Tax return in Germany for foreigners made easy – Steuererklärung

It’s that time of the year again: the time to do your tax return in Germany otherwise known as “Steuererklärung”.  Yes sir/m’am, you’ll be able to get money back, and sometimes up to a few thousand euros. We show you how in this step by step guide.

Tax return in Germany

The road to your tax refund in Germany :

Before your panic when thinking “I haven’t done my tax return this year!”,  let me assure you that you won’t have any problems with your Finanzamt if you forgot to file your tax statement. As an employee, you are taxed every month off your wage. If your salary is your only income, then it will be a piece of cake to get your tax refund. You have already paid your taxes, now your job is to obtain as much refund as you can! For freelancers, it’s of course another story as it is compulsory.

The average tax return in Germany is close to 1000€ nation-wide. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

So how can I do my tax return in Germany?

If you are confident enough to do it on your own, do as follow. Otherwise, jump to the next title.

First you have to make sure you get all the right papers. It is recommended to download the forms directly from the official website this way : here.
(Click on the right hand side on “Einkommensteuer mit allen Anlagen”)

If you are an employee , you need the following forms (e.g for 2016) :

  • ESt 1 V 2016 (The main form that details general info like your adress, iD nummer,etc)
  • Anlage N 2016 (The form to detail your income as an employee)
  • Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2016 (The form to detail your insurances)

If you are self-employed, you need the following forms (e.g for 2016) :

  • Est 1A 2016
  • Anlage S 2016 (Freelancers only)
  • Anlage G 2016 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage USt 2016 (if you pay V.A.T)
  • Anlage GeSt 1A 2016 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage EÜR (If turnover is more than 17 500€ a year)

On this website,  it is also possible to download an official tool called ELSTER (ELektronische STeuerERklärung) onto your computer. This tool enables you to proceed to your tax return in Germany via the internet, saving both you and your Finanzamt a lot of time. You need to sign-up for an account and you receive your password by post.

Honestly from there, i will gladly direct you to one of the best guides made in English around by our good friends of ToyTown Germany. It is very neat, clear and complete to do your tax return in Germany in English properly. I don’t see how i could give better information on how to fill in all those forms.

What now?

  1. Print the forms out.
  2. Sign them.
  3. Find a post office.
  4. Send them to your local Finanzamt.
  5. Done !

Wait for 1 or 2 months before you get any answer, and hopefully, a little ka-ching will appear on your bank account so you can afford this awesome guitar you spotted, or else, paying for your holidays to Croatia.

I don’t feel confident filling in my tax declaration in Germany alone, how can i get help?

If you are not so good with numbers or a bit scared of doing mistakes because of the German language, there are other ways to do your tax return in Germany.

Good value for the money: self-help online platforms

If this is too much to do, there are also online tools that make it super easy to get your tax declaration in Germany right for a maximum return. You might consider SteuerGo for example that i can really recommend for employees, especially if it’s your first time.

  • Your hand is really guided step-by-step with the tool in a clean interface.
  • Save progress at any time when you register for a free account.
  • It’s also fully in English (!) at every step of the process.
  • You can even call a hotline if you have questions.
  • It only costs 25€ which is perfect when you don’t earn enough to afford a Steuerberater.

They also let you know in real-time how much you are getting back so you know if it’s worth the one-time-fee. No need to pay anything before submitting to the Finanzamt (they also do that for you). You can give it a spin for free. 🙂

If you are a freelancer, you can turn to platforms like SmartSteuer which also supports profiles like Kleinunternehmer, Selbständige & Freiberufler (No English though). This means they will also help you with the additional forms (Einnahmenüberschussrechnung (EÜR), Umsatz- und Gewerbesteuererklärung).

Worth it if you have a more complex situation: a Steuerberater

You can also turn to professional tax advisers in Germany for this. A Steuerberater is a trained agent capable of preparing, processing and submitting your tax declaration in Germany. They are accountants usually experienced into finding particular rules that is relevant to your tax profile to optimize your return. Even if their fees are controlled by certain laws, you usually have to pay a few hundred euros for their services. This is why it’s only relevant if your situation is a bit more complex like earning relatively well, being married, having kids, owning a house and having different sources of income. It’s also quite normal for freelancers and self-employed persons to have one.

