10 Steps to Starting a Business in Germany

Overview (quick links)

Step 1: Creating the business plan

Step 2: Finding the right legal form

Step 3: Registering your address in Germany

Step 4: Opening a bank account

Step 5: Getting the right visa

Step 6: Freiberufler or Gewerbetreibender

Step 7: Getting a trade license

Step 8: Registering with the Finanzamt

Step 9: Health insurance company

Step 10: After the foundation


Starting your own business is not to be underestimated. It requires a lot of courage, passion, ambition, and, above all, good preparation. That could save you a lot of time and trouble. In this article we show you clearly how you can start your own business in Germany in 10 steps. At the beginning of your project, you should deal with questions such as „What kind of founder am I?“, „What kind of company do I want to set up, does it even suit me?“, „What legal form is best suited for this?“, „Where can I find the right contact person?“ and „How could I best reach my customers?“. 

Here you can find more important questions for the beginning!

With thorough planning, you’ll get to your goal of a successful business way faster. In this article, you’ll learn how to structure your own business and get it on the right track. This guide will show you in 10 steps what is important when starting a business. Let’s get started!



Step 1: Creating the business plan

Now that you’ve already thought a lot about your business (click here to get inspiration), let us help you sort it out.

A business model is a concise, detailed description of your business that still focuses on what is important. With the help of a „Business Model Canvas“, you can excellently lay the foundation for your business plan. You may have heard of this term before.

Here you can download your own Business Model Canvas.

business model canvas
the business model canvas is one of the most important templates for starting a business in germany

By filling out the template, this model-like representation will clearly show you what you have, what you don’t have, and what you want to achieve. It is nowhere near as detailed as a final business plan and contains almost no numbers, unlike the actual business plan, but it gives you an excellent initial overview.

The Value Proposition Canvas and the Team Inventory Canvas are also very helpful in getting a clearer picture of your vision, just from a different perspective. So, just try it out and try to fill in the templates as concretely as possible!

Watch this video to better understand the Value Proposition Canvas!

You should be aware that an enormous amount of work and time must be invested in the creation of the business plan. If you are planning to sell a product, it is best to have tested it on the market beforehand so that you can be sure that your business will be successful. The goal here, however, is to save yourself valuable working time later on. So, if possible, be sure to test some kind of prototype of your offering in advance.

Many startups don’t tackle their business plan until it’s actually needed. You should be 100% sure what exactly your idea is and how it can be designed and successfully marketed. Only then should you worry about a business plan.

With a detailed business plan, you can then also request possible financing for your company. For potential investors such as banks, private investors, or venture capital companies, a business plan is a must for a major investment. It should therefore be clear and comprehensible.

By the way, how you can best finance your business, you will learn in this article.

Unfortunately, start-ups often begin without a real, written business concept. This can greatly increase the risk of business failure. For already existing companies, a business plan gives direction and can also be seen or used as a management tool, among other things.
The business plan is therefore first and foremost an extremely important planning tool for yourself and also certifies the potential of your idea.

Your business plan should basically contain the following:

  • A clear, sensible structure
  • Information about you, the founder, or the founding team
  • Information about the benefits/added value of the product
  • Service for the customer
  • Market analysis (including competitor analysis, target group analysis).

However, this should only give a small overview. What else belongs in a detailed business plan, you can find in our business plan checklist.

Here is an overview of the possible structure of a business plan.

Be aware that writing down your initial business model is just a snapshot. Many things are sure to change and many new ideas will emerge along the way to your own business. Even the biggest companies in the world today look very different from what they were once planned to be! So don’t get too attached to your ideas and try to keep a record of what your company looks like and how it develops over time.

Since you want to start up in Germany, your business plan must of course (unfortunately) be written in German. However, if you don’t speak German, that’s not much of a problem these days. For that, there is our business plan template we prepared for you (and translators on the Internet) to do the work.

You can simply download the business plan template for free and write your information in it!


