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)

If you are self-employed, you need the following forms (e.g for 2016) :

  • Est 1A 2016
  • Anlage S 2016 (Freelancers only)
  • Anlage G 2016 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage USt 2016 (if you pay V.A.T)
  • Anlage GeSt 1A 2016 (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.

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.

152 Comments

  • Reply Samuel 26/04/2017 at 14:13

    Hello,
    I am about to start a job as a freelancer, but it should be relatively regular work, i.e. paid monthly. How do I go about paying tax. I do not want to get to the end of the year and suddenly have to pay a huge lump sum.

    Kind regards
    Samuel

  • Reply mauricio 26/04/2017 at 13:13

    I worked in 2015 for 8 months in the Czech republic then I moved to work to Germany inmediately for the remaining year. How should I fill the tax return for this year? I use SteuerGo but I am confused how to report this.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/04/2017 at 14:59

      Hi Mauricio. You will probably need to declare that income too. If you are unsure how to proceed, you can also reach to their customer support too.

  • Reply Daniela Ramos 24/04/2017 at 14:50

    Hello!

    I came across with this website because after sending out my tax declaration form for 2016, I received a letter back stating I have to pay back around 7€.
    The problem is that I misplaced the letter and I don’t know how to solve this issue.

    So how can I find out about the payment details?

    Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/04/2017 at 16:53

      Hi Daniela. Just call your Finanzamt to ask for them or if you have received letters from your Finanzamt in the past; its bank details should be displayed in the bottom margin.

  • Reply Federica Sorbi 23/04/2017 at 22:50

    Hello,
    I live in Italy were I work and pay taxes.
    I’ve lived in Germany and received a German salary from 01.09.2014 to 31.08.2015 as an employe. Taxes have been detracted from my salary from German government.
    Moreover I’ve included the Germany income in the Italian tax declaration of both years 2014 and 2015.
    Why I’ve received some letter from the German government asking me to fill in tax declaration? Can I avoid to do it?
    Many many many thanks
    Federica

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/04/2017 at 09:30

      Hi Federica, i cannot answer to your question specifically as one would need more details on your situation before hand. If you have received a letter, then it’s probably wise to do it. You could earn a few hundred euros back.

  • Reply k 22/04/2017 at 13:16

    Hey! So i was working here for a while, then got fired and was in ALG1. Then that stopped and I got a mini job (but no Harz4). I am about to do my taxes this week. Do I need to include the mini job? (It’s only for 10 hours a month and I believe it is not taxable).
    Also, since I was receiving unemployment benefit, does it still make sense for me to actually do the taxes?
    Another question – one of my previous jobs refuses to speak to me and never gave me the end of the year calculation paper – can I still include that job someohow? (payslips etc?)

    Thanks a million!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/04/2017 at 09:27

      Hello K. Your employer has to give you your Steuerbescheinigung by law, as you need it for your Steuererklärung. You would need to declare all your incomes sources. You can still try to do it but depending on the expenses you can put off, there might a lower chance for you for a good return, but i am no expert, this is just an opinion.

  • Reply Muthana Jubouri 21/04/2017 at 17:49

    Hi, I have worked for 6 months in 2015 and paid taxes and I will start working again in June 2017, during the time between them I was studying in Germany and paying tuition fees. my question is can I file a tax return for 2016 even though I did not work during the year so maybe I can get credit for this year when I start working? Thank you in advance I really appreciate your help?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/04/2017 at 11:13

      Hello Muthana. Even though you didn’t work last year, you can put many expenses as a student off in taxes, which could lead to an interesting refund for you. It’s worth a go.

  • Reply Giorgia 19/04/2017 at 11:27

    Hi, I lived in Germany till October 2016 (Afmeldung done in that month) and worked there from February 2016 to mid September 2016, I then moved to The Netherlands and started working there (Oct 2016).. I did my Dutch tax return, and now I have to do the German one, should I mention something about this situation? Can’t find any option to do so..

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/04/2017 at 12:26

      Hi Giorgia. You need to check if there are any bilateral agreements between the Netherlands and Germany concerning those issues. It should help you decide what to do. You might not need to mention your Dutch income on your German tax return.