If you don’t know where to start your search for a Steuerberater, you can turn to platforms like Ageras. They search and find one for you based on your profile and needs. The service is free and the offers you receive non-binding.

Well said cat-friend, (deadline is 31st of May though) Source: Giphy.com

FAQ

What is the tax return deadline in Germany?

In theory, the deadline is to the 31st May of the following year for people that obliged by law to submit one, however, you can ask for an extension if you are short on time. Using a Steuerberater allows you to have even more time.

Important note: employees whose sole income are their salaries are not required by law to submit a tax return. This means that the deadline moves to 4 years in the future. For example, you can do your tax return for the year 2017 until the last day of 2021. Even more importantly:

As an employee, you can claim a tax return for up to 4 years prior the current year. Pretty handy if you forgot to do it those years to maximize return.

When will i get my money after submitting all the forms?

It takes between 8-12 weeks for the Finanzamt to process your files and obtain your tax refund in Germany on your account. It’s usually quicker when sending everything out electronically.

I started to work without a Steuer ID from the Finanzamt… (maximum tax rate)

and you have been charged the maximum income tax rate. You cannot claim this amount back i’m sorry.

Ps 1 : Don’t forget to sign all those forms, otherwise they won’t be processed by your dear Finanzamt !

Ps 2 : If you feel like you are running out of time, you can let know your Finanzamt before the 31st of May you need more time. They usually give you an extra 2 or 3 months to do your tax return in Germany.

362 Comments

  • Reply mohamed hassan 18/10/2017 at 16:36

    Hi

    I finished my master degree last july and will start my 1st Job in Germany next December . I have never work in germany before . I’m planning to buy a house and will transfer capital from my bank in my own country to Germany , is there any type of tax . I received tax number after reach Germany with few months . I have never deal with financial office before. still i have a student visa till the current moment.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2017 at 19:04

      Hi Mohamed, you might need the help of Steuerberater to optinize transfer of capital and house purchase.

  • Reply sharath 18/10/2017 at 14:05

    Hi, I have been working in germany since 2 years and filed the tax return for last year myself and it went well.
    Now this year I am a little concerned regarding if we could submit any expenses we had, like I took a fuhrerschein, auto, and other appliances.
    I heard that we could submit these expenses and benefit a reduction in the tax.
    Please let me know how to do this. I did everything via Elster on my desktop, was not sure about if there was such provisions to attach such bills.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2017 at 19:01

      Hi Shara. It’s the job of a steuerberater to help you optimize your tax returns. Those self-help platforms also help you do that.

  • Reply Vinay Kumar Vanjakula 16/10/2017 at 10:06

    Hi,
    I am Vinay. I working in Germany as a student. I need some info for tax refund, What is the amount (eg. <8600 Euros) that I can be eligible to apply for refund?. If so that amount, should I calculate with taxes or without taxes?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/10/2017 at 12:15

      Hi Vinay, there is no minimum amount to submit a tax return.

  • Reply Nag 13/10/2017 at 14:44

    Hi,

    I started working in Germany from 01/02/2017 and my wife came to Germany and registered on 12/08/2017. Will the tax office considers 3 as my tax class for the whole year? or starting 12th Sep?

    Thanks.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/10/2017 at 11:46

      Hi Nagesh, update in tax classes happen automatically but usually over a few weeks. Probably some weeks after the 12/08, provided you have made your marriage also valid and recognized in Germany.

      • Reply Nagesh 16/10/2017 at 13:46

        Hi, I know that it will get updated automatically. my question is that tax class for the whole year will be three?

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/10/2017 at 22:12

          Just the three.

  • Reply Sweden 13/10/2017 at 12:16

    Hello,

    Thank you so much for your work with this site. Its been so helpful each step of the way in relocating.

    I have a question regarding being in the wrong tax class.
    I started working for a company in Berlin in june and since I was renting second hand apartments without being able to do the holy anmeldung I have been in the wrong tax class (6) until now (october) I was told when I started here that I would receive the money I (over)taxed back once the HR dept. received identikationsumber and I came into the “right” tax class (1). I have now submitted it but was horrified when I read here that I won’t get the money back.

