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This I’m sure of: getting your German tax ID number will not be the most exciting event of your new life here. It’s however an essential document for your life as a tax payer.

German tax ID guide

At the end of this post, you will understand how it works, why you need it, where to get one and what to do if you lost it.

What is your German tax ID: Steuernummer & Steuer ID

Confusingly enough, there are 2 numbers assigned to you when you first arrive in Germany, with different uses and attributes.

Steuernummer

The tax number (Steuernummer) is issued by your local tax office (Finanzamt) when you register in a new city. It’s the number you will see & use most often as a tax payer. On official letters, it might be referenced as Steuer-Identnummer or St-Nr.

It’s a 10-13 digit number with the following format: 12/345/67890. This is the logic behind it:

  • First 2/3 digits: tax office’s reference number.
  • Next 2/3 digits: district’s reference number.
  • Next 4/3 digits: personal reference number.
  • Last digit: Check digit.
German tax ID steuernummer meaning

This number can be subject to change if your move to a different city or location, or if you change between being employed & being self-employed. If your situation changes, the Finanzamt will automatically send you a new number.

Employees will most often use their Steuernummer when dealing with the Finanzamt.

Freelancers can communicate their Steuernummer to their clients or suppliers, in order for German invoices to be legally binding. It is also used when declaring/paying VAT or trade tax.

Steuer Identifikationsnummer, Steuer-ID or TIN

The tax identification number (Steueridentifikationsnummer) is a number issued the central German tax office. It is issued only once and unique to you. This number is given at birth or whenever you first register in Germany. On official letters, it may be named Steuer-ID or TIN (for Tax Identification Number) as well.

It’s a 11 digit number which follows that format: 12 345 678 901. The combination of numbers is purposefully unclear, to avoid any identifying characteristics.

Your Steuer-ID never changes, even if you move locations within Germany, if you get married, change jobs, become a freelancer, etc.

Employees need their Steuer-ID so their employers can calculate the appropriate amount of income tax to apply to your gross income, based on the info behind it. This is also required when doing your yearly tax return, when applying for child benefits, opening accounts with banks among others.

Freelancers use their Steuer-ID far less than their Steuernummer. It is mostly used for the yearly tax return as well.

Why there are 2 different numbers

In short, a 2007 act planned to do away with the local German tax ID (Steuernummer), in order to replace it with a unique central one (Steuer-ID). This was aiming at:

  • simplify communication between you and the tax authorities – and also between the authorities (e.g. tax offices, family and pension funds).
  • make tax avoidance more difficult.
  • prevent benefits to be paid twice incorrectly (e.g: child benefits).

It is however not meant to become a universal personal identifier. It is not clear when the Steuernummer will disappear so there is only one German tax ID number.


Where do I get my German tax ID?

When you are first registering in Germany

During your Anmeldung in Germany, you will have the opportunity to notify the clerk your desire to work in Germany.

In this case, 2 things happen:

  1. The information is shared with the central tax office. It will send your Steuer-ID to you by post within 2-3 weeks.
  2. The information is shared with the local tax office. It will send your Steuernummer to you by post within 2-5 weeks.

If you need one or both urgently, wait a few days before going to your local Finanzamt (local tax office). The administration needs that time to update your case/files first. You can request a paper copy in person there. You only to need to bring your Meldebescheinigung & passport/ID card with you.

You can find your local tax office by entering your postal code on this page.

Take a number, wait in line, answer a few questions and after 10 minutes, you will hold your own German tax ID number in your hands.

If you have lost your German tax ID

You can find your Steuer-ID again on a few documents:

  • On the A4 paper you got from the central tax office (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern) when your first registered. It’s a document called “Zuteilung der Identifikationsnummer“.
  • If you have done a tax return, it’s also located towards the top of the tax return statement sent by your local Finanzamt.
  • It’s also located on your payslips, or yearly wage tax statements (Lohnsteuerbescheinigung) sent by your employer.
  • Your employer can also give it to you if needed.
  • You can also request a new copy by filling in a simple form on this page. You will receive it by post a few days later..

Your Steuernummer is located on any correspondance with your Finanzamt. You can also call there and a request a new copy.


Starting a job without a German tax ID

While employers do need your Steuer-ID in order to assign you to the right tax class & apply the right wage tax, it is not mandatory to start a job.

However, this does mean that you will be assigned to tax class 6, which the least optimized class of all. This results in a higher tax rate. Your net salary will be lower than it would otherwise be. However, it is possible to get back the difference when doing a tax return the following year.

German tax number & self-employement

Next to your German tax ID, you might also need a VAT number (Umsatzsteuer Nummer). This is not compulsory but required if you decide to bill with VAT included. This is to be requested when you register, or whenever you reach a certain treshold.

If you want to become a freelancer and don’t know where to start for bureaucracy, I have made a dedicated post on the matter here.

Tax number & religion

You will be asked if you are believer or not. Don’t take it personally  it is simply used to determine if you should pay taxes for the catholic, protestant, church etc. If you aren’t much in all that, don’t forget to state that you are an atheist ! Otherwise, you will pay more taxes! If you already made that mistake, there is also a way out. More information here.

SSN & Tax ID

In some countries, there is one unique identifier for all things related to taxes & welfare with the public authorities. This is not the case in Germany where privacy concerns are strong. Your tax ID is not the same as your social security number.


German tax number – FAQ

Do I need a tax number to start working in Germany?

No, it is not mandatory. However, this will result in a higher tax rate on your payslip. When you register and eventually get one, you will be able to get the difference back when doing a tax return.

Do students need a tax number in Germany?

Foreign students who come here for studies don’t need a tax number if they don’t work.

Where can I find my tax number?

Your Steuer-ID can be found on your payslips, or yearly tax return statements. You can also request it from your employer or from the central tax office. Your Steuernummer can be found on correspondence with the local Finanzamt.

Is the tax number the same as the social security number in Germany?

No. There is no unique identifier in Germany. You will have separate numbers due to privacy concerns from the German authorities.

I hope this overview about getting a German tax ID number was useful to you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments if something is unclear.

Bastien

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5