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VISAS

Working remotely from Germany: What are the rules for digital nomads?

Nowadays, more people than ever enjoy remote working arrangements that allow them to relocate anywhere in the world. If you're a digital nomad looking to travel to or live in Germany, here's what you'll need to know.

Digital nomads at a coworking space in Germany
Digital nomads work at a Coworking Space at Grönwohld Campsite in Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

In the wake of the Covid pandemic, working remotely has become the new normal. For many people, the traditional office has now been usurped by flexible working arrangements that include days working from home or in a coworking space. 

Looking more closely, however, you’ll see that the concept of flexible, remote working is really nothing new. Long before the pandemic, legions of freelancers and remote workers had cottoned on to the fact that all they really needed to carry out their jobs was an internet connection and a laptop – and that travelling the world wasn’t something that needed to be reserved for holidays.

This generation of remote workers have become known as digital nomads, and many of them are heading to Germany. 

Is Germany a good place to be a digital nomad?

According to Tara Burgess, a full-time traveller who’s written extensively about being a digital nomad in Germany, Germany has numerous attractions for digital nomads. 

Public transport is good, there are numerous interesting cities to choose from, and the cost of living is cheaper than you might expect for one of Europe’s major economic powerhouses. 

Though the Internet hasn’t quite caught up with the modern world just yet, you’ll generally be able to find cafes and coworking spaces with perfectly reliable connections that will enable you to do most types of remote work. And in expat-friendly cities like Berlin, the majority of people speak very good English. 

READ ALSO: 8 reasons expats should try coworking in Germany

Do I need a visa?

That all depends on how long you intend to stay and what residency rights you already have in Germany. If you’re lucky enough to have citizenship in another EU country like France or Portugal, you’ll automatically have the right to live and work in Germany without applying for any sort of residence permit first.

However, bear in mind that you will have to register at a German address if you plan to stay for longer than three months – and this Anmeldung (registration) is also a prerequisite for setting up things like a German bank account. 

Man works in cafe
A man works on his laptop in a Berlin café. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Immanuel Bänsch

With citizens of non-EU or so-called ‘third’ countries, thing get a little more complicated. Many others nations like Australia, Canada, Japan – and now the UK after Brexit – have agreements with the EU that allow their citizens to spend up to 90 days in the Schengen Area without needing a visa. For digital nomads who like to switch location regularly, this 90 days is likely more than enough time to get a taste of living in Germany before moving on to their next location.  

For people from countries without these reciprocal agreements who only want to stay in Germany a short time, a Schengen Tourist Visa or a Business Visa will also allow you to stay for up to 90 days. However, neither of the above options technically allow you to work while living here.

Of course, it’s incredibly hard to police whether somebody’s doing work on their laptop while in the country, so many digital nomads do slip under the radar, but if you want to keep everything above board, securing a visa is the best option. 

Does Germany have a ‘digital nomad’ visa? 

Adapting to the changing world of work, a number of countries – including Estonia and Spain – have recently introduced special visas aimed at attracting digital nomads. These visas are designed to make it easy to live in the country while carrying out work for foreign clients, as many freelancers who like to move around do. 

Unfortunately, Germany hasn’t tailored its immigration system to this new generation of workers to such an extent. At the moment, there’s no specific digital nomad visa available for this type of remote worker – though that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.

READ ALSO: Berlin named top city worldwide to earn money while travelling

What other kinds of visas are there for digital nomads? 

For self-employed people who want to spend a prolonged stretch of time in Germany, the most obvious choice is a freelance visa

This type of visa is aimed at people who work remotely for a number of different clients, but don’t necessarily own their own company. The typical image is of freelance graphic designers, coders and writers sitting in slick cafes with glossy laptops, but you can freelance in almost any profession there is. 

In Berlin, there’s also a special type of freelance visa known as an artist’s visa, which is aimed at freelance musicians, artists and writers in particular and tends to be issued faster than an ordinary freelance visa. 

Artist with light installation
American artist Adela Andea stands in front of her light installation at an exhibition in Unna, Germany. Freelance artists can apply for a special artist visa if they plan to live in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Dieter Menne

To get hold of a freelance or artist visa in Germany, you’ll have to prove that you’re able to support yourself and contribute to the country financially. This generally involves getting letters of intent from future or current clients stating that they plan to use your services in the coming months. In addition, you’ll need to show you have a decent stock of savings in case any of your work falls through – usually around €10,000. 

Crucially, you’ll also have to prove that there’s a local or regional interest in your work. Put in plain English, this means that if none of your clients are German, you won’t be granted a the freelance visa. If you don’t have any German clients right now and plan to work as a digital nomad in Germany for a prolonged period, it could be worth making contact with some German firms and seeing if they’d be interested in your services.

