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.

780 Comments

  • Reply Thuong 10/12/2018 at 00:19

    Hi Bastien,
    I would like to ask about SteuerGo software. How many years can the software help us declare the tax? Can I use the software to declare the year of 2016, 2017 and 2018 at the same time? Thanks for your support.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/12/2018 at 17:19

      Hey Thuong. Yes you can do taxes for those years as well.

  • Reply Jonathan 09/12/2018 at 08:32

    Hi there,
    I am a UK resident but have been working offshore in the North Sea on a German vessel for the past 2 years and now my contract has come to an end. Can I claim some of the taxes back that I have paid in Germany? I have been taxed each month at the maximum percentage.
    I would appreciate some insight please.
    Thank you Kindly.
    Jonathan

  • Reply sneha saha 07/12/2018 at 13:21

    Hi,

    I studied in Stockholm, Sweden and then moved to Germany for work. Can I show my tuition fee which I paid in Sweden for tax return in Germany?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/12/2018 at 21:34

      Hey Sneha, yes, i think that’s the case. I did that with my studies in France.

  • Reply Belen 05/12/2018 at 15:55

    Hello,

    I have read in some sites that if you file in class III/V as a married couple then you MUST submit a tax return at the end of the year. Is that true? My husband and I are registered in this tax class mostly because his salary was higher than mine (I only had part time jobs or no jobs at all)

    Thanks in advance for the help.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/12/2018 at 21:21

      Yes. You must do it.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/12/2018 at 21:22

      Hey Belen, As mentioned in the post; yes it is true. You must do it.

  • Reply Pietro 01/12/2018 at 14:07

    Hi there.
    I am leaving this country in 3 weeks time and I need to file my tax return for this year 2018 but there are absolutely no application forms neither in the finanzamts nor online for this year. I am a freelancer.
    Unfortunately there’s not help whatsoever in any other language except german from the clerks at the tax offices, so I really haven’t figured out how to solve this issue.
    Does anyone know where can I find these applications or how can I solve this situation in a very short time please?
    Thanks a lot!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/12/2018 at 20:58

      Hey Pietro. You can only do that in 2019. Just a little more patience!

  • Reply Prince 23/11/2018 at 23:32

    Hi Bastien,

    If I have been working since 2010 in Germany and I do not file for my tax return till now, is it possible to only file for the year 2017 or I have to file from the very year I started earning?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/11/2018 at 15:08

      Hey Prince. If you are an employee, both options are possible.

  • Reply Madhavan 23/11/2018 at 07:38

    Hi!!!!
    I need to know can we reduce the income tax with we have housing loans in INDIA.

  • Reply Saurav Bhattacharya 22/11/2018 at 21:19

    Hello

    I have a question. I have been working in Germany since December 2016. But I have been married since November 2014. But since my wife worked outside of Germany from March 2016 until now, I was placed in Tax category 1. My wife is currently unemployed and is planning to come and stay with me in Germany from January 2019. I would get her registered here and change my tax category to III and my wife to V (hopefully). If I do that, say, in February 2019 and then file income tax returns for 2016-2018 (which I have not done yet), would I be refunded the amount of money that I would not have had to pay as tax (from 2016-2018) if my wife had stayed with me in Germany over that time period?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Reply Hamed 17/11/2018 at 17:20

    Hi Bastian,
    Thanks for your helpful explanations .
    I have a question regarding the tax return in case of getting married. I am not a citizen of European union and got married in 2017. From Januruy 2018 I moved to Germany as an employee. My tax class is I meaning I am paying the highest tax. My wife is also waiting for visa to come to Germany. My question is that can I file a tax return for the year 2018 for my marriage (i.e, paying tax beased on tax class III instead of I) if my wife arrives in Germany in 2019?
    I cannot change my tax class to III (and my wife to VI) in 2018 because my wife has not registered her address in Germany yet.

    Thanks in advance

  • Reply Dominika 17/11/2018 at 14:00

    Hi there,

    I was working full-time in Germany for 3 months in 2014 (minimum wage, tax class I), then I left for a few years and now I am back, but in another Land.

    I do not have any documents from that time. Is it worth it to chase this tax return and if so, am I able to request a new copy of the documents that I need?

    Also, does it impact my tax return that I have been receiving financial help from the Amt for some time after losing my job?

    Thanks for your help

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/11/2018 at 20:54

      Hey Dominika. You will need documents for that year to be able to prove expenses that might increase the chances of a tax return. If you don’t have them, it’s probably not a good idea to do it as you need to be able to prove everything. Re your second question: i don’t even know what financial help and what amt you are talking about.

