As a graduate of a Germany university, you can run a business or work as an independent professional, for example as an engineer. You will find an outline of the independent professions here. If you come from one of the European Union member states or from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, the principle of free movement of persons applies. Under your right of establishment, you are entitled to work as an independent professional in Germany.
Setting up your own business
If you are a non-EU citizen, in order to set up your own business you need a residence permit allowing you to exercise a self-employed activity (selbstständige Tätigkeit).
You can apply for this to your local foreign nationals' registration office. We recommend that you ask which documents you need to bring with you before submitting your application. Some local offices provide information about this on the Internet too.
The law enacting the EU directive on highly qualified employment has greatly relaxed the conditions of eligibility. If the self-employed business you are planning to set up is related to what you learned during your studies, you will usually be granted a residence permit. Once you have set up your business, you must register it with your local trade office (Gewerbeamt).
Initially, the residence permit entitling you to self-employment is temporary. If your business idea is successful and you are able to support yourself and your family, there will be no problem about getting your residence permit extended. After just three years, you are entitled to a permanent residence permit which entitles you to stay in Germany for an unlimited period.
Working as an independent professional
If you want to be self-employed in one of the independent professions (freie Berufe), apply for a residence permit that will allow you to exercise this kind of activity. To do so, you will usually need to supply your CV, your final examination diploma, a description of the activity you intend to take up and a financial plan. We recommend that you ask your local foreign residents’ registration office which additional documents you need to submit. Initially, the residence permit entitling you to work as an independent professional is temporary. If your business idea is successful and you are able to support yourself and your family, there will be no problem about getting your residence permit extended. If you work as an independent professional, you do not have to register with the trade office (Gewerbeamt). However, you do have to register your activity with the tax office (Finanzamt).
Advice and funding
Whether you choose to work as an independent professional (freiberuflich) or by setting up your own business (gewerblich), self-employment calls for thorough preparation. Take advantage of the services offered by your local chambers of trade and industry (Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK) or trade corporations (Handwerkskammern, HWK). They provide a comprehensive range of services ranging from personal advice for your specific case to drawing up business and financial plans. You will find the key stages on the path to setting up a business here: www.existenzgruender.de
Technology-focused, knowledge-based start-ups require plenty of capital and the entrepreneurial risks are high. With the right business plan, you may be able to obtain government funding and start-up grants to provide yourself with some security. Inquire about which funding programmes apply to your project. You will find detailed information about setting up a business in Germany here.
Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
Info brochure for company founders (PDF, 4 KB) (German)
Business start-up portal
Outline of the liberal professions (freie Berufe) (i.a. German, English, French)
Legal conditions you have to fulfil to be self-employed (i.a. German, English, French)