Formalities and public authorities

Before you launch your new company, you will need to deal with a few formalities.

Trade Office [Gewerbeamt]

Before you start: Register your business:

People who want to set up a trade business are required to register their project with the Trade Office [Gewerbeamt] in the municipality in which the business is to be established.

To do this, you will need:

  • A valid ID document or passport
  • Depending on the activity (e.g. catering), a permit or approval
  • A crafts card if you are planning to set up a business in the skilled crafts sector
  • A trade card for activities similar to those in the skilled crafts sector
  • A residence permit that also allows you to pursue a self-employed commercial activity
  • Between ten and forty euros for the registration fee
  • A police clearance certificate or information from the Central Commercial Register may be required.

You should describe the commercial activity in as much detail as possible. There are also rules that apply to the description of your company. Business registrations usually take just a few days to be processed. Freelancers do not have to register with the Trade Office, but contact their Tax Office directly.

The Trade Office automatically notifies the following authorities where you must also be registered: Tax Office [Finanzamt], your trade association [Berufsgenossenschaft], the Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer (IHK)] or the Chamber of Skilled Crafts [Handwerkskammer (HWK)], the local court (Commercial Register) [Amtsgericht (Handelsregister)], the trade supervisory office [Gewerbeaufsichtsamt] (responsible for the occupational health and safety of your employees and customers; checks, for instance, ovens, beverage dispensers, etc.).

What you need to know before you go to the Trade Office

  • What kind of business do I want to start?
    For instance, a café. Do you want to set up a café with our without seating, a coffee bar, coffee-to-go? This has implications for your facilities (WC installation, etc.). Before registering your business, contact the Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer] to find out about the preconditions that apply to your project.
  • Do I need a permit (approval, license)?
    Contact the Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK] in advance in order to find out whether your business requires a permit and which preconditions you have to fulfil.
  • Where will I set up my business?
    In a purely residential area, for instance, only small shops are permitted. The chambers and the municipal and regional business development units can be of assistance here. By the way: Many municipalities offer commercial space to start-ups at attractive rates.
  • Which legal structure will my business have?
    If just one person is setting up a small business, then sole proprietorship is an option. If you are setting up your business as a team, a civil law partnership could be your best option. You should decide on the legal structure beforehand together with your start-up and tax consultant.

Tax Office [Finanzamt]

Before you start: Apply for a tax number:

As someone setting up a business, you will automatically receive the "Questionnaire for tax registration" from your Tax Office [Finanzamt] after you have registered your business. As a freelancer starting out in business, you will have to contact the Tax Office yourself. You will have to complete the questionnaire, providing details of your future sales and profits. Please be careful when completing this questionnaire and provide a realistic estimate of your expected sales and profits.

Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer (IHK)]

All domestic companies in Germany (with the exception of the skilled crafts, the liberal professions and farmers) are members of a Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer (IHK)]. They offer an extensive range of consultancy services and seminars for members and advise people starting out in business. For certain professions, the chambers also offer examinations in subjects and skills that are required in order to obtain a licence for a profession, e.g. in the taxi or car rental sector or for the hotel industry.

Membership with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce is required by law and a membership fee is charged. Businesses automatically become a member as soon they have been registered with the Trade Office (with the exception of the liberal professions, skilled crafts, agriculture). The founder then receives a letter from their local Chamber of Industry and Commerce containing all the necessary information regarding membership.

Chamber of Skilled Crafts [Handwerkskammer (HWK)]

If you wish to go into business with a skilled craft that requires a licence, you will need an exemption for your registration in the Trades Register [Handwerksrolle] at the Chamber of Skilled Crafts [Handwerkskammer]. You can find an overview of the skilled crafts that require a license in Appendix A to the Trade and Crafts Code (PDF, 40 KB) . If you wish to work exclusively across the border in one of trades listed in Appendix A (i.e. while having your place of business in your home country), you will not have to be registered in the Trades Register, however, you will require an exception issued by the Chamber of Skilled Crafts. The chamber must confirm that you meet the relevant preconditions in order to perform the skilled craft in question in Germany. In order to receive such a certificate from the Chamber of Skilled Crafts, you will have to provide proof of the type and duration of the profession carried out by you in your home country.

