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.

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.

688 Comments

  • Reply Jemma 18/06/2018 at 18:32

    I submitted mine through SteuerGo about a month and a half ago. Do I get any confirmation of it being received? Or does the money just show up in my account when they are finished with my forms?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:13

      Hi Jemma. You will receive your Steuerbescheid for 2017 from the Finanzamt and if applicable, a letter telling you how much you should receive, or pay back.

  • Reply khaled 18/06/2018 at 10:21

    HI

    I just want to fill tax return for rent income for my apartment in Berlin.
    But I do not read or write german ?
    should I download the (Forms) for Self Employed ?
    Thank You

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:13

      Hi Khaled. Depends if you are self-employed or not. Rental income is completely separate from your status as a worker (employee vs self-employed). In the forms, there will be a sections for other kinds of income. There will be one line for rental income. Hope this helps.

  • Reply Luis g 18/06/2018 at 10:13

    Hi Bastien.
    Good morning. Can you please guide to make the best decision in regards taxes here in Germany. My wife is a tagesmutter and she had earned in 2017 close to 25.000 Euros now she is a self employee but she gets paid trough the stadschumlamt. Basically she gets paid for taking care of the daily children but she has to pay for insurances and our living cost. We have a daughter and I am not currently working. I am in german classes to obtain the b1 certification so I can apply for a job. Now today is June 18 and we have filed her taxes yet. In fact we are not sure where to start. We have been told to first obtain a tax number from the finanzamt and filed for taxes with that number also to find out in which tax bracket we as a family with an only income from her fit to. Others have told us that is too late to filed for taxes because we were suppose to file before may 31st. I am hoping that because we as a family have one income for now and my daughter and I are her dependents for everything plus the expenses we make to run this tagesmutter service, I am confident that we should receive a refund from the finanzamt. But I am not sure where to start and if we are too late to do anything. I appreciate your time on reading this short letter and any advice will help. Thanks again.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:11

      Hi Luis. Yes, you are definitely too late. I’d get in touch with a Steuerberater if you don’t know where or how to start. Maybe you can do that on your own next year but right now that’s the best option as a Steuerberater can apply for a deadline extension for you.Good luck.

  • Reply Jay 14/06/2018 at 10:16

    Dear Bastian,

    I worked last year as a freelancer and as an employee in Germany. I deregistered from Germany in October last year also. I forgot to file my tax return this year. It’s only 14th June. I still have a registered address at a friend’s in Germany and haven’t received any letters yet. Will the consequences be bad? Does the deadline change if you are no longer registered in Germany?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:05

      Hi Jay. You are definitely late and should do it asap. Deadlines don’t change if you have unregistered. You were registered in 2017 and need to do it either way. Good luck.

  • Reply Lara Hurtubise 12/06/2018 at 15:17

    Hey,

    I am Canadian and I studied my master’s from March 2015- October 2016 and worked part time, and now work full time. I claimed my taxes for the first time this year and only got 30 EUR back but it was based on my 2017 salary. Can I still claim my taxes from my uni tuition? Or is this jeopardised from already filing my taxes?

  • Reply Evangelos 11/06/2018 at 22:02

    Forgive me, my friend. I had the translation on! 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 01:07

      Glad it worked out. 🙂

  • Reply Evangelos 11/06/2018 at 21:58

    Hi Bastien.

    Nice work here my friend. I start making my own tax declaration and i sign up for the password to send me for the post
    Now I went to download the files for employers but there is no Anlage N 2017. Could please give me an update?

    Thanks and keep up the nice work!

  • Reply Katharina 11/06/2018 at 11:37

    Hi Bastien,

    Thank you for a great post!

    One more question from me:
    is it compulsory to fill in tax declaration in 3&5 tax classes combination (if my spouse doesn’t work at all)?

    Thank you!

  • Reply Nikhilesh Patil 07/06/2018 at 20:36

    Hello,
    I find your article very helpful. I have a question regarding my Tax Returns Situation: I have already filed a tax return for year 2017 in the month 02.2018. I have been working as Software Engineer Since 2016. I got married in 2017 but my wife came to Germany in the month of September. In the months October and November. I did not receive any additional money for my wife as I have not registered her in Finanzamt. I have talked to them, they said I will receive it in my tax returns. When I filed Tax Return by SteuerGo it has showed me that I will get an amount of about 3500 Euros. Now I have recently received a letter(Festsetzung) from Finanzamt. In it is written that I have to pay about 305 Euros by 11.07.2018. How can this be even possible. What I have done wrong here. How is EinkommenSteuer Calculated? And to mention Salary is my only source of income. I do not own a house nor a car. I would be quite pleased to get some help and suggestions.

    Many thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 01:04

      Hi Nikhilesh, this issue is best to be taken with a professional who can give you proper care and time. There can be many factors influencing the Finanzamt’s decisions, so it would be ill advised of me to tell you anything with such little info. Sorry i can’t help more…

  • Reply Tiphaine 06/06/2018 at 16:01

    Hello, is it possible that I actually have to give money back to the gouvernement following my request? Thank you ? 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 01:00

      Hi Tiphaine. Yes this may happen although i cannot tell you exactly with this little info.