With a buzzing international start-up scene in places like Berlin and Cologne, it may not even be necessary to speak brilliant German to win clients – though it certainly helps when dealing with the day-to-day bureaucracy involved in running a freelance business. 

READ ALSO: The complete guide to getting a freelance visa in Germany

What else should digital nomads know?

If your main residence is in Germany and you’re carrying out work on German soil, you will generally be expected to declare your freelance income and pay tax in Germany – even if many of your clients are based elsewhere. 

If you’re a bit daunted by the task, it can be worth hiring a tax consultant who can help you find out all your tax deductible expenses like coworking spaces and travel.

It’s also a requirement of most visas that you have some form of health insurance while living and working here, which can get expensive.

However, if you don’t plan to stay for too many years, you can probably find cheaper private options of health insurance for freelancers for the duration of your stay. 

With all the rules involved in staying on the right side of German law, it may seem to defeat the object of the footloose and carefree digital nomad lifestyle. But once you’re set up in the country, you’ll be part of a vibrant community of remote workers in the heart of Europe – the perfect location from which to see other cultures and tick numerous other European countries off your bucket list. 

Member comments

  1. What I would like to know, is if there is any legal / tax implications for me, as a person contracted to a company in Germany, specifically Berlin, if I work some period of time from another country or city. My employer is restricting me from working from some other city more than 4 weeks a year, as they mention there ‘could be’ tax implications, but they are not clear as to what that would be, and I guess they just want to cover themselves and keep us working close to the office….

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

Germany has regulations on working during a heatwave - but does that also apply to people who work remotely? We take a look.

Reader question: Is it ever legally too hot to work from home in Germany?

The number of people working from home shot up during the Covid pandemic, and though employees no longer have the right to work remotely by law, many have chosen to stick with more flexible arrangements and set up a home office at least part of the week.

This is great news for people who enjoy a lie-in more than a long commute, but there are some downsides. One major issue is that it’s not always clear how Germany’s strict employee protection rules actually apply in a home setting. The rules for working during a heatwave are a good example of this.

How does Germany regulate working in extreme heat? 

By law in Germany, employers are responsible for creating a safe environment for their workers. This means that they should try and keep the temperature below 26C at all times and are legally obliged to take action if the temperature goes above 30C. 

That could include putting blinds on the windows to prevent the glare of the sun, installing air conditioning systems or purchasing fans. In some cases – such as outdoor manual labour – it could also involve starting and finishing earlier in the day. 

And in really high temperatures, employers may simply decide to call the whole thing off and give their employees a ‘hitzefrei’ day – basically a heat-induced day off – to go and cool down in a lake. However, business owners are generally given free rein to decide how hot is too hot in this instance (except in the case of vulnerable workers). 

READ ALSO: Hitzefrei: Is it ever legally too hot to go to work or school in Germany?

Do the heat rules apply to ‘home office?’

Unfortunately not. In most cases in Germany, the company isn’t directly involved in setting up the workspace for an employee that works from home, aside from possibly providing a laptop or phone for remote use. 

“The occupational health and safety regulations regarding room temperature do not apply in this case,” labour law expert Meike Brecklinghaus told German business publication T3N. “This is because the employer does not have direct access to the employee’s workplace and in this respect cannot take remedial action.”

That means that on hot days, it’s the employee’s own responsibility to make sure the environment is suitable for working in. 

woman works from home in Germany

A woman works in her living room at home. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Naupold

One duty employers do have, however, is to instruct their workers about the best way to set up a healthy work environment at home, for example by giving guidance on how to regulate the temperature. 

“In the end, it is the employee’s responsibility to maintain his or her workplace in a condition in which he or she can perform his or her work without the threat of health impairments,” Brecklinghaus explained.

What can home office workers do in hot weather?

There are plenty of ways to keep flats cooler in the summer months, including purchasing your own fan, keeping curtains or blinds drawn and ventilating the rooms in the evening or early morning when the weather is cooler.

However, if heat is really becoming a problem, it’s a good idea to communicate this to your employer. This is especially important if you have a health condition that makes it more dangerous to work in hot weather. 

In some cases, you might be able to negotiate for the employer to pay for the purchase of a fan or mobile air conditioner as goodwill gesture. If possible, you could also arrange to travel to the office where the temperature should be better regulated.

Another option for early birds or night owls is to arrange more flexible working hours so you can avoid sweltering at your desk in the midday sun, although this of course depends on operational factors. 

READ ASO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?

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