My Dutch days are over, and may global warming wash that incestuous little pestilence of a country from the face of the earth! Today I secured my first one year artist visa residence permit for Germany here in Berlin. And in true, open-source spirit, I thought I would document the process to help the expat community and possibly even boost my blog view count once it hits Google…
Immigration is a pain in the ass. And even though I personally believe that nation-states are a completely antiquated holdover from the 19th century, I haven’t managed to convince many Germans of this so far. Luckily for me, because Berlin is such a cultural city and because the former East (including West Berlin, by the way) is a “special economic zone” which somehow recognizes the need for artistic freelancers, the Artist Visa is one of the easiest ways “particular people” like us can stay in this country. In fact, getting an Artist Visa seems even easier than getting one for a real job, even though it effectively prevents you from taking on normal, contracted employment (i.e. freelance art work only!). But then again, who in Berlin has a “real job” anyways…
In general, the process was much easier than I expected, however you’ll have to have a few things lined up before you start…
* Application Form: download from http://www.berlin.de/formularserver/formular.php?72301
* Passport: unless you’ve been living in another EU country with a valid permit there (as I had), your passport should show a stamp of your recent entry date into Germany. Oh, and it should have two free adjacent pages, and shouldn’t run out before one year unless you want to have to go back and pay another EUR 10 get a replacement visa (like I will next May).
* 50 Euro: in cash. Their machine doesn’t take EC cards.
* Rent Contract + Anmeldungbestaetigung (address registration): you will need the Anmeldungbestaetigung for many other things like getting a bank account or even a video rental card, see here. (Legally you need one of these within the first 7 days at any new address anyways.) The Auslanderamt will see if you are in their system or not depending on if you registered for this. And they will figure out how much money you need to make per month in Berlin over the coming year by adding your rent to the basic welfare money that a German citizen would be entitled to (EUR 345).
* 2 Pass Fotos: actually they only took one of mine.
* Artist Materials (CV + documentation): the thing they looked at the most here was my CV, although I brought several German-language catalogs from different projects I’ve done here and in Austria, which they didn’t even touch. But bring them anyways just in case.
* Letters of Reference: my impression is that these are quite important, so get some VIPs to write that they’ve known you for a long time (since…), that they are familiar with your work (such as project X, Y, Z…), that you’ve worked together on such and such a thing, and that you plan to work together in the future on some other things. Phrases like “…will make a positive contribution to the Berlin cultural scene…” can’t hurt either. I brought 5 of these puppies…
* Statement on Berlin Plans: also apparently important, as my caseworker spent the most time with this, my CV, my letters of reference and my bank statements. Promise the moon here (vaguely of course), but especially try to tie in every single person who wrote you a letter of reference, even if they made no explicit promises in their letter. Don’t indicate that they promised you anything more than what they wrote on paper, of course, but anything short of that…
* Proof of Income: current balance plus previous month’s bank statement, hopefully showing that a reasonable amount of money is coming in (See Rent Contract, above…). Apparently they’d also like to see a couple grand in there to tide you over if you don’t get any work right away. Since you will be applying as a “free artist”, showing them an employment contract will get you reclassified to another kind of non-artist visa, which could be more difficult to obtain. However, any unpaid invoices or letters of invitation with fees mentioned can help give the impression of financial “stability”.
* Proof of Health Insurance: here is the Catch 22–to stay in Germany, you need health insurance. But to get German health insurance, you need permission to stay in the country. No, unlike in years past, travel health insurance from your home country doesn’t cut it. When they say “health insurance”, they mean private German health insurance. The cheapest monthly policies I could locate started at about EUR 150 a month and went up and up and up. But at that rate, you are still liable for the first EUR 1000 in damages you might get inflicted on yourself, and every trip to the doctor for whatever reason still costs cash money up front. And don’t ask what happens if you happen to smash all your teeth out riding home drunk one night on your bike…dental coverage for this kind of all too common accident is an extra premium. But here’s the good news: for some reason they trust that you will get the insurance after you get the visa. So go get a quote from some private insurance provider, any one will do, and bring it to your meeting. Then, once you get the visa, apply to the KSK for special “artists health insurance” at half the price.
See also this page, but keep in mind they’re talking about visas for the regular working stiffs, not weirdo art nomad folks like us. Also, take note that German law has recently changed and international travel insurance DOES NOT COUNT! No matter what the people from the insurance companies tell you, the Ausländeramt will insist that you are covered by the same kind of insurance that all other Germans are covered by.
Once you’ve got all this, call up the Ausländerbehörde (030) 90269 0 and explain that you want to apply for an Artist Visa. They should set you up with an appointment. I do not recommend going without one, as the entryway of this place was a zoo when I went, and you could probably wait all day there…
Homepage of the Ausländerbehörde
If you’ve played your cards right, they will give you a shiny new one year Artist Visa and instructions to get a tax number (since you are a freelancer), health insurance and a certain amount of money each month (based on the rent you showed them). They will check all this again in one year if you want to renew, and may tell you (as they did a good friend of mine) to get married, become a student or get the hell out of Deutschland if you can’t sort all this stuff out by then. No, they don’t require you to take German lessons, at least not in the first year, although they might recommend it.
Of course, what this requires still is a reasonably professional-looking CV and some established contacts in the arts scene here already. I wouldn’t recommend this approach to hobby painters or street buskers… Berlin has too many cross-walk jugglers as it is!
Acknowledgments: this cheatsheet and the visa which generated it would not have been possible without the generous assistance of Carsten Stabenow, Gesine Pagels, Carsten Seiffath, Jan Rolf, Stephen Kovats, Andreas Broeckman and Brandon LaBelle. Thanks y’all!
This page is one of the most visited pages on my website, however I have no idea who reads it and if it does them any good. If this information has helped you, or if you find out something different than what I have written, please leave a comment/reply!