In order to become self-employed in a freelance profession, you generally require a university degree. It is, however, possible to attain the necessary expertise for the freelance profession through independent study or through an employed role. Regardless of how it is acquired, the expertise must be equivalent to university degree level. On this page we present the various industries in which you can become self-employed as a freelancer. We also tell you about the requirements that must be fulfilled in order to start a business in the respective industries.
Freelance professions are separated into three different categories in Germany: There are "catalogue professions" (Katalogberufe), "similar professions" (ähnliche Berufe) and "activity professions" (Tätigkeitsberufe). In this overview, you can find out which freelance professions belong to which category.
Catalogue professions is the name given to the "classic" freelance professions. These professions are stipulated in § 18 of the German Income Tax Act (EStG). Specific vocational qualifications are required for most catalogue professions. If you have attained the necessary qualification abroad, your foreign qualification must hold the same value for the respective German profession. In order to ensure this, you have to go through a recognition procedure. There may also be further obligations specific to the profession. These requirements apply to the following groups of professions:
In addition, linguistic professions and those providing information are also considered catalogue professions. These include journalists, press photographers and interpreters. The requirements concerning becoming a freelance professional are different if you qualified abroad: The qualification that you attained in your country of origin must be considered to be of equal value to a German degree in the desired field. As such, a recognition procedure must also be undertaken here. Additional professional duties apply to interpreters handling legal and official work.
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.
If you cannot practise a freelance profession, either due to lack of qualifications or lack of recognition of the qualifications you attained abroad, you may be able to trade in an associated profession. An example: Your foreign accountancy qualification has not been recognised and, as such, you are unable to become a freelance accountant in Germany. You can, however, set up an accountancy firm, which is classed as a trade occupation.
These are professions that are not expressly named in the catalogue, but that are similar to the catalogue professions in terms of the level of training required or the actual role itself. They are also referred to as analogue professions. With this in mind, the similar professions are incorporated into the field of freelance professions. There are, however, strict requirements. Generally, it is up to the tax office (Finanzamt) to decide whether or not a profession counts as a similar, and therefore freelance, profession on a case-by-case basis.
In order to practise a freelance profession as a similar profession you need a qualification or a degree. You often also require additional training leading to a profession that is comparable with a catalogue profession. This may, for example, apply to someone who trained as an electrical engineer and then completed further training so that they can now take on work that falls into the remit of an engineer; Another example: a social worker who has trained to work as a family therapist – a role restricted to psychologists with a degree in Germany. If you attained your vocational qualification abroad, the qualification must be recognised as being of equal value to the German freelance profession. In order to ensure this, you have to go through a recognition procedure.
The activity professions category was created to make it possible to become a freelancer in new fields of work or in new jobs. It is possible in the following areas:
It is generally the tax office (Finanzamt) who decides whether the respective occupation is to be considered a freelance profession; in other words, whether it has the typical characteristics of a freelance profession. If you attained your vocational qualification abroad, the qualification must be recognised as being of equal value to the German freelance profession. In order to ensure this, you have to go through a recognition procedure.
The difficulty in deciding whether a self-employed occupation is a freelance profession or a trade can be demonstrated by the work of a pharmacist: In principle, a pharmacist is a freelance profession. However, if you run a pharmacy, you are also a tradesperson. A "dual occupation" such as this can lead to a situation whereby part of the income is subjected to commercial tax whilst the other part can be classified as freelance income. Another example: You can work at a university as a lecturer and be considered freelance. However, if you run a shop selling textbooks at the same time, you are operating a trade that must be taxed as such.
For some freelance professions, in addition to the required vocational qualifications, it is also necessary to be a member of the professional association in order to practise. In order to register with the association, you need:
Other freelance occupations, for example non-medical healthcare professionals such as non-medical practitioners, are awarded this licence from the respective public institution – in this case the local health authority (Gesundheitsamt). Publicly ordered and sworn experts must apply for their licences from the Chamber of Commerce or from the local court. Certain freelancers, like journalists or artists for example, can practise their work without applying for a licence.
Whether you are an accountant, lawyer, doctor, architect or auditor, professional indemnity insurance is essential for freelancers, as you bear the financial responsibility for all damages that you cause while practising your profession. Ask your insurance broker about suitable policies and be sure to compare with policies from other insurers.