Starting a Business in Germany as a Foreigner

Germany, a nation renowned for its strong economy, robust infrastructure, and innovative spirit, beckons entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe to establish their ventures amidst its promising business climate. However, the path to entrepreneurship in Germany can present unique challenges for individuals not native to the country. Understanding the legal, bureaucratic, and cultural nuances is crucial for foreign entrepreneurs seeking to succeed in this dynamic market.

In the following paragraphs, we will clarify the different scenarios of starting a business in Germany as a foreigner or from abroad.

starting a business in germany as a foreigner

Non-European citizen not living in Germany

In the context of founding a company in Germany from abroad, particularly for a non-European citizen who does not reside in Germany, there can be specific challenges related to incorporating a business, especially when it comes to opening a bank account. One strategy that can be considered, is purchasing a readymade company (commonly known as a “shelf company”) and remaining a proxy in the company, primarily because some German banks may have certain requirements regarding company ownership and management by German residents or entities. Let’s expand on this concept:

  1. Purchasing a Shelf Company or a Readymade Company: A shelf company, same as a Readymade Company, is a pre-registered legal entity that has been already created and registered. These companies are typically available for sale, and their ownership can be transferred to the buyer relatively quickly.
  1. Proxy in the Company: Since the non-European individual does not reside in Germany, it may be necessary to appoint a local individual or a proxy to act as the director or legal representative of the company. This person would represent the company in dealings with authorities, banks, and other institutions.
  1. Banking Requirements: Many German banks have strict Know Your Customer (KYC) and Anti-Money Laundering (AML) requirements. They may require a local presence or a German resident as a signatory or authorized representative on the company’s bank account. This is often a key reason for having a proxy in the company.
  1. Legal Considerations: It’s crucial to consult with legal experts in Germany to ensure that all legal requirements and regulations are met when setting up the proxy arrangement. This may involve drafting proper legal agreements to define the roles and responsibilities of the proxy.
  1. Ongoing Compliance: The proxy will be responsible for ensuring that the company complies with all legal, tax, and regulatory obligations in Germany. This includes filing annual reports, paying taxes, and adhering to corporate governance standards.
  1. Considerations and Risks: While using a shelf company and a proxy can be a practical solution, it’s essential to be aware of the potential risks and complexities. Depending on the specific industry and business activities, there may be additional requirements or restrictions.
  1. Taxation and Residency: Non-European entrepreneurs should also be mindful of their tax obligations, both in Germany and their home country. The tax implications of owning and operating a business in Germany can be significant, so it’s advisable to seek tax advice.
  1. Long-Term Planning: Finally, consider your long-term business goals and whether this proxy arrangement is a temporary solution or part of a more comprehensive strategy. If you plan to reside in Germany or expand your operations, you may need to revisit your company structure.

In summary, purchasing a shelf company and using a proxy can be a viable strategy for a non-European citizen not living in Germany to establish a business presence in the country. However, it’s essential to navigate the legal, financial, and compliance aspects carefully and seek professional advice to ensure a successful and legally compliant operation.

Get in touch to start your business in Germany


    Non-European citizen living in Germany

    If you are a non-European citizen but you reside in Germany and plan to incorporate a company there, you may not necessarily need a German person as a managing director. Your residency in Germany can fulfill the requirement for a company director who is a resident in the country. However, there are still some important considerations:

    1. Residency as a Director: German law typically requires that at least one managing director or authorized representative of a company be a resident of Germany. If you are a legal resident in Germany, you can fulfill this requirement yourself.
    1. Legal and Administrative Responsibilities: As the managing director, you will assume significant legal and administrative responsibilities for the company, including representing the company in legal matters, signing contracts, and ensuring compliance with German laws and regulations.
    1. German Language Proficiency: It’s important to have a good command of the German language because many official documents, contracts, and communications will be in German. Being able to communicate effectively in German is essential for conducting business in the country.
    1. Professional Advice: Even if you meet the residency requirement, it is advisable to seek legal counsel and possibly the services of a professional firm specializing in corporate governance and legal compliance. They can assist with the company incorporation process, ensure that you meet all legal requirements, and provide guidance on ongoing compliance matters.
    1. Liabilities and Risks: Be aware that as a managing director, you will assume certain legal liabilities and responsibilities. Understanding these responsibilities and potential risks is crucial for your role.

    In summary, if you are a non-European citizen living in Germany, you can serve as the managing director of your company if you meet the residency requirement and have the necessary language skills and qualifications. However, it’s important to ensure that you comply with all legal and regulatory requirements and seek professional advice to navigate the complexities of company incorporation in Germany.

    European citizen not living in Germany

    Even as a European citizen, you may be required to appoint a legal representative or authorized agent who resides in Germany. This person will handle official matters on behalf of the company, especially if you do not plan to reside in Germany.

    Nevertheless, both EU and EWR (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland) citizens can take advantage of European free trade regulations, therefore having access to a quicker and simpler company formation procedure.

    European citizen living in Germany

    This is the simplest scenario. As a European or EWR citizen living in Germany, you are generally eligible to be the managing director (Geschäftsführer) of your company without the need for a legal representative.

    Navigating the Legal Landscape

    Germany’s business landscape is governed by a complex web of laws and regulations. Foreign entrepreneurs must familiarize themselves with these requirements to ensure their company’s compliance and legal standing. Key aspects to consider include:

    • Company Formation: Choosing the appropriate legal structure, such as GmbH or UG, is essential for defining ownership, liability, and tax implications.
    • Registration and Licensing: Registering the company with the commercial register (Amtsgericht) and obtaining necessary licenses are mandatory steps for conducting business legally.
    • Taxation: Understanding and adhering to German tax regulations, including income tax, corporate tax, and value-added tax, is crucial for financial stability.
    • Compliance with Labor Laws: Abiding by labor laws, such as employment contracts, social security contributions, and working hours, is essential for a harmonious workplace.

    Setting up a Business Bank account for your new enterprise

    Many international business owners find it challenging to open a business bank account, as the requirements can differ significantly between various countries and banks.

    For EU citizens, establishing a business bank account in Germany tends to be a simple process.

    However, if you’re not a citizen of an EU country, you may encounter more stringent conditions when trying to open such an account.

    Clevver, Your Partner for Company Incorporations in Germany

    Specializing in company incorporations in Germany, Clevver simplifies this complex process, adapting to the unique challenges faced by non-EU citizens. With expertise in German business laws and a keen understanding of necessary compliance and registration steps, Clevver ensures a smooth incorporation journey.

    Their services extend beyond initial setup, offering crucial support in banking arrangements and ongoing operational, legal, and financial advice.

    Moreover, we offer Virtual Office solutions in Germany and worldwide, inclusive of Legal Addresses and Digital Mailboxes.

    This comprehensive approach not only facilitates a successful launch but also nurtures continuous growth in Germany’s vibrant market. Clevver’s personalized service and local insights make company incorporation in Germany a more accessible and fruitful endeavor for businesses of all sizes.

    Any doubts? Get in touch with our Team