A design firm based in the US would like to open a firm with colleagues in Germany. They are having difficulty figuring out the best (most economical) way to do so. Any guidance on how to form an international LLC (with regard to formation and taxes) would be most appreciated! Any insight into e-registering a company in Estonia also welcome. TIA!
First question you need to answer is why you need a company in Germany? Cant you just provide services via your own company in the US?
If you do decide or if you know why you need that, then contact the German chamber of commerce (https://www.ahk.de/en/) and they can guide you.
For Estonia, assuming you're not an EU citizen, you'll need to first apply for the e-residence (https://e-resident.gov.ee). And with it, you can found a company. IIRC, the min capital for an Estonian LLC (called O-something) is €2500-3500. I dont know how much they are in Germany, but here in Austria for example, an LLC (which is GmbH in Austria and Germany) need €35,000 in capital.
Hope this helps. Good luck. Ping me if you think I can help you further.
My limited experience with German companies is that clients expect to do business in German and in Germany. There's a real DEU preference, even though English language is not a barrier.
I'm unclear on why Estonia is a consideration. Corporations are established to limit liability. As such, consider the liability you face wherever it is that you choose to incorporate and under what structure. There are fairly low barriers for a US company wanting to conduct business in the EU as a US company.
Collaborations or joint ventures present many options. But as @Dane Madsen notes, initial creation of a corporate structure is a foundational element of how you will be able to conduct business and under what rules. You're best to make a list of your actual questions and concerns and take them to a law firm specializing in international business for advice on an appropriate structure, locus, and to point out elements that any of us non-attorneys might not think to consider. Where the money is held after earning it is one of the big considerations that comes to my mind.
Get a law firm involved. This is not a time to "save money".