German TV tax – What to do about the Rundfunkbeitrag letter?

When you thought just had it all under control, the German administration has a way to remind you who is the boss. This reminder might take the form of an innocent ARD ZDF letter letting you know about the TV & radio broadcasting fees in Germany, otherwise known at the Rundfunkbeitrag.

This is no less than a German TV tax that each household ought to pay in order to finance the production and the broadcasting of content by public channels.

Rundfunkbeitrag letter german TV tax

Put your anti-bore suit on and learn here why it’s important to take care of this and fast.

Why and how did you receive this Rundfunkbeitrag letter at home?

This German TV tax has been issued by the government in 2013 to replace an older rule that stated that only owners of radio and TV sets should pay any kind of fees. This older rule was hard to apply since it was practically very difficult to check whether or not it was the case for any given individual. Many people lied and got away with it since agents were not legally allowed to come into your home.

Arguably, consumption of public content can now happen with tablets, computers and phones, which everybody has nowdays. As a result, this flat fee was decided and each household in Germany has to pay 17,50€ monthly (since 2015). The institution in charge of collecting TV & radio broadcasting fees in Germany is called “Beitragsservice von ARD, ZDF und Deutschlandradio”, or simply “Beitragsservice”. It replaces the older institution called GEZ (Gebühreneinzugszentrale), which is why you might see this name in forums sometimes.

The reason why you received this Rundfunkbeitrag letter is simple:

The Beitragsservice is a public institution with access to public resources. When registering yourself at the Bürgeramt with the Anmeldung, it was able to access your data and send you a letter.

Which courses of action can you take?

Pay up

The most obvious decision is submit to what is after all an institutionalized TV tax in Germany. A law has been passed and it applies to all citizens. You can register or submit your account details online on the official website.

Apply for exemptions or reductions

Of course, if your vision or your hearing is impaired, you can let the Beitraggservice know about it to reduce or avoid altogether the fee. Recipient of social welfare benefits (Arbeitslosengeld II, Sozialgeld or Grundsicherung im Alter) or grants (BAföG, Berufsausbildungsbeihilfe or Ausbildungsgeld) are also exempted. It makes sense: no need to pass public money around. If you are not German-speaking, i’m afraid this doesn’t count. You still have to pay.

If you are not German-speaking, i’m afraid this doesn’t count. You still have to pay.

Prove someone already pays it for you

This case is particularly relevant for people living in shared flats or other communities. The flat fee of 17,50€ apply to one household and not to each person living within it. This means that if your flat mate already pays for it, simply let them know about it and they will leave you alone.

Ignore the letters

Now there are very well documented cases of people simply staying put and hoping the Beitragsservice letters will go away after a while. After initial reminders, their response will gradually increase in severity. Although this can earn you some time to think about it, the Beitragsservice can use legal actions to obtain their money. Eventually, you will receive a letter from your Finanzamt asking you to pay this on their behalf. Even if this happens only after a year or two, you will have to pay hundreds of euros for all the time you didn’t reply. (17,50€ per month remember?). Additional fees will also occur for sending reminders and being late. More info about this in German here.

Take part to a boycott

There are a certain number of people who think it’s quite unfair to pay a TV tax in Germany when they are never watching any of the programs on public channels. This might seem even more absurd when they can’t speak the language. If you agree, you can take part to boycott movements at your own risks. It is by nature illegal. This website is a good place to start.

Beware, it is by nature illegal.

How to notify you are leaving the country and stop paying the German TV tax?

This is an issue that is all too often forgotten by foreigners moving back to their country. It won’t be enough to notify the Bürgeramt you are leaving the country. An additional notification to the Beitragsservice will be necessary so they remove you from their databases. It is recommended to do it a bit in advance via their website. If you don’t do that and come back to Germany; they will look for you, they will find you, they will make you pay.