Step 2: Finding the right legal form

If you want to start your own business in this country, one of the first steps to Starting a Business in Germany is choosing a legal form for your new company. The right legal form is an extremely important question for all company founders. This is because it determines the legal framework in which their company operates and has a number of legal, financial, structural, and personal consequences – for example, in terms of liability, share capital, and taxes.

finding the right Legal form

There are many different legal forms for business structures in Germany, but they can all be roughly divided into 3 main types:

  • Sole proprietorship (Einzelunternehmen)
  • Partnerships (Personengesellschaften)
  • Kapitalgesellschaften (Corporations)

Which legal form is best for you depends directly on the type of business you are starting (e.g. a freelancer (more on this later) will choose a different legal form than an entrepreneur with a large start-up loan).
Let’s take a closer look at the main business forms in Germany:

Sole proprietorship

Recommended and popular among freelancers are sole proprietorships, which are usually founded by one person and are liable for all debts of the business.


Partnerships consist of at least two „legal entities“ (either two individuals or companies/organizations). Usually, both partners are personally and unlimitedly liable for the debts of the business, except for the so-called limited partnership.

Types of partnerships:

  • Partnership under civil law (GbR)
  • Limited partnership (KG)
  • General partnership (OHG)
  • Limited liability company & Compagnie limited partnership (GmbH & Co. KG)
  • Partnership company (PartG)

You can learn more about the right choice of your legal form soon in our exclusive courses.
Sign up for the newsletter and find out when they are available!



These legal forms can be formed by one to five people. Corporations require some start-up capital and also protect your personal assets from business debt. Corporations must be registered with the Chamber of Commerce and also pay higher business taxes.

Types of corporations:

  • Limited liability company (LLC)
  • Provisional limited liability company (UG or mini-GmbH)
  • Non-profit limited liability company (gGmbH)
  • Joint-stock company (AG)

Note that it is a legal requirement that the name of your company identifies the legal form (e.g. by adding GmbH, OHG, or AG) so that everyone automatically knows what form of a company it is.


Step 3: Registering your address in Germany (Anmeldung)

The first official step, if you have not already done so and are already in Germany, is to register your address. If you have been in Germany for some time, you will have already done some or most of the things described here. However, make sure you don’t leave anything out so that you avoid unnecessary difficulties later.

If you are staying in Germany for longer than 3 months, you will need to register at your local „Bürgeramt“. To do this, simply look up the contact on the Internet.

The law requires you to register within 14 days of moving to Germany. The so-called „Meldepflicht“ stipulates that everyone, whether German or foreigner, must register at their home address. The registration authorities register people to keep track of the population and where they live.
Mostly the authorities do not see this deadline as too tight, but you should stick to it if possible.

As long as you don’t have a permanent address in Germany, registration can be tricky, as one of the documents needed for this is a housing provider confirmation signed by your landlord.
In a few communities, it is possible to have this issued by the landlord of your temporary housing, but usually, you cannot register until you have a permanent lease.

Receiving your registration certificate & Tax ID


One of the first steps to starting a business in Germany

When you register, you will also receive your registration certificate. You will need this for all kinds of official procedures, such as applying for a residence permit, opening a bank account or looking for a job, or starting your business.

When you register, you will also automatically receive your tax identification number (tax ID). It is a long, unique number that you receive for your taxes that you have to pay. It may also be required to purchase health insurance or start a pension.


Step 4: Opening a bank account

Opening a German bank account is essential for living in this country and one of the most significant Steps to Starting a Business in Germany.
You will need a bank account at the latest when you register your business with the tax office or when you start paying taxes.

Bank account for a business in Germany

You do not need a business account; a normal bank account is sufficient for now. However, some banks will close your account if you use it for extensive business purposes. So this is where you need to watch out!

It should be said that bank accounts in other European countries are also fine, as long as they support SEPA transfers. If this applies to you, you can keep your old account for now.

How does banking work in Germany?

There are different types of banks in Germany: private commercial banks, public savings banks, and state banks, and cooperative banks. In addition, there are also a number of international banks, online and mobile banks in Germany, which make banking user-friendly and thus mostly simplify it.

What types of bank accounts are available in Germany?

  • Checking account: The standard type of bank account in Germany, used for receiving paychecks as well as paying bills. German banks usually offer both general checking accounts and special accounts (for students and young people). For your business purposes, the checking account will probably be the right one.
  • Savings account: This is a savings account that can be opened at the same time as a checking account, allowing you to save money and earn interest. This type of account can be opened by both Germans and foreigners.
 Alternatively, if you are a student in Germany (up to a certain age, usually 29), you have the option of having a student account set up, which exempts you from the fees for an account at a selected bank.

