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 2016) :

  • ESt 1 V 2016 (The main form that details general info like your adress, iD nummer,etc)
  • Anlage N 2016 (The form to detail your income as an employee)
  • Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2016 (The form to detail your insurances)

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 fill 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, 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.

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.

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

and you have been charged the maximum income tax rate. You cannot claim this amount back i’m sorry.

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.

121 Comments

  • Reply Sarah 22/03/2017 at 18:13

    Thanks so much for writing this! It has been so helpful

  • Reply Christine 22/03/2017 at 16:02

    Unfortunately the link you gave for the English translation is outdated – the sections do not correspond to the 2016 form! Any ideas where there might be an English translation that is up to date?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/03/2017 at 09:03

      Hi Christine. Yes the forms have evolved a little bit but you can still figure out most of the sections with this guide without too much trouble, as only a few have changed places. I don’t know where to find something as complete and for all profiles. Let me know if you find one.

  • Reply Ranjan 22/03/2017 at 14:15

    I have moved to Germany in june 2016 as an employee, i want to claim for taxe return since i got married in november 2016. please let me know whether i can claim for tax return for paying housing loan in india

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/03/2017 at 16:02

      Hi Ranjan. I would advise you to get in touch with a Steuerberater to sort out your particular situation.

  • Reply Gilberto Almeida 21/03/2017 at 10:57

    Hello!

    I moved from Brazil to Germany in June/2016. I worked in Brazil in the first half of 2016. and already declared my tax returns in Brazil already. Should I declare my brazilian income again here in Germany?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/03/2017 at 13:53

      Hi Gilberto. Check if there are any agreements between Brazil and Germany but in my opinion you don’t need to do that since you were already paid your taxes in Brazil and stopped working there afterwards.

      • Reply Gilberto Almeida 21/03/2017 at 15:16

        Ok, thank you for help and all the info available here! I will research this. Whenever I find something, I will put here to help other people that may find the same problem!

        Regards!

      • Reply Gilberto Almeida 21/03/2017 at 15:29

        Didn’t take long. Brazil had an agreement with Germany until 2005. So yes, brazilians must declare earnings even if already declared in Brazil. >:-((

      • Reply Laura 22/03/2017 at 13:12

        Hi,

        I worked for half of 2015 in Australia before moving to Berlin and working the second half of the year. I had to declare my Australian income for that period in my German Tax return.

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/03/2017 at 16:02

          Hi Laura, thanks for that precision. Very much appreciated.

  • Reply MovingAround 19/03/2017 at 19:21

    Howdy,
    first of really great info on this page. As I am having a special situation I would like to ask a question here.
    I was sent from Austria to Germany- Berlin last year as an employee of Austrian Company and as it was meant to be just for 6 months I did not register for Steuer ID and also my paycheck was directly paid on my Austrian Bank Account.
    After 6 months I decided that I stay here (Yee Berlin rocks!). Then I got my Steuer ID and everything else to live here.
    Now I plan to do “Steuererklarung” and my question is: When submitting Tax declaration for a half year living and working in Germany do I have to include that I have actually received other incomes for the first half year (Austrian Salary)?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/03/2017 at 09:47

      Hi there. In my opinion, you don’t need to do that. You paid income tax in Austria when earning your money there. You earned nothing in Germany during that period too. I don’t think that’s relevant for the Finanzamt.

  • Reply Terek Li 14/03/2017 at 17:38

    Hi, I am a Canadian student doing internship here in Germany. I believe I am getting the minimum tax (about 5 euro a month). I have worked in Germany for 4 months in 2016, do I need to do my tax refund?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/03/2017 at 09:20

      Hi Terek. As a student/employee, you don’t need to do your tax return but you can if you want to try to get some money back.

  • Reply PRISCILLA MARTINS 13/03/2017 at 15:35

    Hi, I am living in Germany since April 2016, I have only one income so I wanna try to do it alone, ifs too complicated would pay for the steuer berater. I definitely wanna choose the cheapest way to do it. My friend told me that Elster program is free only for computer with windows, as I have a mac, I would have to pay for it, something like 25 euros, do you know if its true? how much would the steuer berater charge?as average..

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/03/2017 at 09:55

      Hello Priscilla. ELSTER is free for all OSs. You can download it for Mac here. If it’s too complicated for you, you can try the self-help platforms that are much cheaper than going with a Steuerberater.

  • Reply Rahul 13/03/2017 at 10:13

    Hello,

    I moved out of Germany in the end of October 2016 and was a salaried Employee in Stuttgart till the Dec 31st 2016. Is it possible for me to file for the taxes by myself and as I am out of the country right now( I do have my german bank account still active), Would i have to send all the supporting documents by post or can i just upload it online?

    Thanks in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 13/03/2017 at 12:34

      Hi Rahul. Yes it is possible to fill in from abroad, simply state your current address. All the other information is linked to your Steuernummer that you used during your employment, so it won’t be a problem. As an employee, it is really recommended to send it all electronically.

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