How to Start a Company in Germany as a Foreigner

How to Start a Company in Germany as a Foreigner

Starting a business in Germany is both exciting and challenging. This guide will show you how to set up your company.

We’ll cover choosing your business type, opening your business, handling money, understanding German culture, and hiring people.

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1. Choosing the Company Type

Choosing the right type of company is one of the most basic decisions when starting a business in Germany. It has significant legal and financial effects. Here’s a detailed look at the options:

GmbH (Limited Liability Company)

  • Liability protection: The GmbH protects shareholders from personal liability. Only the company’s assets are at risk.
  • Minimum capital: Requires a minimum capital of 25,000 euros. This demonstrates financial commitment and seriousness to business partners.
  • Flexibility: Popular with medium-sized businesses because of its flexibility in management and structure.

UG (Limited Liability)

  • Lower capital: Known as “mini-GmbH”, the UG allows starting with capital from 1 euro. Ideal for startups and small businesses.
  • Growth path: The UG must save part of its profits to increase capital to 25,000 euros. Then, it can convert into a GmbH.

AG (Public Limited Company)

  • Capital raising: Allows raising capital by selling shares, attractive for larger projects, or preparing for an IPO.
  • Minimum capital: Requires a minimum of 50,000 euros, presenting a higher financial barrier to entry.
  • Structure: Suitable for companies wanting a clear separation between management and owners.

Partnerships (OHG, KG)

  • Personal liability: Unlike corporations, partners are personally liable, which means direct responsibility for business activities.
  • No minimum capital: No minimum capital is required for starting.
  • Management flexibility: Offers flexibility in management, especially suitable for family businesses or close partnerships.

Sole Proprietorship

  • Easiest and fastest to set up: Requires no formal establishment processes or minimum capital requirements.
  • Unlimited liability: The owner is liable with all personal assets, which carries risks.
  • Complete control: Allows sole decision-making and control over the business.

Each type of company has its specific pros and cons, which should be carefully weighed based on the business model, financing options, and growth plans.

The choice should consider not only the current needs but also the future developments and goals of the business.

2. Organizing the Next Steps

Starting a business in Germany requires careful preparation and following specific bureaucratic steps, especially for non-EU citizens. Here is more information on the first steps:

For Non-EU Citizens: Apply for a Business Visa

Non-EU citizens need a business visa.

  • Invitation letter: Often required from a German company or business partner to confirm the purpose of your stay.
  • Travel confirmation: Flight bookings and proof of accommodation for the duration of your planned stay are necessary.
  • Valid passport: Ensure your passport is valid beyond the duration of your visa.
  • Visa application process: Check with the German embassy or consulate in your country for specific requirements and deadlines.

Register a Business Address in Germany

  • Trade registration: Registering your business is a crucial step to officially start it. Visit the trade office in the city or municipality where your business will be located.
  • Necessary documents: Besides the application form, you usually need an ID card or passport and, depending on the type of company, additional documents like a partnership agreement.

Open a Bank Account

  • Choosing your bank: Compare offers from different banks regarding account management fees, interest rates, and additional services.
    Required documents: Usually include your ID or passport, trade registration, and, for corporations, the partnership agreement.
  • Appointment scheduling: Some banks require an appointment for opening an account, especially for special business accounts.

Find a Tax Advisor

  • Valuable support: A tax advisor can help you navigate the complex German tax system, take advantage of tax benefits, and avoid financial pitfalls.

3. Starting Your Business in Germany

Starting your business is a key step in becoming an entrepreneur. It involves not just bureaucratic obstacles but also legally establishing your business idea in the German economy.

These aspects are especially important:

Check the Availability of Your Company Name

  • Unique name: Your name should be unique and memorable. A unique name protects your brand and prevents legal problems.
  • Register the name: Check with the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) to avoid trademark issues.

Drafting the Company Agreement

  • The foundation of your business: The company agreement outlines the shareholder relations, management, profit distribution, and other basic aspects of your GmbH or UG.
  • Set clear conditions: A well-considered agreement prevents future conflicts and clarifies internal company relations.
  • Seek legal advice: Clarify any questions and concerns to avoid future disputes.

Notary Appointment

  • A notary appointment is crucial when setting up a GmbH or UG: You’ll need the company agreement, a valid ID for all shareholders, and possibly additional documents like rules of operation or power of attorney if not all shareholders can be present. Check with the notary beforehand to ensure a smooth process.
  • The notary appointment formally establishes your company: All relevant documents are reviewed, the company agreement is notarized, and shareholders sign.
  • After this, registration in the commercial register makes your company official: The notary handles the registration. Remember to budget for fees for both the commercial register and the notary appointment.

