Moving to Germany as a digital nomad

digital nomad
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Updated 2022-11-04 08:59

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, digital nomadism was a privilege among the self-employed and entrepreneurs who have set up a business already or an advantage for freelancers. However, since 2020, the labor market has been readjusted globally. One of the most evident changes we have witnessed is the increase in remote work.

During the strict COVID-19-induced measures, remote work was happening mainly from home. But as the social distancing measures are gradually being withdrawn, remote work is here to stay and may potentially mean working from a place of your choice — as long as it's in agreement with your company's policy. 

Germany has always been an attractive destination for digital nomads. Its geographical position in central Europe and innovative growth environment make it a great destination for digital nomads looking for inspiring interactions with entrepreneurs, influencers, and creatives. 

Digital nomads in Germany

What attracts digital nomads to Germany are the country's character which brings together high-tech culture, a vibrant start-up scene, a broad range of artists' projects, exciting nightlife, and quaint old-world charm. It, thus, comes as no surprise that Berlin has been featured in Tim Ferris's famous 2007 bestseller, “The 4-Hour Work Week,” as one of the best places for the working nomad lifestyle. The cost of living in some German cities, such as Munich, Frankfurt, and Hamburg, is relatively high, but so is the quality of life. Germany is an international hub and, therefore, an excellent strategic place for freelancing or starting your business.

To start working effectively while abroad and being your most productive self, you will need to establish a comfortable working space — or different spaces, for that matter, depending on the mood of the day. Of course, Germany offers many coworking spaces, but there are alternatives to working from home or a paid shared space. For example, you can work from a cozy coffee shop, the local public library, a bookshop's small café, or a museum restaurant. 

Due to Germany's large popularity among digital nomads, you will quickly find a friendly community of like-minded nomads, either on their way to exploring other neighboring countries or captivated by Germany's modern urban attractions, historical sightings, natural landscapes, and picturesque old towns.

Useful links:

Café Bravo at KW Institute for Contemporary Art (Berlin)

Café Babette at KINDL - Centre for Contemporary Art (Berlin)

Bookstore Ocelot café (Berlin)

What to know before traveling to Germany

Living and working in Germany as a digital nomad will mean that you are either self-employed (Selbstständiger) or a freelancer (Freiberufler). These two work identities cannot be used interchangeably when applying for a German residence permit because different conditions and requirements apply. In principle, getting a residence permit as a freelancer requires less paperwork than applying as a self-employed. In more detail, freelancers who want to live and work in Germany will have to file an application with the following documents: a valid passport, enrolment in a health insurance policy (public or private), German home address registration (Anmeldung), a CV, and a budgeting plan (projected income and expenses). Self-employed residence permit applicants must have all the above documents, in addition to a company profile, funding requirements, revenue forecast, and a business concept describing your business strategies, target audience, and the current environment of the industry you are in. 

The approval of your application depends on the Federal Employment Agency in Germany. After getting a residence permit, it is essential to register at the Local Registration Office to get a personal tax number. Be careful with the German income taxes, which must be declared through the electronic system called ELektronische STeuerERklärung – ELSTER. Here, you need to fill in your bank details, level of income, and personal details. There are some private pension options for those seeking a more extended residence period and those earning a lot as freelancers. 

Attention:

Third-country residents and non-EU and EEA citizens have to apply for a self-employed or freelance residence permit before arriving in Germany, whereas EU-EEA nationals and nationals from the US, Japan, Israel, Australia, Canada, South Korea, and New Zealand can apply directly from Germany but no later than 90 days from their arrival. 

Best German cities to work from 

Berlin has the most significant number of coworking spaces in Germany and the second biggest in Europe, after Barcelona. With a pronounced startup ecosystem, coworking spaces are a big part of the city's culture — as are a large number of work-friendly coffee shops. One of Berlin's coffee shops, St. Oberholz, was where the popular streaming app SoundCloud came to life. There are many nice places to work in Berlin, such as Betahaus, Ahoy Berlin, and some community spaces for collaborative practices such as Factory Berlin and Co.Up.

Bavaria's capital and one of Germany's economic powers, Munich, is most suited for experienced and high-earning nomads due to its expensive lifestyle. Despite the more upscale setting, Munich offers a laid-back urban atmosphere, with many expats calling it home. In Munich, there are plenty of coworking spaces, such as IDEA KITCHEN and Impact Hub. 

Even though it has a small expat community, Leipzig is the largest city in Saxony and a popular nomad destination due to the city's historical significance. Some say the city is what Berlin used to be about a decade ago — and by this, they mean the abundance of remote working facilities — but the city's nomad community is still in the nascent stage. On the leisure side, Leipzig offers interesting sights and vibrant nightlife. Some of the best coworking spaces in Leipzig are Raumstation Coworking, Basislager Coworking, and Chaos Coworking. 

Hamburg is also an attractive option for freelancers and digital nomads. It is a vibrant city with a fair amount of English speakers and relaxed and open-minded people. The city is located close to the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, offering accessible possibilities to visit these countries, as well as to visit within two hours by train some other German cities such as Berlin, Hannover, and Kiel. Some coworking spaces in Hamburg are Mindspace, Code Working Space, BEEHIVE Hamburg, and many others.

Living in any of these German cities has many pros, but also some cons, such as finding accommodation. Prices, even for a studio, tend to be on the high side. You may want to keep an eye on Expat.com's Germany housing ads for new vacant apartments and shared houses in the city of your choice. Also, don't hesitate to start conversations about life and work in Germany on the lively Germany forum. You will be surprised to see how many amazing expats and expats-to-be are willing to help you! 

Useful links:

St Oberholz coffee shop

Betahaus (Berlin)

Ahoy Berlin

Factory Berlin

Co.Up (Berlin)

Idea Kitchen (Munich)

Impact Hub (Munich)

Raumstation Coworking (Leipzig)

Basislager Coworking for tech startups (Leipzig)

Chaos Coworking for monthly desk rentals (Leipzig)

Mindspace (Hamburg)

Code Working Space (Hamburg)

Beehive (Hamburg)

The internet in Germany

Germany offers an average internet connection speed of 28.9 Mbit/s, which is not that great, considering Canada's speed is 59.6, the highest in the world. Also, free wifi access is limited in Germany — not as common as it is in South Korea, for example, where the government has launched a free nationwide wireless internet network to support fair access to information and reduce communication costs. According to the Störerhaftung law, wifi network providers are liable for all the illegal activities on the network, which significantly limits open wireless networks in coffee shops and other public spaces — something that most freelancers have come to take for granted. With that said, there are over 33,000 wifi hotspots spread across 300 German cities provided by decentralized organizations.

Leisure activities in Germany

Germany offers a fascinating mix of leisure activities to explore: from the modern hip art galleries of its large urban centers to the old architecture of quaint small towns. Stretching from the Alps to the Baltic Sea, there is a wide variety of natural beauty to discover when traveling beyond the country's cityscapes. This can be seen in the mystical charm of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) and Lake Mummelsee and the breathtaking mountainous landscapes of the Bastei, and the freshness of Lüneburg Heath woodlands.

Useful links:

Germany Official Travel Portal

Federal Employment Agency

ELSTER online taxes platform

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