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.
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.
When you apply for a residence permit, you normally have to bring the following documents with you:
- Filled-in application form
- Valid passport
- Business plan
- Proof of health insurance
- Researchers and academics: current employment contract
- 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 under residence law (German, English, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese)
BMWi Authority Finder
Recognition in Germany
Information on the recognition of foreign professional qualifications and a list of contact points (English, German, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Turkish)
BMWi GründerZeiten no. 10: Gründungen durch Migranten (migrant startups)
Comprehensive information on the topic of “migrant startups” (PDF) (German)