How to Start a Business in Germany: A Comprehensive Guide

Starting a business in Germany can be an exciting and rewarding venture. With its robust economy, favorable business environment, and numerous opportunities, Germany attracts entrepreneurs from around the world. Whether you are a foreigner or a local resident, this guide will provide you with essential information on how to start your own business in Germany. From legal requirements and visa options to registering your company and understanding business taxes, we will cover everything you need to know to launch a successful venture in the German market.

Medizinisch geprüft - Siegel
Reviewed by our insurance experts

Starting a business in Germany

German economic offers great opportunities for both local residents and foreign entrepreneurs. By understanding the legal requirements, visa options, registration processes, and business taxes, you can navigate the German business landscape with confidence. Take advantage of the country's supportive environment, robust economy, and extensive resources to turn your entrepreneurial dreams into reality. With careful planning, research, and the right professional guidance, you can successfully start and grow your business in Germany.

Germany offers a favorable environment for small businesses, providing ample support and resources to help entrepreneurs succeed. When starting a small business in Germany, it is important to understand the legal and administrative requirements. Whether you choose to operate as a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or a corporation, each legal form has its own advantages and considerations. Developing a comprehensive business plan, securing funding, and complying with necessary registrations and permits are crucial steps to consider.

Can Foreigners Start a Business/Company in Germany?

Germany welcomes foreign entrepreneurs and provides opportunities for them to establish and run businesses in the country. While there are certain requirements and procedures that foreigners need to follow, it is indeed possible to start a business or company in Germany as a non-German citizen.

Foreigners can navigate visa requirements for self-employment, obtain a residence permit, and establish a business presence by working with local trade offices and commercial registers. Collaborating with tax advisors ensures compliance with legal and tax regulations.

Requirements for a Visa for Self-Employment in Germany

Foreign nationals planning to start their own businesses need to understand the visa requirements for a business visa for self-employment in Germany.

The German government offers a visa specifically designed for self-employed individuals, enabling them to live and work in the country. To apply for this visa, applicants must provide the necessary documents, meet financial requirements, and demonstrate the viability and sustainability of their business concept.

Engaging with local authorities and following the visa application process is essential for obtaining legal permission to establish and operate a business in Germany. Speaking German is therefore a very valuable skill.

How to start a business in Germany as a small business owner:

To start up your own business in Germany, there are several essential steps to follow. First, determine the legal form that best suits your business goals and requirements. This could be a sole proprietorship, a business partnership, or a corporation. Next, develop a comprehensive business plan that outlines your products or services, target market, marketing strategies, and financial projections.

Once you have a solid plan in place, secure funding through personal savings, loans, or investors. Register your business with the relevant authorities, obtain the necessary permits and licenses, and open a business bank account. Consider engaging a tax advisor to ensure compliance with tax regulations and to optimize your financial strategy.

How to Register a Business in Germany

A Company Formation Checklist: Registering your business in Germany involves several key steps. Following a company formation checklist ensures a smooth and efficient process. Here are the essential tasks and legal regulations to complete the registration process:

Register your address:

When starting a business in Germany, it is crucial to provide a registered address for your enterprise. This address can either be your residential address or a rented office space.

Having a dedicated address helps establish a professional presence and ensures that official documents and correspondence reach you promptly.

Obtain a residence permit for self-employment:

For foreign nationals, obtaining a residence permit that allows self-employment in Germany is a necessary step. It is advisable to consult the German embassy or consulate in your home country to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and procedures for obtaining the appropriate residence permit.

By securing the necessary permit, you can legally engage in self-employment and embark on your entrepreneurial journey.

Business registration: Get your Business licence:

The next important step is to acquire a business license, known as a "Gewerbeschein," from the local trade office or "Gewerbeamt." The requirement for a trade license depends on the nature of your business activities. Some professions and trades may have specific licensing requirements, while others may not require a license.

Additionally, depending on the structure and legal form of your business, you might need to register it in the commercial register. Ensuring proper registration and licensing is essential to operate your business in compliance with legal regulations.

Tax registration: Register with the tax office:

To meet your tax obligations and establish your business's legal standing, it is necessary to register your business with the tax office or "Finanzamt." Registering your business enables you to obtain a tax identification number, known as "Steuernummer."

