Since I got a Freelancers Artist Visa last week, several friends have asked me to describe the process in detail. Here goes!
To situate myself a little bit, I am a freelance dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher from the United States*. I've lived there for my whole life, and been actively involved in the dance worlds in North Carolina and New York for the past twenty years. I graduated from College with a Major in Psychology and a Minor in Dance, and while I've never fully supported myself from dancing, art-making, and dance-teaching, a fair amount of my yearly income has always come from these activities.
I moved to Berlin in July 2016 with the intention (or hope!) of getting a Freelancers Artist Visa here to live and make work. After combing the internet for helpful tips, printing off more than 50 pages of documents at the local library, and biting my fingernails down to the cuticle, I have successfully gotten a two-year Freelancer Artist Visa to live and work in Germany (and the EU)! Below are the steps I took, some random things I learned along the way, and the most helpful websites I found.
Make an appointment at the Auslandebehörde (you can do this online). You can also just show up at the office and wait in line for a number, that's just not how I did it.
Get together all materials for the visa, and start early. There are plenty of websites detailing all the materials you need, and I included a list of some of them at the end of this post.
Different visa officials ask for different documents. Mine asked for: my Visa Application Form (everyone needs to fill this out); a verification of my degree from University (a transcript would also suffice); my CV (I included a portfolio in my CV as well); proof of German health insurance; and two Letters of Interest.
Be prepared to write your own Letters of Interest. You will need at least two (three is better) for this visa. The office is very interested in whether or not you are connected with potential employers here so that you can make money. While I don't suggest inventing imaginary organisations, I would be prepared to ask favors of friends and organisations that are more established here. And once you've asked for one, and they've accepted, offer to write it for them so all they need to do is edit and sign. After all, they're doing you the favour (at least in my case, where both letters were not actually binding in any way).
However, PREPARE ALL THE DOCUMENTS. You never know what they will ask for at the office, so be ready for anything.
Wear something kind of nice looking, and be sure to arrive at the Ausländerbehörde early if you can. It's a pretty huge place and there are people everywhere, so buffer in some time to find out where you need to go. Be sure you have your appointment confirmation document, as it will have your number on it. Your number is how they call you from the waiting room to your meeting, so this is very important.
Random things I learned along the way:
HEALTHCARE IS REQUIRED FOR LIVING IN GERMANY! Get it ASAP along with your Anmeldung. Since the German insurance system is a whole other can of worms I suggest short-term insurance coverage that is accepted at the visa office, You can get help finding insurance you like at POPSURE**!
The one thing I heard over and over was to have a certain amount of money in your bank account - between 3000€-5000€ (the more the better) - because this is what the visa office REALLY cares about. My visa person never looked at any of my financial documents, bank statements or budget, but I'm the only person I know of who has had that experience.
Be organised. Have all of your documents with you and create a system for accessing them easily. Not only does it help speed up the process, it makes you look good.
Try to learn a little bit of German before your appointment. I took a German course some months ago, which made it possible for me to have a very basic conversation with my visa person. I also expressed (genuine) interest in continuing to learn the language. I think this made the difference between my getting a one-year visa and a two-year visa.
Unless your German is really good, bring someone with you who speaks German. I did, and while she didn't have to translate much for me, it eased some of the stress of not-knowing if I would be able to communicate with the visa official.
At an earlier point when I first published this post (late 2016), a regular tourist visa could be extended beyond 3-months as long as the visa applicant had made an appointment with the Ausländerbehörde. This is no more! Apparently the tourist visa can no longer be extended, so MAKE THOSE APPOINTMENTS FOLKS!
*I'm also white, American, female, college-educated, and come from class privilege, just to give you a little more context - because let's not pretend these things didn't matter.
**full disclosure- POPSURE pays me a small sum if you click on the link and buy insurance through them! It doesn’t cost you any extra fees but it’s called PASSIVE INCOME PEOPLE!