Possible residence permits for self-employed people

Do you plan to immigrate to Austria as a self-employed person and would like to permanently live and work in Austria? In principle, two residence permits (“Aufenthaltstitel”) are available to you: the Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers (“Rot-Weiß-Rot – Karte für Selbstständige Schlüsselkräfte”) or the Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders (“Rot-Weiß-Rot – Karte für Start-Up-GründerInnen”). Would you like to work in Austria for more than six months on a self-employed basis but not permanently stay in Austria? Under certain circumstances, you can obtain a Residence Permit – Self-Employed (“Aufenthaltsbewilligung Selbstständige”). As a rule, a self-employed person is an individual who owns a significant share in the company and makes strategic corporate decisions.

If you first work as a salaried employee and are considering self-employment in the future, this can also be an attractive option. If you have a Red-White-Red – Card (link), you can usuallyobtain a Red-White-Red – Card Plus (“Rot-Weiß-Rot – Karte Plus”) (link) after two years. The Red-White-Red – Card Plus enables you to pursue self-employment, among others.

Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers

This is reflected by the requirements which must be fulfilled when you become involved in the company. There are several options. One option is

  • the sustainable transfer of investment capital to Austria equalling a minimum of € 100,000.

The transfer of financial resources from abroad must have already taken place or there must be a realistic prospect of this taking place in the near future. For this purpose, you must show proof in which you demonstrate that you have a specific amount of financial funds at your disposal at any time. This involves the direct transfer of capital from abroad for the purpose of setting up a company – and building it up. In practice, for example, you have to show that the funds are available on a bank account and present a business plan outlining which purchases or acquisitions are to be carried out with the investment capital. A declaration on your part is not sufficient to show the transfer of capital. The payment of share capital itself does not represent the transfer of investment capital. The Austrian Public Employment Service (“Arbeitsmarktservice”; short: AMS) carefully examines all these details.

The second option is

  • that new jobs are created, or existing jobs are secured.

In principle, this means that several full-time jobs must be created. You have to show evidence of this (e.g., relevant details specified in the business plan) which is carefully reviewed by AMS.

The third option is

  • that the subsidiary or branch office will involve a transfer of know-how or the introduction of new technologies.

In your business plan, you must explain in detail how know-how will be contributed to the company in connection with your participation, qualifications and position in the company. Qualifications can be shown, for instance, by presenting a university diploma and/or professional experience.

The fourth option is

  • that the company is of significant importance to the entire Austrian region.

This means that you must explain in your business plan in which ways the company you will establish or your participation in an existing company will be of great importance to the entire region.


Procedures

You apply for the Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers as follows:

  • If you are not allowed to enter the country without a visa (link), you apply to the Austrian representative authority (embassy or consulate) in your country of residence.
  • If you are allowed to enter the country without a visa (link), you may apply personally to the Immigration and Residence Authority (“Aufenthaltsbehörde”) in Austria

Attention

Before you submit the application, you have to decide where you want to live in Austria. This is important because Austria does not have one single Immigration and Residence Authority branch but many. Which of these branches is actually responsible for you depends on your future place of residence in Austria. Once you have selected a particular place, the change is complicated and is not recommended.


In any case, you must submit the following documents when applying for the Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers:

 

  • Application form
  • Passport
  • Passport photo fulfilling EU criteria (not older than six months)
  • Personal documents:
    • Birth certificate
    • Police clearance certificate (“Strafregisterbescheinigung”) which is not older than six months
  • Proof of health insurance covering all risks (compulsory health insurance or an insurance policy)
  • Proof of a secure livelihood or sufficient means of subsistence (e.g., salary slips, wage statements, confirmation of insurance benefits, proof of pension payments, retirement and other benefits, investment capital or a sufficient amount of own assets, proof of covering accommodation expenses)
  • Work- or company-related documents:
    • Documents on implementing a market, competitor and location analysis: description and objectives of the intended corporate activities ("business plan")
    • Proof of the transfer of investment capital or the intend creation and safeguarding of jobs
    • Proof of qualifications required to work on a self-employed basis
    • Articles of association or shareholder agreement, if necessary
    • Required already existing) licenses to pursue a specified trade
  • Fees: € 160