This number is used for tax purposes and ensures that you fulfill your tax obligations correctly. Compliance with tax regulations is crucial for the financial stability and legitimacy of your business.

Open your separate business account:

Maintaining proper financial records and separating personal and business expenses is vital for effective bookkeeping and financial management. Opening a separate business German bank account is highly recommended. This dedicated account will be used exclusively for your business transactions, providing clarity and transparency in tracking income and expenses.

It also streamlines financial reporting and facilitates accurate tax filings. By having a separate bank account, you can effectively manage your finances, monitor cash flow, and ensure financial stability for your business's growth.

Tell your health insurer:

When you are employed, your health insurance premiums are automatically deducted from your salary. However, as a self-employed individual, you are responsible for making monthly payments through bank transfers. So, you have to tell your insurance company that you now work as a self-employed person. You can now decide between public and private insurance.

Health insurance for freelancers tends to be more costly since you don't have a employer that contributes to the payment.

If you have public health insurance, the cost of your coverage depends on your income. Since your future income is uncertain, an estimated income is utilized. Should you overpay for insurance, you will receive a refund at a later stage. Conversely, if your payments fall short, you will be invoiced for the remaining balance.

For self-employed individuals, private health insurance can often be a more affordable option.

How much does it cost to start a Business in Germany?

Starting a business in any country involves costs, and Germany is no exception. It is important to have a clear understanding of the expenses involved to plan your finances accordingly. The cost of starting a business in Germany varies depending on several factors, such as the legal form chosen, industry-specific requirements, and initial investments. Expenses may include registration fees, legal fees, office rent, equipment purchases, and marketing costs. Conducting thorough research and creating a detailed budget will help you estimate and manage the financial aspects of starting a business in Germany.

Business administration: Types of Businesses in Germany

German economy offers various legal forms for businesses. The most common types in German law include sole proprietorship (Einzelunternehmen), business partnership (Personengesellschaft), and corporation (Kapitalgesellschaft). A sole proprietorship is the simplest and most common form, suitable for self-employed individuals.

Business partnerships involve two or more individuals sharing the responsibilities and profits of the business. A limited liability company offers protection and is ideal for larger-scale businesses. Understanding the characteristics and requirements of each legal form will help you choose the most suitable option for your business.

What is the difference between freelancer (Freiberufler) and tradesperson (Gewerbe)?

In Germany, there is a distinction between freelancers (Freiberufler) and tradespersons (Gewerbe), each with its own set of regulations and requirements. Understanding the difference between these two classifications is important when starting a business in Germany.


Freelancers, or Freiberufler, refer to individuals who provide professional services in fields such as law, medicine, architecture, engineering, consulting, and artistic activities. As a freelancer, you operate in a self-employed capacity and typically do not engage in commercial trade activities. Freelancers are subject to income tax and may need to register with the tax office (Finanzamt) for tax purposes. However, they are exempt from trade tax (Gewerbesteuer), which is a benefit compared to tradespersons.


Tradespersons, or Gewerbe, are individuals engaged in commercial trade activities such as retail, manufacturing, crafts, and services that require a trade license (Gewerbeschein). Unlike freelancers, tradespersons are subject to both income tax and trade tax. They need to register their business with the local trade office (Gewerbeamt) and comply with specific regulations related to their trade or profession. Tradespersons are also required to contribute to the Chamber of Commerce (IHK) and may need to undergo a master craftsman examination for certain trades.

Why is it important to know the difference?

The distinction between freelancers and tradespersons is important because it determines the legal and tax requirements applicable to your business. If you are offering services in a field recognized as a freelance profession, you can operate as a freelancer and enjoy certain tax advantages.

On the other hand, if your business involves commercial trade activities, you will be classified as a tradesperson and need to fulfill additional obligations, such as obtaining a trade license and paying trade tax.

When starting your business in Germany, it is crucial to determine whether your activities fall under the freelancer or tradesperson category. Consulting with legal and tax professionals or contacting the relevant authorities can provide you with clarity regarding your specific business classification.

By understanding the difference between freelancers and tradespersons, you can ensure compliance with the appropriate regulations and set yourself up for a successful business venture in Germany.

