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)

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.

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.

486 Comments

  • Reply Dev 18/01/2018 at 11:48

    Hi
    I live in UK and am a UK national. I have a small but-to-let flat in Berlin rented out for less then 8000 Euros per year. This is my only income in Germany. I am told i do not have to file any tax returns. Is this correct?

  • Reply Putt 17/01/2018 at 12:31

    Hello Bastien,
    thank you for the post. I finished my study in Germany and currently working full-time here for about 1,5 years already. During my study I worked part-time and minijob, but since I graduated I have not done my tax return. Do you think it’s possible to do it, and if so do I need to attach copy of documents e.g. bank statement or payment slip in the form for Finanzamt?
    Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/01/2018 at 19:46

      Hi Putt. Yes it is possible, the process is the same than for full-time jobs.

  • Reply Okey 16/01/2018 at 17:02

    Hey Bastian, I am an Intern working in a big German company. I think I made about 14,000€ last year. Also my Tax class is 1. Will I get a substantial amount of tax return amounting to what was deducted from my salaries as Lohnsteuer?

    Thanks in anticipation of your response!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/01/2018 at 19:40

      Hi Okey. I can’t answer that question for you as it depends on your situation, not just your tax class and your amount of deductibles etc…

  • Reply Sub_kn 15/01/2018 at 22:26

    Hello Bastien,
    I am a student in my 5th semester and also doing a part-time job and I have paid 15500 as my tuition fee to my University. Can I also claim the tax I paid for my education along with the tax from my work?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/01/2018 at 14:24

      Hi there. Yes, your tuition fees can be put off in taxes and will impact your deductible income.

    • Reply Heidi Hein 17/01/2018 at 05:52

      Can you please tell me why we have to pay tas 2 times once for Germany and oce for Canada we are in Canada for 50 years Thankyou

  • Reply Jonny 15/01/2018 at 20:28

    Hi There,

    I came to Germany in 2016 and in April 2017 I filed for a tax return to which I got a small amount back. Now I’ve only just realised I have some training for my job in 2016 that I didnt claim for during 2017 because I was not aware you could do this?

    Is it possible to back claim once you have already submitted a return for that year, all be it a small amount recieved, cheers!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/01/2018 at 14:47

      Hi Jonny. If i remember correctly, you can claim such expenses up to 4 years after you went through that training.

  • Reply Marcus Nolan 13/01/2018 at 11:39

    Hey Bastien,

    Thanks for this really helpful post. I am now living in an address that is different to my old address (where I registered for my Anmeldung). Will this make a difference, if I fill out the form with my current address, even though it’s different to what is on my Lohnsteurbescheinigung? What address would you recommend I put down – I could always go back to the other address and collect post, but that is an effort.

    Cheers!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/01/2018 at 08:43

      Hi Marcus, you need to put the address where you are registered, which is in the same address that the Finanzamt should be aware of.

  • Reply Efstratios Mylonas 11/01/2018 at 10:26

    Hello team. I have a question please. I filled my tax return a few days ago like a good citizen I am, using an online tool someone suggested (germantaxes.de), but I realised I entered some values wrong (I missed the digits after the decimal points, silly I know! ) Is this going to be cause a lot of trouble for me at the Finanzamt ? What is the best way to action now ?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/01/2018 at 08:37

      Hi Efstratios. If you realize you made a mistake, you can always send it anew with the right values, adding a note for the Finanzamz that this new return form replaces the old one.

  • Reply chandresh 10/01/2018 at 18:44

    Hello,

    My wife moved to Germany last month (December,2017) and we registered her at the burgeramt. I also changed my status from single to married. However I did not change my tax class from I to III as the deadline is 30th November. Am I eligible for the tax return for entire year 2017?

    Thanks and Regards,
    Chandresh Patel

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/01/2018 at 22:57

      Hi Chandresh. You can still do a tax return but your situation will be less interesting.

      • Reply Chandresh Patel 12/01/2018 at 10:52

        Thanks for your answer. what do you mean by less interesting? Will I get my money back due to my marriage?