 


Please note:

  • Please note the following:

  • If necessary, public authorities can demand that you submit other documents as well.
  • The validity of your Red-White-Red Card depends on how long your passport is still valid. If it is valid for at least two years, then your Red-White-Red Card is also valid for a period of two years.
  • You will have to present one or more police clearance certificates depending upon the country in which you live. Here you can see which police clearance certificates you will have to obtain (link). 
  • Personal documents must be specially verified so that these documents are officially recognised. This depends upon the country in which the documents were issued. Here you can look to see which type of verification is necessary (link).
  • If personal documents are not available in German or English, as a rule they must be translated by a court-certified translator (“gerichtlich beeidete Übersetzerin/beeideter Übersetzer”).

If you have to show additional personal documents or if you need a Visa D, the fee to be paid may actually be higher than € 160. 

The Immigration and Residence Authority will forward your application and documents to the Austrian Public Employment Service (AMS, short for “Arbeitsmarktservice”). In the first step, AMS will check to see whether or not your work really involves self-employment (“preliminary review” or “Vorprüfung”).

The business plan must contain the information required which enables AMS to examine the supposed macroeconomic benefit:

  • This business plan should describe the business activities of the company and its objectives and thus serves as the basis for a market, competitor and location analysis.
  • The business plan must specify the company size, the number of people to be employed, capacity utilisation, etc., so that AMS can make a forecast about whether or not the requirements are fulfilled.

AMS also checks to see whether there is a tense competitive situation in the economic environment in which the company is to be founded: If there are too many suppliers/providers in the same market niche on the marketplace, you must show that your concept significantly deviates from that of your competitors. If several providers in this field already have economic difficulties (e.g., are bankrupt), this has a negative impact on the decision relating to the overall macroeconomic benefits of your company.  

The result of this review by AMS is an expert opinion (“Gutachten”) which reports the conclusions about whether or not the company will provide macroeconomic benefits. AMS has three weeks in which to prepare this expert opinion.

If the company and the company founder fulfil the requirements, AMS will provide a positive opinion and forward this report to the Immigration and Residence Authority.  

Subsequently, the Immigration and Residence Authority examines all the other requirements and approves your Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers.  

All further steps depend on whether you are allowed to enter Austria without a visa or not. You can find this out here (link).

  • Are you allowed to enter Austria without a visa? As soon as you have received your approval, you can come to Austria and go directly to the Immigration and Residence Authority in order to have your fingerprints taken. Furthermore, you will have to show your original personal documents (passport, birth certificate, police clearance certificate, etc.). Your permit card will then be printed. You are permitted to begin working as soon as you receive your card!
  • Are you not permitted to enter Austria without a visa? In this case, after your application has been approved, you will receive an invitation from the Austrian representative authority (embassy, consulate) in your country of residence. In this invitation, you will be asked to apply for a so-called Visa D within the following three months and to pick up your Red-White-Red Card in Austria within a period of six months. In order to receive a Visa D, you will need the following documents: 
  • Application form
  • Passport with a copy
  • Invitation of the representative authority
  • Approval of the Immigration and Residence Authority
  • Travel insurance (coverage of at least € 30,000)      
  • Flight reservation

 

Generally, it will take about two weeks until the Visa D is stamped in your passport. During this processing time, the Austrian embassy or consulate will keep your passport. As soon as you have your Visa D, you can travel to Austria and have your fingerprints taken by the Immigration and Residence Authority.  Furthermore, you will also have to show your personal documents (passport, birth certificate, police clearance certificate, etc.). Your permit card will then be printed. You are permitted to begin working as soon as you receive your card! 

If the company and the company founders do not fulfil the requirements, AMS issues a negative opinion and forwards its report to the Immigration and Residence Authority. In this case, the Immigration and Residence Authority gives you the opportunity to comment on the expert opinion of AMS. If the Immigration and Residence Authority does not issue you a Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers, you will receive a negative decision by the public authority in the form of an official notification (“Bescheid”). You are allowed to lodge a complaint against this negative decision by the Immigration and Residence Authority.

