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Relocating to Germany - tips from German freelancers?
Thread poster: Robin Joensuu

Robin Joensuu  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member
English to Swedish
Aug 3, 2015

If everything goes according to plan, I am relocating to Berlin, Germany in a couple of months. Moving there I will naturally have to take care of a few practical things, and I was hoping some of you could give me a few tips.

- How do you do with Krankenkasse? And how much does it cost you every month? I have heard about non-German freelancers buying very cheap health insurance through international health insurance companies (as little as 50 euros/month). I think this is a loophole only possible for non-German citizens, if it is even possible. Anyone heard of it? If not, public or private? What are the alternatives, benefits, downsides?

- Do you take care of your own bookkeeping, and if so, is it hard? (I don't intend to do it, but I am curious about how it works)

- If not, how does it work with accountants etc in Germany, and how much does it cost?

- I take it most of you work from home? Is it possible to get tax cuts from having a home office?

- What other tax cuts are possible?

- Any other tips regarding bureaucracy, freelancing, translation work, practicalities, other related things?


Anything and everything is highly appreciated!

Vielen dank!


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Germany Aug 3, 2015

Robin,

I moved to Germany in 2013, and the experience has generally been positive. Feel free to ask here, or directly to me via my profile.

I use a private expat health insurance that costs about half the minimum contribution of roughly €300/month to the public health insurance for a single adult. I can inform you in private about this. In my age group, it costs around €150/month, but if you're younger, the cost is lower, provided you don't have serious, existing illnesses (they do accept some existing conditions). However, if you need more family members covered, private cover quickly becomes more expensive. A major difference, though, is that private cover costs the same regardless of income, whereas the cost of public health care increases with income. Private cover may include cover in many other countries too, and not just for urgent care during travel. €50/month sounds unrealistically cheap and may not cover much. The cost of medical insurance is tax-deductible.

About bookkeeping as Freiberufler (sole trader), I keep a spreadsheet and send all the required information to my accountant once a year. I deal with VAT returns myself. A local accountant isn't terribly expensive, and the German tax laws are complicated, so I prefer having someone to do the technical stuff. They asked for €126 exclusive of VAT for my last tax return. If you need an international accountant (meaning they market themselves in English), cost is usually much higher.

You can deduct the cost of a home office if you have a room dedicated to work (i.e. not a corner of a corridor or your bedroom).

There are many possible deductions in German tax law - insurance, health, exceptional expenses, ... . It's probably best to talk to an accountant so you get the information that matches your situation.

You can earn interest of up to €801 tax-free every year, without declaring it.

Side income is tax free on certain conditions and up to a certain limit.

There are no mandatory social charges. You must have a health care insurance. Pension savings are up to you.

The only housing/property tax there is is property tax on real estate. That obviously depends on many factors but it's very reasonable.

After 15 years of French bureaucracy, German bureaucracy was a great relief. It is mostly trouble-free, but I had to chase up my VAT number. If you have children, you are entitled to monthly Kindergeld.

I had a bit of a fight getting my French no-claims bonus for car insurance accepted fully. German insurers try this 'scam': they tell you they accept your foreign bonus as "Sonderklasse". That means that if you leave the insurer, they will not confirm your new bonus unless you move abroad. That way, they make it all but impossible for you to move to another insurer in Germany if you have a good bonus. I know a British broker who can get it done with full accept of your foreign bonus now. Ask via my profile if you want to know.


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Suzanne Smart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Italian to English
+ ...
Julia Graham Aug 3, 2015

I think Julia Graham has recently relocated to Germany. Perhaps it would be worthwhile trying to contact her. https://about.me/juliagraham

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Maaike van Vlijmen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2009)
Italian to Dutch
+ ...
Germany Aug 4, 2015

Hi Robin

Like Thomas, I also moved to Germany in 2013, but my experience was not so positive, so I left 5 months ago. I think these situations are very subjective, so I just say: it wasn't the country for me. I think Berlin should be a nice place to live though, and most people will speak English (my biggest surprise in Germany was that many people didn't speak a word of English).
I was with the TK (public, not private) and paid 370 euro/month. A high amount, but tax deductible. While I was with them, the service was good. No complaints. When I tried to leave however, they were shockingly difficult and intrusive. I know someone else who had exactly the same experience.
I had a tax adviser who did all the work for me, because I really didn't see myself ploughing through the German tax system. Compared to Thomas' adviser, mine was quite expensive: 400 euro/year.
It was quite easy to get into the system. I just went to my tax adviser, he took care of the registration and then I started receiving letters with my tax numbers (3 different ones) and other information.
Yes, you can deduct home office costs, like internet, heating, etc.
I hope you will enjoy Berlin! If you need more information, you can send me a private message.
Maaike


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Patricia Blanco Dominguez  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member (2013)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Positive experience Aug 4, 2015

Hi Robin,

I also moved to Germany in 2013. Even when I have international clients, most of my clients are German agencies. I love this country and my work experience here is so far positive.