  • Reply Ibrahim 07/11/2018 at 22:36

    Hi,
    thanks for the detailed explanation. It says above that I can apply for tax returns for 2 or 3 years and thus maximize the return. Do you mean for example that if I apply for 2017 and 2018 together, I could get return for 2017 higher than the return I would get for the same year if I apply for 2017 alone? Or you just mean that maximizing return is the sum of the 2 years?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/11/2018 at 09:55

      Hey Ibrahim. The wording was maybe not chosen wisely; i simply meant you can do both at the same time. It doesn’t impact on the return for an individual year.

  • Reply Liyana 05/11/2018 at 04:12

    Hi,

    Thank you so much for the detailed information. I’ll be doing a voluntary internship for 6 months, and being paid €1500/month. I’m also a non-eu citizen. Am I able to file for tax returns?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 07/11/2018 at 09:49

      Hey Liyana. If you are German resident, you will be able to file a tax return yes, just the same as anybody else.

  • Reply Marry 31/10/2018 at 03:58

    Hi Bastien.
    I am a Master’s student with part job and the salary of up to 700 € per month (netto); my “renteversicherung” is also deducted from my salary.
    I also teach English on a freelance basis; but it is only one class per every two months (witht the payment of 500 €)
    First: can I get a tax return, I mean get back the “rente” I have paid?
    Second: Do I have to make a tax decleration for that one class that I have?
    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/10/2018 at 10:46

      Hey Marry. First: no. Second: If it’s freelance, you should be registered as such and declare it under that status. More info there.

  • Reply Anna 23/10/2018 at 21:00

    Hey Bastien! I am employed as a photographer (Vollzeit Festeinstellung) and i bought a new laptop 6 months ago to be able to do more Freelancer jobs and look to change my career but I didn´t signed as a Freelancer yet. Will I be able to get some money back for it?
    Thank you so much!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/10/2018 at 22:44

      Hey Anna. Maybe a Steuerberater would think otherwise, but i’d tend to say you couldn’t put that expense off as a business related one, since you aren’t even a freelancer yet.

  • Reply Sarah 17/10/2018 at 20:32

    Hi Bastien,
    Thanks for this info. I just recently registered (Oct 2018) as a kleinunternehme Gewerbebetrieb and I’m not sure what information I need to be keeping each month other than profits earned and business expenditure. And did I understand this page correctly that all I have to do is send off one form (the Anlage G 2017) and that’s all?

    Thanks so much
    Sarah

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/10/2018 at 14:02

      Hey Sarah, you will get your answers on this post here, in the tax related section.

  • Reply hugo Toledo dos santos 11/10/2018 at 21:56

    hi..
    im finishing my work in Germany this month and moving abroad early November. my boss said he wont be able to give me my lohnsteuerbescheinigung before end of February next year. does it make any sense? or he should give me with my last payslip as it is the end of the employment agreement? where should i go to get advise about this ? thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/10/2018 at 10:27

      Hey Hugo. The last payslip you are receiving monthly; your employer will be able to send it sooner than that. Otherwise yes, the Lohnsteuerbescheinigung is not until next year.

  • Reply Deeksha 01/10/2018 at 12:13

    Hello,
    Thank you so much for the information.
    I also have a question regarding correcting the einkommensteur after 1 year.
    I paid einkommensteur for 2016 already in 2017 but Now, I released its wrong and they have charged me double though they have already taken money last year but is it possible to fix it now? I know within a month after receiving the Steuerbescheid its possible to fix but is there a way to reopen and solve the issue?
    Many thanks for any help!
    Kind regards

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/10/2018 at 10:09

      Hey Deeksha, you can use a Steuerberater to open/contest a case.

  • Reply Marc 27/09/2018 at 09:56

    Hi Bastien,

    Thank you very much for your explanation.

    I have a question on the rent for properties outside Germany. If I understand correctly, this should not be double taxed if there are agreement between states but should be declared.

    Does it means that my taxes will be calculated also on this additional income (being my tax base higher)? if this is true, it means that I will be double taxed indirectly also on these rents..

    Best regards,

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/09/2018 at 19:36

      Hey Marc, see this post that gives more detail on how income from abroad impact your taxable income.

  • Reply Anis Mazmouri 25/09/2018 at 09:52

    Dear Sirs,
    I bought an apartment in Germany in 2017 and i rented it for 454 Euro/month. I am not a resident in Germany and I am not an European citizen and I am married. The rent income is transferred every month into my German bank account. Do I need to fill the German tax form anyway ?

    Thank you.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/09/2018 at 19:35

      Hey Anis. Have a look at this for more info.

  • 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.

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