 


Validity, extension and family reunification

The Red-White-Red – Card is issued for a maximum period of 24 months. During this period, you are permitted to stay in Austria and can only work on a self-employed basis. This means you are not allowed to work as a salaried employee. If you want to work as a salaried employee, you will need a different residence permit, for example a different type of Red-White-Red – Card or a Blue Card.

If you are granted a Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers, you can apply for a so-called Settlement Permit (“Niederlassungsbewilligung”) (link) after two years if you continue to fulfil the requirements. This Settlement Permit is valid for up to three years. The Settlement Permit allows you to continue working as a self-employed person. You are still not permitted to work as a salaried employee. When the next extension comes around, you may receive the Long-Term Resident EU permit (“Daueraufenthalt EU”) (link) if you fulfil the requirements.

Your close family members (wife/husband, civil partner, children) are entitled to apply for a Red-White-Red- Card Plus (link), which gives them unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market.  


Note

If you are a skilled worker who is a third-country national and are married to or are the partner of an EU citizen or your children are EU nationals, you do not need to apply for a Red-White-Red – Card if you want to work on a self-employed basis in Austria. You can apply for a so-called Residence Card (“Aufenthaltskarte”) (link). This gives you unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market. You can work both as a salaried employee or in self-employment.


Note

If you are a skilled worker who is a third-country national and you are married to or are the partner of an Austrian citizen, you do not need to apply for a Red-White-Red – Card if you want to work on a self-employed basis in Austria. You can apply for a Residence Permit – Family Member (“Aufenthaltstitel Familienangehöriger”) (link). In this way, you have unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market. You can work both as a salaried employee or in self-employment.


Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders

A start-up within the meaning of the Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders is a company which develops innovative products, services, processes or technologies and launches them on the Austrian market. Innovations mean that something new or a new idea or invention is involved. A characteristic feature of such a company is that the founding of the company goes hand in hand with the objective of growing strongly and generating a high value. This must be presented in the business plan.  

In practice, these companies are generally in the technology sector, above all in fields involving cutting-edge technologies and the internet (e.g., e-commerce, application software, financial technology, new manufacturing processes, Industry 4.0 or aeronautical and aerospace engineering). Generally, licensing for startup founders in connection with the establishment of handicraft businesses is not possible. A franchise is also not considered to be a startup.

If you apply for a Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders, you have to show, first, that

  • you are actually able to exert a significant influence on the management.

This means that you make business and strategic corporate decisions and thus provide important impetus to determine the direction your company is taking. For example, you can demonstrate this by presenting the articles of association or shareholder agreement which shows that you not only have a substantial shareholding in the company but that you are appointed to be the managing director.

  • Second, you have at least € 50,000 in capital at your disposal (of which at least half is equity capital).

In order to receive this Red-White-Red – Card, you have to receive a sufficient number of points in the legally stipulated point system. There are four categories of criteria in which you can collect points:

  1. Qualifications (training or education)
  2. Professional experience which you gained in your specialised area after your studies or training
  3. Language skills in German and English
  4. Additional points (e.g., additional capital of at least € 50,000, specified funding, age of up to 35)

Here (link) you can find the entire point system regulating the Red-White-Red Card for Startup Founders.

Please note the following:

  • You have to achieve a score of at least 50 points.
  • Each category has a maximum number of points which you are not permitted to exceed. For example, if you have more than five years of relevant professional experience, you will still not receive more than 10 points for your professional experience.
  • You do not have to collect points in every category. It is sufficient for you to score a total of 50 points.
  • Normally, only fully completed years of professional experience are counted. Proof of professional experience must include, at a minimum, the starting date, the end date and a description of the job position. 
  • Language certificates may not be older than one year when you apply for the Red-White-Red – Card. German certificates from the following institutions are accepted: ÖSD, Goethe-Institut, Telc GmbH, Austrian Integration Fund (ÖIF). English certificates are accepted from the following institutions: Cambridge, The European Language Certificates (TELC), International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
  • In general, the age you have to specify is your age at the time the application is submitted.

