Israeli companies seeking to set up a business in Germany can choose between different establishment forms. A separate corporation held by the foreign company – a subsidiary – in the form of a corporation is in practice often established for this purpose. Existing companies can also conduct business via a German branch office. This chapter provides an overview on different possibilities of establishing a market presence of an Israeli company in Germany as well as on the necessary steps when it comes to the process of incorporation.
German company law offers a variety of different legal structures suitable for every type of business. Decisive criteria for the choice of legal form are generally the intended function of the shareholders, liability, and terms of taxation. The basic structure of all company forms is stipulated by law which provides for predictability and legal certainty. The same legal conditions generally apply for Israeli and German entrepreneurs.
The main feature of a corporation is the contribution of capital by shareholders. A corporation is a legal entity, meaning that the holder of rights and obligations is not the individual shareholder, but the company itself. The corporation itself concludes contracts, holds assets and is liable for taxation. Shareholders have limited personal liability. As such, a minimum share capital is required. There are four major forms of corporations under German law:
In contrast, characteristic for a partnership is the personal commitment of the partners to their working efforts in the partnership. In partnerships, the individual partners responsible for the liabilities of the company (including private assets) act for the company. Limitations of liability for individual partners are only possible to a limited extent. The different kinds of partnerships differ primarily in terms of the contingent liabilities of the partners and the necessary registration obligations. Major forms of partnerships in Germany include:
Even mixed forms are possible, for instance the GmbH & Co. KG. The GmbH & Co.KG is a limited partnership (KG) in which the general partner (Komplementär) is a limited liability company (GmbH). The GmbH is fully liable for the GmbH & Co. KG’s debts and liabilities. The liability of the limited partners (Kommanditisten) is limited to their respective share of the partnership capital.
For detailed information on these different company types, please refer to the “Investment Guide” of Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) online: www.gtai.com/company-forms.
As the GmbH is the most widely used form for corporations in Germany, this Guide will focus on the establishment of a GmbH as a subsidiary of an Israeli corporation.
Instead of setting up a new legal company according to German law, an Israeli corporation may also merely register a branch office in Germany.
A branch office has no independent or separate legal personality distinct from the Israeli head office company itself. In legal and organizational terms, it is part of the Israeli head office business. In this context, the Israeli head office company is fully liable to the extent of its own assets for any claims creditors might assert against the branch office. This often is seen as one of the disadvantages of a branch office compared to e.g. a subsidiary in the form of a GmbH.
In Germany, there are two kinds of branch offices which primarily differ due to the degree of independence from the head office company.
The autonomous branch office (selbständige Zweigniederlassung) is dependent upon the head office company at the internal level but engages in business activities independently. However, the Israeli head office company is still liable for the business transactions concluded by the branch office.
At the organizational level, autonomous branch offices are to a certain extent independent from the head office company and usually have the following attributes:
The dependent branch office (unselbständige Zweigniederlassung) focuses on maintaining contacts and initiating business in Germany. It performs support and implementation-related tasks without having any individual business discretion and is entirely dependent on the head office.
Offices that purely serve to observe the market and pave the way for initial customer contacts are often described as “representative offices.” However, this is a term which 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.
GmbH as Subsidiary of an Israeli Corporation
The German limited liability company (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung – GmbH) is the most widely used legal form for corporations in Germany. The main reason for its popularity (also as a subsidiary of a foreign company) is the combination of high flexibility and relatively few obligations. At least one shareholder (e.g. an Israeli national or an Israeli corporation) is required in order to establish a GmbH.
The GmbH has two mandatory corporate bodies. The main body is comprised of the shareholder(s) collectively in the shareholder meeting and the executive body of the managing director(s). An Israeli national residing in Israel can generally also be the managing director of a GmbH if the company has a physical German business address and at least a representative on-site in Germany.
The GmbH requires a minimum share capital of EUR 25,000. It can be contributed in cash or in kind (e.g. real estate or patents). Liability is limited to the corporation‘s business assets including share capital.
