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 2018) :

  • ESt 1 V 2018 (The main form that details general info like your adress, iD nummer,etc)
  • Anlage N 2018 (The form to detail your income as an employee)
  • Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2018 (The form to detail your insurances)

If you are self-employed, you need the following forms (e.g for 2018) :

  • Est 1A 2018
  • Anlage S 2018 (Freelancers only)
  • Anlage G 2018 (Gewerbetreibende only)
  • Anlage USt 2018 (if you pay V.A.T)
  • Anlage GeSt 1A 2018 (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 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.

876 Comments

  • Reply Rodrigo 14/02/2019 at 05:36

    Hello!
    I am living AND working n Munich since January of 2018 and currently doing so having the steurklass 5. From October my wife came, we got married in November, I then kept working having changed from steur 5 to steur 3 since then. She has now a mino job. Since I dont have any other income besides my job should I so the tax declaration?
    If so, what kind of expenses should I declare?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/02/2019 at 17:04

      Hey Rodrigo. Yes, as mentioned in the post. You should do it.

      • Reply Rodrigo 15/02/2019 at 03:35

        Bastiem, thank you!
        Regarding rent, as I its my first year I am paying directly to my landlord without receiving any kind of receipt or proof og payment.
        Is this declared ? I mean, I can do my tax declaration without the renting part?

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/02/2019 at 11:51

          Hey Rodrigo. Yes, rent expenses are not relevant.

          • Rodrigo 15/02/2019 at 22:31

            Thank you for you answers. Hope they help someone else!

  • Reply Girisha 13/02/2019 at 08:03

    Hi Bastien,
    I worked in Germany for 5 months with special assignment. I came on deputation from Indian company to here. I went back after 5 months and continued my job in my origin company for rest of the year. Am I eligible to apply for tax return?

    Best Regards,
    Girisha

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/02/2019 at 16:56

      Hey Girisha. If you are an Indian resident, working under India contract for an indian company, i don’t think that would be possible.

  • Reply Fauza Mahmood 09/02/2019 at 14:12

    Hello,
    Last year I submitted in my tax return through a steuar berater which was estimated to be over 1800€ but finasamt later informed me that I will get less than that amount because am not paying for my child internal, as I am staying together with my girlfriend but I had just join her in about 3 months. Was this really necessary?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/02/2019 at 21:01

      Hey Fauza, I don’T really understand the question.

  • Reply Ram 08/02/2019 at 07:02

    Hi,
    Thank you for the info. Can you please let know as to what are all the bills that can be submitted for filing tax return? Ex: Electricity bill, grocery bill, etc.

  • Reply Ali Imran Raja 08/02/2019 at 02:48

    Hey i need to know how can i file a tax return without having registered address (Anmeldung). Actually i am running out of time and i cannot do my Anmeldung in such a short period. is there a way out of this because in all the forms, you have to mention the registered address.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 12:18

      Hey Ali. If you are not a German resident, you would do your tax return in your home country.

  • Reply Nebojsa Suvak 07/02/2019 at 17:06

    Hi, great article and still i have 1 question : Is the fuel spent for travelling to work refundable, do i have to keep bills or something etc?

  • Reply Anique Teichmann 07/02/2019 at 14:56

    Hi Bastien,
    i arrived in Germany on the 24.12.2017 and they are telling me to pay the tax for the whole year 2017. I come from Mauritius and have worked there and paid my taxes there. Is it true that I have to do this, please?
    Thank you very much for your answer.
    Anique

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 12:13

      Hey Anique. What sort of tax are you talking about now?

  • Reply Rehan 04/02/2019 at 08:22

    Hi I have a question. I am working fulltime and have tax class 3. There is nothing on my “Lohnsteuer” box on my “Lohnbescheinigung”. What that’s means? Am I not able to file tax return of 2018? Because last year in 2017, I had tax class 1. I had claim my tax return because Lohnsteuer box was not empty. Hope you understood my question. Please answer me asap. Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:36

      Hey Rehan. This seems weird indeed, does this mean you haven’t paid any Lohnsteuer all year then?

