The Distinction between a Freiberufler and a Generic Freelancer in Germany

In Germany, the freelance landscape is distinctly categorized, primarily into two groups: Freiberufler and general freelancers. It’s essential to understand the differences between these two as they have significant implications on legal, tax, and administrative matters.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Freelancing in Germany
    • Freiberufler vs. General Freelancers
  2. Freiberufler: The Specialized Professionals
    • Definition and Examples
    • Professional Qualifications and Privileges
  3. Generic Freelancers: The Broader Category
    • Scope and Examples
    • Commercial and Tax Regulations
  4. Key Differences in Taxation and Legal Requirements
    • Tax Filing Processes
    • VAT and Trade Tax Implications
  5. Setting Up as a Freiberufler
    • Eligibility Assessment
    • Registration Process
  6. Registration Steps for Freiberufler
    • Address Registration
    • Tax Office Registration
    • Obtaining a Tax Number
  7. Understanding Taxation for Freiberufler
    • Income Tax Overview
    • VAT Considerations
    • Income Tax Declarations
  8. Health Insurance and Social Security for Freiberufler
    • Insurance Options
    • Pension Scheme Considerations
  9. Professional Association Membership
    • Requirement and Process
  10. Business Bank Account for Freiberufler
    • Importance and Benefits
  11. Invoicing as a Freiberufler
    • Requirements and Compliance
  12. Record Keeping for Freiberufler
    • Importance and Duration
  13. Ongoing Compliance and Tax Management
    • Staying Updated with Laws and Regulations
  14. FAQ – Freiberufler in Germany
    • Common Questions and Answers
successful freiberifler in Germany

Freiberufler: The Specialized Professionals

The term ‘Freiberufler’ in Germany refers to individuals engaged in what are considered liberal professions or “Freie Berufe”. These are typically academically trained or artistic professionals who offer specialized, intellectual services. Key examples of Freiberufler include doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, journalists, artists, and certain types of consultants.

One of the main characteristics of a Freiberufler is the requirement for a high level of professional qualification or creative talent. This category is distinct in German law and enjoys certain privileges. For instance, Freiberufler are often exempt from commercial regulations that apply to other businesses, and in many cases, they are not required to charge VAT (Umsatzsteuer) depending on their profession and income level.

Generic Freelancers: The Broader Category

On the other hand, general freelancers encompass a broader category of self-employed individuals who do not fall under the specific professional groups classified as Freiberufler. This group includes individuals like IT professionals, freelance writers, marketing consultants, and traders. In essence, if the profession doesn’t require a specific academic degree or isn’t artistically inclined, it typically falls under the general freelancer category.

General freelancers are subject to the standard commercial and tax regulations in Germany. Unlike Freiberufler, they do not enjoy certain exemptions from commercial laws and VAT obligations. They are often required to register as a business, and they may be subject to trade tax depending on their business structure and income.

Key Differences in Taxation and Legal Requirements

The primary differences between a Freiberufler and a general freelancer in Germany revolve around taxation, legal status, and administrative procedures. Freiberufler benefit from simpler tax filing processes, with no requirement to keep formal books or balance sheets, while general freelancers often have more complex tax and bookkeeping obligations. Freiberufler also enjoy certain exemptions from VAT, and they are not subject to the trade tax that can apply to other self-employed individuals.

Understanding whether you qualify as a Freiberufler or a general freelancer is crucial when starting your freelance journey in Germany. It determines the scope of your legal and tax obligations and can significantly impact your business operations and profitability.

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    Detailed Guide on Setting Yourself Up as a Freiberufler in Germany

    Becoming a Freiberufler in Germany involves a series of steps, from understanding the legal framework to navigating the tax system. Here’s a comprehensive guide to help you set up as a Freiberufler.

    1. Determining Eligibility as a Freiberufler

    First and foremost, you need to ascertain if your profession qualifies as a Freiberufler. This category typically includes professionals like doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers, artists, and journalists. These professions are recognized for their specialized, intellectual, or artistic contributions.

    2. Registration Steps

    Once you’ve established that you are eligible as a Freiberufler, the next step is to register your freelance activity.

    Registering Your Address

    Before you register as a freelancer, you must register your residence in Germany. This is done at the local Residents’ Registration Office (Einwohnermeldeamt or Bürgeramt).

    Registering with the Tax Office

    The critical step is to register with the local tax office (Finanzamt). This involves filling out a questionnaire for tax collection (Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung) and submitting it either online through ELSTER, Germany’s online tax portal, or in person. In this form, you will provide details about your expected income, business plan, and other relevant information.

    Obtaining a Tax Number (Steuernummer)

    Upon processing your registration, the Finanzamt will issue a tax number (Steuernummer). This number is essential for legal operation as a Freiberufler, as it must be included on all your invoices.

    3. Understanding Taxation for Freiberufler

    As a Freiberufler, your income is subject to income tax (Einkommensteuer). The amount you pay is progressive, depending on your earnings.

