory stay cannot be extended, and you are not allowed to work during it. Only a trial job of up to 10 hours per week is permitted if your qualifications allow it. Before the six months end, you must then apply to the immigration authorities for either § 21 (1) of the Residence Act to exercise a commercial self-employed profession or § 21 (5) of the Residence Act to be a self-employed freelancer. To apply for a residence permit, you will then have to fulfil the same requirements as for a visa, and the immigration authorities can still reject your application.