The main steps for setting up a GmbH by cash contribution are straightforward and can be described as follows:
For other company forms, the establishment procedure may differ. Please see GTAI’s Investment Guide online for further information (www.gtai.com/company-formation)
Registration of a Branch Office
An autonomous branch office of an Israeli corporation must be registered with the commercial register via a German notary. Like for the establishment of a subsidiary, the notary should be contacted at an early stage in order to get certainty on the documents of the Israeli head office company and the necessary form.
Autonomous branch offices and dependent branch offices of Israeli companies generally have to notify the responsible trade office (Gewerbe-/Ordnungsamt) about any performed business activity. Required permits and verifications of representatives must also be submitted.
Only in certain cases, a business license or further registrations are necessary in addition to the registration with the commercial register and to the trade office notification.
For instance, in the financial services and fintech sector, an authorization by the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) may be necessary among other things. As the business models may be very diverse, BaFin has compiled initial information online on e.g. alternative payment methods, crowd funding or virtual currencies and also offers a specific contact form for start-ups and fintechs. For more detailed information, please see https://www.bafin.de/EN/Aufsicht/FinTech/fintech_node_en.html.
For brokers, real-estate or insurance intermediaries and advisors or similar professions, specific licensing and registration requirements exist, too.
For the independent, non-industrial operation of certain trades (e.g. bakers, carpenters or hearing aid acousticians) entry in the Register of Craftsmen (Handwerksrolle) is required. The trades that are affected are listed in the Crafts and Trades Regulation Code (Handwerksordnung) where they can be consulted.
It is not possible to list all cases of potential licensing or permit requirements. For a (non-exhaustive) list of professions requiring a permit please refer to a website of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Frankfurt/Main: http://www.frankfurt-main.ihk.de/english/business/authorization/index.html .
In Germany, the Chambers of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer – IHK) and the Chambers of Crafts (Handwerkskammer) function as the local interest groups of business operators in a specific region. The chambers realize more than just the general functions of professional associations for their members. They also:
In addition to this, the IHKs also provide information about the local economic framework conditions in a specific region and provide foreign companies with business contacts to possible regional partners. All IHK members are also able to draw on the comprehensive advice and services of the responsible chamber. The chambers are generally the first point of contact in the event of day-to-day business problems.
Membership of the IHK occurs automatically upon registration in the trade office without requiring special registration. The costs of membership of the chamber depend on the turnover of the applicant company.
Certain trades considered as crafts professions have to register with the Chamber of Crafts prior to the trade office notification. Membership costs depend on turnover, too.
The umbrella association of the Chambers of Industry and Commerce, the DIHK (http://www.dihk.de/en), and the umbrella association of the Chambers of Crafts, the ZDH (http://www.zdh.de/en/), offer an overview of all of the regionally responsible chambers.
Germany Trade & Invest’s (GTAI) teams of industry experts assists companies in setting up operations in Germany. GTAI supports the project management activities from the earliest stages of the expansion strategy.
GTAI provides companies with all of the industry information they need – covering everything from key markets and related supply and application sectors to the R&D landscape.
Foreign companies profit from GTAI’s rich experience in identifying the business locations which best meet their specific investment criteria and turns the client’s requirements into concrete investment site proposals; providing consulting services to ensure the right location decision is made.
GTAI coordinate site visits, meetings with potential partners, universities, and other institutes active in the industry.
GTAI’s team of consultants is at hand to provide companies with the relevant background information on Germany’s industry regulations and the domestic labor market. A team of experts supports foreign companies seeking to establish a business in Germany with information about Germany’s tax and legal system. Information provided addresses the questions most often posed by international companies regarding incorporation; corporate taxation; entry and residence regulations; and employee and social security obligations.
Germany Trade & Invest’s experts help foreign companies to create the appropriate financial package for their investment and put them in contact with suitable financial partners. In addition, incentives specialists provide detailed information about available incentives, support with the application process, and arrange contacts with local economic development corporations.
More information under www.gtai.com.