Tax return in Germany for foreigners made easy – Steuererklärung

It’s that time of the year again: the time to do your tax return in Germany otherwise known as “Steuererklärung”.  Yes sir/m’am, you’ll be able to get money back, and sometimes up to a few thousand euros. We show you how in this step by step guide.

Tax return in Germany

The road to your tax refund in Germany :

Before your panic when thinking “I haven’t done my tax return this year!”,  let me assure you that you won’t have any problems with your Finanzamt if you forgot to file your tax statement. As an employee, you are taxed every month off your wage. If your salary is your only income, then it will be a piece of cake to get your tax refund. You have already paid your taxes, now your job is to obtain as much refund as you can! For freelancers, it’s of course another story as it is compulsory.

The average tax return in Germany is close to 1000€ nation-wide. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

 

So how can I do my tax return in Germany?

If you are confident enough to do it on your own, do as follow. Otherwise, jump to the next title.

First you have to make sure you get all the right papers. It is recommended to download the forms directly from the official website this way : here.
(Click on the right hand side on “Einkommensteuer mit allen Anlagen”)

If you are an employee , you need the following forms (e.g for 2017) :

  • ESt 1 V 2017 (The main form that details general info like your adress, iD nummer,etc)
  • Anlage N 2017 (The form to detail your income as an employee)
  • Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2017 (The form to detail your insurances)

If you are self-employed, you need the following forms (e.g for 2017) :

  • Est 1A 2017
  • Anlage S 2017 (Freelancers only)
  • Anlage G 2017 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage USt 2017 (if you pay V.A.T)
  • Anlage GeSt 1A 2017 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage EÜR (If turnover is more than 17 500€ a year)

On this website,  it is also possible to download an official tool called ELSTER (ELektronische STeuerERklärung) onto your computer. This tool enables you to proceed to your tax return in Germany via the internet, saving both you and your Finanzamt a lot of time. You need to sign-up for an account and you receive your password by post.

Honestly from there, i will gladly direct you to one of the best guides made in English around by our good friends of ToyTown Germany. It is very neat, clear and complete to do your tax return in Germany in English properly. I don’t see how i could give better information on how to fill in all those forms.

What now?

  1. Print the forms out.
  2. Sign them.
  3. Find a post office.
  4. Send them to your local Finanzamt.
  5. Done !

Wait for 1 or 2 months before you get any answer, and hopefully, a little ka-ching will appear on your bank account so you can afford this awesome guitar you spotted, or else, paying for your holidays to Croatia.

I don’t feel confident filling in my tax declaration in Germany alone, how can i get help?

If you are not so good with numbers or a bit scared of doing mistakes because of the German language, there are other ways to do your tax return in Germany.

Good value for the money: self-help online platforms

If this is too much to do, there are also online tools that make it super easy to get your tax declaration in Germany right for a maximum return. You might consider SteuerGo for example that i can really recommend for employees, especially if it’s your first time.

  • Your hand is really guided step-by-step with the tool in a clean interface.
  • Save progress at any time when you register for a free account.
  • It’s also fully in English (!) at every step of the process.
  • You can even call a hotline if you have questions.
  • It only costs 25€ which is perfect when you don’t earn enough to afford a Steuerberater.

They also let you know in real-time how much you are getting back so you know if it’s worth the one-time-fee. No need to pay anything before submitting to the Finanzamt (they also do that for you). You can give it a spin for free. 🙂

If you are a freelancer, you can turn to platforms like SmartSteuer which also supports profiles like Kleinunternehmer, Selbständige & Freiberufler (No English though). This means they will also help you with the additional forms (Einnahmenüberschussrechnung (EÜR), Umsatz- und Gewerbesteuererklärung).

Worth it if you have a more complex situation: a Steuerberater

You can also turn to professional tax advisers in Germany for this. A Steuerberater is a trained agent capable of preparing, processing and submitting your tax declaration in Germany. They are accountants usually experienced into finding particular rules that is relevant to your tax profile to optimize your return. Even if their fees are controlled by certain laws, you usually have to pay a few hundred euros for their services. This is why it’s only relevant if your situation is a bit more complex like earning relatively well, being married, having kids, owning a house and having different sources of income. It’s also quite normal for freelancers and self-employed persons to have one.

If you don’t know where to start your search for a Steuerberater, you can turn to platforms like Ageras. They search and find one for you based on your profile and needs. The service is free and the offers you receive non-binding.

Well said cat-friend, (deadline is 31st of May though) Source: Giphy.com

FAQ

What is the tax return deadline in Germany?

In theory, the deadline is to the 31st May of the following year for people that obliged by law to submit one, however, you can ask for an extension if you are short on time. Using a Steuerberater allows you to have even more time.