  • Reply Ben Dochil 05/06/2018 at 13:33

    Hello,
    I work in Germany since November 2016.
    I contacted a Tax-Return-Company and the calculated:
    – 2016 – 1000 euro;
    -2017 – 60 euro.
    How this is possible, when the first year I have been working here 2 months, and 2017 is a whole year.
    I am class 1.

    Thank you for the reply.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/06/2018 at 21:55

      Hi Ben. Impossible for me to reply within a comment section on so little details. You should probably trust professionals on that.

  • Reply Parvaneh 05/06/2018 at 13:20

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article. I came to Germany in January and I am working here for 8 month after that I will back to my country. As my job contract is just for 8 months can I apply for tax return? Do you have any idea if they return the tax I have paid or not?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/06/2018 at 21:54

      Hi Parvaneh. If you registered, had a tax ID then you would be eligible yes.

  • Reply Ashwini Jadhav 04/06/2018 at 17:26

    hi
    My husband work in Germany last 21 June 2017 and i am coming in august 2017.his tax class change 1 to 3 when i am coming here .i want go back to India.so my question is when i am go back to India then again change tax class of my husband.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:28

      Hi there. This is possible to do once every year i believe. so yes is the answer.

  • Reply Ana 04/06/2018 at 16:55

    Hi Bastien,
    I have one question regarding taxes declaration in Germany. I am a PhD student in Germany and i don’t have a direct contract with the University but a fellowship. Do I need or can declare taxes to the government as student?
    My second question is my husband is a student in the university, however he got a contract last month in a company as a partial time as student with a monthly salary between 450-850 around. Does he need or should declare taxes?
    we both are foreigns living in Germany,
    thank you very much for your answer.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:30

      Hi Ana. You can both do a tax return, even if you are students. You will need to put in the income you get through the fellowship. If i am correct, that kind of income is usually tax free anyway. Don’t forget you put some expenses off as a student too!

  • Reply Nakato 04/06/2018 at 13:32

    Hello, I am on a one year fellowship program with a company . I receive a small salary and the tax is automatically deducted and I pay into the pension scheme. Will I be able to get a refund on my tax?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/06/2018 at 19:07

      Hi Nakato. You should probably talk to a Steuerberater for this.

  • Reply David 31/05/2018 at 17:58

    I know this article is about income tax but was hoping I might find some help.

    I am fully registered in Germany, but I do not speak the language (my bad), a few months ago I renewed my car tax for the year.

    I recently returned to UK in car to visit sick family friend and car developed a serious fault.

    Now I need to stay in UK for care obligations and want to scrap the car in UK for whatever I can get.

    I want to get a refund of my car tax, I have been told I have to return papers and plates in person in Germany, but this is not practical.

    In UK they have a certifcate of recycling or you can get a SORN to declare car off road.

    Is there a way to deregister this car and get a refund if perhaps I get a UK certificate?

    Who would I contact about this, ideally someone English speaking!

    Many thanks in advance

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/06/2018 at 10:36

      Hi David. I think it’s best you talk with a dealership or garage directly. I’m not sure what else to do here.

  • Reply Dr. Carol van Buren 31/05/2018 at 03:42

    Hi Bastien,

    You said that we can ask for an extension. I’m using Smartsteuer – gave up on trying to figure out on ELSTER! – I definitely won’t be finished tomorrow (31 May). Who should I contact to request a deadline extension?

    Is there an email address or telephone number or online form? Can you provide these details?
    My local tax office is C’Burg. Do I need to contact them directly, for example? Or is there some centralised system?

    This will be my first tax declaration. I arrived late last year and started my freelance (translation) business in October so “fortunately” I just have 3 months to prepare. Still a total nightmare though 🙁

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/05/2018 at 16:23

      Hey there Carol. If you are only 2-3 days left submitting it, there is in general little to no consequences to it, even without asking for an extension. If you need an extension, just get in touch with your Finanzamt directly, and give a valid reason. More time to gather missing documents and that it’s your first time doing this usually works. No guarantee though. Good luck!

  • Reply Waqas Arshad 31/05/2018 at 02:23

    I have worked 4 month at company i also worked as freelancer during my job. Can you please tell me in this how i can file my tax return?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/05/2018 at 16:20

      Hi there. In this case, you need to send both forms at the same time, one for the freelancing, and one of the employee job.

  • Reply Ana 30/05/2018 at 11:55

    Hi,

    I have been payed a fellowship for 2 months and then had a contract for the rest of the year. Should I state this somewhere (if so, where?) in the tax refund form?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:32

      Hi Ana. Yes, you need to put all sources of income in your tax return forms. There will be a dedicated line for that kind of income.

  • Reply Juan 30/05/2018 at 02:38

    Hi, amazing work done here…

    I arrived to Germany in September and worked as Gewerbebertreinde first for a bout a month and so, but then i found a Job and started to work as and employee. Also never signed off from the Gewerbe. Should I treat my case as an employee or a Gewerbe or fill both forms and send them.

    My incomes were quite low and would get not much of the tax return but better be prepared for the next year.