- How do you do with Krankenkasse? And how much does it cost you every month? I have heard about non-German freelancers buying very cheap health insurance through international health insurance companies (as little as 50 euros/month). I think this is a loophole only possible for non-German citizens, if it is even possible. Anyone heard of it? If not, public or private? What are the alternatives, benefits, downsides?


I am in the public and costs 240 € / month. Now I have changed into a private health insurance that costs a little bit less but with a few more services. My experience with the public was awful, I must say.

- Do you take care of your own bookkeeping, and if so, is it hard? (I don't intend to do it, but I am curious about how it works)

- If not, how does it work with accountants etc in Germany, and how much does it cost?


I keep my own bookkeeping. Of course, if I have doubts, I consult with my tax consultant, but I think the trick is to learn from him/her, so you can do most of the work (really easy once you have learned) and only go to him/her when you have specific questions or you want a review anyway. Mine costs 120 € / hour.

- I take it most of you work from home? Is it possible to get tax cuts from having a home office?


As a colleague said, only if you have an office (a separate room only for work).

- What other tax cuts are possible?


Health, professional indemnity and retirement insurance, and everything work-related: internet and phone/mobile costs (100 %, but you have to take 30 % of it as income as "private use"), bank fees and office supplies (papers, seals, ink cartridges, envelopes, etc.).

- Any other tips regarding bureaucracy, freelancing, translation work, practicalities, other related things?


To become a freelance translator/interpreter (Freiberufler) is actually very easy. You just have to ask for a tax number ( Steuernummer) (or two ( USt-IdNr.), if you want to make business with non-German clients). Since we belong to the «artists», we don't have to register a business ( Gewerbe). This is very important!

Don't hesitate to contact me per mail if you have any other questions and good luck!


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Robin Joensuu  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member
English to Swedish
TOPIC STARTER
That is very helpful Aug 4, 2015

Hello all,

Thank you very much for the info!

Patricia, in what way was you experience of public health insurance awful? And do translation work really count as a artistic work? Even with technical translations?

Living in Germany will not be a surprise as I have done it before (for a year), and it is as you say Maaike, a lot of people do speak English, especially younger people. It is even hard to make them speak German with you when they hear your somewhat ponderous accent. It was rather the Freiberufler thing I was worried about, but I think I will sort it all out.

Cheers


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Maaike van Vlijmen  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2009)
Italian to Dutch
+ ...
Berlin Aug 4, 2015

Robin, I meant in Berlin people speak English. Where I lived (Göttingen), almost nobody spoke English, and even when we called with services like Kabel Deutschland (internet provider) and eBay, it was impossible to communicate in English. My GP, an educated lady in her forties: no English. The employees at the bank: no English. Dentist: no English. Needless to say people in supermarkets or restaurants could only communicate in German. And they loved to make you feel bad about it if your German wasn't good enough. But again, Berlin seemed much more modern than the smaller places - you could even pay with a creditcard.
Regarding the health system: I only went to see my GP twice and never went to a hospital, but the service was really good. Very organised, friendly and clean, no long waiting times. Lab results came in quickly and were sent to me by email on request. I guess Patricia has more experience than just a check-up at the GP.
I didn't know about being an artist - my tax adviser never mentioned it.
All the best!


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Freiberufler Aug 4, 2015

Robin Joensuu wrote:


Patricia, in what way was you experience of public health insurance awful? And do translation work really count as a artistic work? Even with technical translations?
(...)
It was rather the Freiberufler thing I was worried about, but I think I will sort it all out.

Cheers


Being a "Freiberufler" has nothing to do with doing artistic work or not. Translators are "Freiberufler" in Germany, artistic or not. You probably can't get it much simpler anywhere in the world than with being a Freiberufler in Germany. You basically just get your tax number and start working.

I'm somewhat astonished by the health insurance cost people quote here, as I'm paying a lot more (I'm in the public insurance). However, this obviously depends on how much money you make.

However, if you actually mainly do literary translations, you may be entitled to join the Künstlersozialkasse (KSK) which will pay a 50% subsidy to your insurance and public pension costs.


