Starting a transportation business is not a bad decision right now. The ever-increasing flow of online orders puts freight forwarders, logistics companies and transporters in a strong starting position. Let’s unpack the basics of starting a transport business in Germany below.
Compulsory insurance in the transport industry
Vehicles transporting goods of 3.5 tonnes and more must comply with the GüKG (road haulage act). Transport insurance is compulsory for vehicles of businesses that are used for transport within Germany and have a permissible total weight of more than 3.5 tonnes. This insurance covers both the goods being transported and the means of transport.
Business licence Requirements
Depending on the industry, certain requirements and conditions need to be met to qualify for a Gewerbeerlaubnis (a licence to operate a business). These vary greatly from sector to sector, but can be divided into three categories:
- Professional requirements: You have to take an examination on legal, commercial and financial management and other specialist areas at the IHK (chamber of commerce and industry). For the licensing of your transport business, you will need a certificate from the IHK.
- Financial requirements: You will need an Eigenkapitalbescheinigung (capital certificate) from your accountant showing that you have at least €9,000 of Eigenkapital (equity capital). However, a further €5,000 is required for each additional vehicle.
- Proof of personal reliability: The following official documentation is necessary to start a transport business:
- Polizeiliches Führungszeugnis (police clearance certificate)
- Gewerbezentralregisterauszug (central business register extract)
- Unbedenklichkeitsbescheinigung (clearance certificate) from the tax office
Proof of professional competence
To prove your fachliche Eignung (professional competence), you must meet one of the following requirements:
- Passed a Fachkundeprüfung (specialised knowledge examination) at the IHK responsible for your place of residence
- Get an official Anerkennung leitender Tätigkeit (recognition of management activity) from the IHK responsible for your place of residence (GBZugV § 8)
- Recognition of an equivalent (final) vocational examination (Anerkennung einer gleichwertigen Abschlussprüfung) by the IHK responsible for your place of residence (§ 7 GBZugV). (The IHK compares the equivalence of a foreign vocational qualification with the German one.)
Authorisations for transport businesses
A permit is required from the Verkehrsbehörde (transport authority) if you wish to carry out commercial road haulage within Germany with motor vehicles that exceed a permissible total weight of 3.5 tonnes (including trailers).
Authorisation for international road haulage
If you want to operate your transport company for the carriage of goods by road across national borders, the above-mentioned authorisation from the transport authority is not enough. To transport goods across the borders of the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), you need a Community licence, also known as an EC licence. This entitles you to transport across the borders of all countries in the European Union as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. To find out more about the Community licence and which Amts (government offices) can process your application, go to the Bundesamt für Logistik und Mobilität (federal logistics and mobility office). Further details can be found in the GüKVwV (general administrative regulation for road haulage).
Road haulage without a permit: Own-account transport and other exemptions
If road haulage is carried out only for an undertaking, it is considered to be own-account transport. Own-account transport is not subject to authorisation and does not require a permit. The conditions that must be met to qualify as own-account transport are laid down in § 1 (2) of the GüKG (road transport act). Your transport business must be registered with the Bundesamt für Güterverkehr (federal office for goods transport) before your first own-account transport. In addition to own-account transport, several other types of transport do not require a licence. These are listed as exceptions in §2 GüKG.
Compulsory training for drivers of dangerous goods
All your company’s drivers must have an ADR-Bescheinigung (ADR certificate) if they transport dangerous goods in quantities that require labelling. Training courses approved by your local IHK can provide these certificates.
Basic training on the transport of dangerous goods
All drivers of dangerous goods vehicles must complete basic training in the transport of dangerous goods and pass the final exam. In addition, drivers must attend advanced courses for tank transport and the transport of explosives (Class 1) and radioactive materials (Class 7) if your company carries out such transportation. After having successfully completed an advanced course, the ADR Certificate is extended to include the relevant additional qualification. Find out more about these courses from your local IHK.
Before you set up your haulage or transport business, you should consider what services you offer, as this will determine your choice of vehicles: Depending on the goods you want to transport, you will need enough space. For a courier service, for example, vans or similar vehicles will suffice, but for a removal company, consider different kinds of trucks.
The first step in setting up a transport company is to decide which legal form is right for your business. Common legal forms for start-ups in the logistics sector are GmbH, UG or sole proprietorship. But don’t forget that the different legal forms have different tax implications and have different levels of bureaucracy to navigate. Here are our how-to guides on how to set up these different business types in Germany. Take a look so you know what you’re up against:
Handelsregister: Entry into the commercial register
As a public register, the Handelsregister (commercial register) documents entries about the legal forms that are classified as Kaufleute (this roughly translates to ‘registered merchants’) in the district of a Registergericht (register court). For example, all companies that are GmbHs and UGs require an entry in the commercial register.
