Unternehmergesellschaft (UG): What is Germany's entrepreneurial corporation?

The UG is an attractive alternative for entrepreneurs who want to set up a limited company without having to raise €25K in share capital.


Don’t know where to start? We’re the market leader in helping international entrepreneurs in Germany. Let us talk you through the UG corporation. 





[BEGIN: Insert an Image between this tag]

Andreas Munck

[END insert Image]

Got questions about setting up a business in Germany?

  • Startup expert
  • 10+ years experience

Hi, I’m Andreas and I’ve been advising businesses in Germany for over a decade. I’d be happy to call you and answer any questions you have in a one-on-one consultation.

Introduction: How does the UG corporate form compare to other legal forms?

UG stands for Unternehmergesellschaft, which is Germany’s ‘entrepreneurial’ limited liability company. As a corporation, the UG is not just based on its articles of incorporation; it is also considered a legal entity, meaning it can acquire assets, receive inheritances and file lawsuits in its own name. It, therefore, shares many of the same rights and obligations as other companies such as GmbHs or AGs that are classified as corporations. The amount of seed capital needed to start a UG, however, is significantly smaller than the amount needed to form a GmbH. Instead of €25,000, only €1 is needed to form a UG. Because of this, UGs are often referred to informally as ‘mini-GmbHs’.

Unlike partnerships like GbRs or oHGs, a UG’s capital is an important feature. Its shareholders are not personally liable; only the UG’s assets are at risk. In a partnership, however, there is no limited liability. Partners are directly liable to the full extent of their personal assets.

A UG can also be a practical legal company form for a so-called Vorratsgesellchaft (shelf company).

[BEGIN: Insert an Image between this tag]

Andreas Munck

[END insert Image]

Got questions about setting up a business in Germany?

  • Startup expert
  • 10+ years experience

Hi, I’m Andreas and I’ve been advising businesses in Germany for over a decade. I’d be happy to call you and answer any questions you have in a one-on-one consultation.


What are the main characteristics of the UG?

The UG is modelled after the British Limited (Ltd.) – a legal company form involving relatively little administrative effort and minimal required capital (£1) – that was popular among German entrepreneurs in the early 2000s. Forming a UG is usually much quicker and not as cost-intensive as forming a GmbH. Because a UG still largely enjoys the same legal advantages as a GmbH despite being less cost-intensive and quicker to form, it is often referred to informally as a ‘mini-GmbHor a ‘one-euro GmbH’.

How much does it cost to start a UG?

Even though UGs are often called ‘one-euro GmbHs’, the costs for forming one are still greater than one euro. In addition to the starting capital, the following fees must be taken into consideration:

Additionally, entrepreneurs hoping to form a UG should also plan for the possible costs of finding and registering a company name. Choosing the right name for your company is not always easy. Make sure to keep in mind the options as well as the restrictions for UG company names. Even if you have already found the perfect name for your UG, you still need to make sure the name is available. Doing so will help you avoid future conflicts with companies with the same or similar names.

Other expenses connected to your company name may include:


Stammkapital: What is the share capital of a UG?

Each UG shareholder must deposit an initial contribution of at least €1 into the company’s business bank account. If there’s only one founder/shareholder, the minimum share capital is only €1. The lower a UG’s share capital is, however, the bigger its risk of over-indebtedness becomes. For this reason, most UGs begin with around €500 to €1000 in share capital.

As a protective measure, German lawmakers established the obligation of retention, or the Thesaurierungspflicht, requiring UGs to build reserves that equal at least 25% of their annual net profit. This raises the share capital yearly. As soon as the total share capital amount reaches €25,000, or the minimum amount of capital for a GmbH, the obligation of retention no longer applies.

Unlike a GmbH, a UG’s share capital may only consist of cash deposits, contributions in kind are not permitted.

If at some point you wish to convert your UG into a GmbH, you’ll have to raise the amount of share capital, either through the UG’s reserves or through a deliberate increase in capital.

What personal liability do the UG shareholders take on?

A UG’s shareholders are usually not personally liable; only the business’s assets are at risk for the most part, sparing the shareholders’ personal assets.

There are certain situations, however, in which shareholders may be deemed personally liable. This is called ‘piercing the corporate veil’, or Durchgriffshaftung. There is no uniform regulation governing such situations – cases are decided individually. The following three situations can cause the corporate veil to be pierced:

  • Too little share capital (under capitalisation). The corporate veil can be pierced if the UG’s share capital was too low to begin with, making economic existence impossible.
  • Private and company assets were not clearly separated in the UG’s bookkeeping.
  • One of the UG’s shareholders has influenced the company in such a way that the company is no longer solvent. Such actions are legally considered to be existentially annihilating interference. An example of such interference would be withdrawing funds from the company’s bank account.

