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

 

176 Comments

  • Reply prabha 28/11/2018 at 15:27

    Hi,

    I have been in Germany for almost three years and I did not get this bill so far. But about two weeks ago I got this bill and will I have to pay for the whole time that I was here. Plus, I am living in a big building where there are lots of apartments and the owner of all these houses is just one person,

  • Reply Badhri Narayanan 28/11/2018 at 10:56

    Hi, Very informative stuff posted! Love it!
    Just a small question. Me and my friend share an apartment. So that means that the radio tax money is divided between us right? But we have been receiving letters from ZDF on both of our names. The payment backlog for my friend is a huge amount and wouldn’t it be sufficient if only one from the apartment pays the entire radio tax amount? How do I make them understand that we both live in the same apartment?
    Thanks in advance!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/11/2018 at 09:33

      Hey Badhri. The fee is applied per household. How you divide the fee between everybody is completely up to you. You need to get in touch with them and let them know there was a duplicate. You can refer to the “Beitragsnummer” indicated in the letter you received.

  • Reply Alex 20/11/2018 at 18:31

    Hi,
    Thanks for that article. I’ve moved into my own apartment in Berlin 4 years ago and last week I received a letter from ARD asking me to pay from my entry date. I did my Anmeldung 4 years ago and all my papers are in order. I simply never received that letter until now. I think it’s a bit unfair that I have to pay more than €800 now, while it’s their mistake. I mean, I’m fine paying on a monthly basis but now the amount is a bit excessive!!
    Did anyone have or hear a similar experience?
    Thanks

  • Reply Dijana 16/11/2018 at 13:20

    Hi
    We are here in Germany for 9 months.
    The first three months of our stay was in a hotel. Since May we live in a small apartment. So, in this letter it is calculated the amount for these three months. From the very beginning we recieved the ZDF letter. Should we pay only for the months we are staying in the apartment or for all.
    P. S we haven’t paid yet.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/11/2018 at 23:15

      Hey there. I’m not sure what rules apply to hotel. You have to talk to the manager i suppose, to check if the pays the tax for his tenants.

  • Reply Dorothy 09/10/2018 at 22:36

    Hi! I have been living in Munich in a shared student dorm for two years and have never received such a letter. Does this mean someone else is paying for me?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/10/2018 at 13:03

      Hey Dorothy. I don’t know. Possibly.

      • Reply shadowcat 27/10/2018 at 15:55

        does the tv charge differ from city to city? I have rented an apartment in hamburg, how much should i pay once a month? it is urgent!

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/10/2018 at 10:09

          Hey there. It’s the same rate nationwide.

  • Reply Abigail 21/09/2018 at 12:50

    Hello,

    It seems like GEZ/ARD had improved their chase for “missed” household this August 2018, where I’ve received there first letter after 5 years being registered in this apartment. Is it lawful from consumer/citizen perspective to ask to pay them retroactively 2 years back (almost 600 € ) ? If they detected my household just recently wouldn’t be more appropriate to charge since that date? Why would i pay such amount for the “fault” in their system?

    Many thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 24/09/2018 at 22:15

      Hey Abigail. We are diving into legal territory here. A lawyer would guide you better down that road; i don’t want to give you wrong advice. sorry.

    • Reply Oscar 25/10/2018 at 18:26

      Hi Abigail,

      I have a similar case. They want me to pay two years retroactively… What did you do?

    • Reply MK 26/10/2018 at 14:40

      HI. I had encountered similar scenario. As per new law, they cannot ask you to pay for total 5 yyears. instad, you have to since january 2016.

      • Reply Alex 05/11/2018 at 08:54

        I’ve also received a letter from ARD asking for ~1000 EUR for 4 years.

        Could you please share the name of this new law?

  • Reply kfb 21/09/2018 at 08:44

    What is the case if I did not actually get the letter?

