Having made the brilliant/psychotic decision to become a freelancer at the start of the year, only now am I finally getting my head around what this means. In Germany, becoming a freelancer is notoriously difficult with their bureaucracy issues compounding when you dare step out of the line of full-time employment. So far I’ve had to deal with:
Getting a work visa as a freelancer - Immigration told us it was near impossible. Just get a normal job they said. You need to register the companies you want to work for with the Government they said. You need at least two job offers at once before they’ll consider it they said. You can’t get a freelance contract with any details relating to how you’re going to perform for the company they said. We got it anyway. Only two months of going back and forward from the offices and my poor boyfriend hounding them on the phone every day.
Registering with the tax office - This was a much easier process, and in fact it was the tax office who helped us with immigration when we were getting incorrect information out of them. Send an email to the right person and it’s done – having said that, if I didn’t have a partner who speaks German this may have been a lot more difficult.
Registering for proper health insurance – On my travel visa I’ve been getting away with paying towards an expat health provider for less than 30 euro a month. Now I have my work visa I think it’s time to join the rest of the German population, particularly if I’m going to be using their health services for anything other than emergencies in the coming years. I believe the rule is that when you earn over 400 euro in the month you have to contribute to a health insurance company and with that looking very likely in my first month of self-employment I have contacted an agent to help me. I’ve heard horror stories about how this has gone for expats in Germany, with some having to pay half their salary towards such insurance. Hopefully all my bad karma has been used up on the visa and with some good luck this won’t cause any issues.
Finding an accountant - That process has also just begun, with my boyfriend insisting we need to look at some local options as well as ones specialising in helping expats. To help get a tax number the company I contacted quoted me 200 euro – I’m glad I did that myself. And when we get a few more quotes to compare over how much it costs to do a tax return and get a definitive answer on what point I pay tax then hopefully this will be sorted rather quickly.
Licence changeover - One company has already asked me to do some driving in their car to a class and the thought of that is making me wet my pants a little with fear. I’ve never driven on the other side of the road, apart from during a holiday in Greece where I nearly caused an accident in the roundabout, then cried, then let my boyfriend at the time take the car back to the hire place. Not the best experience, and I’ve also never driven a manual car which seems to shock a lot more Germans than it did Aussies. Starting the lessons has been tough – I feel like I’m 17 again and so far can so only get to second gear without bunny hopping – and the whole process is going to cost around 1000 euro, with official translation of my Aussie licence needed, as well as a day-long first aid course and a driving and theory test.
It’s been a lot of work to get this far and there’s still so much to go – and it means that I’ve spent the last few months almost entirely on the couch researching, writing and learning. My life in London, where parties filled the time away from work, feel like a distant memory. Will it be worth it? I hope so. In a year from now I hope I’m happily settled into my freelance life, with work in both writing and teaching, and that illustrious book I plan to write is in my hot little hands. For now, it’s all about enjoying the little moments in between, and working hard for the future.