What taxes do I have to pay as a business owner: An overview of Business Tax in Germany

Understanding business taxes and tax payments is crucial for running a successful business in Germany. Here is an overview of the main types of business taxes:

Income tax for the self-employed:

Self-employed individuals are subject to income tax (Einkommensteuer) based on their profits. The tax rates depend on the individual's income level.

Trade tax for the self-employed:

A a self-employed person you have to pay trade tax (Gewerbesteuer). This tax is levied on commercial activities and varies depending on the municipality where the business is located.

VAT tax for the self-employed:

Value-added tax (Umsatzsteuer) is charged on the sale of goods and services. Businesses are required to collect and remit VAT to the tax authorities.

Church tax:

If you are a member of a catholic or protestant church in Germany you would also have to pay church tax.

It might help you to get a tax advisor that helps you with all you tax purposes for business owners. Partnering with a tax advisor can help to get all tax-related responsibilities in order, ensure compliance, and optimize your business's financial performance. Their expertise and guidance can give you peace of mind, allowing you to focus on core business activities while knowing that your tax affairs are in capable hands.

Whats insurances are important for Business Owners in Germany?

As a business owner in Germany, it is important to consider insurance coverage to protect your business and mitigate potential risks. Mandatory insurances may include liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung) and health insurance (Krankenversicherung). Additional insurances such as property insurance, professional liability insurance, and business interruption insurance can provide further security and peace of mind.

Health Insurance for Business Owners in Germany

Health insurance is an essential aspect for business owners in Germany, ensuring access to quality healthcare and providing financial protection in case of medical emergencies. As a self-employed person, you have the option to choose between public health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) and private health insurance (private Krankenversicherung). While public health insurance is the default option for most individuals in Germany, self-employed individuals often opt for private health insurance due to its flexibility and additional benefits.

Benefits of Private Health Insurance for Self-Employed Persons:

  1. Flexibility: Private health insurance offers a wider range of coverage options, allowing you to customize your plan according to your individual requirements and preferences.
  2. Faster Access to Healthcare: Private health insurance often provides quicker access to specialists, diagnostic tests, and medical treatments, reducing waiting times for consultations and procedures.
  3. Choice of Doctors and Hospitals: With private health insurance, you have the freedom to choose your preferred doctors, hospitals, and healthcare providers, giving you more control over your healthcare decisions.
  4. Additional Services: Private health insurance plans often include additional services such as dental coverage, alternative medicine, and access to wellness programs, enhancing your overall healthcare experience.

Considerations When Choosing Private Health Insurance:

Before opting for private health insurance, consider the following factors:


Private health insurance premiums are typically based on your age, health condition, and desired coverage. It's important to assess the long-term affordability of the premiums, taking into account potential premium increases as you age.

Comprehensive Coverage:

Ensure that the private health insurance plan you choose provides adequate coverage for your healthcare needs, including hospitalization, medications, and specialized treatments.

Pre-existing Conditions:

Private health insurers may impose exclusions or waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. Carefully review the terms and conditions to understand how pre-existing conditions are covered.

Future Changes:

If you decide to switch from private health insurance to public health insurance in the future, it may not be possible or could involve certain restrictions. Consider your long-term plans and potential changes in income or employment status.

Expert Advice:

Consulting with an insurance broker or a health insurance specialist can help you navigate the complexities of private health insurance and make an informed decision based on your specific circumstances.

In conclusion, health insurance is a crucial consideration for self-employed business owners in Germany. While public health insurance is the default option, private health insurance provides additional benefits and flexibility for self-employed individuals. Consider your healthcare needs, budget, and long-term plans when choosing between public and private health insurance. Consulting with insurance professionals can provide valuable guidance to help you make the right decision and ensure adequate coverage for your health and well-being as a business owner in Germany.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For specific questions and concerns regarding your individual situation, consult with the appropriate authorities or legal professionals.

Marie-Theres Rüttiger
HIER SCHREIBT Marie-Theres Rüttiger

Marie-Theres is online editor for health and insurance topics at ottonova. She researches and writes mainly about private health insurance, (e-)health and digital innovation that make life better.

ottonova sales experts
HIER SCHREIBT ottonova sales experts

Our ottonova team of experts has over 40 years of experience in private health insurance and answers questions about it every day. What are old-age provisions and for whom does private health insurance make sense? What is the actuarial interest rate and which tariff is right for you? They know!

Related Articles