    VAT Considerations

    Unlike general freelancers, many Freiberufler are exempt from charging VAT (Umsatzsteuer), especially if they fall under specific professional categories or their income is below certain thresholds. However, it’s advisable to consult with a tax professional to understand your specific VAT obligations.

    Income Tax Declarations

    Freiberufler are required to file an annual income tax return. The process is somewhat simplified compared to general freelancers, as Freiberufler are not required to prepare formal balance sheets. However, keeping accurate records of income and expenses is essential.

    4. Health Insurance and Social Security

    As a Freiberufler, you’re responsible for your health insurance and retirement provisions. You can choose between private and public health insurance schemes. Contributing to a pension scheme is optional but recommended for long-term financial security.

    5. Professional Association Membership

    Depending on your profession, you might need to register with a professional association or chamber (Berufskammer). For instance, doctors must register with the Ärztekammer, and lawyers with the Rechtsanwaltskammer.

    6. Business Bank Account

    While not legally required, it’s advisable to set up a separate business bank account. This helps in keeping your personal and business finances distinct, simplifying bookkeeping and tax preparation.

    7. Invoicing

    As a Freiberufler, you must ensure that your invoices are legally compliant. They should include your tax number, a detailed description of the services, the date, a unique invoice number, and the total amount including any applicable VAT.

    8. Record Keeping

    Maintain thorough records of all your business transactions, including invoices, receipts, and bank statements. These records should be kept for at least ten years, as they might be required for tax audits.

    9. Ongoing Compliance

    Stay informed about changes in tax laws and regulations that might affect your status as a Freiberufler. Regular consultations with a tax advisor can help in ensuring ongoing compliance and optimizing your tax situation.

    Becoming a Freiberufler in Germany can be a rewarding venture, offering independence and the opportunity to capitalize on your professional skills. However, it’s crucial to navigate the setup process with care, ensuring all legal and tax obligations are met for a smooth and successful freelance career.

    FAQ – Freiberufler in Germany

    Can Anyone Become a Freiberufler in Germany?

    The Freiberufler status is reserved for specific professions that typically require specialized academic training or artistic skills. Common examples include doctors, lawyers, architects, and artists. It’s not open to all types of freelance work.

    What are the First Steps to Becoming a Freiberufler?

    First, determine if your profession qualifies as a Freiberufler. Next, register your address in Germany and then register your freelance activity with the local tax office (Finanzamt) by completing the tax collection questionnaire.

    Do I Need a Special Visa to Work as a Freiberufler in Germany?

    Non-EU nationals need a freelance visa to work as a Freiberufler in Germany. EU/EEA citizens can work as freelancers without a special visa due to the freedom of movement within the EU.

    How Do I Register with the Finanzamt?

    Register by filling out the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung (tax collection questionnaire) and submitting it to your local Finanzamt. This can be done online or in person.

    What is a Steuernummer and Why Do I Need It?

    A Steuernummer is a tax number issued by the Finanzamt once your registration as a freelancer is processed. It’s necessary for legal operation as a Freiberufler and must be included on all invoices.

    Are Freiberufler Exempt from Charging VAT?

    Many Freiberufler are exempt from charging VAT, especially if they belong to specific professional categories or their income is below certain thresholds. However, this can vary, so it’s advisable to consult a tax professional.

    What Kind of Taxes Do Freiberufler Pay?

    Freiberufler in Germany are subject to income tax (Einkommensteuer) on their earnings. The tax rate is progressive and depends on the level of income.

    Do I Need to Join a Professional Association or Chamber?

    Some professions may require you to register with a relevant professional association or chamber. For example, doctors must register with the Ärztekammer.

    Is It Mandatory to Have a Business Bank Account as a Freiberufler?

    It’s not legally required but highly recommended to have a separate business bank account for clearer financial management and easier bookkeeping.

    What Should Be Included in a Freiberufler Invoice?

    A compliant invoice should include your tax number, a detailed description of services, invoice date, a unique invoice number, and the total amount including any VAT (if applicable).

    How Long Should I Keep Business Records?

    Business records, including invoices, receipts, and bank statements, should be kept for at least ten years for potential tax audits.

    Can I Work as a Freiberufler While Being Employed?

    You can work as a Freiberufler alongside employment, but this depends on your employment contract and visa conditions (for non-EU nationals). Always check your contract and visa restrictions first.

    What Insurance Do I Need as a Freiberufler?

    You’re responsible for your health insurance, and it’s recommended to have professional liability insurance. Health insurance can be either private or public.

    How Can I Determine If My Profession Qualifies as Freiberufler?

    Consult the official list of liberal professions (Freie Berufe) in Germany or speak with a tax advisor to determine if your profession qualifies as Freiberufler.

    What Happens If I Don’t Register as a Freiberufler?

    Failure to register can lead to legal issues, including fines. It’s essential to complete all registration steps to legally operate as a Freiberufler in Germany.

    Need support with your Freiberufler Status? Get in touch with our experts