The “Eingetragener Kaufmann”, Sole Proprietorship in Germany

In Germany, the term “Eingetragener Kaufmann als Einzelunternehmen” (registered merchant) or e. K. refers to a legal business form for single entrepreneurs. This comprehensive guide delves into what it entails, how to become one, and its relevance for business owners.

Table of Contents:

  1. What is an Eingetragener Kaufmann?
  2. What is the difference between e.K and Einzelunternehmen?
  3. The Registration Process
  4. Advantages and Disadvantages
  5. Business Management and Legal Requirements
  6. Taxation for Eingetragener Kaufmann
  7. Ideal Candidates for the Eingetragener Kaufmann Status
  8. Conclusion
Eingetragener Kaufmann in Berlin Germany

What is an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

An Eingetragener Kaufmann (e.K.) is a form of business entity in Germany specifically for individual entrepreneurs. It’s a legal designation for sole proprietors who are registered in the German Commercial Register (Handelsregister). This status is often pursued by businesses that exceed the size and scope of a small trade business.

What is the difference between the Einzelunternehmen  and the Eingetragener Kaufmann?

Einzelunternehmen and Eingetragener Kaufmann (e.K.) are both types of businesses in Germany, but they have some key differences.


An Einzelunternehmen is a sole proprietorship, which means that the owner is personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business. Einzelunternehmen are not required to be registered with the commercial register (Handelsregister), but they must register with the tax authorities (Finanzamt).

Eingetragener Kaufmann

An Eingetragener Kaufmann is a registered merchant, which means that the business is registered with the commercial register. Eingetragene Kaufleute are subject to a stricter set of regulations than Einzelunternehmen, including the following:

  • They must have a company name that ends in “e.K.”
  • They must have a registered office and a registered manager.
  • They must keep accurate accounting records.
  • They are subject to higher taxes than Einzelunternehmen.

Key Differences

The key differences between Einzelunternehmen and Eingetragener Kaufmann are as follows:

FeatureEinzelunternehmenEingetragener Kaufmann
Legal structureSole proprietorshipRegistered merchant
LiabilityPersonal liabilityLimited liability
RegistrationNot requiredRequired
Company nameCan be any nameMust end in “e.K.”
Registered officeNot requiredRequired
Registered managerNot requiredRequired
AccountingNot subject to strict regulationsSubject to strict regulations
TaxesLower taxesHigher taxes

Which one is right for you?

The best type of business structure for you will depend on your individual circumstances and needs. If you are looking for a simple and affordable business structure with low liability, an Einzelunternehmen may be the right choice for you. However, if you are looking for a more formal business structure with limited liability, an Eingetragener Kaufmann may be a better option.

Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Your personal liability tolerance: If you are not comfortable with the idea of being personally liable for the debts and obligations of your business, an Eingetragener Kaufmann may be a better option.
  • Your business goals: If you plan to grow your business or expand into new markets, an Eingetragener Kaufmann may be a better option as it offers more credibility and stability.
  • Your budget: Eingetragene Kaufleute are subject to higher taxes, so you will need to factor this into your decision.

The Registration Process

Registering your activity as an “Eingetragener Kaufmann” in Germany involves several steps and can vary slightly depending on your specific circumstances and location. Here is a general overview of the process:

  1. Prepare Your Business Concept:
    • Before you start the registration process, you should have a clear business concept, including the type of business activities you plan to engage in, your business name, and a business plan.
  2. Choose a Business Name:
    • Select a unique and suitable business name. Ensure it doesn’t infringe on any existing trademarks or businesses and that it accurately reflects your business activities.
  3. Check Eligibility:
    • Ensure that your business activities qualify for the Eingetragener Kaufmann status. This form is generally suitable for commercial activities rather than freelance or professional services.
  4. Reserve Your Business Name (Optional):
    • You can check if your chosen business name is available and, if necessary, reserve it with the local Trade Office (Gewerbeamt) or at the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA).
  5. Prepare Required Documents:
    • Gather the necessary documents, which typically include:
      • Completed registration form (Gewerbeanmeldung or Gewerbe-Anzeige).
      • Proof of identity (passport or ID card).
      • Proof of residency (registration certificate or utility bill).
      • Lease agreement for your business premises or a confirmation letter from your landlord.
      • Any relevant permits or licenses for your specific business activities.
      • If applicable, proof of professional qualifications or certifications.
  6. Register with the Local Trade Office (Gewerbeamt):
    • Visit the local Trade Office in your city or municipality to submit your registration documents.
    • Fill out the Gewerbeanmeldung or Gewerbe-Anzeige form, providing detailed information about your business.
    • Pay the registration fee, which can vary depending on your location and the type of business.
  7. Register with the Tax Office (Finanzamt):
    • After registering with the Trade Office, your information will be forwarded to the Tax Office (Finanzamt).
    • You will receive your tax number, which is essential for tax-related matters.
  8. Register with the Social Security Office (Sozialversicherung):
    • If you plan to hire employees or have specific insurance requirements, you may need to register with the relevant social security authorities.
  9. Comply with Other Regulations:
    • Depending on your business activities, you may need to fulfill additional requirements, such as obtaining specific licenses, permits, or adhering to industry-specific regulations.
  10. Open a Business Bank Account:
    • It’s advisable to open a separate business bank account for your Eingetragener Kaufmann business transactions to maintain clear financial records.
  11. Register for VAT (Value Added Tax) (Optional):
    • Depending on your annual turnover, you may need to register for VAT with the Tax Office. Consult with a tax advisor to determine your VAT obligations.
  12. Maintain Proper Records:
    • Keep accurate financial records and adhere to German accounting standards. This includes tracking income, expenses, and taxes.
  13. Renewals and Reporting:
    • Be aware of any renewal requirements or reporting obligations, which can vary depending on your business activities and location.