  • Reply Roger 08/01/2018 at 13:30

    Hallo, Bastien! This blog is incredibly helpful! Thanks a lot for its content! A crazy question though: How bad do I need my adress/post? haha Long story short: The apartement I’m current living in isn’t the same where I’ve got my Anmeldung (quite normal here in Berlin, isn’t it?!). So, wiill I need to send/receive a lot of letters? Things like: ok, now you wait for this letter and once you get it you can move to step 2 and so on…

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/01/2018 at 11:30

      Hi Roger. You should be able to receive any letters sent to you by the Finanzamt. So it is important.

  • Reply Jae 08/01/2018 at 10:31

    Thank you for the helpful information!

    My case is a bit tricky and would appreciate any help. My wife and I recently moved to Berlin a few months ago as she is enrolled in a masters program there. I obtained a residence permit as “spouse of student,” but have also been working remotely in Berlin for a US company as an independent contractor. Does that mean my earnings will be taxed by Germany since I technically performed the work while residing in Berlin, despite the fact that my employer and earnings are all based in the US?

    Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/01/2018 at 11:29

      Hi Jae. When you are resident here, you need to declare all your income sources, regardless of their origins. You can avoid a double taxation via a Doppelbesteuerungsabkommen .

  • Reply Laura Reid 08/01/2018 at 08:01

    Apologies, I’ve not read through all the comments but I am a little confused. Why does the end of the article say ‘start working without a steuer ID, sorry you cannot claim this amount back’? I’ve been working for an employer for 2 months now and my Steuer ID has still not arrived in the post (despite everything else arriving fine) so my employer has not paid me and finally agreed to pay me but only on the top rate of tax. They told me I will have to submit a tax return to claim it back so is this actually possible? Is it one of the forms listed above? Why does the article say you can’t claim it back?! Also if I’m taxed at the top rate for November & December 2017 can I claim this back already this year? For the January tax would I have to wait till 2019? Can you still complete the tax returns if you are no longer living in Germany too? Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/01/2018 at 11:27

      Hi Laura. You are right. This is indeed a falsehood and shall be corrected. You can apply for a tax return for this yes.

  • Reply Kyle 04/01/2018 at 21:06

    Hello, thank you for the incredibly informative post. I’m an employee in Germany, been working here since May. I travel back to see my partner, friends and family back in the UK a lot, where I have a second residence (I continue to rent a flat there where I store all of my belongings). My German flatmate gave me the great idea to put my room on AirBnB while I’m not in it, to help fund all the back-and-forth.
    My question is two-fold. Am I eligible for any tax breaks for living in a second property? And how do I navigate declaring the small amounts I’ve made on Air BnB while claiming tax back for the months in 2017 I wasn’t employed in Germany?
    Thank you in advance!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 09/01/2018 at 11:11

      Hi Kyle. Tax breaks: good question, probably not since you don’t own any flat and rent it out to somebody else but i’m no specialist. Airbnb: beware of that, it has been forbidden to rent the room on there without a special authorization but recently the rule has changed on this topic. You may want to check that. In theory, you can declare this income in the “Other income” part in the forms.

  • Reply SMA 03/01/2018 at 17:32

    Hello,
    could you please help me out. I am a working resident in Germany the whole year of 2017, but my wife moved to India in June 2017 and we had a baby in India. so in principle, I have been supporting my wife and kid by sending money to them.
    In this case,
    1. can I use the double household by providing my travel costs to visit my family ?
    or/and
    2.Can I choose our kid for Unterstützung and enter the money that I have been sending my wife to meet the expenditure.

    • Reply SMA 03/01/2018 at 17:36

      The indian residence where my wife and kid live at the moment is a property which belongs to my father(retired from work).

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/01/2018 at 17:24

      Hi there. I believe your logic makes sense but it’s best to ask a Steuerberater to put everything in order.

  • Reply Simen Olsen 03/01/2018 at 14:49

    Hi,

    The info about not being able to receive a tax return from being taxed at the maximum rate before getting a steuerID seems wrong. I was in contact with a lady at Finanzamt who said that it is possible to receive a tax return from being taxed at the highest tax class (when one didn’t have a steuerID).

