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Registering a trade business? Then you might need a special permit

Written by Tino Keller, Managing Director & Founder of Accountable Germany
Updated on
Read in 4 minutes

If you want to start your own trade business, you may need a special permit for your activity in the form of a special license or permit. On this page you can find out which jobs these are and how the business registration works in detail.


First things first: Am I a freelancer or a tradesperson?

Before we get into the specific individual cases where you need a special permit to start a business, let’s first clarify when you are considered a tradesperson and when you fall into the freelance category. This distinction determines how you have to register your self-employment and what taxes you will have to pay.

However, you cannot simply choose which category you fall into. The distinction is made on the basis of your job. Freelance professions are basically jobs that:

  • offer a service (and not goods)
  • require personal expertise (e.g., through a degree or training)
  • are exercised independently and in a managerial capacity.

For trades, on the other hand, the definition is a little different. You operate a trade if:

  • you are not practicing a freelance job or a profession in the field of agriculture and forestry
  • you are engaged in an independent, sustainable activity with the intention of making a profit
  • you participate in general economic transactions

➡️ Learn more about the distinction between Freelancer and tradesperson here

What are the different tax obligations?

1. Income tax

Both freelancers and tradesmen must file an income tax return and pay income tax once a year.

2. Determination of profit

In addition, a determination of profits must also be submitted to the tax office, which clearly compares professional income and expenses. Freelancers can use the relatively simple income surplus statement (EÜR) for this purpose and submit it together with their income tax return.

For tradespeople, however, it depends on how much turnover or profit they have made: Up to a turnover of 600,000 euros and a profit of 60,000 euros, they can also submit an EÜR. However, as soon as they get above even one of the two limits, the much more complex double-entry bookkeeping must be applied.

➡️ This is how the income surplus statement works

3. Trade tax

Another difference between freelancers and trades is the payment of trade tax. Freelancers won’t have to pay this tax, but tradespeople, on the other hand, must submit a trade tax return once a year. A so-called Hebesatz, or assessment rate, is used to calculate the trade tax, which varies depending on where you live. So how much you pay depends on the location of your business.

💡 Tip from Accountable: However, there is a tax free threshold for trade tax: You only have to pay trade tax if you make more than 24,500€ profit per year. Everything up to this figure is exempt from trade tax.

4. VAT

Finally, both freelancers and tradespeople have to pay VAT. However, there is the exception of the small business regulation, where you can be exempt from paying sales tax if you can prove that your income is not exceeding a certain threshold.

➡️ Everything you need to know about the small business regulation

Which jobs do I need a special permit for?

There are some jobs that fall within the scope of a trade and for which you will need a special permit. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Security companies
  • Driving schools
  • Financial services
  • Restaurants and hotels
  • Retailing or manufacturing of over-the-counter drugs
  • Employment agencies
  • Day care centers
  • Nursing services and private hospitals
  • Transportation industries such as cab and bus companies

You can find the detailed list from the federal government with all occupations here.

Special permits are usually proof of passing a state exam, relevant training or study, or proof of certain documentation such as a police clearance certificate or a certificate from the health department.

To get a permit in one of the listed jobs, you can usually contact your local Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK). 

How to register a trade business?

In order to register a new trade, you must register with the trade office responsible for your place of residence. However, it is not your home address that is important, but the address of your company headquarters or office. Depending on the trade office, you may need an appointment for the registration.

To register your business, you must show a valid ID card or passport and obtain any special permits that may be required for your job and present them when registering. 

You will also need to apply for your Gewerbeschein, or trade license, at the Trade Licensing Office. This costs between 20 and 70 euros, depending on the location. After successful registration, the Trade Licensing Office will also inform the tax office and the responsible Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK) about your trade registration. 

< id=”1″span style=”font-weight: 400;”>The tax office will then ask you to submit the questionnaire for tax registration. However, you can also prepare and submit the questionnaire before the official request. 

➡️ How to fill out the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung 

Finally, you will be contacted by the relevant IHK with information about your new mandatory membership. 

💡 Tip from Accountable: If you don’t want to wait for the tax office but want to get started with your registration directly, you can also fill out and submit the tax registration questionnaire directly on our site. Click here for the questionnaire. 

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Tino Keller, Managing Director & Founder of Accountable Germany
Tino Keller, Managing Director & Founder of Accountable Germany

Tino already built two companies and therefore knows the challenges freelancers face first hand. With Accountable he wants to solve all those challenges related to taxes.
When not working, Tino enjoys a nice Asado with a glass of Malbec as well as celebrating one of the occasional wins of favourite soccer team 1. FC Köln.

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