    Anyway, thank you very much for the info

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/05/2018 at 16:14

      Hi Juan. Even if you earned nothing or close to nothing with your Gewerbe, you need to declare it as such to the Finanzamt. It’s compulsory.

  • Reply Magda 27/05/2018 at 17:51

    I have worked in Germany from september on, but before I had an income in denmark for which I paid taxes.
    Can I still do my tax return in Germany eventhough until September I pid taxes for income in Denmark?

    Does anyone have an idea?

    Thanks.

    Best,
    Magda

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:15

      Hi Magda, make sure to google “Doppelbesteuerungsabkommen” to avoid double taxation!

  • Reply Ally 27/05/2018 at 14:54

    Hi, thank you for great infos. it helps alot!

    I started work in Munich on 01.12.2017

    should I issue ‘Income Tax return’ for working for one month last year?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:16

      Hi Ally. Yes, it is possible. If you are an employee, you can also wait for next year for example.

  • Reply Kelly O'Donohue 26/05/2018 at 02:28

    Might be a silly question, but just wanted to clarify what forms exactly I would need to fill out as a self employed freelancer who hasn’t earnt enough to pay tax/ VAT and is well under the threshold. Is the following correct?
    – Est 1A 2017
    – Anlage S 2017

    I’m on the linked site and wondering which of the Est 1A 2017 would be the right one? As there are 3, im guessing the first but would like to double check. Thanks

    • Reply Kelly O'Donohue 26/05/2018 at 03:23

      and does the SteuerGo program work for freelancers also?

      • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:19

        Yes.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:20

      Hi Kelly. Est 1A 2017, yes. The rest: It depends if you are a Gewerbe or Selbständig… Please read the post again.

  • Reply Aleksandra 25/05/2018 at 18:23

    Dear Bastien,

    thank you so much for this post- it’s really helpful. I have a question regarding my tax situation and I would really appreciate if you could answer it. I moved to Germany in September 2017 and in mid-October 2017 I started working on a part-time basis (25h/week) in a bilingual kindergarten (as an employee). In November 2017 I registered as a freelance teacher and started looking for extra teaching jobs to get extra money- I started teaching as a freelance teacher in December 2017 but I didn’t invoice and didn’t get paid for those lessons until February/March 2018.

    Do I have to do my tax declaration for 2017 this year or can I wait till next year? If I wait, will I lose any tax refund I might be eligible for?
    Do I have to somehow include my freelance activity even though I wasn’t paid for it until 2018?

    Thank you in advance 🙂 Aleks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:22

      Hi Aleks. Yes, even though you earned nothing as a self-employed, you have to tell exactly that to the Finanzamt. It’s compulsory.

  • Reply Mark 24/05/2018 at 20:18

    I was living and working in the UK until May 2017, then moved to Germany and worked here since June.

    The steuergo.de online calculator suggests I’ll only pay a little German tax on my UK income, but the advice I’ve read online says that I will pay more. Is this right?

    As extra information, my wages were much higher in the UK. Also the UK tax year runs from 6th April to 5th April each year (not a calendar year) if that makes any difference to anything.

    Thanks,

    Mark

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:25

      Hi Mark. Sorry; i am not sure i have the correct info on this one.

  • Reply Petra 23/05/2018 at 22:01

    Dear Bastien,
    thank you a lot for a great article and lots of valuable information!

    I have seen your answer to one of the comments regarding the proof of expanses – that you should be able to provide them upon request of Finanzamt. What would be then the best approach in case I wasn’t saving, say, train tickets to get to work- 1) don’t claim anything you can’t prove; 2) claim the average cost of a trip since it is clear I didn’t walk 20 km per day to get to and from work (and I don’t own a car); 3) other approach?\

    Also, do you know if the confirmation from booking.com/payment confirmation from my bank account counts as a proof?

    Thank you!

    And have a great day 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:31

      Hi Petra. As a rule yes; don’t try to put off expenses that you can’t prove. Regarding commute to work however, you can get a “Pauschal” per kilometer i believe, regardless of the Transportation mean you used.

  • Reply Ryan 23/05/2018 at 20:27

    Hi Bastien,

    As expatriates, it is our understanding that if you live in Germany (and all European countries I believe), for less than a period of two years you should receive all of your income tax back. Do you know anything about this? We have been living in Germany for nearly two years and are having major troubles with our tax authorities, even with the help of a tax consultant. Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/05/2018 at 22:29

      Hi Ryan. I am not familiar with this rule. Can’t help sorry.

  • Reply Jelendar reddy Anantha 19/05/2018 at 12:28

    How can i search for refund status of german taxes filings i have filed returns 2 months ago still i didn’t get refund how can i search for refund status

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/05/2018 at 19:54

      Hi Jelendar. Get in touch with your Finanzamt.

  • Reply R.Rivera 17/05/2018 at 20:45

    Hi Bastien

    Thank a lot for your website it helps a lot!!
    Can you tell me if there is a way to validate my actual Tax Stage? We already submitted a request together with my wife for the combination III/V but still getting the highest tax stage at work… We will really appreciate your help.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/05/2018 at 19:50

      Hi Rivera. Well, get in touch with your Finanzamt.

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