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What is the policy about freelance work done in Germany (for possibly international clients through a global online platform) by people with another main job? Is it allowed? What are the steps required to register such employment? How is it taxed?

In my specific case, the main employment would be a 75% PhD position.

A related question is Is it permitted to work as a freelancer on Upwork while studying in Germany? (which does not cover my case precisely).

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You can have multiple jobs there is no law against it. One or more of them could be working self-employed ("Selbstständiger"/"Freiberufler") or for your own company. Not every profession can be "Selbstständiger", it must be some kind of creative, mental work. Programming would work. Scrubbing toilets would not. But you can have your own company for any sort of work.

In theory it's dead easy. You ask your local "Finanz-Amt" (tax authority) for the form to fill out. You fill in the details, pay a small fee (probably less than 20€) and then you have either a "Freiberufler" or a company you now own. You will get a second (third...) tax id that is not your personal tax id, so you can use that to write invoices as a company.

So the paperwork is really easy. I did it, it's as easy as it sounds, it maybe takes 30 minutes to fill out that form, you can do it right there and turn it in if you want. My personal experiences with our local tax authority are super positive. Of all the authorities, this one is actually happy to have you, because you bring in money, not the other way round as it normally goes with "Amt"s.

However, there is a lot of legal work to be done. And you should get a lawyer to set that up right and advise you. How to do taxes? How to get insurance? Does your job need something like malpractice insurance or a "Gewerbeschein"? Do you need separate accounts for your business? Is it better to have a company or be self-employed for your specific case? And if it's a company, what legal form should it have? Do you make enough money that you have to pay taxes up front? Or can you use one of the many exemptions? Get a professional to answer all those questions before you register.

That said, you do have a legal duty to your day job: you are required to come to work rested and fit for the job. If you program all night for your side-business and are sleepy eyed and tired and make mistakes all day at your day job, that is a reason to eventually fire you. But it's the same reason as if you would play computer games or binge watch shows or talk to your friends all night every night, it has nothing to do with why you fail at your day job. Just make sure you do not, regardless of reason.

In addition, make sure you check your current contract for clauses what to do when you have another job. Employers may require notification of your side business.

So long story short: you can do that. It's perfectly legal, many people do it. But before you sign the papers, get professional help to get it right from the start.

| improve this answer | |
  • There are 2 points that would improve this answer. 1) When employed elsewhere (main employment) you must have the permission of your employer for another employment. 2) Discription of the conditions where a freelancer must also apply for a Gewerbeschein. kontist.com/posts/selbststaendig-ohne-gewerbeanmeldung – Mark Johnson Dec 4 '19 at 10:35
  • @MarkJohnson Can you cite a source for #1? As far as I know you only have to inform your employer if informing your employer is an explicit part of your current working contract. Permission can also not be denied. It's a formality, even if explicitly mentioned in the contract. The only exception, with or without explicit mention, is when you start to work against your employer (i.e. buy your own hot dog stand while still working your day job at the employers hot dog stand in the same neighborhood). – nvoigt Dec 4 '19 at 10:43
  • It will always depend on the contract terms, where Ne­ben­tä­tig­keit is meantioned. Sometimes: "Sämt­li­che Ne­bentätig­kei­ten sind dem Ar­beit­ge­ber un­auf­ge­for­dert und vor Auf­nah­me der Ne­bentätig­keit an­zu­zei­gen.". But mostly: "Ent­gelt­li­che selbständi­ge Ne­bentätig­kei­ten und Ne­bentätig­kei­ten in ei­nem an­de­ren Ar­beits­verhält­nis sind dem Ar­beit­ge­ber an­zu­zei­gen und bedürfen sei­ner vor­he­ri­gen Zu­stim­mung. Die Ge­neh­mi­gung ist zu er­tei­len, wenn be­rech­tig­te In­ter­es­sen des Ar­beit­ge­bers nicht ent­ge­gen­ste­hen." – Mark Johnson Dec 4 '19 at 10:56
  • The following are illegal: 1) "Während der Dau­er des Ar­beits­verhält­nis­ses ist je­de ent­gelt­li­che oder un­ent­gelt­li­che Ne­ben­beschäfti­gung un­zulässig." and 2) "Ne­bentätig­kei­ten bedürfen der vor­he­ri­gen Zu­stim­mung des Ar­beit­ge­bers." – Mark Johnson Dec 4 '19 at 10:58
  • I have seen those clauses and they are not uncommon. Your comment made it look like it's some kind contract-independent of automatism or law. Obviously one has to obey all clauses of the main contract, but I won't speculate what they might be. – nvoigt Dec 4 '19 at 10:59

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