Freiberufler or Gewerbe: what's the difference?

In Germany, there are two types of self-employed people:

  • Freelancers (Freiberufler)
    Professionals with special qualifications who sell their services. Their occupation is called a freier Beruf.
  • Tradespeople (Gewerbetreibende)
    All other self-employed people. Their business is called a Gewerbe.

This guide explains the differences between freelancers and tradespeople. You must understand this to start a business or apply for a freelance visa.

Freelancer (Freiberufler)

Freiberufler are self-employed professionals with special qualifications who sell their services.1

This includes self-employed artists, teachers, journalists, translators, therapists, engineers, IT professionals, accountants, architects, lawyers and doctors.6

It excludes actors, artisans, taxi drivers, delivery drivers, and most photographers.10 They are not Freiberufler.

If you sell products, you are rarely a Freiberufler.

Tradesperson (Gewerbetreibender)

If you are self-employed, but not a Freiberufler, you are a tradesperson (Gewerbetreibender). Your business is a trade (Gewerbe).

Websites that are financed by ads or affiliate links are almost always a Gewerbe.9

What is the trade tax (Gewerbesteuer)? ➞

Is a website a Gewerbe? ➞

What is the difference?

A Gewerbetreibender has more obligations than a Freiberufler.

If you register a Gewerbe, you must…

Freiberufler don’t need to do any of this.

Your Freiberufler or Gewerbetreibender status also affects…

  • Your freelance visa application
    The required documents are different for Freiberufler and Gewerbetreibende. You get a different kind of freelance visa, but it makes no difference to you.12
  • The help you get
    The IHK helps Gewerbetreibende for free. They do not help Freiberufler.

It does not affect…

Trade licence (Gewerbeschein)

If you are a Gewerbetreibender, you must register your business at the Gewerbeamt. This is called the Gewerbeanmeldung.

This is how you get a trade certificate (Gewerbeschein). Your employer might ask for it. The Ausländerbehörde asks for it when you apply for a freelance visa.

In Berlin, you can do your Gewerbeanmeldung online. It costs 15€ to 31€.

Trade tax (Gewerbesteuer)

If you are a Gewerbetreibender, and your profit is over 24,500€ per year, you must pay the trade tax (Gewerbesteuer). You register for trade tax when you do the Gewerbeanmeldung.

What is the trade tax? ➞

Trade register (Handelsregister)

If you are a Gewerbetreibender, you must list your business in the German trade register (Handelsregister).2

Small businesses (Kleinunternehmer) don’t need to be listed.3 You can choose to be listed, but it’s rarely worth it.5

You can request an entry in the Handelsregister when you fill the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung.

Double entry bookkeeping

As a Gewerbetreibender, you must use double entry bookkeeping if…4

  • your profit is over 60,000€ per year
  • or your revenue is over 600,000€ per year

Freelancers don’t need to use double entry bookkeeping.

Double entry bookkeeping is more work for you. You can be exempted from double entry bookkeeping if you prove that it causes your business “undue hardship”.7 If you think this applies to you, ask a tax advisor about it.

What is double entry bookkeeping? –

How to choose?

You have no choice. The Finanzamt decides what you are when you register your business.8 The Ausländerbehörde uses the same definition as the Finanzamt when you apply for a freelance visa.

If you register as a Freiberufler, but the Finanzamt decides that you are a Gewerbetreibender, they can retroactively make you pay trade tax.11

Sometimes, it’s not clear. If you are not sure, ask for help.

Need help?

Where to ask business questions ➞

Sources and footnotes





  6. §18 EStG, Wikipedia, IHK Hamburg 

  7. §148 AO in English and German 




  11. This happened to All About Berlin 

  12. §21 Abs. 1, 2a or 5 AufenthG