Types of new business

Self-employed people are either business people [Gewerbetreibende] or members of the liberal professions [Freie Berufe]. Different rules apply to these two categories.

Business people

A business [Gewerbe] is (almost) every kind of self-employed activity that allows you to earn money. For instance, traders, caterers, craftspeople or producers of goods are business people. On the other hand, people who work on a self-employed basis in one of the liberal professions, agriculture or forestry are not classed as business people.

You should also make note of the following:

  • Contact the Chamber of Industry and Commerce [Industrie- und Handelskammer] or the Chamber of Skilled Crafts [Handwerkskammer] to find out whether you need a permit or licence or if you need to sit an exam in your specialist skill.
  • If you are planning an activity in the skilled crafts or a related sector, you will need to be registered in the Trades Register or in the register of activities similar to skilled crafts at the Chamber of Skilled Crafts.
  • Once you have all the required documents, register your company with the Trade Office in the city where you want to start your business. The Trade Office will inform all the other relevant authorities (e.g. Tax Office, accident insurance fund, local court).
  • Membership in the Chamber of Industry and Commerce or the Chamber of Skilled Crafts is mandatory.

Liberal professions

It is not always easy to know which profession really belongs to the liberal professions [Freie Berufe]. The liberal professions include, for instance:

  • Healthcare professions: doctors, dentists, vets, non-medical practitioners, physiotherapists
  • Legal, tax and business advisory professions: attorneys, patent attorneys, notaries, accountants, tax consultants or business consultants
  • Scientific/technical professions: surveyors, engineers, architects
  • Linguistic and information-transmitting professions: journalists, image-based reporters, interpreters, translators

If you are not certain whether your activity is one of the liberal professions [Freie Berufe], we advise that you contact the Institute on Liberal Professions [Institut für Freie Berufe] or the Tax Office.

You should also make note of the following:

  • The activity is what counts, not the qualification. An architect running a construction company or a lawyer heading up a temping agency will not normally be considered to be a member of the liberal professions.
  • Ultimately, the Tax Office decides whether your activity is classed as a liberal profession or a commercial activity.
  • Freelancers do not register with the Trade Office, just with the Tax Office which provides them with their tax number.
  • Members of the liberal professions do not pay trade tax.
  • Some liberal professions require membership in their respective chambers. Also, a number of liberal professions have to observe special rules of their profession. To find out if the qualifications which you acquired in your home country meet with these requirements, please go to: Recognition in Germany.
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