Open a bank account in Germany

While some banks are open to working with expats, there are others that are more hesitant or refuse right up front due to a lack of credit history in Germany. Regardless of which bank you choose to open your account with, you should provide the following documents:

  • The completed application form.
  • Your valid passport and, if applicable, your current German residence permit.
  • Proof of registration/address.
  • Initial deposit (the minimum amount depends on the bank of your choice).
  • Proof of income/employment.
  • Proof that you are a student (if you want to open a student account).
  • SCHUFA credit report (some, not all, banks require this).

Open an online bank account

You can also bypass the bank interview and open an online bank account for your (business) purposes.
To open an online bank account in Germany, you need to verify your identity after filling out some documents. To do this, you must either use a webcam, send a verification code by email or use the „PostIdent procedure“, which is an approved substitute for establishing identity, with the fee paid by the online bank in question. Often, opening and setting up such an account costs very little or is completely free.


Step 5: Getting the right visa

The main question here is whether you are allowed to carry out entrepreneurial activities in Germany at all. Look for the line „Selbstständige Tätigkeit gestattet“ on your residence title. If your residence title contains this line, you can work as a freelancer or start a business in Germany.
If it does not, you must first apply for a German visa for freelancers.

Visa in Germany

Some work visas and blue cards, for example, also allow you to work freelance. However, you cannot work exclusively freelance with these visas; you must keep your main job.

You cannot work freelance on a student visa. You must go to the immigration office and ask them to let you do freelancing. They will update your visa so that you can study and freelance at the same time.

Here is an important official source about the visa regulations.
Get detailed information here if you haven’t already, so your dreams don’t burst early!


Step 6: Knowing if you are a Freiberufler or a Gewerbetreibender

This question comes up with the background of the tax status, so here you should be sure: Are you a freelancer (Freiberufler) or a trader (Gewerbetreibender) in Germany?

Especially later, when you register your business with the tax office, it is important to understand this distinction:
„Gewerbetreibende“ must obtain a trade license and pay a trade tax. They also have to register in the commercial register and follow other, further accounting rules. It is essential to do these things before registering your trade with the tax office.

Bureaucratically, on the other hand, life is much easier for „Freiberufler“, but not every Freiberufler is a Freiberufler! This title only applies to certain professions. Engineers, architects, doctors, and teachers, for example, can be Freiberufler. Ordinary jobs like food deliveryman or tour guide are not considered freelancers, but trades.
You should look up the distinction within the professions again for your industry!


Step 7: Getting a trade license (Gewerbeschein)

The first official step to Starting a Business in Germany is to go to the Trade Licensing Office.

If you now know that you are a trader and want to register a trade, you must apply for a trade license (Gewerbeschein) before visiting the tax office.

Where you can register your trade varies from state to state in Germany. Often you register at the district office or public order office responsible for your place of residence. In some federal states, such as Hamburg or Bavaria, you can also register your trade at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK).

trade license as one of the first steps to starting a business in Germany

You apply for the trade license by usually submitting a detailed description of your business as well as the necessary permits and documents.

The trade license is required for all tradespeople (Gewerbetreibende), with the exception of sole proprietors who are freelancers (Freiberufler) and can therefore skip the step to the tax office.

As a freelancer, you may need special permits, which you can obtain from your respective chamber for liberal professions (e.g. Chamber of Architects or Chamber of Tax Consultants). For craftsmen, there is the master craftsman’s certificate from the Chamber of Crafts (HWK). Or if your business has hygienic requirements (gastronomy, work with minors), you may need a health certificate from the public health department.

If you are unsure if you need a permit, join the exclusive establi community on Facebook by purchasing an online course and ask us in person! (coming soon)

To register a business in Germany, you must bring the following regardless of your legal form:

  • Valid identity card or passport and visa for each founder
  • Registration certificate (confirmation of residence registration) for each founder
  • Business registration
  • Registration fee (this is between €10 and €40)
  • Possibly required permits or certificates (e.g. craftsman’s license)
  • Police clearance certificate (if required)
  • Articles of association for corporations and partnerships (notarized)

It can be a big problem if you do not speak good German yet since the forms to be filled out are usually only available in German. Take your time and translate them at home using the Internet. In some states, such as Berlin and Hesse, you can also fill out the necessary forms in English.

As a rule, you must register your trade as soon as you start your business activity. Small fines may be levied for late registrations, although many trade offices do not strictly enforce such policies.