    Could you provide some more insight to how this works? Have I been screwed here?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/10/2017 at 11:44

      Hi Jens; sorry to hear about your case but it’s not uncommon unfortunately. I have never heard of the possibility of getting this back but do ask your HR what they meant by that and come back here to tell us the good news (hopefully). I would then amend this post.

  • Reply Louis 11/10/2017 at 12:27

    Hi there,

    Submitted my tax return 8 weeks ago and just got a transfer from the Finanzamt. The amount is different from what I expected, but still worth it. I was wondering if I will also receive a letter with the breakdown of my refunds? E.g. 100 euros for moving costs, 150 for x, 30 euros for y… etc.

    That would allow me to see what works and does not work for the next tax declaration!

    Thanks 🙂

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/10/2017 at 20:03

      Hi Louis. No, those costs impact on your total taxable income, so it is the sum of it that matters.

  • Reply Uday 10/10/2017 at 12:00

    Hi , In my case I received a letter from FINANZMAT regarding tax class change , but the same is not reflecting in the salary , it is still with old tax class even after 2 months, So what is the wait time for it to get reflected in the salary?(I spoke to the payroll team they said it is done automatically by local tax authority), Is there anything else I can do about it?

    Thanks in advance

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/10/2017 at 20:00

      Hi there. To my knowledge, this is handled automatically yes.

  • Reply Mahant Parekh 07/10/2017 at 14:10

    Hi,

    I came to Germany in Oct. 2012 for my Master Studies in Berlin.(1 year internship 2014-15) Completed my studies in 2016. Now I am working in Munich since 1 year 3 months. I have paid for my studies as the course was in English. I have never filed my tax return. I want to file it from 2012. Can you help how to proceed?

    Regards,
    Mahant Parekh

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/10/2017 at 11:03

      Hi Mahant, the process is clearly outlined in the post. Cant help you further sorry.

  • Reply Karl Emil Koch 06/10/2017 at 23:14

    Thanks for a great article!
    I have a question regarding the refundable tax. I am so unfortunate that i did not get my Steuer ID before my first salary. In your article you state that i cannot get my overpaid tax refunded. Can you explain this more in depth? Does it mean that it is unchangeable and I will have to pay maximum tax rate for every salary without being able to get it refunded?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/10/2017 at 10:59

      Hi Karl. You pay maximum rate on your salary until your get tax ID. After that, you should your employer know you have one and it should be fixed then.

  • Reply Slaw 06/10/2017 at 11:31

    Hi,

    I’ve been working in Germany in 2014/2015, and stopped working and left the Germany on 09.2015. Last week I’ve got the letter from Finanzamt that I need to submit the tax declaration for year 2016 (when I haven’t been in Germany already and definitively haven’t been working then). In the letter it have been told, that other option is to send letter with explanation, why do I think I do not have to submit tax declaration and proof of that. What should I do?
    Importantly, I’ve submitted the tax declarations for the years 2014 and 2015 before, and received the tax refunds.

    Slaw

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/10/2017 at 10:58

      Hi Slaw, then it must be a mistake from the Finanzamt. They must not be aware you have left the country. Send them a letter explaining your situation with documents to prove it (like the document that said you unregistered yourself at the Standesamt).

  • Reply Abhishek Jain 04/10/2017 at 09:10

    Hello,
    I just finished my masters and started working now in Germany Since september 2017 , I have some doubts regarding tax return!!
    1) Being a student, i did couple of parttime jobs and payed the taxes as well. Is there any way to get that money back??
    2) As a part of main job now, What steps i have to do get the money back? Do i have to apply now for this as well or should i wait for one year !!

    Looking forward to the positve reply

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/10/2017 at 16:40

      Hi Abhishek, please read the post again, the answer are there. As a student, you can still apply for a tax return yes. You have to wait until 2018 to apply for 2017.