Thankfully, Liam Neeson is not in charge of collection

Although it is quite frustrating to be obligated to pay this Rundfunkbeitrag, you might as well give public programs a shot. It’s good for your German skills after all. ARTE is my personal favorite.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6



  • Reply Arya Lekshmi 15/08/2017 at 11:39

    I have a query. I was living in an apartment until April, 2017 and I paid 17.50 euros per month until then. They also assigned me a beitrgasnummer. I shifted to a dorm in April and here a person is already paying for all of us and we share the amount. Recently I got a letter asking to pay for 3 months from May-July. Apparently, we need to write the beitragsnummer of the person paying for us in the additional document with the post informing them the same. But, since I am assigned a beitragsnummer already, I don’t see that option in my letter. How can I notify them that I am living in a student dorm and that someone is paying for all of us already. Or should I pay everything all by myself which I don’t really want?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/08/2017 at 18:30

      Hi Arya, you can update your profile and your details on their website directly.

  • Reply Veronika 09/07/2017 at 11:24

    Hi, I’m in Germany for Erasmus and I do not have a german account here because I don’t need it. Can I pay a tax without having it? I got the letters but my german it’s not so good, I’m still confused from how it works.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/07/2017 at 11:10

      Hi Veronika. You only need a German account if you want to authorize them to take money directly from your account. However, you can decide to simply transfer money to them (every trimester for example). In this letter, you should have their banking details. Don’t forget to include your 9 number “Beitragsnummer” as reason for payment.

  • Reply Atnici 29/06/2017 at 14:54

    I had two Rundfunkbeitrag letter, from ARD and from oberbuergermeister. To which one, should I transfer my tv / radio tax bill?
    Vielen dank fuer Ihre Hilfe.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/06/2017 at 09:35

      To the ARD.

  • Reply Colin Costello 05/06/2017 at 17:26

    I am leaving Berlin for a few months. But then I am coming back. To a new address. Whar should I do about the tv tax?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/06/2017 at 22:11

      Hi Colin, you can let them know about that directly on their website or give them a call then.

  • Reply Renee 30/05/2017 at 14:32

    Hello Bastien,
    I filled out the letter to pay the fee and sent it through the post office over a week ago. How long does it take for it to go through. It still has not been withdrawn from my bank account. Also its it allowed to pay for multiple people? I work for a US company and non of the Americans here have german bank accounts. I sent in about 10 letters all with my bank info and it has not gone through.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/05/2017 at 18:18

      Hi Renee, it should only takes a few weeks.

  • Reply Harun 02/04/2017 at 14:26

    Hi Bestien, thank you for the info about rundfunkbeitrag.. I’m not a German citizen… I have a residence permission for a limited time.. does this rundfunkbeitrag still include me even I’m not a citizen…

    Thank you for your interest..

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/04/2017 at 15:42

      Hello Harun. The Beitrag has nothing to do with being a German citizen or not. If you are staying temporalily in Germany, you also have to pay it.

  • Reply Tugba 29/03/2017 at 13:31

    Thank you for the text . We have moved recently and we received the famous letter. But we DO NOT have a TV and not intending to get one. What happens in this case?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/03/2017 at 15:19

      Hi Tugba. It doesn’t matter if you have a TV or not. They consider you can consume content with your laptop, phone, radio or tablet as well. You will have to pay that tax either way.

  • Reply Ruben 23/02/2017 at 17:00

    Hello Bastien, first of all thanks so much for all the info provided, its been really useful.

    I just received this letter in my temporary flat and I intend to pay it but Im wondering if later this summer when I move to another apartment if I will have to pay another tax, or it will be enough showing that I will be already paying it or they will know it checking my info.

    Best regards.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/02/2017 at 20:44

      Hello Ruben, when you move flats, simply update your adress directly on their website to let know you are moving. There shouldn’t be any problem then.

  • Reply Sasmita 22/02/2017 at 13:54

    For the point—Prove someone already pays it for you.How can we do that ?I mean to say drop them a email or call them is it?Will it work?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/02/2017 at 14:11

      Hi Sasmita. Yes, just get in touch with them to let them know the name of the person that pays it and his/her Beitragssnummer (contract ID). It’s usually enough.

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