Registering a trade is an important step on the way to setting up a business. Whether you’re establishing a new startup, pursuing a side job or registering a small trade (Kleingewerbe), you need to obtain a trade licence first. Read on to find out everything you need to know before you register your trade.
Trade registration is just one of 22+ steps to set up a company.
Check out our company formation roadmap to not miss anything.
What exactly is a trade?
The term ‘trade’ is the English translation of Gewerbe and refers to self-employed activity to earn a profit. You might also see Gewerbe translated as ‘business’ or ‘commercial’.
The Gewerbeordnung or GewO (German Trade Act) gives entrepreneurs the right to pursue a trade. Anyone can register a trade, as long as no restrictions preventing you from doing so.
All production and processing activities (industry and craft) count as trades.
Trade is the English word for Gewerbe which refers to self-employed commercial activity. All production and processing activities (industry and craft) count as trades.
Generally, anyone wishing to become self-employed and earn a profit must register with the competent authority (§ 14 GewO).
This extends to Stehendes Gewerbe (business activities that have a fixed location) and autonomous or dependent branch offices.
Who is not required to register a trade?
Those in the liberal professions (freie Berufe in German) do not need to register with the trade office (Gewerbeamt). If you are a liberal professional you are considered to be a Freiberufler (freelancer). Common professionals that carry this label include doctors, journalists and lawyers, for example.
Freiberufler, ie those practising liberal professions, can skip trade registration and register directly with the tax office (Finanzamt). The Finanzamt will decide (on a case-by-case basis) whether the business activity is a freie Berufe during tax registration.
Most businesses must do a Gerwerbeanmeldung.
If you’re classified by the tax office as a Freiberufler then you’re exempt from Gewerbeanmeldung.
In Germany, this varies from state to state. Often, you register at the trade office (Gewerbeamt) responsible for your business’s district or the public order office (Ordnungsamt).
In some states, like Hamburg or Bavaria, you can also register your trade with the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer, or IHK).
Entrepreneurs don’t always have to register in person. Some trade offices allow entrepreneurs to send the application by mail or complete the entire registration process online (German article).
Usually, you register with your local Gewerbeamt. But, depending on where your HQ is, this could be with the Ordnungsamt or the IHK (Chamber of Industry & Commerce) instead.
When do I have to register my trade?
Generally, you have to register your trade when your business activities commence. Late registrations may be met with fines, though not all trade offices enforce such policies strictly.
What do I need to register with my trade office?
Although some entrepreneurs only need to show their ID documentation when registering their trade, there are several professions and activities where industry-specific certifications or permits are additionally needed.
To work as a craftsman a Meisterbrief (master craftsman’s certificate) in most cases is required. To work as a broker (Makler), you need a permit following § 34c GewO.
Some professions require a Gewerbeerlaubnis (trade permit) to practise on a self-employed basis. You need one when operating gambling arcades or pawnshops, for example. The same goes for when working as an insurance consultant, broker, property developer or travel agent.
Certain businesses known as Überwachungsbedürftige Gewerbe (Trades requiring supervision) are more strictly regulated. Here a background check consisting of a polizeiliches Führungszeugnis (police clearance certificate) and an excerpt from the central trade register (Gewerbezentralregister) is mandatory. The latter is necessary for proving that you’ve not violated any GewO regulations, have not been fined or banned from practising a trade in the past.
Trades that require background checks include businesses handling second-hand, high-priced products, businesses that build safety installations and theft-resistant opening tools, credit and detective agencies, travel agencies and locksmiths.
ID is the basic requirement for registration. But, depending on your business one or more of the following may be necessary:
- Meisterbrief (master craftsman’s certificate)
- Gewerbeerlaubnis (trade permit)
- polizeiliches Führungszeugnis (police clearance certificate)
- Excerpt from the Gewerbezentralregister (central trade register)
Trades with special requirements: licences, certificates and other qualifications
Some trades involve submitting more than the usual requirements. To register such trades, you need to present licences from the relevant agencies or offices. Among others, these specially regulated trades include:
Ambulatory nursing care services (Ambulante Pflegedienste)
If you’re planning on starting a nursing care service, you must:
- either be fully trained as a nurse, paediatric nurse or geriatric nurse or have two years of relevant work experience;
- have completed training in inpatient care management, referred to in German as Pflegedienstleitung (PDL), or Pflegemanagement; and
- have approval from nursing care insurance providers.
Taxi companies (Taxiunternehmen)
As an aspiring taxi company owner, you’ll need:
- a special permit from your local traffic authority (Verkehrsbehörde);
- the so-called taxi licence (Taxikonzession); and
- a certificate of proficiency for taxi drivers, which you can obtain through relevant studies or work experience or an IHK exam.
Skilled craft businesses (Zulassungspflichtige Handwerksbetriebe)
Some skilled craft professions are subject to the Meisterpflicht – meaning that such businesses may only be led by master craftsmen. These professions include masons, scaffolders and ship builders. If you wish to open such a business, you’ll need a Meisterbrief (master craftsman’s certificate). Some craftsmen, such as tilers, violin makers and goldsmiths, can pursue self-employment in their trades without a Meisterbrief. This also applies to those practising similar professions, such as cosmeticians, piano tuners and undertakers.
