Requirements for an own business

Are you thinking about setting up your own business in Germany? Below, we will explain which requirements you should meet for doing so – for example in terms of professional qualifications, personal qualities and language skills.

©getty images/Joshua Hodge

General requirements


There is a small number of general legal requirements you will need to fulfil before you can set up your own business in Germany. You need to be an adult, so at least 18 years of age. Another requirement is that you have never been banned from practicing the profession you intend to set up a business in. Such prohibitions can be imposed by courts after serious offences.

Before you start your own business, you need to register your planned activity. You do that either with the trade office (Gewerbeamt) or the tax office (Finanzamt), depending on whether you intend to work on a self-employed basis (gewerblich) or as a freelancer (freiberuflich). For some professions, you will need to prove that you do not have a criminal record. EU citizens resident in Germany can usually apply for a “European certificate of good conduct” at your local registration office. If you are from a different country, you will need to obtain a comparable document from the competent authority in your country.

Additional information on the formalities you need to go through as you set up your business is available here.

Professional qualifications

©iStockphoto/Robert Churchill

If you intend to set up your own business, you need to have the professional skills you require to implement your business idea. For some professions, you need to provide evidence of your qualification. Here you can check which qualifications you require to set up a business in your profession. Simply enter the German word for your profession in the appropriate field. You do not necessarily need to have earned your Professional qualification in Germany. You can also have your professional qualifications recognised if you earned them abroad, provided that they are equivalent to German qualifications. Read more about the recognition process for various professions in the Guide to “Working in Germany”. Please note that professional qualifications earned in the European Union are not automatically recognised.

Craft professions

Special rules apply for craft professions: for some of these, it is not enough to have learned the trade in question. In order to set up your own business, you will also need a master craftsman’s certificate (Meisterbrief) which you can obtain on the basis of an advanced training course. Find out here whether this applies for your profession. If you have obtained your Professional qualification abroad, you can have its equivalency assessed. This means that if you hold a Professional qualification which is deemed to be equal to a German Meister qualification, you can set up your own business in a trade that is subject to authorisation. If you hold a Professional qualification which is equivalent to the normal German qualification without the Meister title, you can embark on an advance training course to obtain your Meister title. Additional information on how to obtain the Meister title can be found in the Guide to “Vocational training in Germany”.

In addition to professional qualifications, you should also be proficient in commercial matters. Special seminars and workshops are available for learning about bookkeeping, pricing and cost accounting or refreshing your knowledge.

Entrepreneurial qualifications


Being one’s own boss: friends and acquaintances running their own businesses will probably say that a major benefit of being self-employed is that they have more freedom than people who work for an employer. No doubt, that is true – but it does come with a downside: self-employed entrepreneurs have to take care of many things that an employer would normally do for them. And, they can never be sure that they receive their salary on time.

That’s why you should take your time to consider whether setting up your own business really suits your personality and your private life. You should be able to respond “yes” to most of the following questions:

  • Would you describe yourself as independent?
  • Do you like taking decisions, even when they are risky?
  • Can you handle significant fluctuations in workload?
  • Does your family support your decision?
  • Are you prepared to take on responsibility for your staff?
  • Do you have any leadership experience?

To get a better idea of your personal requirements, you can do a helpful online test here. When in doubt, it may be worth consulting an expert in the area of Self-employment.

German knowledge


In Germany, tourists can normally get by with English without any problems. Even some jobs in international corporations do not require you to speak any German. However, if you are setting up your own business, a sound knowledge of German is very important. Even as you prepare your business, you will find that many official documents are available in German only. Similarly, your customers and business partners will expect to be able to contact you in the local language.

If your German isn’t good enough yet, you should make sure to take a language course before you set up your business. Some advanced courses have a special focus on the business world. If you know the most important German terms, this will help you particularly in the startup phase. In the beginning, you may still find that it is difficult to understand contracts and other formal texts straightaway. That’s why for important meetings, it may be helpful to bring along a German-speaking friend or acquaintance.

Information on this portal

Information on the World Wide Web

BMWi GründerZeiten no. 1: Existenzgründung in Deutschland (setting up a business in Germany)

Here, you will find a concise overview of information on setting up your own business (PDF) (English, German)

BMWi GründerZeiten no. 3: Existenzgründungen durch Frauen (women startups)

Information especially for women wishing to set up their own businesses (PDF) (German)

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

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

BMWi GründerZeiten no. 18: Existenzgründungen im Handwerk (setting up a craft business)

Comprehensive information on setting up a craft business (PDF) (German)

BMWi Startup guide for Germany

Services available to entrepreneurs (English)

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