  • Reply Afreen Khanum 03/02/2019 at 00:14

    Hello Bastien,
    My husband worked in Germany for 2 months in 2017 (Nov, Dec) and 1 month in 2018 (January). Can he claim for tax return?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:32

      Hey Afreen. This question is too vague. Can’t answer sorry.

  • Reply Hephep 01/02/2019 at 22:03

    Hi Bastien,
    I couldn’t get the following: if one has been employed by different employers within the same year, is mandatory for him/her to fill the declaration? Or is it just his/her right to do it?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:29

      Hey Hephep. As mentioned in the post, it’s one of the cases in which you are obliged to do so.

  • Reply katrina 01/02/2019 at 15:11

    Hi,
    I completed a tax return for last year and got a lot of money back as i’d only worked for half the yaer.
    My question is, do I HAVE to, by law, do one again this year for 2018? I’ve heard that ‘once you do one, you have to do it annually’ but that doesn’t seem all that real to me.

    Also, what are the implications for not filing a tax return?

    Thanks,

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:27

      Hey Katrina. It is written in the post who do a Steuererklärung.

  • Reply Adisfah 01/02/2019 at 01:35

    Hi Bastien,
    That’s a very nice piece of information which will come in handy definitely
    We have landed in Germany in Dec 2017. Only my husband is working and I have two kids. The problem I have is, due to technical issues(the registered officer for us was on long leave) in stadhaus, we had our blue card printed delayed by 6 months. But my 2nd boy still didn get one though, coz unfortunately his passport was about to expire nd our officer said he will give 9 months temporary visa. So they are waiting for that time period to get over for blue card. And the trouble here is, i did not get kindergeld for 6 months for 1st boy and am not getting kindergeld for 2nd boy yet(14 months now) . Will I be able to claim for it in tax return? When I went to familienkasse office, they are not helping with English.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:26

      Hey Adisfah. You may want to double check with a professional but i don’t think you will be able to proceed that way. I think you will need to take this with your Familienkasse directly.

  • Reply Iman 01/02/2019 at 01:13

    Hi Bastien, For 8 month I received unemployment money and only the last 2 month of 2018, I had an internship job with tax class 5. The amount of unemployment money was sth like 5900 Euro which was given in Hauptvordruck in line 96. But surprisingly from ELSTER, I got the Berechnung saying ‘ Festgesetzt werden as +2350 ‘ Euro which makes a total estimate of +90 Euro to be paid by me to financeamt. Should I go their office and talk? or this is just an estimate that Elster gives and probably some how they will understand that my unemployment money was already reduced to my tax class 5. I am having a bad economic year and was really counting on this tax return. I never got less than 300 euros back and now this is really surprising for me.Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2019 at 11:24

      Hey Iman. Unfortunately, i cannot tell you if that’s right or wrong because there are many other parameters involved into deciding what is due. If you think that is a mistake, you can go a Verband or a Steuerberater for more help. Sorry and good luck.

  • Reply Jasmin 31/01/2019 at 14:02

    Hello! Great information here! However, the tax deadline has been changed for the first time this year. The tax declaration for 2018 can be filed until July 31st, 2019!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/01/2019 at 15:31

      Hey Jasmin. Thanks for letting me know. I had forgotten to update the info. It has now been updated! <3

  • Reply Mike 30/01/2019 at 21:10

    Hi Bastien,

    My tax class is 1 and I started to work in December. When I check my payroll, the tax is considered for the whole year. Since I worked only one month in 2018, am I granted to take any tax return? If so, can you tell me what percentage it will be? I also have another question regarding my marital status. My wife is in my hometown and will join me 4 months I started to work ( in April, 2019) . When I change my tax class from one to 3, can I take any tax return for January, February and March in 2019?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/01/2019 at 15:28

      Hey Mike. Yes, you can do a tax return even if you only worked one month. For second question, please read this article.

  • Reply Desirée 29/01/2019 at 17:07

    Hi Bastien,
    the deadline to submit your tax declaration has been changed this year! So for the tax year 2018, the deadline is July 31st, 2019. If you could update your information on this, it would probably be helpful to many people. Other than that, this is a great guide! Thank you very much!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 31/01/2019 at 15:11

      Hey Désirée. That is a great reminder. I forgot to update. Thanks so much!

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