Freelance Work

four human figures representing different occupations and the skyline of Berlin in the background

How can I become self-employed?

As an EU citizen you can set up a business in any member state of the EU. This also applies for citizens of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

If you do not come from an EU state, whether you can become self-employed is dependent upon your residence status. If “Erwerbstätigkeit gestattet” (gainful activity permitted) is stated there, then you may work in self-employment. In all other cases it is initially dependent upon whether you can obtain a residence permit for self-employment (§ 21 of the German residence act).

Additional information can be found on the website of the Regional authority for citizens’ and regulatory affairs and on the pages of the Berlin chamber of industry and commerce.

For such a residence permit you must show that the financing of your self-employment is guaranteed, that positive effects on the economy can be expected from your project, and that there is an economic interest or regional requirement for it. This particularly applies if new jobs are being created. Whether these conditions are fulfilled is assessed on the basis of statements, for example from the responsible chambers and/or regulatory authority.

Less strict requirements apply if you wish to work as a freelancer, for example as an artist, journalist, doctor or lawyer. You should seek advice on the details.
With a temporary or special purpose residence permit that does not explicitly allow self-employed work, you need special permission from the immigration authority.

The German federal ministry of economic affairs and energy has compiled further information. You can also seek advice on business start-up questions at the Berlin Welcome Centre.

You can also become self-employed – on the one hand – as a sole trader. However, German law also offers many options for establishing a company, e.g. if several people want to establish a company together or liability risks are to be limited.

You should also seek advice on whether a partnership or a capital company is right for you. The advice services of the chamber of industry and commerce and the chamber of trade provide help here as the first point of contact.

If you wish to become self-employed, you must additionally respect the rules applicable for the respective employment. Special authorisations are required for some occupations – for example if you wish to work as a restaurateur or with sensitive foodstuffs such as raw meat.
In many trades, special training must be completed and an examination – the so-called master craftsman certificate – passed as a requirement to become self-employed in the occupation. The trades for which this applies and which conditions must be met for other trades can be found on the internet pages of Berlin chamber of trade.

The special features for self-employed people with respect to tax, health insurance and pension insurance must be noted.

How can I obtain funding for my start-up project?

Every business idea is different, as is therefore also the financing requirement. Depending on the business model, equity from savings and own income, credit financing, investments or even crowdfunding may be considered. Public funding in the form of low-interest loans, guarantees or even subsidies may also be involved. The investment bank of the state Berlin is the first point of contact for all questions concerning finance provision in the state of Berlin. A good overview of the financing options is also provided on the pages of Berlin chamber of industry and commerce.