Paperwork journey as a wannabe-freelancer in Germany

I’ve been officially Arbeitslos (unemployed) since November 1st.

And I can’t say I miss my old job. 😀

I actually did go to one big year-end meeting in early November, where I reconnected with my colleagues.  Since I wasn’t planning to bill them for it, I decided to only show up for the fun parts. Meaning no day-long strategy/goals/blah blah meetings for me, but I did attend the laid back social bits. I had a blast!

If this is what freelancing is like, I’m game. Except for the not getting paid part. 😕

It looks like my original plan to start freelancing in early December was too ambitious. Because I have barely made a dent in the paperwork. It’s been a lot of running from office to office to ask questions, and trying to organize that info to make it actionable. Plus we moved, so needed to hold back on/transfer paperwork flow to our new city’s office (even though everything is Federal!). So now I’m hoping for a February 2016 start date.

I had a small idea of what the paperwork would be like, but didn’t know it would be this confusing. So I’ve been slowly trudging through it with Martin’s help, and hopefully everything will work out soon.

The first place I went to was the Arbeitsamt (unemployment office), and that was the most confusing place I’ve ever been to! I was trying to get help with freelancing advice, but they were focussed on trying to find me a job and updating my resume. They really didn’t know what to do with me because I wasn’t applying for Arbeitslosengeld 1 (unemployment subsidy). It’s funny because were I to apply for ALG1, it would be so easy. Everyone at the Arbeitsamt was focussed on ALG1 but only 1 person (who was on vacation) knew a smidge about the freelancing process. And when I finally spoke with that person after 2 weeks, she recommended that I apply for ALG1, and to find an accountant and talk to the Finanzamt. GAHHH!!!!

I’ve decided not to apply for ALG1. Actually I’ve applied already, but won’t follow through with the application. It’s too much effort that I could pour into setting up my Umsatzsteuernummer (freelancing tax number & registry) instead. Plus I feel really uncomfortable receiving handouts when I don’t need it.

What would be helpful is if there were a German office like the Arbeitsamt, but to help with setting up freelancing in a centralized way!

Through all of this, I was really tempted to register as a freelancer in Canada and approach my client that way. At least I could do all my paperwork in English! But I think this doesn’t solve much. It just brings Canadian rules and tax issues into the mix, which I don’t need right now.

At the same time, I’m grateful to have this down time. Martin’s job is stable, and we are not stressed with money (only good stress). We’re able to focus on healing and health, which was the point to all of this. So the freelancing is really secondary, even though it takes up a lot of my energy. I just have to keep reminding myself this!


8 thoughts on “Paperwork journey as a wannabe-freelancer in Germany

  1. Howcome is it so complicated to become sefl employed? I had a different experience. To apply for an UstID (VAT ID) took me about 30 min to fill out the form. To do the Gewerbeanmeldung (registration of the selfemployment) is a much simpler form and it takes about 10 min. Once you have the Gewerbeanmeldung, you can start working, But you can only bill when you have the UstId.


    • Actually the Finanzamt wouldn’t let me apply for my UstID when I went in last week. I’m not a Gewerber, I’m a Freiberufler but they need proof of that from the IHK. Also, because my Aufenthaltstittel runs up in May 2016, I had to clear things with the Ausländeramt that I’m allowed to apply. This is what I gather from my meetings!


      • You’re right that I could technically start working already and bill later after I receive my UstID, but my 2 clients require me to have a laptop that has access to certain company systems. I had to leave this laptop behind when I left my job (so they could put contractor accesses on it), and to get it back, I need to sign a freelancing contract. To sign the freelancing contract, I need the UstID. It’ll take a while but I’m optimistic that things will work out. 😀


      • hahaha…write a book about all that and get rich!
        One more thing though: once you applied for the UstID, wait a couple of weeks and start calling them. They might know your ID before you get the letter.


      • Thanks for the tip!! Any days or weeks I can shave off this waiting period is helpful.

        That book I could potentially write about German bureaucracy would be mighty boring!! I did have an idea to write a book about how to get out of paying for expensive parking tickets in private lots. But one thing at a time! 😀


  2. It sounds like you need a decent accountant that can speak English and German fluently. I’m sure the paperwork is complex (it’s German after all), but the freelance process is quite straightforward for any decent accountant.

    There’s no way that staff at the unemployment office would know anything about this process in Australia, so I’m surprised at how (sort of) helpful those people have been for you over there!

    Interesting how fun it was to be with your (former) work colleagues when you didn’t have to put up with the tedious rubbish that normally goes with office life. I’m a bit envious!


    • IA, I would LOVE to find a good accountant who can speak English and German fluently. But alas, good help is hard to find. Most of the freelancers I know have done all this legwork themselves. The accountant gives you tips on what to do in what sequence, but it is fairly general advice.

      The unemployment office is supposed to help with freelancing because their goal is to get people off of welfare and unemployment subsidy. There is also a freelancing subsidy that I could potentially qualify for, as a top up for income in case I don’t earn enough at the beginning – that’s what I wouldn’t mind having. But I can’t qualify for it directly. I have to apply for unemployment first and THEN get the subsidy. Not worth it in this rushed time period.

      My colleagues are really fun, even with tedious office BS. Lots of expats who are interested in making friends, since we have no friends outside of work. So giving up my job was also giving up my social network. Were I in my hometown, I probably wouldn’t connect with so many people because I would have my own friends outside of work. But as you know, being an expat puts you in a different mindset when it comes to friends!


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