I recognise this! Although I’ve been self-employed before in the Netherlands, in Germany it’s a completely different process. It made me feel uncertain too. I was worried what would happen in case I forget one of the authorities, when I check the wrong box on a form or just the confrontation with german officials (“Beamtendeutsch”). All this caused me a couple of sleepless nights.
To help you with your research, I made an overview of the necessary steps I had to take to apply for my business registration and present it to you here in chronological order. Ultimately you cannot avoid a business registration if you want to do business (trade) in Germany legally and make money with it.
This article describes my personal experience with my business registration in Germany. It cannot give you financial or legal advice nor does it try to. What you read is without guarantees!
You are an EU citizen with a residence in Germany. You have registered yourself at an address and received a Meldebescheinigung for this. You know your dream and already know if your business requires you to be a Freiberufler or Gewerbetreibender. You have a valid identification document like an identity card or passport.
In Germany you can work as an employee under a boss or you can be self-employed which means you are responsible for yourself. Self-employment can be divided in trade (Gewerbetreibender) and someting (not exaclty but close to) freelancing (Freiberufler). This article is about “Gewerbetreibender” because that is the kind I have experience with.
“Gewerbetreibende” are independent workers with the intention to make profit from trade. These include production, manufacturing and service providers. In my case service provider because I sell advertisement space on the internet and in mobile apps.
A “Gewerbetreibender” intents to work permanent and is not bound by any instructions. This means a free choice of customers and working hours.
Does everything you have read until now still applies to you? In that case the next steps will help you on your way to your big goal: Your own business! The rest of this article shows you the steps in chronological order. But everything starts with a planning!
To know exactly what happens when and in what order, I created my planning as a fishbone diagram:
The plannings serves you as an orienation and personal reassurance you don’t forget on your way to the goal. Important here is that the planning is a work in progress and can be changed at any time.
Once you created your planning, you can start! What follows is a journal with actions taken by me day by day.
Registering a trade business (Gewerbe) in Germany takes place at the Bezirksamt/Ordnungsamt. For me this meant a visit to the Bezirksamt Treptow-Köpenick. Check the opening hours before you go to prevent waiting for closed doors.
Experience #1: Together with the official we walked through the form again to make sure you have filled out everything correctly. It also helps you to choose the proper activity name (Tätigkeit).
Experience #2: I did not need my “Meldebescheinigung”. The information in my passport was sufficient to find me in the system. I recommend however to bring your “Meldebescheinigung” anyway.
If you were successful in this meeting, you are now “Gewerbetreibender” 🎉
The Finanzamt might automatically come to you after the “Gewerbeanmeldung” but after calling them, I chose to go there in person. I did not need an appointment but filled out the form the best I could to be prepared. Together with the official, we filled in the missing information and within a few minutes I was successfully registered at the Finanzamt. After this meeting, I received a new tax number for the business.
Experience: The official also explained when the tax return (Steuererklärung) is due and what form to use for this. The form can only be submitted digitally with Elster
Elster (Elektronische Steuererklärung) is a project for handling tax returns over the internet. Since I still have time, I have not explored this yet. The moment I will use Elster, I will share my experiences here with you.
As a Kleingewerbetreibender (Small business, < €100.000 yearly revenue) I am not required to register at the Handelsregister (Trade register). Only when I want to name my company anything other than my personal name, I need to register.
For registering at the Gewerbeamt (Day 1), I did not need a company name. The company will get my name and the job title, in my case:
Loek van den Ouweland Software Engineering. This name needs to be specified on all official documents (Impressum, Stationary).
Since I did not register, I also do not need to pay a fee.
I called my health insurance and informed them I am now “Gewerbetreibender”. They send me a form (“Angaben für die freiwillige Versicherung als Selbstständiger”) where I need to specify my estimated revenue. Based on these numbers they calculate my new insurance contribution.
In Germany companies are required to insure their employees against work-related accidents. I needed to register at the “Berufsgenossenschaft” but since I don’t have employees, I do not have to pay anything.
I read different stories about this subject and came to the conclusion that there is no legal requirement for a small business to have a separate business bank account. But since banks have their own terms and conditions regarding private/business accounts, I searched for a dedicates busniness account.
These days, many online banks are available for freelancers and small business owners. However after reading reviews online, I chose a traditional bank as my partner and here I can only recommend you to google ‘Geschäftskonten vergleichen’ and choose the bank that fits your needs and wishes best.
After registering as “Gewerbetreibende” (Day 1) I was also required to inform the “Deutche Rentenversicherung”. I called them and they send me a form (“Fragebogen zur Feststellung der Versicherungspflicht als selbstständig Tätiger”) to find out if I am required to pay into the “Rentenversicherung”.
On their website you can search for form V0023. Important here was that if you already have a pension number in Germany, you have to send the form to the same organisation where you were insured before.
You survived the bureaucracy and now you need to put life in your business! I hope my experience will guide you and reduce the fear for the unknown. Many people managed to do it. You can do it too!