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.
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)