German Chambers of Commerce
- Sandra Visser-Meijer
- 15 May 2023
- Edited 14 Dec 2022
- 2 min
The best-known and largest German Chambers of Commerce are the regional Industrie- und Handelskammern (IHKs). But Germany also has other registers, such as the Handwerkskammer (HWK), Handwerksrolle, Gewerberegister, and Handelsregister.
In Germany, companies have to register in several registries, with your business activities and the location of your business determining which registries apply. Depending on what you do, you may have to register with both the HWK and the IHK. This article will explain where you need to register your company if you are setting up a business in Germany.
Industrie- und Handelskammer
The regional Industrie- und Handelskammern (IHK) serve as points of contact for SMEs in Germany, supporting both startups and experienced entrepreneurs in running their business. On top of that, they provide information on topics such as new laws and regulations, environmental protection rules, and new developments in tax law, labour law, commercial, and business law. In addition, IHKs monitor Germany's business cycle and competitive position, as well as informing businesses about funding opportunities and grant programmes.
German companies that are obliged to be IHK members pay a membership fee. This fee varies among IHKs. Businesses in the craft sector, farmers, and so-called liberal professions such as translators, writers, and journalists do not need to be IHK members, as these professions are not involved in trade.
Establishing a GmbH
When you form a GmbH in Germany, the IHK must approve your chosen name for your GmbH before your GmbH can actually be formed. After the name has been approved, a notary will sign the deed of incorporation. Only GmbHs that are included in the business register of the district in which they are located are deemed to exist from a legal point of view.
Important: Do not perform any legal acts on behalf of your GmbH before it has completed the formal registration procedure.
The German company register is a department of a competent local court, called the Amtsgericht, that registers newly established businesses and issues an HRB or HRA number. These numbers are similar to the Dutch KVK number. Division B of the Company Register issues the B numbers and registers all companies. Division A of the Trade Register issues A numbers and administers all other forms of business such as sole proprietorships and partnerships.
The Ministry of Justice of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia manages the website of the German Company Register, which pulls information from locally managed regional Company Registries. This means the ministery provides central access to the Trade Registers on behalf of the other German states.
Immediately after forming your GmbH, you register your company, your ‘Gewerbe’, in the Gewerberegister of the municipality where your GmbH is located. This is a municipal business register and a different register from the company register mentioned above. After you register, the Gewerbeamt will automatically forward your information to the local Finanzamt, which will send you registration forms for your company's tax obligations.
Business records are linked to a so-called ‘Gewerbesteuer’, a local German business tax for natural and legal persons who own a business in Germany. Municipalities are free to determine this tax rate themselves, and it usually depends on your business or company profits.
The Handwerkskammer (HWK) or Chamber of Crafts administers the German Craft Register. If you perform so-called craft activities (in Dutch) in Germany, you must sign up to or register in the register of craft businesses. This register is called the 'Handwerksrolle' and applies, for example, to tilers, awning installers, hairdressers, and bakers. HWK members have to pay a mandatory membership fee.
Your business activities determine which register you have to join. The HWK is for crafts, while the IHK is for industrial companies and traders.
Liberal professions do not engage in trade and therefore do not have to join either of these registers. Instead, liberal professions such as doctors, lawyers, artists, and architects have to join industry-specific registers, such as the Rechtsanwaltskammer or Architektenkammer.
Proof of registration
In Germany, a KVK certificate is called an 'Auszug' or 'Mitgliederbescheinigung'. You apply for this certificate of registration at your business’s regional IHK, Handwerkskammer, or Gewerberegister. You can access German registries via European Registries. You can use the same website to check whether a German company is officially registered.