How to start a business in Germany

How to start a business in Germany

A detailed guide to all the rules you must follow when starting a business in Germany, from registering as a freelancer to paying your taxes.

This guide gives you a general roadmap for starting a business in Germany, and particularly in Berlin. It covers everything from the business registration to paying your taxes.

Useful vocabulary

Before you get started, here are a few terms you must understand:

  • Aufenthaltstitel: residence permit, or visa.
  • Bürgeramt: the citizens office. This is where you register your address.
  • Finanzamt: the tax office. You must use your district's Finanzamt. You can find the correct Finanzamt for your area on this page. Just enter your postal code in the search box.
  • Freiberufler: freelancer. In Germany, this title is reserved to specific professions, so not every freelancer is a Freiberufler. See below for more details.
  • Gewerbe: trade or business. Self-employed workers that are not Freiberufler must register as a Gewerbe. You need a trade licence (Gewerbeschein) to operate as a Gewerbe. See below for more details.
  • Gewerbeschein: trade licence. This allows you to operate as a Gewerbe.

Step 1: Register your address in Germany (Anmeldung)

The address registration process is called the Anmeldung. You must register as soon as you move to Germany to get your tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer) and your certificate of registration (Meldebescheinigung). You need a tax ID to fill the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung.

If you need a visa to work in Germany, you might need to register an address before applying for a visa. For example, you need a Meldebescheinigung to apply for a freelance visa.

In this step, you will obtain:

  • A tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer)
  • A certificate of registration (Meldebescheinigung)

Step 2: Get the right visa

If you are not a European Union citizen, you are not allowed to freelance in Germany without a visa.

On your residence permit (Aufenthaltstitel), look for a line that says "Selbständige Tätigkeit gestattet" (self-employment allowed). If your residence permit has that line, you can freelance or start a business in Germany. If it doesn't, you must apply for a German freelance visa.

In this step, you obtain:

  • A residence permit
  • The permission to be self-employed in Germany

Step 3: Find a tax advisor

Starting a business in Germany involves a lot of paperwork, and having a tax advisor to refer to is immensely useful. Many tax advisors in our list specialize in startups and business accounting.

See our list of English-speaking accountants and tax advisors in Berlin.

Step 4: Find out whether you are a Freiberufler or a Gewerbe

The Finanzamt decides whether you are a freelancer (Freiberufler) or a trade (Gewerbe) when you register your business with them. This guide explains the difference between the two.

Not every freelancer is a Freiberufler! This title is reserved for specific professions. Common jobs like food delivery driver or tour guide do not qualify as Freiberufler, but as a Gewerbe12.

If you are registering a Gewerbe, you will need to get a trade licence (Gewerbeschein) before you register the business with the Finanzamt.

Step 5: Get a trade licence (Gewerbeschein)

If you are a registering a Gewerbe, you must get a trade licence (Gewerbeschein) before visiting the Finanzamt.

In Berlin, you can obtain your Gewerbeschein from your local Ordnungsamt, but it's much easier to apply for a Gewerbeschein online. This guide will show you how.

In this step, you will obtain:

  • A trade licence (Gewerbeschein)

Step 6: Register your business with the Finanzamt

The next step is to declare your business to the Finanzamt. You do this by filling the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung. You must submit this form to your local Finanzamt in person or by mail.

In this step, you will obtain:

  • A tax number (Steuernummer)
  • A VAT number (Umsatzsteuernummer)

Step 7: Update your website

If you have a website, make sure it complies with the various German and European regulations. There are many stories of website owners receiving damage claims because they had a missing Impressum or incorrectly formatted photo credits. It happened to us.

See Running a website in Germany: everything you must know

Need help?

These resources offer information, advice and counseling for business owners and freelancers in Germany. They are here to answer your tough questions and put you on the right path.

Official resources

Local chamber of commerce websites:

Business, startup and freelancing communities

English-speaking professionals