You are not required to provide proof of work experience if you can provide a certificate of competence that meets with the European guidelines for the recognition of certificates of competence (e.g. a diploma or examination certificate). If you wish to pursue a skilled craft in the health sector, you will always need such a certificate of competence. Work experience alone is not sufficient.

You will not need proof of qualification for the skilled crafts that do not require a license (Appendix B1 to the Trade and Crafts Code (PDF, 40 KB) ). You can also make use of the exception rules of the Trade and Crafts Code if you fulfil the applicable preconditions.

Health insurance [Krankenversicherung]

You should notify your health insurance company [Krankenversicherung] that you are about to become self-employed. They will first check whether this is a full-time activity and your contribution payments will be then calculated on this basis.

Pension insurance [Rentenversicherung]

Please note that for some self-employed activities membership in the statutory pension fund is mandatory. This applies, for instance, to skilled craftspeople, midwives, teachers, artists and publishers. To find out which other professions belong to this category, go to: Gesetze-im-Internet.

Commercial Register [Handelsregister]

The Commercial Register [Handelsregister] at the local court [Amtsgericht] provides the public with information regarding the circumstances of the commercial operations registered there. It provides information regarding who is permitted to represent a company and who is liable. Business people [Gewerbetreibende] and corporations [Kapitalgesellschaften] (e.g. a limited liability company "GmbH") must be registered in the electronic Commercial Register. Normally, this will be carried out by a notary [Notar]. Members of the liberal professions [Freie Berufe] and small businesses [Kleingewerbetreibende] are not registered in the Commercial Register. Small businesses operate facilities with very simply structured, limited and transparent business relationships (information is available from the Chambers of Industry and Commerce).

Chambers of the liberal professionals

Some members of the liberal professions are required to be members of their respective chamber. These professions include, for instance, doctors, chemists, architects and consulting engineers.

Construction Office [Bauamt]

If you wish to use rooms that were previously used for other purposes as your future business facility, you will need to apply for a change in use from the relevant Construction Office. The planning of rebuilding work and new buildings for commercial purposes must also be co-ordinated in good time with the Construction Office.

Public Health Office [Gesundheitsamt]

Depending on which sector you wish to work in, you may need a permit or a clearance certificate from the Public Health Office [Gesundheitsamt/Fachdienst Gesundheit]. In the case of start-ups in catering, you must have attended an instruction course by the Public Health Office or a commissioned doctor. This certificate must be submitted when you register your business and should not be more than three months old.

In the case of start-ups in catering or childcare, the Public Health Office or the trade supervisory office (varies from region to region) will also examine the standards of hygiene at your facilities. You will also need a police clearance certificate and confirmation from the Chamber of Industry and Commerce that you have participated in a seminar on hygiene and the handling of food.

Occupational Accident Insurance Fund [Berufsgenossenschaft]

The Occupational Accident Insurance Fund (BG) is the statutory accident insurance fund. Anyone who starts up a company should contact the relevant occupational accident insurance fund [Berufsgenossenschaft] to find out if they need to take out insurance with this fund. Entrepreneurs who do not employ staff are not always required to contribute to this fund. Voluntary insurance with the occupational accident insurance fund can, however, make sense because this will protect you against the consequences of work accidents and occupational diseases. You can find a list of occupational accident insurance funds at: German Social Accident Insurance.

Employment agency [Agentur für Arbeit]

If you are receiving unemployment benefit I and wish to apply for a start-up grant, you will have to contact your employment agency [Agentur für Arbeit]. Recipients of unemployment benefit II can contact their local provider of basic benefits for job-seekers [Träger der Grundsicherung für Arbeitsuchende] (job centres) to receive the integration grant for becoming self-employed.

If you were previously employed in Germany and have paid into the social insurance scheme, you can apply to the job centre to continue to be insured in the unemployment insurance scheme [Arbeitslosenversicherung] within the first month of your self-employment.

If you employ people in regular jobs, in so-called 450-euro jobs or as trainees, you will need a company number. You can apply for this 8-digit number at the company number service at the Federal Employment Agency. This number is used to register and de-register employees and to settle contributions to the health, pension and unemployment insurance schemes.

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