How to Establish yourself as a Freelancer in Germany

Do you live in Germany, and are thinking of going freelance? Or perhaps, considering moving to Germany and continuing your freelancing there? Confused by the various terms floating around, and what tax and trade offices you have to register with? In this article I want to try and clarify some of the confusion, and recommend some sources geared towards helping those wanting to go freelance in Germany.

Freelancer, Freiberufler, Freier Mitarbeiter

These are terms that get thrown around a lot if you are trying to research how freelancing works in Germany, but the two German terms have very specific definitions that often get mistranslated. Especially English language guides are prone to equating freelancer with Freiberufler, which is best kept in mind when doing further research into the intricacies of becoming a freelancer.

Freiberufler is perhaps the easiest to clarify. The term Freiberufler is a protected term in german law and refers to one practising a Freiberuf (a free/liberal profession). What counts as a Freiberuf is regulated by law: it broadly covers the medical, consulting, planning, technical or artistic fields and is characterised by the provision of services to people and communities. Whether the service you offer qualifies as a Freiberuf is ultimately decided by the tax office when you register with them. For more information on Freiberufe and Freiberufler, you can consult any of these links. The main takeaway here, is that Freiberufler does not describe your employment or relationship with your clients, but only the kind of service that you provide.

List of “Freie Berufe”. Source

Freier Mitarbeiter does however describe your employment status – as someone who is self-employed and has no long-term commitments towards a single employer. The work of a Freier Mitarbeiter is usually characterised by high skill or qualification in the service they offer.  As such, this is the closest German equivalent to the term freelancer.

There is an overlap between these two terms though. Someone can be both a Freiberufler and a Freier Mitarbeiter if they offer a service classified as Freiberuf and are self-employed. Or just one and not the other – practising a Freiberuf but not self-employed, or self-employed but do not practise a Freiberuf.

Navigating Bureaucracy

Your next steps are determined by whether your profession is classified as a Freiberuf or not. Being a Freiberufler means you are exempt from some of the steps a “normal” self-employed person has take. Among those is going to the trade office (Gewerbeamt) to register your business and apply for a trade license (Gewerbeschein). As Freiberufler you simply have to go to the tax office (Finanzamt) to request a tax number and fill out a tax collection form (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung).

Whether you qualify as a Freiberufler or not, there are many resources available online. Services and guides like these, are designed to provide information and walk you through the forms that need completing.

This covers the purely bureaucratic side of going freelance in Germany, but of course there is much more. If you are not already resident in Germany, you might need a work permit or even a visa to work there. You will also need to register your address, get a bank account, and register for insurance – if you are a Freiberufler the kind of insurance you have to register for may also be predetermined.

There is also the matter of understanding what kind of taxes there are and which ones you have to pay; Freiberufler are exempt from paying trade tax (Gewerbesteuer). Helpfully there are services like Kontist and Sorted designed to aid freelancers with their taxes and financials. This may seem a lot to wrap your head around, but again there are many online resources which cover these steps in depth.

Next Steps

So far I have covered the various things that you need to take care of when becoming a Freelancer. Understanding the legal categories, registering yourself with the relevant authorities, securing work permits and navigating taxes.  It all covers the strictly administrative side of the business. But there is the business itself. Becoming a freelancer requires a little more than a skill or a business idea.

The road to becoming a freelancer. Source

You need to analyse the market and find your niche. You also need a business model and plan. For that too there are guides which can help you develop ideas into a more concrete structure. And once you have done all of that? Then you need to actually go out and find projects and clients. Many freelancers nowadays find them via a variety of online portals, like Fiverr, twago, and freelancermap.

To establish yourself in a new country, or entirely uproot your worklife and working relationships as you know them, is scary. But freelancers are the largest growing business sector in Germany, and 60% of them earn better than their traditionally employed colleagues. There are many reasons to go freelance, and many resources to help you understand and navigate the process. I have linked some of these in the text, and will re-link them all in a resources portion. And if you are questioning why you should go freelance in the first place? Feel free to read this.


Understanding the Difference of Freier Mitarbeiter and Freiberufler, and who qualifies

Ab wann bin ich Freiberufler? |

Arbeiten als Freelancer – Das müssen Sie wissen –

Freiberufler, Freelancer, freier Mitarbeiter: Was ist der Unterschied? – Sage Advice Deutschland

Freie Berufe | BMWK-Existenzgründungsportal

Was denn nun: Freiberufler, freier Mitarbeiter oder Freelancer?

Was macht ein Freiberufler? | Definition & Abgrenzung | Freelancer Wiki

Registering with the Authorities

Der Gewerbeschein |

Freelancer werden: 10-Schritte-Anleitung, Tipps & Checkliste

Freelancer werden: Anmeldung, Vorteile & Tipps

Freelancing in Germany As A Foreigner [2022 How-To Guide]

Freiberufliche Tätigkeit für das Finanzamt formulieren

IT-Selbständige: Freiberufler oder Gewerbetreibender? | Informatik Aktuell

Taxes for Freelancers

Alles was du als Freelancer über Steuern wissen musst | Kontist

Sorted: Freelancer taxes can be easy

Taxes for Freelancers and Self-Employed Workers in Germany

Finding Jobs as a Freelancer

About us: Freie Berufe Jobportal BFB

Find freelancer jobs & hire IT freelancers | freelancermap

Fiverr – Freelance Services Marketplace

Freelancer: 12 wichtige Tipps + Plattformen & Jobs finden

Freelancer! Find programmers, designers & more | twago

Online Freelancer anheuern & Freelancer-Jobs finden | Freelancer

Tips on How to Suceed as a Freelancer

7 Tips to Help You Succeed as a Freelance Professional | Upwork

Corona als Chance – sich als Freelancer am Markt zu etablieren | LinkedIn

How To: Freelancing In Germany

Selbstständig machen: In 10 Schritten zur Selbstständigkeit