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.
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.
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 difference?
A Gewerbetreibender has more obligations than a Freiberufler.
If you register a Gewerbe, you must…
- Get a trade licence (Gewerbeschein)
- Pay the trade tax (Gewerbesteuer)
- Get listed in the trade register (Handelsregister)
This is optional for small businesses (Kleinunternehmer)
- Use double entry bookkeeping
This is optional for small businesses (Kleinunternehmer)3
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.
In Berlin, you can do your Gewerbeanmeldung online. It costs 15€ to 31€.
Trade tax (Gewerbesteuer)
Trade register (Handelsregister)
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
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? – basicaccountinghelp.com
How to choose?
Sometimes, it’s not clear. If you are not sure, ask for help.
Sources and footnotes
This happened to All About Berlin ⤴