4. Financial Aspects

Financial planning is crucial for starting a business. It sets the foundation for future success and helps navigate the complex financial system. Key aspects to consider include:

Initial Capital

  • Initial Capital Significance: Demonstrates commitment and credibility. A GmbH requires a minimum of 25,000 euros; a UG can start with 1 euro.
  • Strategic Planning and UG Obligation: It’s important to plan the use of this capital wisely. UGs must save part of their profits annually until reaching the GmbH capital requirement.

Banking and Financial Services

  • Choosing the Right Bank: Essential for your business’s liquidity and flexibility. Compare different banks for account management fees, loan interest rates, and business credit card availability.
  • Digital Banking Services: Particularly appealing for startups, often offering better terms and easier management.
  • Special Offers for Founders: Look for services tailored to entrepreneurs, such as consulting services or flexible credit lines.


  • Understanding Tax Obligations: A deep understanding of tax duties in Germany can significantly save on costs and avoid legal pitfalls. This includes corporate and trade taxes, VAT, payroll taxes for employees, and possibly industry-specific taxes.
  • Early Consultation with a Tax Advisor: Helps optimize your tax burden and establish solid accounting from the start.
  • Utilizing Government Grants and Subsidies: Can significantly reduce financial strain during the startup phase.

Financial Planning and Management

  • Detailed Financial Planning: Essential for tracking income, expenses, and cash flow. Create a realistic business plan that includes all expected costs and revenues.
  • Use Accounting Software: Helps manage finances efficiently and provides an accurate financial overview of your business at any time.
  • Regular Financial Analysis: Identify trends, adjust budgets, and make financial decisions based on solid data.

Navigating German bureaucracy is a challenge for many founders. However, with a clear strategy and the necessary knowledge, you can not only master this process but also ensure that your company is built on a solid legal and bureaucratic foundation.

Tax Office

  • Tax Office Registration: Registering with the tax office is essential for beginning official business operations. It is needed for obtaining your tax ID, which allows issuing invoices and submitting tax returns.
  • Early Registration Benefits: Ensures compliance with tax obligations from the start, preventing future problems with tax authorities.
  • Tax Registration Form: Fill out carefully to accurately describe your business and claim potential tax benefits like VAT deduction or small business status.

Trade License

  • Trade License Requirement: Not all businesses need a trade license, but certain sectors like hospitality, crafts, or some freelance activities require special permission. Check with the relevant chamber or trade office for your industry’s requirements.
  • Application Process: Applying for a trade license may require extra documents like qualifications, certificates of good standing, or specific insurance.
  • Preparation and Advice: Thorough preparation and seeking advice can significantly speed up the process.


  • Importance of Insurance: Proper insurance not only protects against unforeseen events but also demonstrates seriousness to business partners and customers. Liability insurance is essential for most businesses to cover damages that may occur during operations.
  • Additional Insurance Options: Depending on your business model, consider other insurances like content insurance, professional liability, or cyber insurance.
  • Comprehensive Risk Analysis: Helps identify necessary insurances, ensuring your company is protected against key risks.

7. Hiring and Employees

Employees are more than just the backbone of your company; they are the heart and soul that bring your vision to life. The way you build your team directly impacts the culture, productivity, and ultimately the success of your business. That’s why it’s crucial to thoroughly understand and carefully manage the recruitment and employment process in Germany.


  • Labor Law Awareness: Know German labor laws covering contracts, working hours, and notice periods to protect both parties.
  • Effective Practices: Master the basics to ensure your hiring methods are both effective and lawful.
  • Talent Attraction: Use a clear hiring process, appealing ads, structured interviews, and objective criteria to draw in top talent.
  • Social Media Use: Expand your reach with social media and professional networks, keeping in mind the importance of first impressions.

Social Security

  • Understanding German Social Security: In Germany, social security is a key part of working life. Employers must cover part of their employees’ social insurance contributions, which includes health, long-term care, pension, and unemployment insurance.
  • Registering your employees with social insurance providers is one of the first steps after hiring. This process is closely linked to payroll, as contributions are deducted from salaries.
  • Accurate and timely handling of these contributions demonstrates to your employees that you are a responsible and caring employer.

Training and Development

  • Continuous Learning: Boost team skills and employee retention by investing in training and development.
  • Support Programs: Utilize German support programs and initiatives, which include professional training, courses, and seminars.

Work Culture and Employee Engagement

  • Trustful Environment: Build a work environment based on trust, respect, and recognition.
  • Culture and Motivation: Foster a strong company culture and long-term motivation with regular feedback, team events, and flexible work models.
  • Team Building: German employment and HR management provide a solid base for creating a dedicated and skilled team.
  • Invest in Employees: Following legal guidelines and investing in employees promotes shared success.

