Invest in Germany

Establishing a business in Germany requires a sequence of several specific steps from choosing the appropriate legal form for the business to entry in the trade register.

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Establishing a company

Any entrepreneur who wishes to start a business in Germany may do so: there are generally no restrictions limiting the establishment of new companies.Nevertheless, establishing a business in Germany requires a sequence of several specific steps from choosing the appropriate legal form for the business to entry in the trade register.

Legal forms at a glance

Foreign investors can choose between a variety of legal forms for conducting business in Germany. There is no specific investment legislation in Germany, nor is a minimum percentage of German shareholdings required for foreign entrepreneurs.

Decisive criteria for the choice of legal form are generally the intended function of the shareholders, liability and terms of taxation. Expanding companies often choose to establish a local subsidiary or to register a local branch office. Especially the subsidiary's degree of independence is a major argument for this option. Foreign companies can choose the most suitable legal company form as a corporation or partnership.

There are four major forms of corporations under German law:

Limited Liability Company (GmbH)


The German limited liability company (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, GmbH) is the most widely used legal form for corporations. It combines high flexibility with relatively few obligations. A GmbH is liable to corporate income tax, solidarity surcharge and trade tax.

Setting up a GmbH is easy and uncomplicated and can be accomplished in just a few steps.

Share Capital

The minimum share capital required to establish a GmbH is EUR 25,000 (this can also be made up of contributions in kind). At the time of registration, at least half of the minimum capital (i.e. EUR 12,500) must be actually and verifiably contributed on a bank account.

Formation Procedure

The formation procedure of a GmbH is fairly uncomplicated, as it is established by the founding shareholder(s) executing a deed of formation and articles of association in the presence of a notary.

For uncomplicated standardized formations of a GmbH model articles of association (for set-ups by cash subscription with a maximum of three shareholders and one managing director) are provided. These articles must still be notarized, but for a reduced fee.

In addition, sample deeds are also provided by the chambers of industry and commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer, IHK).

Ideally, the time period required for the formation of a GmbH is two to three weeks. The estimated total costs for the formation of a standard GmbH are approximately EUR 750 to EUR 1,000 plus fees for legal counsel if a lawyer is employed to draw up the articles of association.

Limited Liability Entrepreneurial Company ("Mini GmbH")

The Mini-GmbH (Unternehmergesellschaft UG, haftungsbeschränkt) is not a separate legal form of company, but a GmbH which has a minimum capital of less than EUR 25,000 and where cash subscription is required. This means that it is possible to set up a company with limited liability in Germany with capital of only EUR 1.00.

In order to compensate the initial absence of capital the company has to retain a quarter of its annual profit until it has accumulated the minimum shareholder capital of an ordinary GmbH (which is EUR 25,000). The accumulated capital can then be converted into share capital and the Mini-GmbH altered into a standard GmbH.

For uncomplicated standardized formation of a Mini-GmbH model articles are provided. These articles must still be notarized, but for a reduced fee. Thus, establishment costs for a Mini GmbH are reduced to a total of around EUR 300.

Except for the abovementioned specific provisions the Mini-GmbH - by terms of law - is generally subject to the same duties and rights as the standard GmbH.

Stock Corporation (AG)


A stock corporation (Aktiengesellschaft, AG) generally enjoys a high market reputation among business partners. However, the founding formalities and costs of an AG are relatively high, and the AG is subject to extensive organizational obligations in day-to-day business. The AG is liable to corporate income tax, solidarity surcharge and trade tax.

Formation Requirements

In principle, an AG can be established by any individual. Generally speaking, there are only two founding obligations to be observed. First, an AG must have a minimum share capital of EUR 50,000 (which must be fully subscribed by the founding shareholders) and articles of association need to be certified by a notary. Legal consultation is advisable for drawing up the articles of association.

Partnership Limited by Shares (KGaA)


The partnership limited by shares (Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien, KGaA) combines the structures of a stock corporation (AG) and a limited partnership (Kommanditgesellschaft). It connects the entrepreneurial commitment and personal standing of the individually liable shareholders (general partners) with the function of the AG as a public company and source of capital. The KGaA can be described as a stock corporation having individually liable shareholders (general partners) instead of a management board.

The KGaA is not a frequently used legal form in Germany. It is liable to corporate income tax, solidarity surcharge and trade tax.

Liability of Partners

The KGaA can have an unlimited number of capital investors (limited shareholders), whose liability is limited once they have paid their subscribed capital contribution. The minimum share capital of a KGaA is (in total) EUR 50,000. The limited shareholders have more or less the same legal rights as shareholders in an AG. At least one partner of the KGaA, the general partner, has to be liable for debts and liabilities of the KGaA without limitation.


The KGaA must be entered into the commercial register and registered with the local trade office.

Branch Offices


The autonomous branch office (selbständige Zweigniederlassung) fulfills tasks that exceed mere implementation and support-related tasks. It is dependent upon the head office company at the internal level but engages in business activities independently. However, the foreign head office company is liable for the business transactions concluded by the branch.

At the organizational level, autonomous branch offices are to a certain extent independent from the parent company and usually have the following attributes:

  • Management with freedom to act according to their own judgement (i.e. with full power of attorney and power to contract)
  • Own capital resources and bank account
  • Separate accounting

An autonomous branch office can use its own name affix but the company name of the head office must also appear including its legal designation (for example: XY Ltd., branch office, Berlin).

Setting Up an Autonomous Branch Office

Foreign companies can set up an autonomous branch office in Germany if they are entered in a foreign commercial register (or a comparable directory).

The decision to establish a branch office must be made by the managing directors of the head office. The autonomous branch office must be entered in the commercial register and registered with the local trade office.

Registering in the Commercial Register

The application for registration in the commercial register must include detailed information on the foreign company and generally be accompanied by a notarized copy of an excerpt of the commercial register showing the existence of the foreign company and the power of representation of the managing director(s) and the management board as well as from memorandum and articles of association. All documents should be in German certified translation and the notary’s certificate must be authenticated.

Due to the harmonized EC Law, the documentation effort for European companies is fairly modest. For non-European companies it can be extensive, the exact details depending on the foreign company’s residence. The application must be certified and submitted by a notary.

Trade Office Registration

The autonomous branch office must be registered in the trade office before business operations are started. A business license or permit is generally not necessary for registering the business. Only for some business sectors, a permit or authorization may be required. Trade office registration must be submitted on commencement of business at the latest.

Incentive Programs

Germany offers numerous incentives for foreign investors.

There is a variety of programs available, designed to fit the needs of diverse economic activities at different stages of the investment process.

Support ranges from cash incentives to labor-related, and incentives for research & development (R&D). Find out how your investment project can benefit from public funding.