Business or liberal profession

Right at the beginning, you need to clarify whether your planned self-employed activity is classified as a trade-like business or a liberal profession. The decision has a number of legal and tax-related consequences.

  • Business or liberal profession
  • What special rules and regulations do you need to comply with?
  • What is the impact on taxes and compulsory memberships?
  • Where do you have to register your self-employment?

Beware: The terms “Freiberufler“, “freelancer” and “self-employed” are often confused and used as synonyms. Before registering with the authorities, please check below if your activity qualifies as a liberal profession or a trade-like business.

Liberal professions

Doctors, lawyers, tax advisers, architects and engineers are all examples of liberal professions. Scientific, artistic, writing and child education activities can also be liberal professions. Coaching, consulting and teaching activities might be classified as liberal professions when you can produce a matching university degree. It is important to clarify whether your planned activity genuinely belongs to the liberal professions. Classification can be difficult. Several activities can only be allocated to the liberal professions following a case-by-case examination.

Some liberal professions have to observe special rules of their profession. To find out if the qualifications which you acquired in your home country meet with these requirements, please go to the Federal Recognition Portal or book an appointment with the city’s Foreign Qualification Advisory and Support Service “Servicestelle zur Erschließung ausländischer Qualifikationen”,  the local Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the Chamber of Skilled Crafts.


  • You do not have to pay trade tax.
  • A statement of net income is always sufficient regardless of turnover or profit.
  • Membership of professional chambers (berufsständische Kammer) may be compulsory, for example for architects, doctors, chartered accountants, lawyers and tax advisers. This includes mandatory contributions to the given chamber’s pension plan.
  • Please note: Even when you do not have join a professional chamber, pension insurance may still be compulsory for you.
  • You may need to register with the German Social Accident Insurance (“Berufsgenossenschaft”). Please contact the relevant accident insurance institution directly!


  • You do not need to register your business with the Trade Office
  • Register your self-employment directly with the Tax Office in two steps and complete the “tax assessment questionnaire” (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung).
  • The Tax Office will then issue a tax number which you will need to write invoices for your self-employed activity.

In general, there is freedom of trade in Germany. But: There are trades requiring a permit, trades requiring supervision and trades requiring a licence (= craft), for which you need a special permit or licence.



Register your trade with the trade authorities and the tax office.

In general, there is freedom of trade in Germany. However, there are trades that require a permit or supervision for which you need special documents or a permit to register. For trades in the skilled trades that require a license, you need a license from the Chamber of Skilled Crafts. In addition, there are activities in the skilled crafts sector that are not subject to licensing and activities similar to skilled crafts or activities that are not classified as skilled crafts at all.

Particularities in the skilled crafts sector

Many craft activities may only be carried out if you have a corresponding license. The prerequisite for this is that you yourself meet the necessary qualifications or employ a qualified company management. The Crafts Code determines which professions belong to the crafts and distinguishes between them:

Mixed: business and liberal activities

It is possible run both, a business as a trade and a business in one of the liberal professions.  These so-called mixed activities can be the case, for example, if a alternative practitioner (liberal profession) also sells food supplements, dietary or other health products (trade). Further examples are described here. If you want to avoid losing your status as a liberal profession, you should separate the liberal profession and commercial activities for tax purposes. This means: either separate invoices are issued for the liberal profession and trade activities or they are listed separately in one invoice. In the income tax return, however, the income must be declared separately. Otherwise there is a risk that the income from the liberal profession will be classified as a trade and thus be liable to trade tax.

Therefore, check which of the mixed activities is to be classified as a trade or a liberal profession. And whether the activities can be clearly separated from each other (“separable mixed activity”) or not (“inseparable mixed activity”).

The Institute for Liberal Professions (Institut für Freie Berufe) will answer any questions regarding difficulties in delimitation. For individual tax advice, contact a tax advisor of your choice.