Hospitality venues (Gaststätten)
To open a restaurant, food stall or bar, you need to request a special hospitality licence (Gaststättenerlaubnis) from your local Gewerbeamt. To receive one, you must have:
- a Gesundheitszeugnis (health certificate);
- a polizeiliches Führungszeugnis (police clearance certificate);
- a valid rental contract, lease agreement or purchase contract (Vertrag) for your venue; and
- (ideally) extensive experience in the foodservice industry, eg as a cook or hospitality professional.
Driving schools (Fahrschulen)
As an aspiring self-employed driving instructor, you must present:
- proof of completed driver instruction training;
- two years of experience as a driving instructor; and
- an overview of your classrooms and equipment as well as a declaration of all teaching material and vehicles.
Regardless of which trade you wish to pursue, find out ahead of time the unique requirements (ie, background checks, licenses, permits, qualifications) of your industry because there might be many more than you think.
How much does it cost to register a trade?
It usually costs between €10 and €40 to register a trade (Gewerbeanmeldung). Find out ahead of time what your competent trade office charges for trade licences. If you’ve chosen a legal company form other than a GbR or a sole proprietorship (such as a GmbH, AG, UG or GmbH & Co. KG), you’ll need a notarial certification and your commercial register (Handelsregister) entry before registering. For sole proprietorships, this depends on whether or not you classify as a registered merchant (eingetragener Kaufmann, or e.K.) or not.
The cost of Gewerbanmeldung ranges between €10-40 depending on your business’s district.
What are the steps involved to register a trade?
To register your trade (Gewerbeanmeldung), submitting a trade registration form is how to do it.
If you’ve chosen the eV, GmbH or UG as your business’s legal form, you’ll need to have your Handelsregister entry on hand to be able to enter the HR number as well as the place of issue. Proof of the entry must also be submitted.
Among others, the following details must be provided:
- Personal information: name, address, birthplace, etc.
- Name and legal company form of the planned business
- Names of all shareholders/partners when founding a business with others
- City and number of the Handelsregister entry (for corporations and merchants)
- Number of managing partners (for partnerships)
- Number of legal representatives (for corporations)
- Details of the business premises
- Registered activity: What business activities will be carried out and when did the activities commence?
If you’re registering in person, bring the following documents with you to the Gewerbeamt:
- Valid ID
- Handwerkskarte (craftsman’s card) – if applicable
- Handelsregisterauszug (commercial register entry) – for corporations and registered merchants
- Gewerbeerlaubnis (trade permit) – and, when necessary, industry-specific permits and licences
- For trades requiring background checks: police clearance certificate, excerpt from the central commercial register
- Afterwards, you’ll receive a stamped copy of the registration form as confirmation or as your trade licence (Gewerbeschein).
If you can’t fill out or submit the form in person, you can authorise a third party to do so for you via a power of attorney.
Do your Gewerbeanmeldung by submitting the official form. If your business is entered into the Handelsregister then you’ll need to provide proof of that too. And, don’t forget the licences, permits and proof of qualifications that may be obligatory for your trade.
What happens after I register my trade?
Tax office (Finanzamt)
Once you’ve successfully registered your trade, the Finanzamt will contact you for tax registration. This is a form you fill in with specific details about your business activities, working capital, revenue forecast and which bookkeeping and profit calculation you’ll use. This will get you your tax ID number (Steuernummer), which is necessary for issuing invoices.
IHK or HWK
The IHK (Industrie- und Handelskammer, or the Chamber of Industry and Commerce) or the HWK (Handwerkskammer, or Chamber of Crafts) will also be in touch with you, as membership is necessary for traders.
Trade insurance institution (Berufsgenossenschaft)
You (and your employees, if applicable) have to register with the relevant trade insurance institution (Berufsgenossenschaft). Trade insurance institutions administer German statutory accident insurance (Unfallversicherung).
Federal association (Bundesverband)
It is also highly recommended to obtain a membership with a federal association (Bundesverband) relevant to your business.
After your trade registration, the fun doesn’t stop there. You then have to register with the Finanzamt, IHK, Berufsgenossenschaft and the applicable Bundesverband.
An overview of the most important details
- Practising a trade is subject to the German Trade Act (Gewerbeordnung, or GewO).
- Anyone wishing to pursue a trade needs a trade licence (Gewerbeschein).
- Some trades require permits, others mandate police checks.
- You need a valid ID to register your trade.
- Depending on the trade, more documents may be necessary such as permits, craftsman’s card (Handwerkskarte), commercial register (Handelsregister) entry, if applicable, residence permit (Aufenthaltserlaubnis), police clearance certificate (Führungszeugnis) excerpt from the central commercial register (Gewerbezentralregister), etc.
- Registration takes place at the trade office responsible for the municipality/city in which your business is established in.
Deregistering your trade
If you want to terminate or relocate your business, you have to deregister your trade or change your business’s legal company form.
Depending on your municipality, you may be able to do so online, in person, by mail or by fax. Simply fill out the form with the same details you provided when registering. It doesn’t cost anything to deregister, and you don’t need to submit any additional documents.
The information published on our site is all written and checked by experts with the greatest care. Nevertheless, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information, as laws and regulations are subject to constant change. Therefore, always consult an expert in a specific case – we would be happy to connect you with the right professional.
firma.de assumes no liability for damages caused by errors in the texts.