Procedures

You apply for the Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders as follows:

  • If you are not allowed to enter the country without a visa (link), you apply to the Austrian representative authority (embassy or consulate) in your country of residence.
  • If you are allowed to enter the country without a visa (link), you apply personally to the Immigration and Residence Authority (“Aufenthaltsbehörde”) in Austria.

Attention

Before you submit the application, you have to decide where you want to live in Austria. This is important because Austria does not have one single Immigration and Residence Authority branch but many. Which of these branches is actually responsible for you depends on your future place of residence in Austria. Once you have selected a particular place, the change is complicated and is not recommended.


In any case, you must submit the following documents when you apply for the Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders:

  • Application form
  • Passport
  • Passport photo (not older than six months)
  • Personal documents:
    • Birth certificate
    • Police clearance certificate (“Strafregisterbescheinigung”)
  • Health insurance
  • Proof of a secure livelihood or sufficient means of subsistence (e.g., sufficient amount of own assets, confirmation of insurance benefits, proof of covering accommodation expenses)
  • Work-related documents:
    • Proof of qualifications or education (university diploma, etc.), including those qualifications which are specifically relevant to your work as a self-employed person
    • Proof of professional experience (references or testimonials, etc.)
    • Language certificates
  • Company-related documents:
    • A business plan and other documents highlighting the innovations with respect to products, services, processes or technologies
    • Proof of investment capital including the available equity capital
    • If applicable, a contract with the founder’s centre or proof of funding by a start-up funding agency in Austria 
    • Articles of association or shareholder agreement of the planned company to prove that you exercise a significant influence on the by-laws (exception: one-person company)
    • Required licenses to pursue a specified trade
  • Fees: € 160

Please note

  • If necessary, public authorities can demand that you submit other documents as well.
  • The validity of your Red-White-Red Card depends on how long your passport is still valid. If it is valid for at least two years, then your Red-White-Red Card is also valid for a period of two years.
  • You will have to present one or more police clearance certificates depending upon the country in which you live. Here you can see which police clearance certificates you will have to obtain (link). 
  • Personal documents must be specially verified so that these documents are officially recognised. This depends upon the country in which the documents were issued. Here you can look to see which type of verification is necessary (link).
  • If personal documents are not available in German or English, as a rule they must be translated by a court-certified translator (“gerichtlich beeidete Übersetzerin/beeideter Übersetzer”).

 

 

Generally, it will take about two weeks until the Visa D is stamped in your passport. During this processing time, the embassy or consulate will keep your passport. As soon as you have your Visa D, you can travel to Austria and have your fingerprints taken by the Immigration and Residence Authority.  Furthermore, you will also have to show your personal documents (passport, birth certificate, police clearance certificate, etc.). Your permit card will then be printed. You are permitted to begin working as soon as you receive your card! 

Application form Passport with a copy Invitation of the representative authority Approval of the Immigration and Residence Authority Travel insurance (coverage of at least € 30,000)       Flight reservation

 

Are you not permitted to enter Austria without a visa? In this case, after your application has been approved, you will receive an invitation from the Austrian representative authority (embassy, consulate) in the country in which you live. In this invitation, you will be asked to apply for a so-called Visa D within the following three months and to pick up your Red-White-Red Card in Austria within a period of six months. In order to receive a Visa D, you will need the following documents: 

The Immigration and Residence Authority has eight weeks in which to decide on your application.

Was your application approved both by AMS and the Immigration and Residence Authority? All further steps depend upon whether or not you are allowed to enter Austria without a visa. Here (link) you can find this out. 

Are you allowed to enter Austria without a visa? As soon as you have received your approval, you can come to Austria and go directly to the Immigration and Residence Authority in order to have your fingerprints taken. Furthermore, you will have to show your original personal documents (passport, birth certificate, police clearance certificate, etc.). Your permit card will then be printed. You are permitted to begin working as soon as you receive your card!

If you have to show additional personal documents or if you need a Visa D, the fee to be paid may actually be higher than € 160. 

 

Your application is forwarded to the Austrian Public Employment Service (“Arbeitsmarktservice - AMS”). Subsequently, AMS has three weeks to issue an expert opinion (“Gutachten”).