  • Reply MP 19/09/2018 at 10:19

    What if you move away from Germany, but still owe some money for the TV Tax? Are they going to try to find you in another country?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/09/2018 at 09:01

      Hey MP. There is no experience i can think of on the matter. In my opinion, it’s most likely not going to happen, unless it’s a large amount but they will hunt you down if you ever come back to Germany and it will impact your SCHUFA score a lot.

  • Reply Jovanka Drinkovic Zajkov 09/09/2018 at 16:36

    Hello.

    I pay monthly TV tax for German channels.
    I do not have a TV and can not watch channels via antenna or cable.
    I have a laptop.
    Can I watch these channels (which is included with mtllhly TV tax) via laptop without paying extra money?
    Is it that:
    – legal
    – Do I need additional devices or apps for this?
    -What is a channel I can see?

    Thank you,
    Jovanka

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/09/2018 at 23:14

      Hi Jovanka. Yes, you can any of them online. That’s perfectly legal. No need to install apps, you can just stream it in the browser. You can see the list of public channels on this page.

    • Reply Matthew 17/09/2018 at 22:00

      Anybody have experience with this: I am moving away from Germany, going back to the US. I wasn’t paying the TV tax for the first 9 months I was in Berlin, but in my current apartment, they started to send me the bill. I wrote to them, in English, explaining that I don’t speak German, don’t have a tv or a radio, and that I am moving out of the country. The sent me one big bill for over 100€. As far as I know, they know nothing about me other than this address, and my German bank account. I am closing that German bank account before I move. SO what if I just don’t pay it? Will there be a black spot on my record in Germany? Could it cause any troubles for me if I were to ever move back here again (unlikely, but you never know?) And could they hunt me down, somehow, in the US?

      • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/09/2018 at 09:14

        Hey Matthew. If you ever come back to Germany, that might still show in your SCHUFA record. And i guess there is a slim chance that they will chase you.

  • Reply Mohammed Elansary 01/09/2018 at 08:53

    Hello, can somebody tell me how to prove somebody else is already paying the TV fees for our apartment? Thanks in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 02/09/2018 at 19:05

      Hi Mohammed, just let them know the Beitragsnummer of the person living in the same household who’s paying for it.

    • Reply E. Crawford 05/09/2018 at 15:38

      Bastien is right — I’ve helped a number of people with this. Just call the Beitragsservice at the number on the letter you received, and tell them the Beitragsnummer of the other person — which will be on the letters/ bills that _they_ receive.

      The only problem I’ve ever had is that in a couple of cases, they didn’t seem to get it the first time — they started sending bills again — but another call fixed the problem every time.

  • Reply Jessy James 28/08/2018 at 00:13

    Can foreigners (esp students) claim back the tax money before leaving the country?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/08/2018 at 10:21

      Hi Jessy. No.

  • Reply Madhu Kavali 13/08/2018 at 20:50

    Hello, very useful information indeed.
    Could you please advise me on below scenario: I came to Germany 7 years back. Until last week (12th August 2018), I have NOT received any letter from ARD regarding the fees. But, today i received a letter stating the fees that they would charge on monthly / a quarterly basis, asking me to to prove bank details so that they can debit directly. My question is:
    1. will they debit the money right from from the day i lived in Germany? If such is the case, I cannot afford to pay such a huge bill at once, and it find it completely unethical.
    Any help would be appreciated. I am bit worried in this situation

    Thanks
    Madhu

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/08/2018 at 21:54

      Hey Madhu. Well, in the letter, they usually tell you how much you owe them if you have late fees, so i don’t think it will be the case for you.

      • Reply Mani 18/09/2018 at 13:24

        Same case – got the letter now after 5years. Called them and they mentioned i have to pay from 2016 onwards
        Is this true or I can still fight it over the phone to start paying only from now onwards?

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/09/2018 at 09:18

          Hey Mani. I have no idea. It seems that there is no rule from my small knowledge on the matter. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try.