  • Reply Bo 18/04/2017 at 12:07

    Hi,

    Thank you for the great article maybe it was going to be way easier for me if i first searched in google on how to do this instead of trying to do it with just an advice from a colleague (who is also a foreigner). I have the following situation: I have already send my tax declaration (or at least i think i did) using the Elster formular software, however i’m not sure if i have successfully submited it since it’s 1 month and still no answer. I had a visual confirmation of some kind as far as i remember – coming from the software itself after clicking on the send button. I’m also logging in in my elster online portal and it says that i haven’t submitted anything yet which is somehow distrubing. I’m wondering what would happen if i submit another tax declaration using https://www.steuergo.de/en/and if it would be a problem if my previously send declaration was actually received? Also if i try going to the finanzamt and maybe ask them to check if i have already submitted my tax declaration what documents i must take with me? Are they even going to be able to provide that information to me? Any idea?

    Regards.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/04/2017 at 09:47

      Hi Bo. If you used the ELSTER software to submit your tax declaration and reopen the form, there be should be a message mentioning that the particular form was sent to your Finanzamt (with date and time) and a big “Nicht mehr editierbar” on there too. When in doubt, you can call your Finanzamt. Good luck.

      • Reply Bo 19/04/2017 at 13:00

        Thank you!

  • Reply Tony 03/04/2017 at 21:34

    Hi,
    this the 3rd day I’m trying to sort out mainly one thing,
    I just want to get the maximum amount possible, so was wondering if those internet companies doing the tax returns for You, do they include things like distance from work to home and the tickets cost and so on. Cause if not, I guess if I include them, I can get back more money, but in other case, maybe these companies maximises such things and I can get more.
    In my case, I worked last year 4 months, earned 8944 euros payed 996 taxes, so I guess I should be able to get back some, since I didn’t work the full year

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/04/2017 at 10:09

      Hello Tony. These things can be taken into account with those self-help platforms yes.

    • Reply Simon 11/04/2017 at 21:49

      Hi,
      Can someone please tell me what to write in Verwendungszweck? I understand that it means something like reasons for payment or bank transfer, since I want to have my tax refund, should I just write : tax refund?

      • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/04/2017 at 10:08

        Hi Simon, Verwendungszweck means “intended use” or “purpose”.

  • Reply Tom 03/04/2017 at 19:00

    Thanks a lot, really helpful guide. I worked as both a Kleinunternehmer and a normal Arbeitnehmer in 2016, so I was wondering if I had to fill in both Anlage S and Anlage N.

    You already cleared this up in your answer to Michael above, so thats great too.

    Thanks again!

  • Reply Michael McJilton 02/04/2017 at 12:03

    Hi,

    I am attempting to do my taxes for the first time and have a questions concerning my employment status and what forms I should fill out. I am a full time employee at a German firm, I am also a freelance artist who makes and have several bills from work related to this profession I have a persional tax id number). Does this mean I should fill out the forms for both employee and freelancer? Any help would be great.

    M

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/04/2017 at 15:47

      Hi Michael. Yes that’s correct, you need to fill in Anlage N & Anlage S or G, depending on your situation.

      • Reply Heidi Kärkkäinen 10/04/2017 at 14:15

        Hi! What about if you are a full-time employee but also make little money as a freelance translator BUT am not billing the company I am doing the freelance work? I have a contract with them (a Swedish company) and then I should pay the taxes from the work to the country I am in. Is the situation same, in German terms that is freelancing and I should also declare all my salaries next year with both forms, for full-time employee and freelancer, and with the same steuer-id? Thank you for this amazingly helpful site and thanks a lot in advance.

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/04/2017 at 10:47

          Hi Heidi. You should declare all income sources to the Finanzamt, so if you are registered as a freelancer in Germany too, you will need to use both forms indeed. One of for your income as an employee, the other for the income as a freelancer.

  • Reply Zeo 31/03/2017 at 15:22

    Hi! I recently traveled to Germany but being in a rush when I left I couldn’t find my tax refund tickets, therefore I couldn’t get my money back. Is there a possibility to still get this refund while being in America? Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/04/2017 at 15:50

      Hi Zeo. Yes, it is possible. You will just need to indicate your new adress. Make sure that your Finanzamt allows international transfers though. Maybe that part could be tricky.

  • Reply Paula 29/03/2017 at 12:49

    Hi,
    I used to work in Germany and got fired in December 2015. In April 2016 I have got my Termination Indemnity while still unemployed (not getting any social unemployment benefit). In January this year I left Germany and I wanted to know if I need to file for 2016 taxes, even though I was unemployed and the only income I got was the termination indemnity.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/03/2017 at 15:25

      Hi Paula. This is a good question but since it’s a severance package, it’s an unusual situation. My opinion is that you would still need to fill in a tax return but you might want to check with a professional in doubt.

  • Reply S 28/03/2017 at 21:01

    “I started to work without a Steuer ID from the Finanzamt” Can somebody confirm this? My company assured me of the opposite…

  • 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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