Gewerbeamt: Register with the local trade licencing office
Whichever legal form you choose, you will need to register with the Gewerbeamt (trade office/trade licencing office) responsible for the district where your business is located. If you set up your transport business as an Einzelunternehmen (sole proprietorship), a simple Gewerbeanmeldung (trade registration) is all you need.
Finanzamt: Register with the tax office
When you register with the trade office, the Finanzamt (tax office) will automatically contact you for tax registration. To register with the tax office, you have to complete the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (tax registration questionnaire) online via the government website ELSTER. Once the tax office has processed it, they’ll send you a Steuernummer (tax number) which then allows you to issue invoices.
Plug: Looking for a full-service solution in English for your taxation and accounting needs? Start by letting Germany’s digital tax consultancy take over your business’s tax registration.
IHK: Register with the chamber of industry and commerce
Like the tax office, the IHK will be informed by the Gewerbeamt (trade office) about your new business. The IHK will contact you. Note: Membership of your local IHK is compulsory when registering a business.
Berufsgenossenschaft: Register with a liability insurance association
Berufsgenossenschaften (employer’s liability insurance associations) are the bodies responsible for providing statutory accident insurance for businesses and their employees. All businesses – even small ones with no employees – have to register with the relevant Berufsgenossenschaft. If you are not sure which of the many trade associations you need to register with, the DGUV (German social accident insurance) can help on 0800 60 50 40 4 (be warned they may or may not help you in English).
Bundesverbände: Federal associations
Voluntary membership in a relevant association is recommended for new businesses. Associations (Verband or Vereine in German) represent the interests of their members and the industry to the public and politicians.
Before you can start earning money with your transport business, there are some start-up costs: Depending on the type of business and how it is organised, there are different expenses and minimum capital requirements. If you want to set up a Spedition (freight forwarding) business, for example, you’ll also have to purchase transport vehicles and, if necessary, rent a fleet of vehicles or similar. You will also need to pay for drivers, insurance and fuel. So the first step is to find funding for your business.
Put together a concrete financial plan before you start spending. Consider the following cost items, among others:
- Capital requirements for the start-up phase (e.g. for renovation measures, targeted advertising) and to secure your livelihood
- Possible consulting and bureaucracy fees
- Capital for goods purchasing and procurement, appraisals and certificates
- Current operating costs such as shop rent, storage costs, electricity and heating costs, EDP
- Taxes and insurances
- Financial buffer (reserves) for unforeseen events
The so-called “Gründungszuschuss” is a state subsidy to help people out of unemployment. This financial support is tax-free and doesn’t have to be declared for income tax purposes. You must apply to your local Arbeitsagentur (employment agency) before you start your business. Please note: Do not expect full funding! The employment agency will usually require a personal contribution from the founder. You can find out more on the Arbeitsagentur website.
How to start a transport business: Service offerings
Before you set up your transport company, you should have thought about the goods you want to transport and the specific services you want to offer. As a haulier, you have the choice between specialising in the following broad range of services and/or offering a wide range of services:
- Long-distance national and international transport (Fernverkehr national und international)
- Furniture transport (Möbeltransporte)
- Recycling services (Recyclingdienstleistungen)
- Transport of dangerous goods (Gefahrguttransporte)
- Heavy load transport (Schwerlasttransporte)
- Express transport (Eiltransporte)
- Courier services (Kurierdienste)
In any case, you should analyse exactly how the competition is positioned. A comprehensive market analysis is part of every business plan and gives you insight into the current status quo in the transport sector. And, SWOT analysis can help you to find a suitable industry and niche.
SWOT analysis: Determine strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats
A SWOT analysis is a tool to identify threats and risks to your transportation start-up in advance and eliminate them if necessary. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, so it is more or less an all-round assessment for your business planning. Using the SWOT analysis, you can develop a strategy for your success by asking yourself questions about your business, such as:
- What are you better at than everyone else?
- What is your USP (Unique Selling Point)?
- What are the new trends in your industry?
- What distinguishes your service from the competition?
How to start a transport business: Locations
When setting up a transport company, the most important factor when analysing locations is not customer proximity but perfect transport connections: Your office or fleet should be positioned so that connections in all directions are optimal. The motorway should also be easily accessible, so the best location would be at a major junction.
How to start a transport business: Personnel & staffing
Depending on the size of your transport business, you may need more staff than you think: goods need to be sorted in the warehouse and packed for delivery, vehicles need to be loaded, journeys need to be made, and then there is all the paperwork. You can make your job easier by hiring logistics staff as well as professional drivers to drive the long distances to your customers. Also, make sure you have the right training for your staff.
How to start a transport business: Advertising & marketing
To successfully market your new transport business, you need to have a clear idea of your target audience and their needs. Only once you have developed one or more ‘personas’ (target groups or customer profiles) can you begin to develop and plan a marketing strategy. Advertising on the Internet (social media etc.) is often an effective way to promote your service. But, it’s also advisable to advertise offline. Most importantly, use your trucks as mobile billboards and display your logo in large letters on your vehicles.
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