Non-EU/EEA or Swiss freelancers, self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs will likely need to obtain a permit to legalise their professional activities in Hamburg. Requirements vary ─ depending on nationality, residency status and line of profession.
Hamburg residents from EU/EEA Member States and Switzerland have the same rights and are subject to the same rules as German nationals regarding starting a business or becoming self-employed. It depends on your profession and the prospective size of your business whether a trip to the local Finanzamt (Tax Office) to obtain a tax-ID suffices, or if you need to register at the Chamber of Commerce or Chamber of Crafts in addition.
Not all types of residency permits allow for self-employed activities in Hamburg. Non-EU/EEA/Swiss nationals that plan to stay in Hamburg for longer than three months to carry out self-employed activities need to apply for a residency permit that specifically allows for this prior to entering Germany. International citizens with a settlement permit or a long-term EU residency permit have no restrictions: they are commercially on an equal footing with German nationals.
If you’re a Hamburg resident already and want to become self-employed, check if your residency permit allows for self-employed activities. If it doesn’t, you should apply to the foreigners’ department of your local registry office (Bezirksamt) for the condition to be amended. The foreigners’ department will send your application (including a cv, business plan, proof of capital and a forecast of earnings) to the Chamber of Commerce or Chamber of Crafts to be assessed.
If you plan to start a business or become self-employed carrying out a skilled craft, the Hamburg Chamber of Crafts (Handwerkskammer) needs to examine whether your activities must be entered on the ‘skilled crafts register’ (Handwerksrolle) and if you fulfill the necessary requirements to be considered a 'skilled tradesman'. The registry includes building and construction trades, metal trades, woodwork trades, clothing, textile and leather trades, foodstuffs trades, trades related to health and hygiene, chemical and cleaning trades as well as glass, paper, ceramic, photography, and other trades.
For an extensive, English-language overview of legal requirements, the business application process, mandatory insurances and other information regarding self-employment for international residents in Hamburg ─ check out the Point of Single Contact of the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce.