Are you from a country that is not Switzerland and is also not part of the European Union (EU) or the European Economic Area (EEA)? Have you completed your degree or post-doctorate at a German university and would now like to become self-employed here?
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.
As a citizen of a non-EU country, you can become self-employed in Germany if the role involved is connected to your degree or post-doctorate. If you do not wish to become self-employed immediately after completing your degree, you can apply for a residence permit in line with § 16 para 4 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG). Your degree is considered to have been completed once you have received written confirmation from your university that you have passed your examinations and final dissertation. With the residence permit in line with § 16 para 4, you then have 18 months to plan and launch your self-employment. During this time, you are free to undertake any kind of employment in order to make a living – including as an employee. A similar residence permit is available for researchers or scientists from non-EU countries who work in Germany and who have a residence permit in line with § 20 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG). Your university degree must be comparable with a German university degree. If this is the case, you can apply for a residence permit in line with § 18c para 3 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG) from the immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde) which gives you six months in order to plan and launch your self-employment.
Once this six- or eighteen-month preparation period has elapsed, you will require a further residence permit for your self-employment in Germany. This also applies if you do not choose to have a preparation period and launch your business directly after completing your degree or post-doctorate. There are three possible residence permits: that described in § 21 para 1 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG); that described in § 21 para 2a; and that described in § 21 para 5.
You can apply for a residence permit in line with § 21 para 2a if your self-employment relates to your degree or your work in research/as a scientist in Germany. You need to apply for the residence permit in line with § 21 para 2a at your local immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde). You must fulfil two requirements for this:
You can apply for a residence permit in line with § 21 para 1 if your planned self-employment does not relate to your German degree or post-doctorate. You need to apply for the residence permit in line with § 21 para 1 at your local immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde). You must fulfil the following requirements:
You can apply for a residence permit in line with § 21 para 5 if you wish to become self-employed in a freelance profession. Your local immigration authority (Ausländerbehörde) may waive one or more of the requirements that are listed in § 21 para 1. Some freelance professions, for example journalists, do not have any standard regulations or required qualifications in Germany. We recommend that you provide your immigration authority with any references that you have concerning your employment history.
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 are applying for a residence permit in line with § 21 of the German Residence Act (AufenthG) you will also need the following in addition to your business plan and evidence of the aforementioned requirements:
The immigration authority may also demand additional documents. This applies to all three of the residence permits that you may apply for.
In this case, seek support from a business adviser; or 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. Once your business idea has proven successful and you have secured a livelihood for yourself and your family, you can apply for a settlement permit. Graduates from German universities can apply for this after two years. Paragraph 18b of the German Residence Act (AufenthG) applies here.
If you receive a positive decision to alter your residence permit, 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.
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:
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 (Download) 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.