        • Reply NAVEEN VISHNOI 03/10/2018 at 12:16

          I have also received a letter in Sep18. Letter does not state any amount due, and exactly same content what Madhu has received. SO I am not sure what to do with it.

          • Jack 07/10/2018 at 19:29

            Hi there! Did you figure out what to do? I am in similar shoes:) thanks in advance.

          • Nas 25/10/2018 at 22:22

            Same problem here, any updates guys ?

    • Reply Andre 20/08/2018 at 16:21

      Hi,

      Excellent article.

      One question, can we pay the rundfunkbeitrag with an european bank account? In my case Portuguese?

      Or do we really need to have a german bank account?

      Regards

  • Reply Mohit Singhal 08/08/2018 at 11:51

    Hello,

    My owner is already paying the RADIO Fees and he told me to merge my beitrag number with his number so that i should not pay the double fees for the apartment. I am not getting the option to merge my number with his. Could you please help me with the merging process where I add my beitrag number with his number.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/08/2018 at 16:32

      Hi Mohit. I don’t think it’s quite merging, but simply let them know that your landlord has paid the fees already, with his Beitragnummer.

  • Reply DS 03/08/2018 at 17:04

    Hi ,

    I am paying ARD in my current house, now I am moving to a new apartment, the ARD comes in my name, what do I need to do to de register ARD from my name in the previous apartmrnt?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 06/08/2018 at 22:08

      Hi Deborah. Tell them you move places.

  • Reply Sergio 31/07/2018 at 14:45

    Hi, excellent website!

    Me and my partner have both been paying this tax for 4 years, we didn’t know it was only 1 bill per household! (we have shared the flat for 4 years)
    Are there any precedents of people claiming back the money in retrospective for similar cases than mine?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/07/2018 at 22:41

      Hey Sergio. I haven’t heard of such cases before although they should have told one of you that it’s only one “Beitrag” per household. They don’t have any form for this on their website, so a good ol’ letter will probably be the first step. Good luck. That’s a good pile of cash!

  • Reply Samy 27/07/2018 at 18:28

    Hi, I am in Munich Since 1st of Jan 2018, now i have received the letter from ARD for Jan 1st to May 31st as 157.50Euro. But it suppose to be 17.5 * 5 = 87.5 right? Why 157.50? Thanks in advance for your support.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/07/2018 at 22:36

      Hi Samy. No idea. Best is to ask them directly.

  • Reply Binod Timalsina 23/07/2018 at 08:52

    Hello
    Before one year i received a letter of 650 euro debts from last 2 years from Tv Radio.I had paid that amount from online. After that i thought that fee is paid by my friend with whom i sam sharing my room. I didnot care about those letters but now again i receive the letter of 291 euro and now i am afraid wether they will take action on me ? They have send me a letter and mentioned that i am abemeldet. What can i do now to solve my problem? Please give me a suggestion. Will they send me back to my country or put me in jail or take something negative action on me??

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/07/2018 at 15:01

      Hi Binod. Sorry, i don’t really understand full. You need to let them know that the person you are sharing a household has paid already. What’s the issue there?

  • Reply Dammy 14/07/2018 at 00:47

    Hello, please does ARD send a reply when they receive payments because i made an online transfer to ARD’s account about a month ago with my ARD number as the reference and i have been expecting a confirmation. Thank you

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/07/2018 at 10:57

      Hi Dammy. Well, they don’t send you a confirmation but they don’t send you letters to ask you to pay either…

  • Reply Andreia 21/06/2018 at 16:08

    Hi, how can I notify that my flat mate already pay this tax?
    Any specific letter template?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 22/06/2018 at 14:24

      Hi Andreia. This one would work with changing dates and adjusting details to fit your situation. Hope this helps.

  • Reply Bella 10/05/2018 at 10:44

    hallo, I want to ask you if my flatmate has already registered in GEZ, do I need too register myself too?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/05/2018 at 21:40

      Hi Bella. No.

