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?

Should i be doing one?

It is compulsory for self-employed people to do. For employees, it is only compulsory if they are in one of the following situations:

Income sources

  • Additional income (not from salary) superior to 410€.
  • Salary replacement income (like unemployment benefits) superior to 410€.
  • More than one employer in the year.
  • More than 2 salaries (like a full-time job and a minijob).

Family situation

However, even if you don’t have to do it, you may as well do it, as there are chances you get money back too.

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 2019) :

  • ESt 1 V 2019 (The main form that details general info like your adress, iD nummer,etc)
  • Anlage N 2019 (The form to detail your income as an employee)
  • Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2019 (The form to detail your insurances)

If you are self-employed, you need the following forms (e.g for 2019) :

  • Est 1A 2019
  • Anlage S 2019 (Freelancers only)
  • Anlage G 2019 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage USt 2019 (if you pay V.A.T)
  • Anlage GeSt 1A 2019 (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 employee and freelancers alike, 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.
  • For self-employed people, it also lets you do
    additional forms like (Einnahmenüberschussrechnung (EÜR), Umsatz- und Gewerbesteuererklärung).
  • 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. 🙂

SteuerGo does not support one thing for employees though: if you have had a foreign employer that year. In this case, you can turn to platforms like SmartSteuer which also supports that (No English though).

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 July though) Source: Giphy.com

FAQ

What is the tax return deadline in Germany?

In theory, the deadline is to the 31st of July 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, as they have until February of the year after to do it (eg: a submission in Feb 2020 for the year 2018). Be aware that there is a penalty of 25€ per late month.

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 2018 until the last day of 2022. 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. A poll made by a tax payer’s association uncovered the following waiting times to hear from the Finanzamt:

  • 18 % have to wait about 6 weeks
  • 32 % 6 to 12 weeks
  • 32 % up to half a year
  • 18 % longer than half a year

What should i do if i am unhappy about the results, or if some things were misinterpreted?

If you think the Finanzamt made a mistake to process your case, it is possible to protest and open a case (Einspruch) to explain your situation, within one month after receiving the Steuerbescheid.

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

When this happens, your wage is being taxed at the maximum rate possible. It is possible to get the difference between that rate and the normal rate back when doing your tax return the following year.

I have received income from abroad the past year; how should i go about this to avoid double-taxation?

The Finanzamt requires of all German residents to declare any income sources, even if they are coming from abroad and have nothing to do with your life here. If that income was already taxed from that country, you might avoid double-taxation if it has agreed to a tax treaty with Germany. If so, you can do that by filling the Anlage AUS – Ausländische Einkünfte for your declaration. More info about that here.

I have left the country already, can I try to do a tax return and will the Finanzamt transfer the money to my foreign bank account?

Absolutely, you can do a tax return for the year and months you left the country. The Finanzamt will transfer you the money in your foreign account if you give them all the necessary information, and a specific request to do so. You will very likely support the costs of the transfer on your own.

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 July you need more time. They usually give you an extra 2 or 3 months to do your tax return in Germany.

1,176 Comments

  • Reply Okan Sert 05/04/2020 at 17:54

    I decide to leave Germany can I claim all the taxes and other contributions I paid back? i’m not only talking about the tax return but all the contributions I made because I am leaving the country and no longer want to be part of the contribution system. Is that possible?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 07/04/2020 at 20:20

      Hey Okan. you may find the answers you are looking for on this post.

  • Reply Dhawal Parmar 18/03/2020 at 20:12

    Hello,
    In 2019
    I worked from Jan to April in India
    In May I worked in Germany
    and again in June i moved to India and worked till december,
    Could you please let me know if i can file a return for May month in Germany, and can that be deposited directly in my Indian Bank Account.

  • Reply Zeen 17/03/2020 at 19:34

    Hello,
    I was a student and used to work in Berlin from nov 2018 to april 2019.
    but now i have finished my studies and back to my hometown in Malaysia.
    is there a way I can still do this tax return?

  • Reply Christina 05/03/2020 at 10:34

    Hello!
    I as looking for answer to my question in Internet, but unfortunately couldn’t find it. Maybe you can advise me something.
    I was living and working in Poland until April2019. I had a full time job, normal employee contract, and paid all taxes there. Than I moved to Germany and started to work here (May-December) and work here on full time as well. Do i have to make any declaration about income received in Poland for those 4 months?

    Thank you in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/03/2020 at 21:18

      Hey Christina. If you moved here in May, it means you were more than 6 months a German resident and liable for your income in Germany. So yes, you should declare all and any income here and possibly resort to bilateral treaties to avoid double taxation, as explained in this post.

  • Reply A D 24/02/2020 at 17:21

    Hi there,

    Thank you for putting together this comprehensive article.

    I’m a freelancer in Germany. Because up until 2017 I didn’t make a profit, I only started to make quarterly advance payments in 2019 based on the profit I made in 2017. In 2018 however, I made more, hence covering my losses from the past years. In 2019 my earnings dropped again. I’m about to submit my 2018 tax declaration this week. I also sent a registered letter to the tax authorities asking to revoke the SEPA direct debit mandate. My question is – will I pay taxes for the 2018 profit in quarterly installments too or will they require the whole amount in one go? Thanks so much.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 25/02/2020 at 21:47

      Hey AD. Are you talking about income tax now?

      • Reply A D 27/02/2020 at 09:51

        Yes.

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/02/2020 at 21:33

          Hey AD. They will let you know in the letter what amount they expect and by which date(s). If you want to negotiate installments, i’m sure it can be arranged. Ask your Finanzamt.

          • Anca Dumitru 01/03/2020 at 11:05

            Will do. Thanks so much!

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