Trade law and starting a company in Austria

If a foreign company plans to be active in Austria (cross-border basis, setting up a subsidiary or branch office) it will be confronted with the Austrian Trade Regulation Act. The Austrian Trade Act is one of the most important regulatory regulations for starting business in Austria in terms of trades and business. Entrepreneurs also need to consider various supplementary legal provisions, such as the Goods Transport Act (Güterbeförderungsgesetz) or the Opening Hours Act (Öffnungszeitengesetz). The applicable Trade Act (Gewerbeordnung – GewO) dates from 1994 (Federal Law Gazette No 194/1994) and is constantly adapted.

The legal requirements that you must meet as a founder of a company in Austria are directly linked to the nature of your business. A business activity can be commercial or freelance. An activity is operated commercially if it is exercised independently (i.e. on your own account and risk) and regularly, and makes profit.

In Austria, you need a business license for any commercial activity. The trade authority will confirm your right to carry out commercial activities by registering your business in the Commercial Register and providing a copy of a Commercial Register extract.

In general, there are the following types of trade:

  • Free trade
  • Regulated trade

General requirements for obtaining a business license:

  • Austrian citizenship or EEA/EU nationality
  • Qualification (minimum age 18 years)
  • No reasons for exclusion (e.g., financial criminal offenses, court sentencing)
  • Description of the location, and operating permit 

Special requirements for obtaining a business license:

A certificate of competency is not required for free trades in Austria. However, the respective entry requirements must be checked for every regulated (i.e. not free) trade. If a certificate cannot be provided, the authority must check whether you have the necessary knowledge and skills based on the documents stating your previous education and activities. 

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