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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. That is unless you are looking into a German pension refund.

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

The German social security act (§ 210 Sozialgesetzbuch Sechstes Buch (SGB VI) links eligibility to seemingly simply conditions:

  1. 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.
  2. You are no longer subject to mandatory contributions into the German system. This is the case if you no longer reside in Germany.
  3. You don’t have the option to make voluntary contributions into the German 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 was designed mostly for German people who spent a short-time abroad and still want to contribute to their pension back home. In some cases, foreign nationals also have access to that.

It sounds simple enough, doesn’it? There is however a catch: only a selected few will able to fulfill the last condition based on their nationality and their place of residence after leaving Germany. Based on those 2 factors, German authorities will determine if you have in fact no option to make voluntary contributions, and thus be eligible to German pension refund.

Let’s clarify this by looking at 4 possible groups. You belong to one of them.

1- German nationals

German nationals will be given the option to make voluntary contributions until their reach retirement age, regardless of their place of residence in the world. Therefore, they cannot ask for a German pension refund. This is also true even if you hold a dual citizenship.

Refund chances: none.

2- EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland (EEA) nationals:

Nationals holding citizenship of the aforementioned countries are given the same consideration/rights as for German nationals, as stated by the EU Council Directive 2000/78/EC establishing equal treatments for all workers. In short, you are handled just like a German national in almost all cases. The only slim possibility to have your case be considered differently is if you reside in a non-contracting state after your time in Germany.

Refund chances: fairly slim.

3- Contracting state nationals:

Contracting states are: 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, UK, Ukraine (pending).

Nationals holding citizenship of those countries fall under bilateral agreements. They are usually given the option to pay voluntary contributions, yet they can only choose to get a refund if they have not passed the “minimum waiting period” of 60 months. Beware that this can also be impacted by your place of residence after your time in Germany or by dual citizenship. The screening process for German authorities might look like this:

  1. First check the nationality of a person. Are they from a contracting state?
  2. If so, then they check if the country of residence has an agreement.
  3. If so, then they check if the applicant also holds dual citizenship with that country. If not, they are eligible for a refund. 

Refund chances: medium to high.

4- Non-contracting state nationals:

If you are a national of any other member state than the ones stated above, you are de-facto never given the option to make voluntary contributions to the German system, no matter what your place of residence is.

Refund chances: very high.

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:
    1. if you contributed for less than 5 years during your time in Germany, you can ask for a full refund then without interest.
    2. 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 thumb; some other factors can potentially impact the actual sum, like the Beitragsbemessungsgrenze which caps contributions for high salaries. 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 (with tracking nummer) to the German pension office connected to the municipality where you first registered.
  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. 🙂

A word on processing times, effort & the pension office

As you have already gathered: this topic is fairly complex. It requires a close examination of each case, case by case. It gets confusing. Unfortunately, this not helped by the fact that each local pension office often handles those requests independently from each other. There is no centralized office when there are not enough requests coming in that nationality/place of residence combination.

This means that unless you belong to a bigger foreigner group, each office has a “Jack of all trades, master of none” situation going on. Depending on the type of nationality/place of residence combination they have processed in the past, they might be knowledgeable about one situation, and fairly clueless in others.

Inconsistent expertise & a complex topics can lead to longer processing times, delay & further back & forth with the office. Larger groups/combinations (e.g: Indian nationals) are all processed in the same office.

I read everywhere about this 60 months-rule; is it a requisite?

It’s a common misconception that having contributed for less than 60 months is a prerequisite. It’s however largely untrue in a lot of cases. As mentioned above, this rule is only relevant for contracting state nationals. Citizens of contracting nationals can choose to get a refund, only if they have contributed less than 60 months.

This rule is not relevant for non-contracting state nationals. They can apply for a refund, regardless of the contribution duration.

I asked exactly about this to the pension office. They confirmed that, while confirming each case is different. You can click here to see the full conversation and details.

Brexit & German pension refund

As a UK citizen, you probaby wonder how Brexit is impacting your ability to get a refund or not.

While the UK has effectively left the EU, it did so only on 01/01/2021. Brexit agreements plan that UK workers in Germany will continue to be handled as EU citizen on that matter, provided they have started to work before Brexit.

This means that any UK citizen who started to work from 01/01/2021 will be able to get a refund of less than 5 year contributions, handled like a contracting state national.

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 German pension 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 like Germanypensionrefund.com 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. But some other factors may apply the actual sum.

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. It was built upon diligent research involving experts and personal experience. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments if something is left unclear. it w

Bastien

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5