Despite freedom of trade, there are numerous professions which fulfilled certain conditions. This applies for self-employment in handicraft (selbständige Tätigkeiten im Handwerk), for trades which require a licence and for regulated professions. Regulated means that these professions cannot be carried out in Germany without formal recognition of the foreign qualifcation. That is the case, for example, with architects or engineers.
In Germany there are both skilled trades that require a licence and skilled trades that can be practised without a licence. When it comes to the 43 crafts which require a licence, specific vocational qualifications are stipulated: A master craftsman qualification is required here, or an equivalent qualification, or the formal recognition of an equivalent foreign qualification. The West German Chambers of Craft and Skilled Trades' Council (or WHKT) provides information about the requirements concerning skilled trades requiring a licence.
If you hold the specified qualification for a skilled trade requiring a licence, you can use the proof of this qualification to apply for registration in the register of qualified craftsmen (Handwerksrolle). All self-employed persons working in a skilled trade requiring a licence are listed in this register. Registration is obligatory. You need to file the respective "application for registration in the register of qualified craftsmen" (Antrag auf Eintragung in die Handwerksrolle) with the Chamber of Crafts and Skilled Trades (Handwerkskammer) in the region in which you wish to become self-employed.
No specific vocational qualifications are required to practise other skilled trades that are not listed here, meaning that you are free to practise them alongside your studies. In order to do so, you need to register in the directory for licence-free skilled trades (Verzeichnis für zulassungsfreie/handwerksähnliche Gewerbe).
Do you have an academic qualification?
If you have already completed a degree in Germany, you can, if certain conditions are met, start trading in a skilled trade requiring a licence. In accordance with the German Crafts and Trade Code (Handwerksordnung) § 7 para 2, this applies to engineers and graduates from technical colleges and from state or state-recognised technical colleges for technology and design. The main focus of your degree must correspond to the respective skilled trade and must include attainment of the master craftsman certificate.
If, in addition to your degree at a German university, you also hold a foreign qualification that is key to your planned self-employment, then you need to be aware that: Regulated professions may only be practised in Germany if the foreign qualification is equivalent to the German profession in question. This must be officially recognised. This means that you must apply to the responsible authority to have your foreign qualification officially recognised. You can find more information about this process at www.anerkennung-in-deutschland.de. You also need this formal recognition if you want to run a business in this profession. Here, you can find a list of the professions that are regulated in Germany, as well as the requirements that you must fulfil in order to set up a business in the respective profession. The requirements differ between different professions.
A special permit is required in order to practise some trades on a self-employed basis in Germany. Examples of these trades include insurance brokers and people running private hospitals, amusement arcades and security firms. You can find an overview of all trades requiring a licence here. Anyone wishing to set up a business in one of these trades requiring a licence must provide proof that certain requirements are met, and must apply to the trade office (Gewerbeamt) for a permit for the self-employed occupation in the relevant trade requiring a licence. The requirements differ according to the trade requiring a licence in question. The following requirements are often made:
The regulations applying to trades which require a licence are specified in § 29 to § 40 of the German Industrial Code (GewO). Once you have acquired these authorisations, you are free to practise the trade requiring a licence in question. You cannot transfer this licence to other persons, and other persons may not transfer their licence to you. As you may need to obtain documents from different authorities, you should make allowances for the process to start up in a trade requiring a licence taking a long time.