Visa for self-employment

In Germany, people with good business ideas are in demand. Find out below whether you require a visa to set up your business, and which other regulations might apply.

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Citizens from the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland

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Welcome to Germany. The freedom of establishment applies for you. That means that you do not require a visa or Residence permit to set up a business here.

General information on the visa process for citizens of other states

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Welcome to Germany. In order to set up a business in Germany, you will need a Residence permit for the purpose of Self-employment (Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur Ausübung einer selbständigen Tätigkeit).

If you are in Germany already and hold a Residence permit for another purpose or a visa which was granted explicitly for the purpose of Self-employment (Visum zum Zweck der selbständigen Tätigkeit), and if you have already planned your business and laid down your business plan in writing, you can apply for a Residence permit for the purpose of Self-employment. Additional information on planning your business and drawing up a business plan is available here.

Are you still resident in your home country? Then you will need to apply for a visa for the purpose of self-employed occupation at the competent German mission near you. The points of contact in your home country can be found on our "local contacts" map. Before you apply, you should ask your competent German mission about the documentation you will require. You might also find support at the German Chambers of Commerce and at German Business Associations abroad. Similarly, institutions in the place where you intend to take up residence may be able to help: for example the Chambers of Industry and Commerce or the “Welcome Centres” which have been set up in some German states.

The German mission abroad will send your visa application to the Foreigners authority (Ausländerbehörde) at your future place of residence in Germany. The Foreigners authority will involve other agencies and professional associations as necessary. Processing your application will normally take two to four months. On the basis of the outcome, the German mission abroad will decide whether it can grant an entry visa for the occupation you would like to pursue.  The entry visa is usually valid for a period of three months, and once you are in Germany, it will need to be converted into a term Residence permit by the Foreigners authority. You will not require an entry visa if you are a citizen of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand or the USA. Citizens of these states can enter Germany without a visa, and will then need to apply for a Residence permit within three months.

A Residence permit for the purpose of Self-employment will allow you to set up a self-employed or freelance business in Germany. Find out here what kind of business set-up is most suitable for you.

Requirements for citizens of other states wishing to set up a self-employed business

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In Germany, there are two ways of setting up your own business: you can either work as a freelancer (Freiberufler) or set up a business as a self-employed entrepreneur (Gewerbe). Find out more about the best approach for you in the article on “ways of setting up your own business”.

If you would like to set up a business as a self-employed entrepreneur, you will need to apply for a residence permit for the purpose of Self-employment. To obtain this permit, you will need to fulfil a number of general criteria and the following additional requirements, which you should ideally cover convincingly in your business plan:

  • There is commercial interest or regional demand for your products or services.
  • Your business activity is likely to have a positive impact on the economy.
  • You have secured financing for your business by way of capital or a loan commitment.

Information centres, such as business associations located in your target region, will help you assess whether you fulfil the requirements listed above.

Did you graduate from a German university, or do you hold a residence permit for the purpose of research?

If you would like to set up a business in connection with the knowledge you acquired in the course of your studies or your research activities, you will also need to apply for a Residence permit for the purpose of Self-employment. You will not need to fulfil the requirements above.

Requirements for all applicants: You will need to be able to make a living in Germany. If you are older than 45, you will also need to prove that you have adequate old-age provisions.

Term of your residence permit

If your business idea is successful and you are able to make a living for yourself and your family, you can have your Residence permit extended, which is initially limited to a maximum of three years. After just three years, you can obtain a settlement permit (Niederlassungserlaubnis), which will allow you to settle down in Germany for an unlimited period.

 

 

Fees

When you apply for a visa, a Residence permit or a settlement permit or an extension of these documents, you normally have to pay a fee. The fee amount depends on your location, the duration and the purpose of your stay.

A Residence permit will cost you a maximum of 140 euros, while a settlement permit will cost 260 euros at most. As a rule, the fee for visas is 60 euros. Please ask your competent Foreigners authority or mission about the fees you need to expect.

Documents

When you apply for a Residence permit, you normally have to bring the following documents with you:

  • Filled-in application form
  • Valid passport
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Graduates from German universities: copy of your degree certificate
  • People over the age of 45: proof of adequate old-age provisions

You would be well advised to submit documents on the following topics, too:

  • Your references
  • Your entrepreneurial experience

Please note: This list is not exhaustive or universal, as the documents you require will depend on the circumstances of your individual case. Your best bet is to contact your competent mission or Foreigners authority before you apply, and ask them for an information leaflet. There, you can also find out about your requirements for proof of health insurance. Your competent mission or Foreigners authority will also be able to advise you on whether your old-age provisions are adequate.

Requirements for citizens of other states wishing to set up a freelance business

@ iStockphoto/Steve Debenport

In Germany, there are two ways of setting up your own business: you can either work as a freelancer (Freiberufler) or set up a business as a self-employed entrepreneur (Gewerbe). Find out more about the best approach for you in the article on “ways of setting up your own business”.

If you would like to embark on a freelance career as a Freiberufler, you will need to apply for a “residence permit for the purpose of freelance employment” (“Aufenthaltserlaubnis zur Ausübung einer freiberuflichen Tätigkeit”) at your competent authority. You will be granted a permit if you can prove that you will be able to finance your undertaking, you will be able to make a living for yourself, and if you have the permission to practise in your profession, where required. If you are older than 45, you also require adequate old-age provisions.

Information centres will help you assess whether you fulfil these requirements.

Term of your residence permit

If your business idea is successful and you are able to make a living for yourself and your family as a result of your business, you can have your Residence permit extended, which is initially limited to a maximum of three years. After five years, you can obtain a settlement permit, which will allow you to settle down in Germany for an unlimited period.

Fees

When you apply for a visa, a Residence permit or a settlement permit or an extension of these documents, you normally have to pay a fee. The fee amount depends on your location, the duration and the purpose of your stay.

A Residence permit will cost you a maximum of 140 euros, while a settlement permit will cost 260 euros at most. As a rule, the fee for visas is 60 euros. Please ask your competent Foreigners authority or mission about the fees you need to expect.

Documents

When you apply for a Residence permit, you normally have to bring the following documents with you:

  • Filled-in application form
  • Valid passport
  • Proof of health insurance
  • Graduates from German universities: copy of your degree certificate
  • People over the age of 45: proof of adequate old-age provisions

You would be well advised to submit documents on the following topics, too:

  • Your references
  • Your entrepreneurial experience

Please note: This list is not exhaustive or universal, as the documents you require will depend on the circumstances of your individual case. Your best bet is to contact your competent mission or Foreigners authority before you apply, and ask them for an information leaflet. There, you can also find out about your requirements for proof of health insurance. Your competent mission or Foreigners authority will also be able to advise you on whether your old-age provisions are adequate.

Information on this portal

How your spouse and children can join you in Germany.

Assess your opportunities in the German labour market

Tips to help you settle in

Information on the World Wide Web

BMWi GründerZeiten no. 10: Gründungen durch Migranten (migrant startups)

Comprehensive information on the topic of “migrant startups” (PDF) (German)