How to start selling online
Before offering your products or services online, we recommend to clarify relevant legal and tax issues for your business.
On this webpage you will find important basic information concerning framework conditions, and contact points. This information is intended to provide an initial orientation to those with limited German proficiency. It does not claim to be a full and exhaustive treatment of all legal aspects. We would like to point out that most of the subsequent links to websites, documents and forms are generally not available in languages other than German. Please have a look at this more detailed information using a translation tool of your choice.
We offer English language resources and a step-by-step guide for citizens who want to start a business in Munich. Visit our media center and learn more about startup formalities, choice of legal form, tax overview, private and operational security, subsidies and financial aids or coaching-programs.
Legal and tax issues
The following points in general need to be taken into consideration:
What is allowed and what is prohibited on the Internet? Operators of websites and online stores must comply with a number of legal rules in order to avoid warnings and other problems. CCI guide to Internet law
The DSGVO provides legal rules for the processing of personal data within the European Union. Failure to comply with these rules may result in expensive warnings and fines.
One aim of GTC is to reduce liability and risk as far as possible. Whether individual provisions in GTC are permissible and necessary depends, among other things, on the industry. Some industry associations and publishers provide sample GTC. Lawyers specializing in contract law draw up individual GTC. General terms and conditions are only effective if they are included in the respective contract – and for this there are special rules for online trade. CCI guide to general terms and conditions
Sales law regulates topics such as warranty, possible compensation claims, the right to exchange and return goods, as well as specific aspects of international sales contracts. CCI guide to sales law
Companies must have adapted their digital products and services to new contract law rules since Jan. 1, 2022. Article “New law for digital products“
A cancellation button must be provided if companies conclude contracts with consumers online that bind the consumer in the long term.
A basic 14-day right of revocation or cancellation applies for online shopping. Exceptions are perishable foodstuffs or made-to-measure and custom-made products that have been specially produced for a customer. In addition, there are also legal warranty claims for defects or delays in the agreed delivery. CCI guide to the right of return
Whether manufacturer, importer, or retailer – anyone who puts products on the German market must ensure that the products meet the European regulations for product safety or else risk liability procedures, sanctions, and loss of reputation. Product safety regulations also affect labeling and information obligations.
CCI guide to product safety
CCI guide to product liability
Anyone who manufactures, imports or additionally packages goods in Germany for private customers must participate in a take-back system. Online retailers must also register accordingly and license their sales packaging with a system operator. CCI guide to packaging law
Logos of companies or individual products are capable of being registered as a trade mark. An important prerequisite is that you do not violate any existing trademark rights and business names. An Internet domain name or your company name may be protected by use in a business context – limited to the geographical reach of your company’s business activity. CCI guide to protecting names and logos
When it comes to doing business abroad, you need to check what tax and legal regulations apply. Rules are complex and you might require professional assistance. Find out more in our international topics check.
For deliveries from suppliers or to customers based in other EU countries or third countries: Find out in advance how to manage input tax [Vorsteuer] and value-added tax [Umsatzsteuer]. Even companies that make use of the “provision for small businesses” [Kleinunternehmerregelung] can be affected! CCI guide to value-added tax
Online retailers must pay VAT in other EU countries if their sales to non-business customers (i.e. private end consumers) in other EU countries is more than 10,000 euro net (including shipping costs) in a calendar year. This also applies to small businesses, i.e. regardless of whether an online retailer is obliged to pay VAT in Germany. This 10,000 euro threshold value includes all products and services sold, including digital services such as downloads. In order to register and pay this tax in other EU countries you can use the One Stop Shop procedure (OSS), which involves registering with the Federal Central Tax Office in Germany and submitting your tax declaration to them for your entire EU sales.
More information on registering for OSS
Federal Central Tax Office: The One Stop Shop EU regulation
Prepare a business plan
Once you have thoroughly reviewed the issues mentioned above, your next step is to prepare a detailed business plan including effective and accurate financial projections. Our business plan template and more information around the planning process you will find here.
Industry specific information sources
The more you know about your industry, the better you can plan your self-employment. Industry specific information helps to evaluate how you successfully can realize your business idea. Are there any average values for your business sector that can help you estimate what sales and profits are typically generated? Which calculation figures are typical for your industry? You may want to start your research by reviewing information from one of the following industry associations:
- Bundesverband E-Commerce und Versandhandel Deutschland
(German E-Commerce and Mail Order Association)
- Bundesverband Onlinehandel e.V.
(German Online Trade Association)
- eCommerce-Verbindungsstelle Deutschland
(eCommerce Liaison Office Germany)
- The Mittelstand 4.0 Competence Center for Commerce offers free online seminars
- The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Hessen have joined forces to form a service company that offers free information.
Still have questions?
Many entrepreneurs start working from home and set up a special room in their apartment or house. You should inform your landlord about this. You should also find out from the Amt für Wohnen und Migration (Housing and Migration Office) whether you are even allowed to use your home for business purposes or whether you need a permit to do so. If you are a home owner, you should also obtain approval for working from home in case of doubt.
You also need to consider building, fire protection, and industry-specific regulations such as requirements for practices and rooms in which some form of childcare is offered, or food hygiene regulations for anyone planning to store, process or sell food.