Self-employed or freelance?
In Germany, there are two ways to set up a business. Either you are self-employed, or you are a freelancer. This depends on which occupation you are engaged in. Whether you are self-employed or a freelancer has an impact with regard to certain formalities as well as the legal structure of your business.
Working on a self-employed basis
If, for example, you would like to become self-employed with a craft or retail business, you must register your business - and you must do so where the future headquarters of your business will be located. The Gründerplattform explains what you need to take into account.
For some occupations, you must meet certain admission requirements. These are referred to as ”occupations subject to prior authorisation” (erlaubnispflichtiges Gewerbe). “Subject to authorisation” may mean, among other things, that you will have to obtain certain approvals, apply for a license or provide proof of professional qualifications.
This applies, for example, to craft businesses, financial service providers or care services, but also to a whole range of other occupations. You can find out which areas this applies to on the start-up portal. The BMWi-Behördenwegweiseralso shows you where you can complete these formalities in your region.
Working as a freelancer
In Germany, numerous professions are considered "liberal professions" (Freie Berufe). Those who become self-employed in these areas generally work as freelancers (Freiberufler). These include, for example:
- health care occupations, e.g., as a physician
- consulting occupations in the fields of law, taxes or economics
- scientific and technical occupations, e.g., as an engineer
- information-providing or creative occupations, such as, e.g., interpreters
- pedagogical occupations, e.g., as an educator.
An overview of liberal professions is also available on the start-up portal. Some professions can only be allocated to the liberal professions following a case-by-case examination. Your local tax office will decide whether your profession is considered is freelance or self-employed, once you register your business no later than four weeks after starting it. Please also note that for some professions you must provide evidence of certain qualifications and vocational credentials.
Comprehensive information on requirements, tax aspects and the legal structures for freelancers is available on the websites of the Gründerplattform.
Every business in Germany has a legal structure. The legal structure provides a framework for regulating legal matters. The decision as to which legal structure you want to use to run your business has far-reaching consequences - for example, in terms of how much equity you need and whether you are personally liable for your business.
The start-up portal provides an overview of common legal structures in Germany. The legal structure finder of the Gründerplattformcan also be helpful. Detailed information for freelancers is available here as well. We recommend consulting with a lawyer or tax advisor before making your decision.
What form should your company take?
You can become the boss of your own business in different ways. We will name a few:
- Founding a new company: If you found a new company, you can set it up according to your own ideas. However, this also means that you should plan your venture particularly carefully. Most entrepreneurs opt for founding a new company.
- Founding in a team: Mutual support and higher equity capital speak in favour of founding with partners. The start-up portal explains what you should bear in mind.
- Company succession: Benefit from the established structures and the existing customer base in a company whose management you take over. The initiative nexxt and the portal “Nachfolge in Deutschland” both provide information and support.
- Franchising: This procedure is used especially by retail and gastronomy brands that want to expand their sales area without establishing their own branches. The German Franchise Association and the start-up portal explain how you can become part of this concept.
Germany Trade & Invest
IQ Fachstelle Migrantenökonomie (Center for Migrant Economics)
BMWi Overview: Legal structures