Company Forms

Company Forms

Quick Facts: Branch Offices

Any foreign company with a head office and registered business operations outside of Germany can establish a German branch office. A branch office is a suitable business form for a foreign company wanting to establish a presence in Germany for the purpose of initiating business and maintaining contacts with business partners.

In Germany, there are two kinds of branch establishments which primarily differ due to the degree of the independence from the head office company:

Main Characteristics

A branch office has no independent or separate legal personality distinct from the head office itself. In legal and organizational terms, it is part of the head office business and is thus subject to the law governing the head office. In this context, the foreign head office company is fully liable to the extent of its own assets for any claims creditors might assert against the branch office. Any obligations or debts incurred by the branch office are also legal responsibility of the foreign company.

Taxation of Branch Offices

A branch office is subject to taxation in Germany if it is considered as a permanent establishment according to the applicable double taxation agreement (DTA). An autonomous branch office is generally regarded as a permanent establishment, whereas a dependant branch office is only ever considered a permanent establishment under certain conditions.

A German permanent establishment of a foreign corporation is taxed in Germany according to German taxation rules for corporations (corporate income tax, solidarity surcharge and municipal trade tax).

Read more about the taxation of companies in Germany here:

Forms of Branch Offices: Overview

Legal/Establishment FormLegal LiabilityMinimum CapitalNumber of Persons RequiredEstablishing Formalities
Autonomous Branch Office (selbständige Zweigniederlassung)Subject to the head office legal company formNone requiredMinimum one personMorderate
Dependent Branch Office (unselbständige Zweigniederlassung)Subject to the head office legal company formNone requiredMinimum one personVery low

Other Forms

Offices that purely serve to observe the market and pave the way for initial customer contacts are often described as "representative offices." However, this term does not exist in German commercial law.

Once an office is used by a foreign company for commercial activities (thus forming part of the foreign company organization), it generally must be registered at least as a dependent branch office in Germany. This is typically the case if the foreign company has a permanent representative who conducts the commercial activities of the company in a sustained manner and, in doing so, is subject to its instruction.

An office managed by a self-employed third party (e.g. a commercial agent authorized by the company) might be considered a case in which no independent business activity is conducted on behalf of the foreign company. In this case, registration of the foreign company with the local trade office is generally not required. Decisive here is the actual level of independence of the agent and their freedom to act without instruction from the company.

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Christina Schön Christina Schön | © GTAI/ Illing & Vossbeck Fotografie

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Udo Sellhast Udo Sellhast | © GTAI

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