  • Reply Andy 03/10/2017 at 18:30

    Hi,
    Thanks for all the infomation you are sharing (pretty awesome)!
    I have a problem, I was employed (single, tax class 1) at the University in Germany from May 2012 to September 2015, than I moved out. I was actually enrolled also as a PhD student paying semester fees for all this period. I have never filled out a tax return because in my situation was not compulsory. Few days ago, I was sorting all my old papers and I found out that on the first lohnsteuerbescheinigung (2012) there is the Capital letter “S” that apparently makes the tax statement compulsory even if you are an employee…I am a little be worried because at the time I was not aware about this stuff and now it’s pretty late…I am not sure what I am supposed to do. When I started in May that was my first job ever (before I was a student in my home country), so basically what they took was everything they should have taken (actually much more)….by the way I never eared anyting from them in the time I was there. Do you have any suggestion?
    Thanks man!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/10/2017 at 17:58

      Hi Andy. If you left the country and never received any news. I would not take any further steps and wait it out. If you are coming back one day, maybe best to clear it with a Steuerberater.

  • Reply Saleh 01/10/2017 at 02:21

    Hi,

    I have a full time job but I’m working as a freelancer beside my job, not every month though.
    My employer is already paying taxes for my full time job, how I can pay taxes for the freelancer work?
    I’m very confused how to start in my situation specially how to connect my both taxes together (full time and freelancer) specially that I’m not doing mine at all.

    Thank you
    Saleh

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 01/10/2017 at 14:33

      Hi Saleh. You should have registered as a freelancer. For more information on that and paying taxes too, you can read my guide there.

  • Reply India 28/09/2017 at 19:33

    Hi there, is it really possible to get a thousand or more euros back?? According to my ta consultant, I am only getting 500 back for 2015 and 500 for 2016 even though both years were for only partial employment. Not to mention the fact that I am paying about half of each refund amount to them for completing. I feel like I am over paying for a refund that is not that good…

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/09/2017 at 11:49

      Hi India. Yes it is really possible, but you need to justify enough expenses and tax cuts to get there.

  • Reply Saprol 28/09/2017 at 11:54

    Hi,
    I have a question. Do you still get a tax refund if you are a working student? Thank you in advance.
    Saprol

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/09/2017 at 09:04

      Hi Saprol. Yes.

  • Reply Ricardo Picinatto 27/09/2017 at 15:44

    I have worked in Germany for 3 months, register in Berlin tax class I and have no other income. I left my job and I won’t work in Germany in the future. First question can I send the tax refund before the end of the year (2017), since I am still in Germany or I have to wait to 2018?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/09/2017 at 09:04

      Hi Ricardo, you have to wait for the next year.

  • Reply Ángel 26/09/2017 at 19:19

    Hi, I had heard that it’s only compulsory to do your tax return if you earn more than a certain amount. Is that true?
    It’s been almost 4 years since I started working in Germany and had never done it nor did I think I had to, so I’m a bit worried eheh. Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/09/2017 at 10:07

      Hi Angel. If you have been an employee all these years and that was your only income, then don’t be worried: you don’t need to submit a tax statement. You should do it though, because it is likely you will get hundred of euros back.

  • Reply Jacky 25/09/2017 at 01:25

    Hi there, Our company registered in UK and based in UK only. We don’t have any office in Germany. We sales computer accessories online to Germany via Amazon platform. We had apply a German VAT number and submit VAT return monthly. We received a letter asked for make tax return to Germany Tax office. My question is we are not registered in Germany, do we need to submit tax return in Germany ? Please share your thoughts. Thank you in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/09/2017 at 11:21

      Hi Jacky. This page is about tax return for private individuals, not companies, sorry. You might need to ask somewhere else.

    • Reply Hamed 26/09/2017 at 16:13

      Hello,
      If you have already registered your company in Germany and have a VAT Id, you need toy submit your VAT declaration each 3 months (quarter) and as soon as the Finanzamt receives your documents, they will automatically reimburse the VAT to your bank account assigned in your application.
      more questions?

  • Reply Michael 23/09/2017 at 00:51

    Hi,

    I am single and currently working in Germany since June 2017. I also earn money from online gambling. So can I ask you a few questions? How will the tax apply to my situation? Do i have to pay tax for my online earning? And can I still be able to get some tax return? Thank you very much.

    Michael

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/09/2017 at 11:18

      Hi Michael. I assume you mean you are also gambling aside from your full time job as an employee. You have to be careful, it does count as income and should be taxed yes.

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