The corporate veil is only pierced under exceptional circumstances. It is important to note that the company name must designate its ‘haftungsbeschränkt’ – its limited-liability status. If it doesn’t, the shareholders become personally liable. Their assets are also at risk during the period between the notarisation of the UG’s articles of incorporation and officially naming the company by getting an official Handelsregister (commercial register) entry. Until the commercial register entry is made public, the UG is considered ‘in formation’, or ‘in Gründung’, and this status must be communicated. When specifying the legal company form, the designation ‘UG (haftungsbeschränkt) i. Gr’ must be used.

Think starting a business in Germany is complicated & expensive?

Book a package & we’ll make the setup phase a cinch!

What accounting & taxes does the UG involve?

Since UGs are corporations, the laws contained within the HGB (commercial code) apply. This means that double-entry bookkeeping must be employed. The UG’s bookkeeping, then, will consist of two accounts: a land register (also called a journal) and a general ledger. Additionally, a year-end financial statement must be prepared by the end of the fiscal year. The report is then published in the electronic Bundesanzeiger (federal gazette). The data to be published depends on the UG’s size category according to the HGB.

Like any other corporation, UGs are taxed as follows:

  • Körperschaftssteuer (corporate tax): 15% + 5.5% Solidaritätszuschlag (solidarity surcharge)
  • Abgeltungssteuer (settlement tax) & profit distribution to shareholders: 25% + 5.5% Solidaritätszuschlag
  • Vorsteuer/Umsatzsteuer (input tax/VAT): 19%
  • If the UG has employees, Lohnsteuer (payroll tax), the Solidaritätszuschlag (solidarity surcharge, if applicable) & possibly Kirchensteuer (church tax) must be paid for each employee

You can find an external accountant to take care of your Buchhaltung (bookkeeping) or do it in house.

Can I convert a UG into a GmbH?

As soon as the company’s share capital reaches €25,000, you have the option of converting your UG into a GmbH. Although it is not legally required (and you will never be forced to do so), it can be advantageous in some cases.

How is the UG different to the GmbH?

Strictly speaking, the UG is not a legal company form in and of itself – it is a subtype of the GmbH. This means that the laws regulating GmbHs (GmbHG) apply to UGs. However, there are certain differences between the UG and the traditional GmbHs both legally and financially. Here’s a quick overview of those differences:

UG (haftungsbeschränkt) GmbH
Minimum share capital €1 per shareholder €25,000
Contributions in kind allowed No Yes
Formation costs (notary, commercial register entry, trade registration) Approximately €240 to €300 Approximately €500 to €1000
Building reserves  Required: 25% of the annual net profit (Thesaurierung) Not required
Public image (reputation) 
  • Not yet as well known as the GmbH, often viewed of as not as trustworthy as a GmbH due to the low amount of minimum share capital
  • Popular among start-ups and young entrepreneurs
  • Well perceived by business partners and clients due to the high amount of minimum share capital and long history
  • Recognised and respected abroad

Is the UG the right legal form for me?

The UG is a particularly suitable legal company form for entrepreneurs wishing to establish companies with a small amount of capital while still benefitting from limited liability. The UG doesn’t enjoy the same image or reputation as the GmbH, but it is possible to convert a UG into a GmbH at a later point.

If the administrative workload (especially the bookkeeping) is too heavy, it might be a better idea to establish an Einzelunternehmen (sole proprietorship) instead. Sole proprietorships don’t have to be entered into the Handelsregister, and bookkeeping can be done with the so-called Einnahmenüberschussrechnung (EÜR), a simplified revenue and expenditure statement. The EÜR can be used as long as certain revenue and profit limits are not exceeded. If for some special reason, your sole proprietorship is entered into the Handelsregister, then you must also carry out double-entry bookkeeping, just like with a UG.

Forming a UG in Germany is also possible from abroad. Citizens of EU countries or non-member countries (Drittstaaten) can easily form a company in Germany and manage it from the country they reside in. To do so, entrepreneurs have a few guidelines to follow, such as ensuring their language skills are adequate enough to communicate sufficiently in Germany. Take a look at this guide to find out what you need to know to form and manage a UG from outside of Germany.

[BEGIN: Insert an Image between this tag]

Andreas Munck

[END insert Image]

Got questions about setting up a business in Germany?

  • Startup expert
  • 10+ years experience

Hi, I’m Andreas and I’ve been advising businesses in Germany for over a decade. I’d be happy to call you and answer any questions you have in a one-on-one consultation.


Would you like to know more about the UG?

Our UG (haftungsbeschränkt) essential reading:

  1. What is the UG (haftungsbeschränkt)?
  2. The pros and cons of the UG
  3. How to set up a UG company
  4. UG shareholder vs. UG CEO


The complete library of all our articles about starting up:

Continue browsing