GmbH is a business extension primarily known for its use in Germany. Like most countries, Germany has two distinct classifications for companies: publicly traded and privately held. The acronym 'GmbH' is used to designate certain private entities and is written after a company’s name. The letters stand for Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung which translated literally, means a 'company with limited liability.'

Limited Liability in Germany

Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung and the concept of limited liability has allowed businesses to operate as private entities with limited obligations throughout modern German history. The concept of limited liability allows a private company to structure its business so that the owners are not personally liable for debts. Furthermore, shareholders are not liable either and only have their original investment at risk.

Key Takeaways

  • Like most countries, Germany has two distinct categories for companies: publicly traded and privately held.
  • The letters stand for Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung which translated literally, means a 'company with limited liability.'
  • GmbH companies can be owned by various entities, including individuals, public companies, or partners, and are comparable to limited liability corporations (LLC) in the United States.

In Germany, owners must take appropriate legal steps to register their business as a GmbH. As such, many companies work with a third-party legal counsel for support. Basic steps for registration include the following:

  • Create formal documentation discussing the business and its purpose
  • Choose a name that is based on either the business or its executives
  • Appoint executives, members, and a supervisory board as required
  • GmbH companies have a minimum capital requirement of €25,000 with €12,500 required for registration
  • Register the company with the Commercial Register through a local court

Some of the most notable GmbH companies in Germany include the following:

  • Behr GmbH & Co. KG: Behr is an industrial supplier
  • Carl Walther GmbH: Industrial company in the defense and firearms sector
  • Mahle GmbH: Industrial supplier of automotive parts

Public Companies in Germany

German companies that are publicly traded are designated as such by the letters 'AG' after the company name. 'AG' is an abbreviation for the German word Aktiengesellschaft, which literally translates to 'stock corporation' or 'shares corporation' in English. AG companies trade publicly on stock exchanges with the majority of companies trading on the DAX.

Some of the largest German AG corporations include its automotive manufacturers:

Company Extensions

Across the globe, many countries use their own unique company extensions for incorporation. See a list of company extensions by country.

There are a few other countries who also use GmbH as well as some variations. Austria uses GesmbH as well as GmbH, both with the same meaning. Switzerland also uses the GmbH designation. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland all have their own legal provisions for the GmbH designation in their country.

There are many details on incorporating as a GmbH in Austria, as well as incorporating as a GmbH in Switzerland.

Germany also allows for a GmbH & Co. KG designation, a mini-GmbH, and a gGmbH.

  • GmbH & Co. KG: A combination of GmbH and KG
  • Mini-GmbH: A variation of GmbH with a lower capital requirement
  • gGmbH: A non-profit GmbH

Overall, the laws of a country determine which types of companies are legally recognized within the country's borders. One of the most commonly used acronyms worldwide is 'PLC', which is used throughout the United Kingdom to indicate a public limited company, or a company that is publicly traded with owners having limited liability. Throughout the world, 'S.A.' is often used to indicate a privately held company, though its exact meaning varies depending on the country in which the company is registered. The words translate broadly as 'anonymous society' in English.