The Immigration and Residence Authority will approve your application if AMS issues a positive expert opinion, and if you fulfil all additional requirements.   If AMS issues a negative opinion, the Immigration and Residence Authority gives you the opportunity to comment on the expert opinion of AMS. If the Immigration and Residence Authority does not issue you a Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders, you will receive a negative decision by the public authority in the form of an official notification (“Bescheid”). You are allowed to lodge a complaint against this negative decision by the Immigration and Residence Authority.


Validity, extension and family reunification

The Red-White-Red – Card is issued for a maximum period of 24 months. During this period, you are permitted to stay in Austria and can only work on a self-employed basis. After two years AMS will check to see if you are still active as a managing director in your field of work, if revenues were actually generated, if investments were made and how the number of employees in your company developed. 

After two years, you can obtain a Red-White-Red – Card Plus (link) which is valid for up to three years if you:

  • have at least two full-time employees, and
  • continue to exercise a significant influence on the management of the company, and
  • either generated annual revenue of at least € 200,000 or secured further financing of at least € 100,000, and
  • your start-up actually offers an innovative product or service.

If you as a start-up founder do not meet the requirements for obtaining a Red-White-Red – Card Plus, you can convert to a Settlement Permit (“Niederlassungsbewilligung”) if you fulfil the general prerequisites and you carried out work in your start-up during the last two years.

Family members (wife/husband, civil partner, children) are entitled to apply for a Red-White-Red- Card Plus (link), which gives them unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market. 


Note

If you are a skilled worker who is a third-country national and are married to or are the partner of an EU citizen or your children are EU nationals, you do not need to apply for a Red-White-Red – Card if you want to work on a self-employed basis in Austria. You can apply for a so-called Residence Card (“Aufenthaltskarte”) (link). This gives you unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market. You can work both as a salaried employee or in self-employment.


Note

If you are a skilled worker who is a third-country national and you are married to or are the partner of an Austrian citizen, you do not need to apply for a Red-White-Red – Card if you want to work on a self-employed basis in Austria. You can apply for a Residence Permit – Family Member (“Aufenthaltstitel Familienangehöriger”) (link). In this way you have unrestricted access to the Austrian labour market. You can work both as a salaried employee or in self-employment.


Residence Permit - Self-Employed

  • for the purpose of conducting a specified self-employed activity,
  • have contractually committed themselves for longer than six months,
  • do not have the intention of settling down in Austria, and
  • meet the general prerequisites for obtaining the residence permit.

 

A binding contractual agreement must exist. The contract must stipulate the rendering of a precisely defined service which is oriented to a period of six months or longer. In most case,s this will be a work or service contract, but this is not legally required. It does not matter if the contract stipulates the possibility of cancelling the agreement after a period of time which is less than six months.  

For example, self-employed activity is considered to exist if you are not involved in or integrated into a company. You have to act at your own risk, especially with respect to the financial and entrepreneurial risk. A characteristic feature is the use of your own operating materials (working devices) and the possibility to work for more than one contractor.

Self-employed activity exists even if you exert a significant economic influence on the decisions of a limited liability company (“GmbH”), for example as the shareholder and managing director of the limited liability company. Self-employed activity is also said to exist if you carry out other activities temporarily in addition to your work as managing director.

In contrast, work done as a salaried employee is considered to exist, for example, if the shareholder of a limited liability company performs work on behalf of the company which is typically carried out within the context of an employment relationship, in which case this does not encompass mere management duties. 

The decision as to whether the work involves real self-employed activity is not made according to the outward appearance but assessed in line with the actual economic contents. This means that it depends upon which activities are actually rendered and in which form and not on what is written in the articles of association.  

There must be a contractual obligation to provide a specified service.

You should not apply for this residence permit if you plan to live and work in Austria on a permanent basis. For example, if you plan to give up your place of residence in your country of origin and lease an office or storage space, you should not apply for a Residence Permit – Self-Employed(“Aufenthaltsbewilligung Selbstständige”) but apply for a Red-White-Red – Card for Self-Employed Key Workers (“Rot-Weiß-Rot – Karte für Selbstständige Schlüsselkräfte”) or the Red-White-Red – Card for Start-Up Founders (“Rot-Weiß-Rot – Karte für Start-Up-GründerInnen”).

