Do you live in a country that is not Switzerland and is also not part of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA)? Have you obtained a vocational qualification – such as a degree or a vocational qualification – in this country? Do you want to become self-employed in Germany?
Here you can find out where and how you can apply for the required residence permit, and how to register as self-employed. These steps differ depending on whether you wish to start a trade business or become self- employed as a freelancer.
Applying for residence permit to start a trade business If you wish to start a trade business then you must apply to the local German embassy in your country for a residence permit in line with § 21 para 2 German Residence Act (AufenthG). The German embassy will require the following documents from you:
The immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde) requires a business plan in order to decide whether or not to grant you a residence permit. Business plans do not just help to give you a better overview of the various steps and requirements for setting up your business, and to help you reflect on these; they are often a necessity should you require external financial support, for example a bank loan. The main aspects addressed in a business plan are: Why your idea is a good one. Who your customers are and how you will reach them. Why you are better than the competition. How you will earn money with your business. How you will finance your business.
If you receive a positive decision from the German embassy they will send you a visa that allows you to travel to Germany in order to set up your self-employment. Upon arrival, you must register with your local immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde). In order to find your local immigration authority, go to www.behoerdenfinder.de and search for "Ausländerbehörde" and the place in Germany in which you wish to become self-employed/where you live.
In this case, seek support from a business adviser; if you do not have an adviser, then get in touch with one of our members of staff. They will accompany you through the following steps:
The residence permit to practise self-employment in line with § 21 of the German Residence Act is initially issued for a specified period of time. If your business idea is successful and you secure a livelihood for yourself and your family, you can apply for a settlement permit in Germany. You must wait a period of three years for a trade or five years for a freelance profession.
Academics who have a recognised German degree or a university degree that is comparable to a degree from a German university have a further option: You can apply to the local German embassy in your country for a six- month visa in line with § 18c of the German Residence Act (AufenthG) which allows you to plan and launch your self-employment in Germany. The German embassy will require the following documents from you:
Once you have acquired the residence permit, you can travel to Germany. Once you have registered with your local immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde), you can apply for self-employment in line with § 21 para 1 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG) for a trade or in line with § 21 para 5 AufenthG for a freelance profession during the six months of your residency. During this period, you can prepare for getting your self- employment off the ground; however, you must not undertake any gainful employment. You can view the requirements and necessary documentation that you must provide to the immigration authority here.
Once you have registered with the immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde), the next step for starting your self-employment in Germany is to register the business or register your self-employment at the local tax office (Finanzamt). The latter applies to freelance professions.
Registering a trade
In order to register your trade, go to your local trade office (Gewerbeamt) – the office in the town, district or region in which you want to become self-employed. You can find the contact details for the trade office in your local citizen's support office (Bürgerbüro), or search online at: http://www.bmwi-wegweiser.de/suche/behoerden/. Select "Gewerbeamt" and enter the postcode of the town in which you wish to found your company. The contact information and opening hours for your local trade office will appear on screen. The trade offices' websites often feature forms for registering a business: Some offices expect you to have already completed these forms before coming to the office in person.
In order to register a business, you need:
Registering a freelance profession
If you want to become self-employed as a freelancer, you must register at your local tax office (Finanzamt). There is no form to be completed for the registration; instead, you must write a letter with a short description of the business that you intend to set up. The tax office will send you a tax registration questionnaire (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung) and will issue you with a tax number. Aside from registering with the tax office, most freelance professions require the fulfilment of certain qualifications, financial requirements and/or other conditions. You can find out which ones here.