    • Reply Shiva 23/05/2018 at 12:49

      hello! I have been in Germany since september 2016. I never received any letters from them? What should i do now? Please reply! Thanks!

  • Reply Hzé 03/05/2018 at 18:31

    Hi,

    I am a language assistant in Germany since Ocotber 2017 and I will leave this month.
    I received two letters that I have ignored because my roommate told me that was not important ; we do not have a tv, radio…
    I have seen your article last month and since that time, I am afraid to receive a fine. I have asked my tutor, who is German and she told me that I did not have to pay because I am staying a “short-term”. She has affirmed that she did not have pay during years…

    Thanks

  • Reply Sarah Madden 02/05/2018 at 14:36

    Hello, do you know if I change address via the burgeramt if ARD will be notified or I need to contact them? I’m already paying but in my old address

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/05/2018 at 22:18

      Hi Sarah. You should notify them that you have changed address to avoid paying double fees.

  • Reply Ahmed Hegazi 28/04/2018 at 00:13

    Hello.

    I am almost a year in Berlin, and I never received a letter from them, what should I do?
    as I don’t want to receive a big amount or face jail for that.

    thank you,
    Ahmed

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/04/2018 at 09:13

      Hi Ahmed. It’s up to them to notify you about this so i don’t think you should worry for now in my opinion.

  • Reply Valentin Hamzic 08/03/2018 at 20:03

    Hello
    I come back in Germany 4 months ago and i was in my home country for 1 year ! Before that i was working in Belgium by German company and i had adress signed in Germany also , that so that German tv tax was coming all the time on adress and i didnt know that untill i moved to my country and after few months my college bring me few letters from GERMAN TV TAX that i need to pay from 200 to 390 euros plus when i come back i barrely opened bank account because they said im on SCHUFA negativ ! i paid everything offcourse and SCHUFA said i will be deleted from their database because they ordered ARREST for me because they dont know where am i or do i exist and now i answered them and its different ! But they will have my info for 3 years also ! Now i dont understand them , can i normally take credit and what so ever ? Am i deleted from Schufa and now have positiv entrance ! Please help me i need to get a credit for auto

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/03/2018 at 09:43

      Hi Valentin. You can check for yourself how your SCHUFA score looks like. Here is more info.

  • Reply Robert 08/03/2018 at 17:08

    Anyone who willingly pays this now is a fool. If you already are paying you should stop and if you are thinking about starting to pay, don’t.
    The German TV license in its current form is not only a violation of German law but it is also a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (look it up), which interestingly enough is only valid in its English and French translations.

    The issue with the German TV licence currently stands before the European Court of Justice (C-492/17) as well as the German Constitutional Court. This tax, which German courts have declared is not a tax but rather a fee, because it would be illegal if it were a tax, is bound to be smacked down by the the European Court of Justice, so anyone who is paying now is just wasting their money.

    • Reply Abbasi 15/03/2018 at 19:42

      can you please give me a reference for what you are saying

    • Reply Eva Jensterle 08/06/2018 at 15:34

      Interesting. I still feel paranoid for not paying. I mean my boyfriend and I just registered in an apartment without TV or Radio and both received 17,50eur bill !! Both! Does that mean we both have to pay?! It’s so ridiculous. I wouldn’t mind if it was 1 or 2eur, but nearly 18eur a month for something you’re not watching or listening since years is a pure rip off. So Robert your comment is interesting, but how legit is it?

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

        Only one of you has to pay for the household. one household = one bill.

  • Reply siebe meeusen 07/03/2018 at 09:50

    Hello

    First of all, thank you for this website. It has been amazing and helped me through a lot.
    I moved in last month in a WG with some other people, and yesterday I received a lettre to pay for the TV,radio,..
    As you mentioned in your post, you can prove that someone is already paying it. Which is the case.

    How do I prove this? Just a lettre?
    What do I need?

    Thanks in advance

    Siebe

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 07/03/2018 at 17:31

      Hi Siebe. Just send them the reference number of his/her contract to them.

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