You should only apply for a residence permit if you only plan a temporary stay in Austria to carry out work lasting more than six months. If you intend to work in Austria for less than six months, a Visa C (for work of up to three months) or a Visa D (for work of up to six months) is sufficient. The residence permit is issued for the duration of your contractual obligation.  

In order for you to obtain the Residence Permit – Self-Employed, you must fulfil the following requirements, amongst others.

The work must truly be self-employed activity.


Damit Sie eine Aufenthaltsbewilligung für Selbstständige erhalten können, müssen Sie unter anderem folgende Voraussetzungen erfüllen:

  • Es muss sich um eine echte selbstständige Tätigkeit handeln.

Eine selbstständige Tätigkeit kann beispielsweise vorliegen, wenn Sie nicht in ein Unternehmen eingebunden ist. Sie müssen auf eigene Gefahr, insbesondere hinsichtlich des finanziellen, unternehmerischen Risikos handeln. Charakteristisch ist auch die Nutzung eigener Betriebsmittel (also Arbeitsgeräte) und die Möglichkeit, für mehr als einen Auftraggeber tätig zu sein.

Auch wenn Sie z.B. als Gesellschafterin/Gesellschafter und Geschäftsführerin/Geschäftsführer einer GmbH wesentlichen wirtschaftlichen Einfluss auf die Entscheidungen der GmbH nehmen, liegt eine selbstständige Tätigkeit vor. Wenn Sie aushilfsweise – neben der Geschäftsführertätigkeit – andere Tätigkeiten ausüben, kann trotzdem eine selbstständige Tätigkeit vorliegen. 

Eine unselbstständige Tätigkeit kann hingegen z.B. vorliegen, wenn ein Gesellschafter einer GmbH Arbeitsleistungen für die GmbH erbringt, die typischerweise in einem Arbeitsverhältnis erbracht werden, wobei dies bloße Geschäftsführungstätigkeiten nicht umfasst. 

Ob eine echte selbstständige Tätigkeit vorliegt, wird nicht nach der äußerlichen Erscheinungsform, sondern nach dem wahren wirtschaftlichen Gehalt beurteilt. Das bedeutet, dass es darauf ankommt, welche Tätigkeiten in welcher Form tatsächlich erbracht werden und nicht darauf, was z.B. im Gesellschaftsvertrag vereinbart wurde.

  • Es muss eine vertragliche Verpflichtung zur Erbringung einer bestimmten Leistung bestehen.

Es muss bereits ein verbindlicher Vertrag vorliegen. Der Vertrag muss auf die Erbringung einer genau definierten Leistung abzielen, die auf einen Zeitraum von sechs Monaten oder mehr ausgerichtet ist. Dies wird in den meisten Fällen ein Werkvertrag sein – das ist aber nicht rechtlich zwingend. Es ist irrelevant, ob der Vertrag eine Kündigungsmöglichkeit nach einem Zeitraum vorsieht, der weniger als sechs Monate ist.


Procedures

In any case, you must present the following documents when you submit your application:

  • Application form
  • Passport
  • Passport photo (not older than six months)
  • Personal documents:
    • Birth certificate
    • Police clearance certificate
  • Health insurance
  • Proof of a secure livelihood or sufficient means of subsistence (e.g., salary slips, wage statements, confirmation of insurance benefits, proof of pension payments, retirement and other benefits, investment capital or a sufficient amount of own assets)
  • Fees: € 160

 


Please note

  • If necessary, public authorities can demand that you submit other documents as well.
  • You will have to present one or more police clearance certificates depending upon the country in which you live. Here you can see which police clearance certificates you will have to obtain (link). 
  • Personal documents must be specially verified so that these documents are officially recognised. This depends upon the country in which the documents were issued. Here you can look to see which type of verification is necessary (link).
  • If personal documents are not available in German or English, as a rule they must be translated by a court-certified translator has to translate the documents. 

 

If you have to show additional personal documents or if you need a Visa D, the fee to be paid may actually be higher than € 160.