Self employment and freelancing

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Setting up a business: Good to know

More and more company founders have a migrant background. Here you can find out in brief what you need to bear in mind when setting up your own company and where you can get advice.

Good reasons for Hamburg

Around 250,000 Hamburg residents from 185 nations currently live and work on the Alster and Elbe rivers. Economic potential and a high quality of life make Hamburg one of the most dynamic economic regions in Europe. Locational advantages include its convenient location on the Elbe with the Port of Hamburg as a gateway to the North Sea and Baltic Sea and thus to “all corners of the globe”.

Business start-ups are particularly well supported here and will find many institutions in Hamburg that can advise and support them in implementing their business ideas. This is why around 10,000 new companies are founded in the region every year.

Residence Permit

Citizens from European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) states as well as from Switzerland enjoy unrestricted freedom of movement in Germany and the same rights as Germans. They do not require any residence permit. Non-EU citizens and non-EEA citizens need a special residence permit which entitles the holder to business activities in Hamburg.

Social Insurance

The social insurance system guarantees the social security of our society and consists of health insurance, long-term care insurance, accident insurance, unemployment insurance and pension insurance. This social insurance system, however, is primarily designed for employees. Business and shop owners are themselves responsible for their social security. For them, only health insurance and long-term care insurance are mandatory.

Self-employed persons may choose either a statutory health insurance company or a private insurance provider. The contribution rates for statutory health and long-term care insurance are defined by law. On top, there is a small additional contribution every statutory insurance company can determine individually. In case you opt for private health insurance, the amount of contributions depends on the scope of services you have chosen as well as on your age and your state of health at the time the contract is concluded.

Additionally, it is recommended to insure oneself against other entrepreneurial risks (e.g. inability to work caused by an illness or accident) as well as to ensure adequate pension provision.

Freelance Occupation or Commercial Enterprise

In German tax and trade law, a distinction is made between commercial enterprises and freelance activities. Freelancers do not have to register their trade nor pay trade tax. In general, freelancers carry out their services independently, on their own responsibility and on the basis of special qualifications or creative talent in the interest of their clients and the public good. Whether it is a commercial or a freelance activity must be clarified on the basis of each individual case, since various laws are affected and the demarcation cannot be answered in general terms. More information on the demarcation between freelance occupations and a commercial enterprise can be found on the business start-up portal of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. Ultimately, the responsible Tax Office decides whether your activities are classed as freelance or commercial activities.

Registrations, Approvals and Permissions

Depending on the nature of your planned activities, you may need certain permissions before you're legally allowed to start your self-employment. Below are some exemplary criteria intended to give you a first impression, but which are by no means complete or conclusive.

  • Business owners must register their business at the trade office (“Gewerbeanmeldung”).
  • Any self-employment must be registered with your local tax office. When you register your business as a trade, the tax office will be informed automatically.
  • You are obliged to register with a employers'  liability insurance association (‘Berufsgenossenschaft’). The professional associations in Germany are accident insurance institutions for companies and their employees. The task of the professional association is to prevent accidents at work, occupational diseases and work-related health hazards.
  • Anyone who wants to become self-employed in craft must register with the Chamber of Crafts in Hamburg.
  • Depending on the nature and scope of your commercial activity, your business must be entered in the commercial register. The commercial register is a publicly accessible directory and provides key information about a company and is administered by the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg.
  • Certain occupational groups have to register at professional chambers. This applies, for example, to architects, tax consultants and lawyers.
  • If you want to lay out your goods on the street, you need a special permit from the responsible district office.
  • Some businesses may not be carried out without permission (e.g. banking or insurance intermediaries).

To inform yourself about the necessary formalities, you can use the online procedure finder of the Point of Single Contact Hamburg. It is possible to handle the entire process electronically.

Funding Programmes

In certain circumstances your business can be funded by the government. Feel free to contact the IFB Business Advice Centre to get information about funding queries. It advises on funding offers from the Senate of Hamburg, the German federal government and the EU.

Contacts and Consultation

Hamburg has numerous consulting services for interested founders. The following institutions are some of the places that offer advice on setting up a business:

Handelskammer Hamburg

  • Service Center of the Hamburg Handelskammer
    Young entrepreneurs interested in becoming freelancers in Hamburg should acquaint themselves with the Gründungszentrum (lit. ‘Start-Up Centre’).  Anyone interested in an initial free consultation can simply walk in for a free starter package with a variety of information material available  in English.

    Handelskammer Hamburg
    Service Center
    Adolphsplatz 1
    20457 Hamburg
    Phone: 040 36138-138

  • Special consulting services for immigrant-founded companies in Hamburg

    Please find the contact data on the Website of the Handelskammer.

Handwerkskammer Hamburg

When setting up your own craftsmanship business, many questions arise, and the Handwerkskammer is the place for answers. Their consultation service for new businesses is happy to help. The information on their website is also helpful, though it is only available in German.

Handwerkskammer Hamburg
Business management consulting
Holstenwall 12
20355 Hamburg (as well as branch offices in Hamburg-Bergedorf and Hamburg-Harburg)
Phone: 040 35905-361

Hamburg Invest

Hamburg Invest is the one-stop agency for investments from Germany and abroad in Hamburg and a central partner of Hamburg's business community in all matters of business development. There are a wide range of services available, especially for small and medium-sized companies.

HIW Hamburg Invest
Business development company mbH
Wexstraße 7
20355 Hamburg
Phone: 040 227019-0

Centers for Economic Development, Construction and Environment

The Hamburg District Offices’s Centers for Wirtschaftsförderung, Bauen und Umwelt (lit.: Economic Development, Construction and Environment, WBZ) are the central contact points for almost all administrative matters that a company founder might expect to handle. They provide broad advice and take care of the associated applications and approval procedures on an interdisciplinary basis. Depending on your concerns, our staff will process your request immediately, arrange individual appointments or put you in touch with the correct contact person.


Contact details of all branches of the  Centre for Business Development, Construction and Environment can be found here (available only in German). 

Hamburger ExistenzgründungsInitiative (hei.) - Hamburg Business Start-up Initiative

’One can learn independence’ - this is the slogan of the city’s coaching programme which provides seminars on the topic independence. You can apply for an attendance voucher online or in person.

In addition, hei. offers founders and those interested in founding a company a free initial consultation conversation and supports them on their journey to self-employment. Furthermore, hei. arranges contact with people  and institutions from the Hamburg’s start-up scene. To arrange a personal consultation, please call or visit the website (available only in German).

hei. ExistenzgründungsInitiative
Besenbinderhof 39
20097 Hamburg
Phone: 040 611700-0

Federal Employment Agency

At the Employment Agency, unemployed people can find information on setting up a business and start-up subsidies. Those looking for further information can visit the Federal Employment Agency, who can arrange contact to chambers, associations or business incubators for further help. Find out more by visiting the Federal Employment Agency online and make an appointment with your local Employment Agency.

Hamburg Employment Agency (Agentur für Arbeit Hamburg)
Kurt-Schumacher-Allee 16
20097 Hamburg