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.

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.

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.

225 Comments

  • Reply Ferhad Patel 28/05/2017 at 15:05

    Hello, I’ve been on a German employment contract since the 1st January 2017 and leaving Germany on the 1st June.
    My new employment contract is in Asia . I plan to de-register with the local authorities before my departure.
    What’s my tax liabilities ? Do I need to declare my Asia income and is this taxed by the German authorities ?
    Thanks for your advise .

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/05/2017 at 21:10

      Hi Ferhad, if you don’t plan to come back in 2018 or later, then there is no need to worry.

  • Reply Sofia 28/05/2017 at 14:34

    Thanks a lot for the really informative post! 🙂

    I have been searching for something specific that I see in my “Lohnsteuerbescheinigung” but I can’t really get conclusive information…maybe someone here already heard about it.

    In my “Lohnsteuerbescheinigung” it appears a Line 37 “AN-Anteil Zukunftsversicherung (ZVK)” that I don’t know where it goes. I was wondering if this could be added in the “Hauptvordruck, Sonderausgaben, Dauernde Lasten”…Would that make sense? I think the other alternative would be in the “Vorsorgeaufwand” but only when you already pay it before 2005, that is not my case. I would appreciate if anyone has an idea on this! Thanks!

  • Reply SiChal 24/05/2017 at 16:42

    Hi,
    Thanks a lot for this informative post.
    As you stated in the post, it is optional for employees to declare their taxes. However, I learned that declaring tax will be mandatory once the employee declares the tax, i.e., it is optional as long as you don’t declare it once. I also heard that you can apply to the Financeamt so that they will revert it to optional. My question is, can one declare once, then revert to optional, then wait for four years and then declare? This way, it saves some time 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/05/2017 at 12:01

      Hi Sichal. I have never heard of such rule. Me and a few of my friends did it only once as employees and then didn’t do it the years after with no issues at all from the Finanzamt. You shouldn’t worry there. It’s optional for employees.

  • Reply Filip 23/05/2017 at 13:02

    Hello,

    I have questions regarding tax return in Germany. I did internship from December 2015 to the end of June 2016. After that I have stayed in Germany learning German language, all the time Anmeldet. My income for the first six months of 2016 was 8400, and I didn’t work since the end of the internship. How much can money can I get back and what is the easiest way to do it?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/05/2017 at 12:13

      Hi Filip. This is hard to say without knowing more of your situation, expenses, etc. It’s probably worth it if you haven’t done it before though.

  • Reply Maite 18/05/2017 at 17:34

    Hi,
    Thank you for your post.
    I was wondering if you need to send the receipts of all the deducted expenses.
    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/05/2017 at 13:59

      Hi Maite, in general no, especially if you are an employee, but you will need to be able to show them if the Finanzamt asks you.

  • Reply Simon Stone 17/05/2017 at 13:19

    Hi All. Reading through this page it is all related to either an employee or a freelancer. Does anyone know the specific forms that I would have to fill in if I am an employee in another country(Hong Kong) but I live in Germany? In this scenario I pay my taxes as per the Hong Kong tax guidelines.

    I believe that I am in the situation where I may not have to pay taxes however I would prefer to submit the tax return regardless.

    In addition does anyone know if there is a cheap service which I could get help in filing the return given the complication above.

    Thank you ion advance.

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