How to apply for a Gewerbeschein (trade license)
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Registering a Gewerbe (trade or business) is relatively easy in Germany. Nevertheless, you should ask yourself a few questions in advance: Where do I have to register my Gewerbe? What requirements do I have to fulfill and what documents does the Gewerbeamt (trade office) need from me? You should also clarify whether you are obliged to register a Gewerbe at all or not. In this article you will get all the answers you need.
What requirements do I have to meet to register a Gewerbe?
Before you can apply for a Gewerbe, you must clarify whether you are obliged to do so at all. Because there is a difference in being a freelancer and a Gewerbetreibender (trade person). As a freelancer, you only have to apply for a Steuernummer (tax number) at the Finanzamt and have nothing to do with the Gewerbeamt or Gewerbesteuer. The following occupational groups fall under the category of “freelance professions”:
- Doctors and other health professionals
- Tax advisors
- Engineers with their own planning offices
- Artists, writers, and journalists
- Consultants and lecturers
- Music teachers
- and others
These listed professions are exempt from Gewerbesteuer. But be careful! If you set up a GmbH (limited liability company) and write texts, sell images or provide consulting services, for example, then the GmbH is definitely subject to Gewerbesteuer and you must register a Gewerbe. Only if you have a freelancer status as a sole entrepreneur you fall into the category of a freelancer from a pure tax law perspective.
💡 Tip from Accountable: Farmers, ranchers, fish farmers and persons who have fishing as their business purpose are also not required to register a Gewerbe.
Further condition: intention to generate profit
So if you don’t belong to one of those or a similar profession mentioned above, you might most likely fall into Gewerbe. Only, if you are doing a gewerbliche Tätigkeit (commercial activity) to such a small extent that it could be described as a hobby, then you also do not have to register a Gewerbe.
So, if you intend to make a profit, you have to register a Gewerbe.
What are the conditions for registering a Gewerbe?
In general, everyone in Germany is allowed to register a Gewerbe. However, it is obligatory to register the practiced Gewerbe. The authorities check whether the formal conditions are met and what kind of activity is involved. Under certain circumstances, there are special licensing requirements for certain activities. The following occupational groups are obliged to register their business in any case:
- Occupations in construction & crafts men
- Brokers and agents of financial services and insurances
- Passenger and cargo transportation
- Driving schools
- Animal trade
- Selling weapons/ammunition/explosives
- Debt collectors
- Arbeitnehmerüberlassungen (employee leasing)
- Self-employed accounting assistants
- Activities in the field of property protection/guarding
In order to be able to work in these areas, you need a so-called Konzession (concession), i.e. the official approval of an authority. You receive this after specific details have been checked by the responsible body.
A restaurant, for example, must provide proof that a certain hygiene course has been completed. Anyone who works in long-distance passenger transport must show certain transport certificates. Some craft businesses must present a master craftsman’s certificate.
In any case, you should always inform yourself at the local Gewerbeamt (trade office) which additional certificates and proofs you have to present.
How to register a Gewerbe in 3 steps
After you have clarified whether you need to register a Gewerbe at all and whether you need to present special certificates, you still have to take these 3 steps:
1. Depending on the region in which you live, get an appointment at the IHK or at the responsible Gewerbeamt. Bring the following documents with you:
-in some cases your Meldebescheinigung (certificate of registration)
-any previously requested certificates or references. Alternatively, most Gewerbeämter also offer this service online or via email.
2. Fill out the Gewerbeschein (trade registration form) in advance. It is usually provided online by the responsible Gewerbeamt.
3. Send all documents via email to the Gewerbeamt. If your office still requests an appointment in person, bring the form with you, pay the fee (usually around 50€) and receive your Gewerbeschein.
What does the Gewerbeschein cost?
The municipalities set the costs for a Gewerbeanmeldung themselves. That’s why a Gewerbeschein in a rural area may cost less than 15 euros, while in cities, it might be up to 60 euros.
But this is only the fee for a Gewerbeschein at the Gewerbeamt.
Don’t forget, that additional certificates you might need, also cost money. For example, if a certificate of good conduct is required, you must apply for it in advance. It usually costs around 30 to 40 euros.
If, for example, you do not have a valid ID card, you will also have to pay for this. It’s a basic requirement for registering a Gewerbe.
It is even more expensive if you have to take courses to get a Gewerbeschein. For example, if you want to open a restaurant, you have to present the so-called hygiene certificate. It will only be issued if you complete the hygiene course.
For a handicraft business you need a master craftsman’s certificate for the opening. In short, the cost of registering a Gewerbe depends not only on the Gewerbeamt and its fees, but also on the type of business you want to register.
For all those who do not fall into the classic freelance professions with their job, the Gewerbeanmeldung is mandatory before starting.
If your job is permanent and aims to generate profit, then it’s classified as Gewerbe. Thus, your activity is subject to registration. Every new self-employed person or entrepreneur is responsible for complying with all legal obligations. Failure to register can result in fines and additional payments and therefore the principle applies: Ignorance does not protect against punishment.
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