Back Freelancer registration in Germany: What you need to know

Freelancer Registration in Germany: What You Need to Know

Is it enough to register as a freelancer with the tax office or do I have to register a business? And how does that work exactly? We’ve got the answers.

Dunja Reiber
Dunja Reiber

Jan 20, 2022

Do you need to register as a freelancer in Germany? Yes! You have to register if you want to earn your living independently with orders and projects. People with Freiberufler status have it particularly easy, because they usually only have to register with the tax office. But what applies to Gewerbetreibende? Here you can find out what you need to consider when registering as a freelancer.

Basic Question: Freiberufler or Gewerbetreibender?

The terms freelancer and Freiberufler are often considered to mean the same, but this is not quite correct. You are a Freiberufler only if you provide certain services, for example art, writing or teaching. Doctors, lawyers or tax consultants are also Freiberufler. You can find the definition in § 18 Einkommensteuergesetz (EStG). Unfortunately, there is no complete list of all possible professions, and the decision is always made on a case-by-case basis.

These criteria can help you to assess whether you will work as a Freiberufler:

  • It is a creative or consulting activity.
  • The service is specifically tailored to the client.
  • Payment is usually on a fee basis.
  • Often the freelancer has an academic degree.

If you have any doubts about how to register as a freelancer in Germany, you can check with the tax office, for example, whether you can be a Freiberufler. Otherwise, you are a Gewerbetreibender (contractor) and the freelancer registration becomes more complicated.

We also give you some input on this topic in our article "Freiberufler or Gewerbe?"

The advantages as a Freiberufler:

  • Simple registration with the tax office, no need to register a business
  • No entry in the commercial register
  • No trade tax liability
  • No fees for registration
  • Possible advantages through membership in artists' social insurance fund (for artists and publicists)

By the way: There are also some Freiberufler professions that are required to join a chamber, including notaries, architects, tax consultants and doctors. They are obliged to be members of the chamber responsible for their profession. So find out in good time whether you are affected.

You're just starting out as a freelancer? Get our complete checklist so you don't miss anything.

Registration as a Freiberufler with the tax office

You must register as a freelancer with the tax office no later than four weeks after you start working. The responsible tax office is the one at your place of business, in most cases probably at your place of residence. You can inform them in an informal letter that you are taking up freelance work. The letter should contain your contact details, tax identification number, description of the activity and the start date.

The next step is to fill in the tax registration questionnaire. You may receive it from the tax office, but you can also submit it online via ELSTER. To do this, you must first register for the portal. Depending on the tax office, it may also be accepted if you fill in the questionnaire directly and do without the letter. It is best to inquire about the requirements by phone.

The tax registration questionnaire is extensive, and you will probably need some time to fill it out. The good news is that if you are a Freiberufler, you have already completed the freelancer registration. In the form, you provide some information about yourself, your services and your expected revenue. If necessary, you can also apply directly for a VAT identification number when registering.

If you would like to make use of the Kleinunternehmerregelung (small business regulation), you can also enter this there. If your turnover in the first year does not exceed 22,000 euros, you are exempt from VAT under this regulation.

The tax office will then send you a confirmation letter with your tax number. You are now registered as a freelancer. The VAT number - if you have applied for one - will come from the Federal Central Tax Office and will probably arrive later.

Business registration as a freelancer

If you cannot be classified as a Freiberufler due to the nature of your work, you must register a business. This is done at the trade office responsible for you. The costs are in the two-digit range and depend on the municipality.

The registration is less extensive than the questionnaire for the tax office. However, you will still have to fill out the questionnaire, because you also have to register your self-employment with the tax office. It is done in the same way as for a Freiberufler, except that your details will of course differ slightly in some respects.

Membership in the regional Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK) is mandatory for almost all Gewerbetreibende. For this, contributions are due, which are based on the profit. At the beginning of your self-employment, however, you are exempt from this.

Under certain circumstances, you may also need to be entered in the commercial register. This is the case if you are neither a freelancer nor a small trader. For this you need a notary and have to reckon with fees in the three-digit range.

As you can see, you have less work to do when registering as a Freiberufler. So it's best to find out in good time whether this is an option in your case.


How do I register as a freelancer?

For a Freiberufler, the freelancer registration at the tax office is sufficient. If you are a Gewerbetreibender, you must also register with the trade office and possibly also be entered in the commercial register.

How do I register as a Freiberufler with the tax office?

You register by sending an informal letter, then you fill out the questionnaire for tax registration. Depending on the tax office, freelancer registration is also possible directly by sending the questionnaire.

How do I know if I am a Freiberufler?

For doctors or lawyers, the question is clear, but not always for freelancers. The decision is made by the tax office in each individual case. In the case of creative or consulting activities that are individually tailored to the client, the chances are good.

How do I apply for a tax number as a Freiberufler?

The tax number will be sent to you by the tax office after you have registered as a freelancer. It is also possible that your existing tax number will continue to be used. If you have also applied for a VAT number, you will receive this separately from the Federal Central Tax Office.

When do I have to register a business as a freelancer?

A business registration is always necessary if your activity cannot be recognized as Freiberufler activity.

Do I need a commercial register entry as a freelancer?

If you count as a freelancer or are a small business owner, you do not need a trade register entry. Otherwise, however, you also need an entry in the commercial register as a freelancer.

Do I also have to register if I'm a part-time freelancer?

Even if you only want to work part-time as a freelancer, you must register this activity. It makes no difference for the registration whether you have a main job as an employee or not. However, there are some differences, for example in the area of insurance.


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Dunja Reiber

Dunja Reiber is a writer and content marketer specializing in Future of Work topics. She has worked in a content marketing agency and a software start-up before becoming a full-time freelancer.

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