Step 8: Registering your business with the Finanzamt

After going to the trade office, the next step to Starting a Business in Germany is the registration at the German tax office.

So now that you have successfully registered with your trade office, the tax office will contact you to register your business for tax purposes. If this does not happen, simply contact your tax office.

You will then receive an unfortunately long and complicated form which, in addition to general personal information, will also ask for specific information about your business activity, business assets, the expected amount of turnover, and the type of accounting and profit determination. You can then simply copy these things from your business plan. Finally, you must go to the tax office with the completed questionnaire for tax registration.

Some tradespeople and freelancers also have to prove their professional qualifications or licensing. Trademark or patent protection issues may also be important to you. You may need a special permit for certain activities, for example, a restaurant permit.

If you want to establish a corporation or partnership, you must submit copies of the articles of association, the trade license, and the entry in the commercial register.

Once everything has been checked, the tax office will either request further necessary documents or issue you with a tax number and a VAT number (Ust.-IdNr.) for your business, if you have applied for one.
As soon as you have received the Ust.-IdNr. by mail, you can start invoicing and thus selling/trading. So most of the work is done!

As a trader, the IHK (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) or the HWK (Chamber of Crafts) will also contact you for a required membership. In addition, you (and your employees, if applicable) must register with the relevant employers‘ liability insurance association. The employers‘ liability insurance association is the body responsible for statutory accident insurance. Membership in a federal association relevant to your company is also highly recommended.

So, finally, it remains to say: It is best to take all the (above-mentioned) documents with you when it comes to registrations, or ask again specifically beforehand what will be required. Also, find out what additional documents you need to apply for and present for your business.


Step 9: Informing your health insurance company

If you already have health insurance, you must inform your insurance company that you are self-employed from now on. Health insurance for self-employed persons in the main business is more expensive because your missing employer does not pay half of the costs. The money is deducted directly from your bank account every month.
So, if it is possible for you to start a business as a sideline, you should think about it, as it will save you money on insurance.

Health Insurance in Germany

If you have public health insurance, the cost of your insurance depends on your income. Since you do not know your future income, you will have to give the health insurance company an estimate. But don’t worry: If you overpay the insurance company, you’ll get a refund later. Likewise, if you underpaid, you’ll get a bill later.
If you are self-employed, however, private health insurance might make more sense.

But now let’s go into more detail about what we mean by „private“ and „public“:
In Germany, there are two health insurance systems – public and private. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages. Which system is best for you depends on your (business) situation.

Public health insurance

The cost of this is a percentage of your income and is based on its amount. Public health insurance companies are non-profit and not owned by the government. The different public health insurance companies offer almost identical prices and services.
89% of Germans have public health insurance.

Private health insurance

The cost of this type of insurance depends on your age and health status. You can choose how much insurance coverage you want. Depending on this, the price of health insurance increases. The cost and coverage vary greatly between private health insurance companies. Your insurance options also depend on your profession and income.
11% of Germans have private health insurance.

An interesting point is also that privately insured people are noticeably treated „preferentially“ by doctors.

As a business start-up, you are usually responsible for your own insurance, both on a personal and business level. Therefore, it is important that you check well which insurance you need. For you personally, you may need health and long-term care insurance, as well as income protection insurance and accident insurance. In addition, pension insurance can be hugely important for you and your future.

Essential business insurance includes professional and public liability insurance. This covers you in the event of costs arising from damage to the business or claims by third parties.


Step 10: After the foundation

Once you have completed all these steps to starting a Business in Germany, you are your own boss. That’s great but that also means you have a lot of responsibility. This also includes business aspects that you don’t necessarily have to know yourself as an expert, but you should have them on your radar. These are for example:
  • Accounting / Controlling
  • Marketing
  • Drafting contracts with customers; drawing up general terms and conditions (GTC)
  • Personnel management
  • Financing of expansion
  • Development of markets; internationalization
  • Tax matters
  • Contingency plans

Handoff some of this work if possible and necessary to team members, employees, and perhaps tax advisors so that you are not swamped with work and can focus on the bigger picture of your company’s success.


If you would like more information on any of these topics, please leave a comment below!

We at establi wish you the best of luck on your entrepreneurial journey.


For additional information, check out our exclusive online classes!


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All information is without guarantee.