Important note: employees whose sole income are their salaries are not required by law to submit a tax return. This means that the deadline moves to 4 years in the future. For example, you can do your tax return for the year 2017 until the last day of 2021. Even more importantly:

As an employee, you can claim a tax return for up to 4 years prior the current year. Pretty handy if you forgot to do it those years to maximize return.

When will i get my money after submitting all the forms?

It takes between 8-12 weeks for the Finanzamt to process your files and obtain your tax refund in Germany on your account. It’s usually quicker when sending everything out electronically. A poll made by a tax payer’s association uncovered the following waiting times to hear from the Finanzamt:

  • 18 % have to wait about 6 weeks
  • 32 % 6 to 12 weeks
  • 32 % up to half a year
  • 18 % longer than half a year

What should i do if i am unhappy about the results, or if some things were misinterpreted?

If you think the Finanzamt made a mistake to process your case, it is possible to protest and open a case (Einspruch) to explain your situation, within one month after receiving the Steuerbescheid.

I started to work without a Steuer ID from the Finanzamt… (maximum tax rate)

When this happens, your wage is being taxed at the maximum rate possible. It is possible to get the difference between that rate and the normal rate back when doing your tax return the following year.

I have received income from abroad the past year; how should i go about this to avoid double-taxation?

The Finanzamt requires of all German residents to declare any income sources, even if they are coming from abroad and have nothing to do with your life here. If that income was already taxed from that country, you might avoid double-taxation if it has agreed to a tax treaty with Germany. If so, you can do that by filling the Anlage AUS – Ausländische Einkünfte for your declaration. More info about that here.

I have left the country already, can I try to do a tax return and will the Finanzamt transfer the money to my foreign bank account?

Absolutely, you can do a tax return for the year and months you left the country. The Finanzamt will transfer you the money in your foreign account if you give them all the necessary information, and a specific request to do so. You will very likely support the costs of the transfer on your own.

Ps 1 : Don’t forget to sign all those forms, otherwise they won’t be processed by your dear Finanzamt !

Ps 2 : If you feel like you are running out of time, you can let know your Finanzamt before the 31st of May you need more time. They usually give you an extra 2 or 3 months to do your tax return in Germany.

743 Comments

  • Reply Tony 17/09/2018 at 23:07

    Hello,

    Thank you in advance if you can answer my question.

    I am a professor (beamte), but pay for state health insurance through TKK; I pay the maximum rate for insurance, so the annual total comes to almost 8600 euros.

    How much of this can I deduct to reduce my tax liability? I’ve read some comments that claim the full amount can be deducted, then others indicate that the maximum is 1900 euros. It probably doesn’t matter, but I am steuerklasse 3.

    Thank you again.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/09/2018 at 09:17

      Hey Tony. You can put the whole amount of 8600€ in your forms, which will in turn will impact your total deductible income for the year. I don’t much more about your situation so i can’t tell you exactly what outcome it will have for your return.

  • Reply Theju 17/09/2018 at 22:40

    HI,
    Thanks for the detailed explanation. I am a student and working part time since 2016. I also got a Hiwi job for 40 Hrs in 2017 dec and since then I have two jobs : One a Part time-mini job and another a HiWi job. Since last few months I have been put to Tax Class 6 at my part time. I earn more at my part time than at HiWi job and hence want the class to be change to 1. Also my HiWi contract ends this month.
    Do you have any suggestion to how I can get my tax class changed at my part time job.?
    And also is there a limit of number of total hours or sum of money earned in a year for a student to get tax refund?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/09/2018 at 09:15

      Hey Theju. You can apply for a tax return regardless of your income or number of working hours. I made a post about switching tax classes there.

  • Reply Carina 17/09/2018 at 21:15

    Hi Bastien,
    thank you so much for all of this helpful information! I am a freelancer and turned in my tax return. My Finanzamt responded asking for the Umsatzsteuererklärung and Anlage EÜR, but I am Umsatzsteuerbefreit. And my income was way under 17 500. Do you have any advice about this? Is there something I need to turn in to prove I am Umsatzsteuerbefreit?
    Thank you so much!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/09/2018 at 09:13

      Hey Carina. This is a new rule from this year i think. Everybody needs to submit that, even if they aren’t billing VAT. So that’s normal i guess.

    1 6 7 8

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Privacy Preference Center

    Required

    Preserves users states across page requests and keep tracks of your cookie preferences.

    PHPSESSID, gdpr[allowed_cookies], gdpr[consent_types]

    Analytics

    It's helping to track performance and user behavior on the website to improve on it.

    Google Analytics
    _gid, _ga

    Other