Doing Business In Germany

Visa Information

Most EU nationals only need their national identity card or passport to enter, stay and work in Germany. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland and the US are among those countries that need only a valid passport but no visa if entering Germany as tourists for up to three months within a six-month period. Passports should be valid for at least another four months from the planned date of departure from Germany.
Nationals from most other countries need a so-called Schengen Visa, named for the 1995 Schengen Agreement that abolished passport controls between Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. You must apply for the Schengen Visa with the embassy or consulate of the country that is your primary destination. It is valid for stays up to 90 days. Legal residency in any Schengen country makes a visa unnecessary, regardless of your nationality.
Visa applications are usually processed within two to 10 days, but it’s always best to start the process as early as possible.

Business Etiquette

Relationships & Communications

Germans do not need a personal relationship in order to do business.

They will be interested in your academic credentials and the amount of time your company has been in business.

Germans display great deference to people in authority, so it is imperative that they understand your level relative to their own.

Germans do not have an open-door policy. People often work with their office door closed. Knock and wait to be invited in before entering.

German communication is formal.

Following the established protocol is critical to building and maintaining business relationships.

As a group, Germans are suspicious of hyperbole, promises that sound too good to be true, or displays of emotion.

Germans will be direct to the point of bluntness.

Expect a great deal of written communication, both to back up decisions and to maintain a record of decisions and discussions.


Business Meeting Etiquette

Appointments are mandatory and should be made 1 to 2 weeks in advance.

Letters should be addressed to the top person in the functional area, including the person's name as well as their proper business title.

If you write to schedule an appointment, the letter should be written in German.

Punctuality is taken extremely seriously. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation. It is extremely rude to cancel a meeting at the last minute and it could jeopardize your business relationship.

Meetings are generally formal.

Initial meetings are used to get to know each other. They allow your German colleagues to determine if you are trustworthy.

Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including starting and ending times.

Maintain direct eye contact while speaking.

Although English may be spoken, it is a good idea to hire an interpreter so as to avoid any misunderstandings.

At the end of a meeting, some Germans signal their approval by rapping their knuckles on the tabletop.

There is a strict protocol to follow when entering a room:

The eldest or highest ranking person enters the room first.

Men enter before women, if their age and status are roughly equivalent.


Business Negotiation

Do not sit until invited and told where to sit. There is a rigid protocol to be followed.

Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including starting and ending times.

Treat the process with the formality that it deserves.

Germany is heavily regulated and extremely bureaucratic.

Germans prefer to get down to business and only engage in the briefest of small talk. They will be interested in your credentials.

Make sure your printed material is available in both English and German.

Contracts are strictly followed.

You must be patient and not appear ruffled by the strict adherence to protocol. Germans are detail- oriented and want to understand every innuendo before coming to an agreement.

Business is hierarchical. Decision-making is held at the top of the company.

Final decisions are translated into rigorous, comprehensive action steps that you can expect will be carried out to the letter.

Avoid confrontational behaviour or high- pressure tactics. It can be counterproductive.

Once a decision is made, it will not be changed.


 Dress Etiquette

Business dress is understated, formal and conservative.

Men should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits.

Women should wear either business suits or conservative dresses.

Do not wear ostentatious jewellery or accessories.


General Business Hours

Official trading hours in Germany allow shops to open until 8pm Monday to Saturday. Actual hours, though, vary widely. In rural areas and city suburbs, shop owners usually close doors at 6pm or 6.30pm Monday to Friday and at 2pm or 4pm on Saturday. Some establishments also observe a two- or three-hour lunch break. 
Train stations and petrol stations are good for stocking up on basic supplies after hours, although prices will be inflated. Many bakeries open for three hours on Sunday morning and for two hours on Sunday afternoon.
Banking hours are from 8.30am to 4pm Monday to Friday, with suburban and rural branches usually closing for lunch. Most branches stay open until 5.30pm or 6.30pm on Thursday. Post office hours vary widely, but core hours are 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and to 1pm on Saturday.
Travel agencies and other service-oriented businesses are usually open from 9am to 6pm weekdays and till 1pm or 2pm on Saturday. Government offices, on the other hand, close for the weekend as early as 1pm on Friday. Many museums are closed on Monday but stay open late one evening a week.
Restaurant hours vary greatly, but many still close in the afternoon, stop serving food at about 9.30pm and observe a closing day (Ruhetag). This rule generally does not apply in big cities where you’ll have no problem packing your tummy all day long and until late in the evening.
Pubs and bars pour libations from around 6pm, unless they serve food, in which case they’re also open during the day. Happy hours are practically mandatory, and are usually between 5pm and 10pm. In cities without closing hours, such as Hamburg and Berlin, bars stay open until the wee hours if business is good; otherwise, 1am or 2am are typical closing times. Clubs don’t really get going before 11pm or midnight and often keep buzzing until sunrise or later. In places like Berlin there is now a growing number of daytime clubs, so it’s quite possible not to go home at all on weekends!
All shops, banks, government departments and post offices are closed on public holidays.