It’s crucial to consult with a local business advisor or attorney to ensure that you meet all the specific requirements and regulations for your particular business. Additionally, the process may involve different steps if you are a non-EU citizen or if you plan to hire employees.

If you are a non-EU citizen, read our article explaining how to start a business in Germany as a foreigner.

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    Advantages and Disadvantages

    The advantages of being an Eingetragener Kaufmann include simplified business processes due to fewer formality requirements, and the ability to delegate authority. However, there are also disadvantages such as mandatory adherence to strict bookkeeping and accounting rules, unlimited personal liability, and certain administrative costs and obligations.

    Business Management and Legal Requirements

    An Eingetragener Kaufmann has sole decision-making authority and responsibility for business management and representation. They are bound by the German Commercial Code (HGB) and must fulfill specific legal obligations, including accurate bookkeeping and making mandatory disclosures on business correspondence.

    Taxation for Eingetragener Kaufmann

    The taxation for an Eingetragener Kaufmann (registered merchant or sole proprietorship) in Germany depends on several factors, including your business income, location, and the type of activities you are engaged in. Here are the key aspects of taxation for an Eingetragener Kaufmann:

    1. Income Tax (Einkommensteuer):
      • As an Eingetragener Kaufmann, your business income is typically treated as your personal income for tax purposes.
      • Germany has a progressive income tax system, with tax rates that increase as your income rises.
      • Your taxable income includes both your business profits and any other sources of income, such as investment income or rental income.
      • You must file an annual income tax return (Einkommensteuererklärung) with the tax authorities, usually by May 31 of the following year.
    2. Trade Tax (Gewerbesteuer):
      • Eingetragener Kaufleute are subject to trade tax, which is a local tax imposed by municipalities (Gemeinde) and varies depending on your business’s location.
      • The trade tax rate can vary significantly between municipalities but is calculated based on your business’s assessed trade income (Gewerbeertrag).
      • You will need to file a separate trade tax return (Gewerbesteuererklärung).
    3. Value Added Tax (VAT) (Umsatzsteuer):
      • If your annual turnover exceeds specific thresholds, you may be required to register for VAT (Umsatzsteuer) with the tax authorities.
      • VAT rates in Germany are typically 19% or 7% (reduced rate), depending on the type of goods or services you provide.
      • VAT-registered businesses must collect VAT from customers and remit it to the tax authorities.
      • You also have the right to claim input VAT credits for VAT paid on business expenses.
    4. Other Taxes and Contributions:
      • Depending on your business activities, you may be subject to other taxes or contributions, such as social security contributions if you employ staff or other industry-specific taxes and fees.
    5. Annual Financial Statements:
      • As an Eingetragener Kaufmann, you are required to maintain proper accounting records and prepare annual financial statements (Jahresabschluss) in accordance with German accounting standards.
      • These statements include a balance sheet (Bilanz) and an income statement (Gewinn- und Verlustrechnung), which are submitted to the tax authorities along with your tax returns.
    6. Tax Planning and Consulting:
      • It’s advisable to consult with a tax advisor (Steuerberater) or accountant to ensure compliance with tax laws and optimize your tax situation.
      • They can help you minimize your tax liability through legal deductions and exemptions while ensuring accurate record-keeping.

    Please note that tax regulations can change over time, and there may be specific rules or exemptions that apply to your business based on its size and industry. Therefore, it’s essential to seek professional advice and stay updated on tax requirements and changes relevant to your Eingetragener Kaufmann business.

    Ideal Candidates for the Eingetragener Kaufmann Status

    This status is best suited for individual entrepreneurs in Germany who operate a business that exceeds the scope of a small trade. It is ideal for those seeking more flexibility in their business operations and those whose businesses have grown significantly in scale.


    The Eingetragener Kaufmann status offers a flexible and recognized legal framework for individual entrepreneurs in Germany. While it brings several benefits, it also requires adherence to specific legal and financial responsibilities.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    What is an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    An Eingetragener Kaufmann is a legal form for individual entrepreneurs in Germany, characterized by registration in the Handelsregister and the ability to operate under a business name.

    How do I register as an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    Registration involves applying to the Handelsregister, typically necessitating an assessment of your business’s size and scope.

    What are the advantages of being an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    Advantages include the freedom to choose a business name, fewer formalities in business processes, and the ability to grant Prokura.

    What are the disadvantages?

    The main disadvantages are unlimited personal liability, mandatory bookkeeping and accounting rules, and certain administrative costs.

    Who should consider becoming an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    It is ideal for entrepreneurs whose businesses have grown beyond the scale of a small trade and require more operational flexibility.

    Is there a limit on the type of business for an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    Generally, there are no specific limits on the type of business, but the business must meet certain size and scope criteria.

    What are the tax implications for an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    They are subject to income tax, trade tax, VAT, and payroll tax, with specific thresholds and allowances, particularly for trade tax.

    Can I operate under any name as an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    You have the freedom to choose your business name, but it should not mislead about the nature and scale of your business.

    What are the bookkeeping requirements for an Eingetragener Kaufmann?

    The bookkeeping requirements for an Eingetragener Kaufmann may include maintaining proper accounting records, financial statements, and compliance with German accounting standards and regulations.

    Have more questions? Get in touch with our experts