8. Setting up the Business Location

Choosing the right business location is one of the most strategic decisions you will make in the early stages of starting your business. An optimal location can increase the visibility of your business, improve access to your target audience, and ultimately lay the foundation for your business’s success. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing your business location:

Target Audience

  • Target Audience Location: Depending on your business, your location should be where your target audience is or can easily access it.
  • Market Analysis: Conducting a thorough market analysis helps you understand where your potential customers live, work, or spend their leisure time.
  • Location Decision: Whether you choose a busy downtown area, a business district, or an up-and-coming neighborhood depends on your business type and your target audience’s preferences.


  • Infrastructure Importance: The infrastructure around your business location is crucial for accessibility and efficiency. This includes transport links, parking, and proximity to suppliers and partners.
  • Public Transport Access: For a retail business, a location with good public transport connections can be beneficial.
  • Road Access: A manufacturing company may benefit from a location with good access to major roads and highways.


  • Rental Costs Variation: Rental costs for business premises can vary significantly by location. Central locations promise more customers but often come with higher rents.
  • Location-Cost Balance: Finding a balance between location and associated costs that fits your budget and business model is crucial.
  • Lease Flexibility: Consider the flexibility of lease agreements to accommodate future growth or changes in your business environment.


  • Local Competition: The presence of similar businesses nearby has its pros and cons. Being in an area with high customer density and established traffic can be beneficial.
  • Competition Challenges: However, strong competition may make entering the market more difficult.
  • Market Analysis: Carefully analyzing the local market can help you make the right decision.

Industry Relevance and Networks

  • Industry-Specific Locations: Some locations are more attractive for certain industries due to proximity to industry networks, research institutions, or specialized service providers.
  • Ecosystem Benefits: Embedding your business in such an ecosystem can facilitate access to expertise, talent, and collaboration opportunities.

Quality of Life and Cultural Aspects

  • Quality of Life: The quality of life and cultural environment can influence the choice of location, especially for attracting and retaining skilled employees. An attractive location with a good work-life balance can be key to employee satisfaction.
  • Long-term Decision: Carefully weighing these factors allows you to choose a business location that suits your company now and in the future. Remember, the choice of location is a long-term decision that should be flexible enough to grow and evolve with your business.

9. Insurance and Risk Management

Effective risk management and targeted insurance coverage are crucial to protect your company from unexpected events. Here are the key points in condensed form:

Risk Analysis

  • Thorough Analysis: Start with a comprehensive analysis to identify potential risks such as operational disruptions, financial shortages, or legal challenges. This enables you to proactively prevent and focus on the key threats.

Tailored Insurance Coverage

  • Select Tailored Insurances: Choose insurances specifically tailored to your business needs. Liability insurance is usually fundamental, but depending on your activities, additional policies like cyber insurance or business interruption insurance might be advisable.

Preventive Measures

  • Preventive Measures: Take preventive actions to minimize risks. These include security checks, emergency plans, and employee training. This can not only prevent damage but also reduce your insurance premiums.

10. Ongoing Business Management

Efficient day-to-day business management is the backbone of any successful company. It includes careful handling of accounting, prudent financial management, and savvy navigation of the tax system. Here are the key aspects in compact form:


  • Accurate Accounting: Essential for a clear overview of your business finances. It allows you to make informed decisions, monitor your company’s financial health, and respond to changes promptly.
  • Modern Accounting Software: Use it to simplify the process and minimize errors.

Financial Management

  • Beyond Bookkeeping: Effective financial management includes planning future expenses and income, optimizing cash flows, and ensuring financial stability.
  • Regular Finance Review: Helps identify risks early and act strategically.
  • Navigating Taxes: The German tax system can be complex, but savvy navigation can lead to significant savings. Understand the basics of taxes relevant to your business and use legal tax advantages.
  • Professional Tax Advice: Often a worthwhile investment to ensure compliance and leverage optimization opportunities.

11. Special Considerations for Foreign Founders

Foreign founders face specific challenges in Germany that require special attention:

Visa Requirements

  • Adequate Visa: Essential for founding and running a business in Germany. Research suitable visa options early and prepare your application carefully.

Cultural and Language Barriers

  • Understanding Business Culture: Knowing the German business culture and having basic language skills are crucial for success. Use language courses and intercultural training to overcome communication barriers.

Access to Local Networks

  • Building a Local Network: Essential for business success. Participate in industry associations and attend networking events to make valuable contacts.
  • Understanding German Laws: Familiarize yourself with German laws and bureaucratic requirements. Professional advisors can help ensure compliance and minimize risks.
  • Targeted Preparation: With targeted preparation and the use of available resources, foreign founders can lay the foundation for a successful business in Germany.

Now, on to You

With the right preparation and a strong network at your side, starting a business in Germany is an exciting undertaking. Take advantage of the resources and advice available to lay the foundation for your successful business.


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