General Information, Support & Important Terms

EU citizens, visas, residence permits 

Those living within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway) enjoy both full freedom of movement for workers and freedom of establishment. The same  applies to the people of Switzerland. This means that citizens of these countries and their spouses (regardless of their nationality) are essentially treated no differently to German citizens with regard to employment.
EU and EEA citizens can therefore travel to Germany for work without a visa or any other special residence permit. All they have to do is notify the relevant registration authorities. 
Foreign nationals from outside the EU, EEA or Switzerland require the appropriate residency documentation (such as a visa, residence permit or settlement permit) to undertake any kind of employment or self-employment within Germany. A tourist or business visa will not suffice.
Company founders and employees who do not yet have an appropriate residence permit must have successfully applied for one before taking up their employment. The application for a residence permit is to be submitted either to the German foreign representation agency (embassy, consulate) or – if the applicant already has another residence permit for Germany – to the responsible immigration authority.
Only nationals of what are known as “preferential countries” (USA, Canada, Israel, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) can apply directly from within Germany under any circumstances for a residence permit that allows them to go about their work.
Information about residence permits: Merkblätter zum Ausländerrecht (German)

Miscellaneous (accounts and banking)

This section explains key terms that are likely to crop up in everyday life in Germany, such as bank account, tax ID number, health insurance and national insurance number.

Bank account

A German bank account is essential not only for paying rent out of, but also for paying salaries and other payments into. You are free to choose whichever bank you like. Depending on your choice, you may also need to provide your wage slips and work permit in addition to your passport and registration certificate – just speak to them directly about what it is they need from you. Online and direct banks are also particularly commonplace in Germany, offering virtually all the same services as local branches with the obvious exception of the ability to visit in person.

Solidarity system

In Germany we have a tradition of social market economy. This means everybody contributes a little bit to create something larger for the community. This principle can be found in areas such as broadcasting, healthcare and long-term care insurance (which usually go hand in hand), and pension insurance schemes. Germany’s statutory health insurance, for example, is a collective body in which those in a strong position support those who are worse off. It is this principle, in fact, that fundamentally sets the statutory health insurance scheme apart from private insurance options.

Health insurance

Every resident must have health insurance. The available options are either statutory or private insurance, the latter of which must be provided by employers to their employees with a fixed contract of employment.
If you choose to work on a self-employed basis, you can either register voluntarily with a health insurance scheme (either private or statutory) or else check with your existing health insurance about the changes involved in transitioning to self-employment. The contributions you make towards your private health insurance scheme are based on the insurance package you are looking for, which can be tailored entirely to suit your needs. All you have to do is speak to a provider directly for more details.

The basic insurance cover provided by statutory health insurance companies includes the following services:

  • Outpatient treatments
  • Dental care
  • Medication, remedies and resources
  • Inpatient stays and treatment
  • Necessary medical rehabilitation
  • Pregnancy and childbirth services

Tax ID number

A tax ID number is something you need to be able to communicate with the tax office. Every citizen has their own tax ID number, and every company has its own tax number that is assigned once the business has been registered. If you take on employees, you will need their tax ID numbers to have their taxes paid to the tax office.
If you don’t have a personal tax ID number, contact the tax office in your local area to request one. The appropriate form is available for download from the tax office website. Speak to the tax office to set up a personal submission appointment. You will need to provide your passport/ID card, birth certificate, and proof of your income tax class as well as a marriage certificate or children’s birth certificates, if applicable.

Additional institutions to be aware of

The Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK)

The work of the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK) is geared towards making Cologne a better place to do business for the companies that operate there. This is achieved by actively involving entrepreneurs from across industry in the work of the IHK in an honorary capacity, thus helping to determine its future direction.
In areas where government regulation is unavoidable, the IHK exercises official authority. This is particularly evident in the area of vocational training, where government intervention is replaced by a DIY approach.
Taking the example of organising and preparing final examination procedures for vocational training courses, the IHK supports companies that educate young people and, as a result, nurture valuable employees for the entire market. It may seem unfair or odd to some to be made part of a community and then, by law, have to pay a fee, but this decision was made by politicians elected by the German people because they believe in social markets and community.
The IHK fee is just one of very many examples: By providing services such as covering the tasks of public authority as well as being the voice of the regional economy – the Chamber is a central part of the German economic system; after all, it has the freedom to manage certain things of interest in a more efficient and dynamic fashion than could ever be achieved through any other institution.
The IHK therefore offers a wide range of services to all its members, including those who are yet to get on board. This gives newcomers in particular the opportunity to attend advisory sessions aimed specifically at their needs, where they can find out early on about the steps that need to be considered when embarking on self-employment. Help is also offered to those seeking suitable financing and funding options. Feedback is available on business plans, and the department specialising in law and taxation can offer additional useful advice.
The IHK pays for its work by charging a membership fee based on the business performance of the particular company. This allows it to remain independent of both the state and the goodwill of individual wealthy businesses.
Since only traders are members, craftsmen and freelancers have their own organizations that support them in setting up.


