Despite freedom of trade, numerous occupations are still subject to specific requirements. This applies to self- employed trade occupations (selbständige Tätigkeiten im Handwerk), to trades requiring a licence (erlaubnispflichtige Gewerbe) and to regulated professions (reglementierte Berufe). In this context, regulated means that this profession may not be practised without the formal recognition of a foreign qualification in Germany. This applies to architects and engineers, for example.
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 skilled trades requiring 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 Crafts 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 in the region in which you wish to become self-employed.
No specific vocational qualifications are required for the trades that are not listed here. You simply need to register in the directory for licence-free skilled trades (Verzeichnis für zulassungsfreie/handwerksähnliche Gewerbe).
Do you have a foreign qualification?
In order to receive formal recognition of your foreign qualification, you will have to go through a recognition procedure. In order to become self-employed in a skilled trade requiring a licence, you need to file an application with the Chamber of Crafts and Skilled Trades (Handwerkskammer) in the region in which you wish to become self-employed. If your vocational qualification is considered to be equivalent then you will have overcome the first hurdle in setting up a trade business. You will have the authorisation to practise. If your foreign qualification is not recognised as being equivalent, you will need to complete further qualifications to cover the knowledge and expertise that is currently lacking. Ask your local Chamber of Crafts and Skilled Trades for information about the available adjustment qualifications.
During a recognition procedure, documentation about a foreign qualification and professional experience undertaken abroad is used to verify whether or not they are of equal value for the equivalent German profession, the so-called "reference profession". Several reference professions may come into question; giving you the opportunity to choose which field has the best career prospects. The best outcome for a recognition procedure is a full equivalence. Sometimes, only partial recognitions are granted. In this case, you only receive the full equivalence once you have completed an additional qualification – a so-called "adjustment qualification" – and/or an examination. If the foreign qualification has little or nothing in common with the German reference profession then no recognition will be granted. You can find more information and points of contact at www.anerkennung-in-deutschland.de.
There are exceptions when it comes to setting up a business in a skilled trade requiring a licence. Here you can find two examples. Please note: These examples do not cover all of the exceptions. As such, we recommend that you: Seek advice from experts from a Chamber of Crafts and Skilled Trades (Handwerkskammer) if you do not hold a German master craftsman certificate and are interested in setting up a business in a skilled trade requiring a licence.
You have applied for recognition of your foreign qualification but only part of your qualification has been recognised. Despite this, there are ways to set up a business in a skilled trade requiring a licence:
Your foreign qualification was only partially recognised as being equivalent to the German master examination during a recognition procedure. As such, you are not permitted to carry out the jobs that were not covered by your qualification. It is, however, sometimes possible to practise part of the trade requiring a licence. An example: You are permitted to become a self-employed barber, but you may not cut women's hair.
Regulated professions may only be practised in Germany by non-Germans 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 require this formal recognition if you wish 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 requiring a licence are stipulated 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.