Set Up a Sole Proprietorship in Germany: Characteristics, Benefits & Taxes

In this article, we will cover the steps to set up a sole proprietorship in Germany. We will further explain the required documents, advantages, disadvantages, applicable taxes on sole proprietorship in Germany.


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    Set Up a Sole Proprietorship in Germany

    In the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship, setting up a sole proprietorship in Germany can be a strategic move for individuals looking to embark on their business journey. Understanding the nuances of forming a sole proprietorship in Germany is crucial for a seamless and successful establishment. This guide will walk you through the essentials, covering what a sole proprietorship is, its characteristics in the German context, the step-by-step process to set one up, required documents, advantages, disadvantages, applicable taxes, frequently asked questions, and concluding thoughts.

    What is a Sole Proprietorship?

    A sole proprietorship, also known as “Einzelunternehmen” in Germany, is a type of corporate structure in which a single person owns and runs the company. There is no legal separation between the company and its proprietor, and this person bears whole responsibility for the company’s gains and losses. This simplicity and direct connection between the business and the proprietor make it an attractive option for many small businesses and freelancers.

    Characteristics of a Sole Proprietorship in Germany

    • Sole Ownership: As the name suggests, a sole proprietorship is controlled and owned by only one person. This ensures quick decision-making and straightforward management.
    • Unlimited Liability: One significant characteristic is unlimited liability, meaning the owner is personally responsible for all business debts and liabilities. This personal risk is a trade-off for the autonomy the sole proprietorship structure provides.
    • Taxation: The owner’s individual income tax return is where the company’s gains and losses are documented. This prevents double taxation that can happen with some other types of business arrangements.
    • Flexibility: Sole proprietorships are flexible and easy to set up, with minimal bureaucratic hurdles. This flexibility extends to decision-making, allowing the owner to adapt quickly to market changes.

    How to Establish a Sole Proprietorship in Germany?

    Business Registration:

    To establish a sole proprietorship in Germany, you have to register your company. Visit the local trade office (Gewerbeamt) to obtain the necessary forms. Make sure the name you have picked for your company is both unique and compliant with German regulations.

    Tax Identification Number (Steuernummer):

    Register with the local tax office to receive a tax identity number (Finanzamt). This number is crucial for tax-related transactions and compliance.

    Business Permits and Licenses:

    Your industry may need you to obtain particular licenses or permits. To make sure you abide by all rules, check with the chambers of business and municipal authorities.

    Open a Corporate Bank Account:

    Separate your personal and business finances by opening a corporate bank account in Germany. This promotes transparent financial management and is mandated by law in Germany.

    Documents Required to Set up a Sole Proprietorship in Germany

    • Valid ID or Passport: Provide proof of your identity, such as a valid passport or national ID card.
    • Proof of Address: You can prove your business address with a utility bill or leasing agreement.
    • Trade License Application: Fill out the application for a trade license that may be found at the local trade office.

    Benefits of a Sole Proprietorship in Germany

    • Simplicity: Setting up and managing a sole proprietorship is straightforward, with minimal bureaucracy.
    • Direct Decision-Making: Owners are able to quickly adjust to changes in the market since they have total control over business decisions.
    • Tax Benefits: Tax reporting is made simpler by reporting gains and losses on the owner’s personal income tax return.
    • Flexibility: Adaptability is a key advantage, allowing the business to evolve with changing circumstances.

    Drawbacks of Setting up a Sole Proprietorship in Germany

    Unlimited Liability:

    All business obligations are individually owed by the owner, who also risks losing personal assets.

    Limited Capital:

    Compared to larger business arrangements, solo entrepreneurs may encounter difficulties in raising finance.

    Limited Expertise:

    Sole proprietors may lack expertise in certain areas, as they handle all aspects of the business.

    Business Continuity:

    Since the owner is solely responsible for the company’s continuity, succession planning may be difficult.

    Taxes Applicable to Sole Proprietorships in Germany

    Here are the various taxes that are applicable to sole proprietorships in Germany:

    • Income Tax: The gains made by a sole proprietorship are liable to personal income tax.
    • Trade Tax (Gewerbesteuer): Businesses engaged in trade activities may be subject to trade tax, levied by local authorities.
    • Value Added Tax (VAT – Umsatzsteuer): Based on your commercial activities, you may be required to register for VAT and charge it on your products or services.

    Read More: Corporate taxes in Germany


    Setting up a sole proprietorship in Germany provides a simple route for people who want to manage their own companies. While the structure comes with its advantages of simplicity, flexibility, and direct decision-making, entrepreneurs must carefully consider the associated unlimited liability. By adhering to the outlined steps, understanding the applicable taxes, and obtaining the necessary permits, you can navigate the process successfully. Whether you’re a local or a foreigner, the German business landscape accommodates sole proprietorships, providing a platform for entrepreneurial endeavors. 

    If you’re looking to set up a sole proprietorship in Germany,  you can consult with our professionals at OnDemand International. Our experts will assist you throughout the procedure for registering a sole proprietorship in Germany.


    Yes, foreigners can establish a sole proprietorship in Germany. Nonetheless, a few legal and residency conditions must be fulfilled.

    Unlike a GmbH (limited liability company) or AG (public limited company), a sole proprietorship has a single owner with unlimited personal liability.

    Yes, certain industries such as food services, healthcare, and finance may require specific permits or licenses. Check with local authorities for industry-specific regulations.

    Income tax returns for sole proprietorships are typically filed annually. However, VAT returns may have different filing frequencies.