Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IHK) or Chamber of Crafts (HWK)
In some fields, you can start working as a self-employed person without specific training or permit, like the car rental business. For other areas of activity, however, you need appropriate permits without which you cannot work: For example, the Innkeepers need a so-called guesthouse licence ("Gaststättenkonzession"); catering companies have to go through a so-called preparation course ("Belehrung") in accordance with the Infection Protection Act, and taxi drivers need a passenger transportation license ("personenbeförderungsschein") to work. Furthermore, craftspeople (e.g. carpenters, bakers, butchers, car mechanics, hairdressers, bricklayers, etc.) need a master craftsman's certificate ("Meisterbrief") to start a business. If you are not sure whether you need a permit for your business, ask the IHK or the local Trade Office ("Gewerbeamt"). In case you plan to open a craft business, you need to register with your local Chamber of Crafts ("Handwerkskammer"). The Chamber of Crafts will then check if you have the necessary qualifications. On www.anerkennung-in-deutschland.de, you can see whether the qualifications you have acquired abroad meet the conditions required in Germany.
Trade Office ("Gewerbeamt")
You have to register your business at the responsible Trade Office ("Gewerbeamt"). The location of your business determines which Trade Office is responsible for you. You can find the responsible office on Behördenwegweiser: select "Gewerbeamt" on the left and enter the postal code of the place at which your business is located. Then, make an appointment at the appropriate office and present the following documents at the meeting:
- Your passport and residence permit which must confirm that you are allowed to work as a self-employed ("selbständig") person
- If necessary: separate permission applied for from Immigration Office (see section "Can I become self-employed?")
- Confirmation from the Central Trade Register ("Gewerbezentralregister") or a Certificate of Good Conduct ("Führungszeugnis")
- If you are a craftsperson: your Craftsperson's Card ("handwerkskarte")
Try to inform yourself about the required documents in advance on the website of your local Trade Office. You have to pay a fee to register at the Trade Office, usually, about 50 €. You can find detailed information about the costs on the website of the responsible Trade Office.
The trade office then informs all other authorities, such as the Tax Office, the relevant professional association ("Berufsgenossenschaft") and, when appropriate, the district court about your registration. These authorities will then contact you per post requesting you to fill in certain forms or submit further documents. Of course, you can take the initiative and contact these authorities personally or per post without waiting. Just make sure that you submit your business registration ("Gewerbeanmeldung") when you approach them.
The tax office will send you the so-called "tax collection questionnaire" ("Fragebogen zur steuerlichenErfassung")- make sure you fill the questionnaire in full and accurately. When filling the form, you have to decide whether you can and want to take advantage of the small business regulation ("kleinunternehmerreglung") and also choose an accounting model. If in doubt, seek advice from a tax consultant - keep in mind that you have to pay for such a service. You can find a tax consultant online, for instance, on datev.de.
You can also pick up the questionnaire directly from the Tax Office or fill it in online on the website of the Federal Ministry of Finance and then mail it to the Tax Office to save time. To find out which Tax Office is responsible for you, visit Behördenwegweiser: select "Finanzamt" on the left and enter the postal code of the place where your business is located on the right.
Once you have completed the questionnaire and sent it to the Tax Office, they will assign you a tax number ("Steuernummer"). You can find help online regarding the questionnaire, for instance, on www.fuer-gruender.de. You can also seek advice from a tax consultant; keep in mind that their service is provided for a fee.
You also need to specify your tax identification number (IdNr.) on the questionnaire. Everyone who registers in Germany ("polizeilich registrierung") for the first time, automatically receives such an ID number per post. Your tax identification number is valid for a lifetime. Every child born in Germany is automatically issued such an ID number. If you are not sure what your tax ID is, contact the Federal Central Tax Office ("Bundeszentralamt für Steuern").
Trade Register ("Handelsregisterbuch")
If you operate a trade, you must have your company registered at the Trade Register ("Handelsregisterbuch") and the Trade Office ("Gewerbeamt"). To do so, you need the help of a notary- you can find one nearby on notar.de.
Mandatory membership of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) or Chamber of Crafts (HWK)
You must become a member of the IHK or HWK. The amount of your membership fee will depend on your annual turnover, the legal form you choose and the location of your business. You can find the IHK branch office responsible for you on the website of the IHK. To find the appropriate HWK office, visit handwerkskammer.de.
Do not forget to take into account the procedural time needed for various applications and administrative tasks. Inform yourself in advance in detail and seek advice when required, as the decisions you make at the initial stages will have significant impacts on your business's future.