Handwerkskammer zu Köln
Heumarkt 12
50667 Köln
Tel. +49 221 2022-0
Fax +49 221 2022-320


KölnBusiness Wirtschaftsförderung
Börsenplatz 1
50667 Köln
Tel. +49 221 221 99501-0

Senior Experten Service

After an own successful professional life, Senior Experts are now happy to make their skills, their knowledge and their experience available to anyone who wants to start a company or be and remain entrepreneurially successful. SES is an association of former specialists and managers from industry, trade, services as well as associations and organizations. These include specialists for founding and managing companies, for financial and organizational issues, for marketing and sales issues.

GTAI Germany Trade & Invest

Germany Trade & Invest is the economic development agency of the Federal Republic of Germany. They help international companies identify suitable investment opportunities in Europe's strongest economy.

Important terms and names

  • Residency / Residence permit  
  • Aufenthalt / Aufenthaltsgenehmigung
  • Unemployment insurance contributions
  • Arbeitslosenversicherung
  • Foreigner / Immigration authority
  • Ausländer-/Behörde
  • Employer’s liability insurance association
  • Berufsgenossenschaft
  • Operation
  • Betrieb
  • German Patent and Trade Mark Office
  • Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt
  • Equity
  • Eigenkapital
  • Sole trader
  • Einzelunternehmen
  • Permit / Permit obligation
  • Erlaubnis /-pflicht
  • Tax office
  • Finanzamt
  • Freelancer
  • Freiberufler
  • Shareholder
  • Geschäftsführer
  • Trade/commerce – office – registration – trades – tax
  • Gewerbeamt, -anmeldung, -treibender, -steuer
  • Cooperative/Association register
  • Genossenschafts-/ Vereinsregister
  • Commercial register – extract – entry / register
  • Handelsregisterauszug, -eintragung/Register
  • Chamber of Skilled Crafts (HWK)
  • Handwerkskammer (HWK)
  • Craft
  • Handwerk
  • Trade
  • Handel
  • Head office/branch
  • Haupt-/Zweigniederlassung
  • Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI)
  • Industrie- und Handelskammer (IHK)
  • Corporation
  • Kapitalgesellschaft
  • Small business
  • Kleingewerbe
  • Small business regulation
  • Kleinunternehmerregelung
  • Concession (restaurant)
  • Konzession (Gaststätte)
  • Sideline
  • Nebenerwerb
  • Regulatory agency
  • Ordnungsamt

  • Passport / ID card
  • Personalausweis / Pass
  • Partnership
  • Personengesellschaft
  • Legal status/form
  • Rechtsform
  • Register entry
  • Registereintrag
  • Self-employment
  • Selbstständigkeit
  • Miscellaneous
  • Sonstiges
  • Tax ID number
  • Steuernummer
  • Activity
  • Tätigkeit
  • Dependent subsidiary
  • Unselbstständige Zweigstelle
  • Accident insurance
  • Unfallversicherung
  • Insurance
  • Versicherungen
  • Limited liability campany (GmbH)
  • Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH)
  • Entrepreneurial company (with limited liability) (UG (haftungsbeschfränkt))
  • Unternehmensgesellschaft (haftungsbeschränkt) (UG (haftungsbeschränkt))
  • Partnership constituted under Civil law (GbR)
  • Gesellschaft bürgerlichen Rechts (GbR)
  • Limited patnership (KG)
  • Kommanditgesellschaft
  • General commercial partnership (oHG)
  • Offene Handelsgesellschaft (oHG)
  • Joint stock company (AG)
  • Aktiengesellschaft (AG)