As responsible adults, we pay our bills in the present, but we put money aside for the future too. Your retirement plans may be to live quietly in a cottage by the sea or to travel the world. Until then, like most Germans, you’re probably looking forward to getting your hard-earned pension someday.

But what if you don’t plan on living in Germany much longer? There is a way to put your hands on your German pension contributions before retirement. Keep reading to find out how you can get a pension refund after leaving Germany.

Pension Refund Germany

Pension refund Germany: who is eligible

Only a selected few are eligible for a pension refund in Germany, as defined by law in German social security act ((§ 210 Sozialgesetzbuch Sechstes Buch (SGB VI)).. You need to fulfill ALL of the following conditions:

  1. You contributed for less than 5 years (60 months) to the German pension system. Below that amount, it’s not enough to receive pension at retirement age. Mechanically, this gives you the right to get that money back.
  2. You cannot longer make contributions into the system. This is the case if you no longer reside in the EU after your time in Germany.
  3. Your last contribution was done more than 24 months ago. After this point in time, you can start the application process. This does not apply if you already have reached German retirement age.
  4. You don’t have the option to make voluntary contributions into the system. Voluntary contributions are a scheme enabled by the German pension office to let you pay contributions even if you work and reside outside of Germany. This is mostly relevant for German people who spent a short-time abroad and still want to contribute to their pension back home. You have this option if you reside in the following countries with bilateral agreements with Germany:
    • All EU countries
    • Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland (EEA)
    • Albania, Australia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada/Quebec, Chile, China (only posting employees), India, Israel, Japan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Philippines, Serbia, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, USA, Ukraine (pending).

You read that right, residents of the countries listed above are not eligible. An application is only possible for residents of any other country of the planet, provided they fulfill the conditions.

Important: Germans aside, citizenship does not play a role in eligibility, only residence at time of application matters.

If you are not eligible to a German pension refund, know this:

Even if no action can be taken now, there is still important information you should know to make good use of that pension money.

  • EU/EEA/Swiss residents should know that your German pension contributions can be merged with the ones of your country of residence, when reaching legal retirement age. However, a request needs then to be placed with the German pension office.
  • Residents of the other contract states states above can go with 2 scenarii:
    • if you contributed for less than 5 years during your time in Germany, you can ask for a full refund then without interest.
    • if you contributed for more than 5 years, you will get your pension paid in installments to you when you reach the German retirement age, wherever you reside.

How much can I get?

You will get back the contributions you made as an employee. This is currently set at 9,35% of your gross income. Your employer’s share of the contributions will not be refunded to you. A quick calculation is:

Refund = [[average gross monthly salary] x [# months worked]] x 0,0935

This is the rule of the thumb some other minor factors can potentially impact the actual sum. Most online calculators provide a rough estimate that is good enough to get an idea. Don’t be surprised however, if the end sum does not exactly match.

The most complete one is the one provided by the German pension office itself there, but it’s ill fitted for most expats.

No matter what the German pension refund calculator says, the pension refund Germany offers depends on your specific situation. To get more detailed information, contact a Deutsche Rentenversicherung representative and ask for an overview of your account. This is a free service and just requires you to make an appointment. You can book an appointment online very easily here.

Applying for a German pension refund; the right way

The application process itself is straightforward but I recommend gathering all relevant documentation while you’re still in Germany, so you’re prepared for the application. You also need to gather a fair dose of patience & courage. All communication with the pension office is done via letters, and in German only. It’s common for additional documentation to be requested.

This is how you get a German pension refund:

  1. First, there’s a two-year waiting period, which starts when you last made a contribution in Germany as stated in (SGB 6 § 210). This does not apply if you already have reached German retirement age. Your last contribution is made a month after your last work day.
  2. Once that period is over, download and fill in the right forms available on the German pension’s office website:
    1. The main application form (Antrag auf Beitragserstattung bei Aufenthalt im Ausland): form V0901 for English or V0902 for french.
    2. The payment information form (Zahlungserklärung) to let the office know where/how to pay you. A1313 if the bank account is located in Germany, A1312 if located in Canada/USA, A1311 if located in Italy, A1310 if located anywhere else.
  3. Include a copy of your social insurance certificate (Meldebescheinigung zur Sozialversicherung.). You received this when you first moved to Germany and did your Anmeldung.
  4. Include a copy of your passport.
  5. Send all documents by post to the German pension office at this address: Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund, Ruhrstr. 2, 10709 Berlin.
  6. Wait for your case to be reviewed and prepare to send in a few more documents.

And now, patience…

While the process isn’t difficult, waiting for the pension refund Germany takes 2 to 6 months. It takes longer if the bank account is located abroad. Once that goes through, all contributions so far are removed from your account. You’ll no longer receive pension payments from Germany and if you ever return, you’ll have to start from scratch.

What now? Well, you could take all that money to the casino and try your luck, invest it, use it to start a business, travel the world, add to your savings account… the choice is yours!

Hopefully, you can do or buy something nice with it. 🙂

I dont feel confident doing this on my own, where can I get help?

The payoff is usually worth the effort but it’s sometimes a difficult task, as usual with anything related with German bureaucracy.

From the German pension office itself

The German pension office has a hotline you can reach from abroad at this number (serviced in German only). This page contains email addresses to support specific countries. You can send your questions there in English but will probably receive an answer in German.

From specialized refund agencies

As you can tell, this topic is pretty difficult to address; several criteria, many exceptions & little-known rules. This made even more challenging when all communication is via mail, in German, away from home. This is why specialized agencies can take care of this topic for you to save you time, stress & effort.

In exchange for their expertise & time spent on your case, the agency bills you a percentage of the total refund. This means that such a service is free to use & success-based. If the application fails, no fee is due. Costs are usually around 10-15% of a successful refund.

German pension refund FAQ

Who is eligible for a German pension refund?

You need to fulfill the following conditions to be eligible: you contributed for less than 5 years to the German pension system, you no longer reside in Germany or one of the contract state, your last contribution was done more than 24 months ago & you don’t have the option to make voluntary contributions into the system.

How much refund can I get?

As a rule of thumb, you can hope to receive 9,35% of your gross income as an employee.

How long does it take to receive my refund?

Once the 24 months waiting period is over, it can take 2 to 6 months after you submitted your application to have the money transferred to your bank account. Transferring to bank account located abroad takes several extra-weeks.

Can I also just wait until I’m retired to get the money?

Yes. Regardless of your citizenship or residence location at your retirement age (German retirement age: 67), it is also possible to have the German system directly transfer you the pension in monthly installments. However, those installments are likely to be very small as you contributed less than 5 years into the system. It’s usually more beneficial to get a refund and invest that money some other way.

I am a EU citizen; can I get a pension refund too?

Citizenship is not relevant for this. Only current place of residence at time of application. As long as you live the E.U, the pension system reciprocity agreements between EU member states applies. You cannot get a refund.

I hope this guide on pension refund for Germany was useful. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments if something is left unclear.


Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4