[Bearbeitet am 2015-08-04 11:44 GMT]


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Freiberufler, not artist Aug 4, 2015

Translators belong in the Freiberufler category. That is, it is not a trade/commerce. Freiberufler does not mean artist, but the wording is not so important, and artists are perhaps in the same category. The main thing is that it's not Gewerbe, and that no Gewerbe tax is due.

It doesn't matter if one translates an industrial document. That's irrelevant.


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Robin Joensuu  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member
English to Swedish
TOPIC STARTER
Easy is good Aug 4, 2015

Translators are "Freiberufler" in Germany, artistic or not. You probably can't get it much simpler anywhere in the world than with being a Freiberufler in Germany. You basically just get your tax number and start working.


That sounds great! Easy is good. I think the taxes are cheaper than Sweden too. Here I pay almost 50 percent on everything I make after the first 1600 euros or so, but from what I have read it is around 30% in Germany. Is that right?

Maaike, I meant Berlin. I only forgot to write it.


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Patricia Blanco Dominguez  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member (2013)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Freiberufler Aug 4, 2015


Being a "Freiberufler" has nothing to do with doing artistic work or not. Translators are "Freiberufler" in Germany, artistic or not. You probably can't get it much simpler anywhere in the world than with being a Freiberufler in Germany. You basically just get your tax number and start working.


Exactly. Maybe I have not expressed myself correctly: Freiberufler can be writers, artists, performers and many others. We belong in this category.

The important thing here is that you don't need a Gewerbe.



Patricia, in what way was you experience of public health insurance awful?


A lot of paperwork went missing, my contact person didn't answered my mails, then charging me 1500 € by mistake, etc. Maybe I just had bad luck, since it's a very famous health insurance :/


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Tax and English Aug 4, 2015

Robin Joensuu wrote:

from what I have read it is around 30% in Germany. Is that right?



Depends on your income. Google "einkommensteuer deutschland" and I'm sure you'll find what you need.

As for speaking English, I can mostly get away with sending e-mails in English to various companies' helplines, as there would be a lot of young people working such places, and that would never have worked in France, but locals here in Saxony-Anhalt in the former GDR generally don't speak a word of English. The former GDR obviously has a particular, historical background, but in general, people in countries that dub all TV and movies end up with poor language skills. But the attitude is important too. Where the French are often 'allergic' to foreign languages and reject anything that isn't in French, Germans are generally much more flexible, and you don't need to get all documents translated to German to get administrative tasks done.

About languages, there is one minor disadvantage: you have to pay €52.50 a quarter for TV you may never watch because all the movies have been ruined by dubbing. Even if you subscribe to Amazon instant video, you're only allowed to do it on the German site because there is still no single digital market in the EU, and Amazon Germany's video catalogue primarily consists of German-dubbed movies. With Netflix Germany, you can get the original soundtracks, but if you need subtitles, they're only in German. I have a satellite package from another country, though. Just don't tell your satellite provider that you don't live in their country. The British satellite signal is too weak in the eastern parts of Germany for meaningful reception, so don't waste your time with that. Maybe you can get original soundtracks on German satellite packages. I've no idea.


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Robin Joensuu  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member
English to Swedish
TOPIC STARTER
German streaming service Aug 5, 2015

About languages, there is one minor disadvantage: you have to pay €52.50 a quarter for TV you may never watch because all the movies have been ruined by dubbing.


Speaking of that, do you (or anyone else) know of some German streaming service where I CAN watch movies/TV shows dubbed into German that would work in other EU countries? I am mostly not very fond of dubbing either but it is a good way of learning a language.


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
French to Danish
+ ...
Dubbed streaming Aug 5, 2015

Robin Joensuu wrote:

Speaking of that, do you (or anyone else) know of some German streaming service where I CAN watch movies/TV shows dubbed into German that would work in other EU countries? I am mostly not very fond of dubbing either but it is a good way of learning a language.


I don't know about streaming, but you can put up a satellite dish and point it to Astra 1 at 19.2º east and receive a large bunch of German free-to-air channels.


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 23:00
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Streaming Aug 5, 2015

Robin Joensuu wrote:

Speaking of that, do you (or anyone else) know of some German streaming service where I CAN watch movies/TV shows dubbed into German that would work in other EU countries? I am mostly not very fond of dubbing either but it is a good way of learning a language.


For starters, all public TV stations (ARD, ZDF, BR, HR, MDR, NDR, WDR etc.) offer free live streaming. I don't know whether these streams are available in other countries, but I should think they are. Try it out.


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