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/01/2018 at 17:20

      Hi Simen. Interesting; can you give us a source?

  • Reply rachael 03/01/2018 at 13:54

    Hello, the link you have provided for find the form (Anlage S 2016 (Freelancers only)) doesn’t seem to show this form?

    Please help.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/01/2018 at 17:19

      Hi Rachael. It is there, look again.

  • Reply Mosh 29/12/2017 at 15:45

    Hello and thx a lot for this clear and comprehensive explanation!
    I would like to ask regarding tax return for tuition payment in Germany.
    I had studied here for a master in 2016-2017 and paid full tuition (EUR 11k). Now I have started to work full time in Germany and i am paying taxes, and I wondered when do I have to declare the tuition payment to get a tax return? This year? next one? How many years back one can declare expanses?

    Thx!!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/12/2017 at 21:36

      Hi Mosh. You can add these fees as “Ausbildung” expenses to reduce your taxable income. You can do that in 2018 for the years 2016-2017.

  • Reply Catherine 29/12/2017 at 12:38

    Thank you for the super informative article. I worked in Ireland in January and February of this year, before moving to Germany. Are there any additional forms that I would need to fill out in this case?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/12/2017 at 21:37

      Hi Catherine. Just an opinion; what you did before you moved to Germany is not the Finanzamt’s business, unless you still got income from Ireland after moving.

  • Reply Neeraj Kumar 26/12/2017 at 19:27

    Thanks for putting the most complex tax system described in amazingly lucid and simple way .
    I am sorry to say but i still have one doubt but that’s specifically bound to my own case :
    1. I came to Germany on 15th January 2017 and working here with a German Bank and paying taxes every month. My wife joined me here after around 3 months on 2nd April 2017. Once joined me my tax slab was changed and i started getting tax benefits as my wife is not working.
    Now my colleagues are suggesting me that i should get the tax benefits for the whole year ( means even for the time when my wife was not here with me in Germany in the beginning of the year ) . This sounds strange to me , but is it true ?

    Thanks for your kind perusal.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/12/2017 at 17:13

      Hi Neeraj. For this to happen, you’d probably need to have your marriage/union recognized for the time she was not in Germany and proof that you supported her financially. It might be a good idea to ask a Steuerberater.

  • Reply Riplo Lakdono 23/12/2017 at 22:10

    Hi, I have a question,
    We (I and my wife) were in a wrong tax class for a year until we noticed it. We were in tax class 4 and 4, which we should be in 3 and 5.
    We changed it in finanzamt successfully, and now try to reclaim the 1 year miscalculation. We are planning to use steuergo and filled in most of the inputs, however, we don’t find any kind of input form to fix this wrong tax class, something like, we could fill in that we should be in tax class 3 and 5 since 1st of jan 2017 to 31 december 2017.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/12/2017 at 17:11

      Hi Riplo. I don’t think it’s possible to do that.

      • Reply Neeraj Kumar 30/12/2017 at 19:04

        Hi Riplo,
        Even if you don’t mention that , you will still get the claim for the whole year by finanzamt. I had the same case , My wife came here in April , 17 but we changed our tax slab in August and Finanzamt paid from the date my wife entered into Germany and not when we actually changed it.

        usually they would have provided you a letter , which you need to give to the HR of your company and your company will do the rest.
        Good luck with that.

  • Reply mike 20/12/2017 at 17:27

    Hi there, do you know when the 2017 tax forms will be available on that website? As of today, it’s still the 2016 forms that are most recent. Thank you.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 27/12/2017 at 20:57

      Hi Mike, the year 2017 is not over. It will be available next year in 2018.

  • Reply Nag 20/12/2017 at 14:18

    Hi, I had sent money to my Father, Mother and my Son who stays in India for family expenses. I got to know that I can apply for tax benefit on the same amount. I did transferred EUR 5000 in Oct17 & Nov17. Will I be eligible to apply for tax benefit for 5000EUR? or do I have send support amount monthly to their account? just wanted to know the exact rule. Thanks in advance.

  • Reply Francesco 20/12/2017 at 10:48

    Hello,

    In 2017 I ahve only worked 3 months in Germany, and then I travelled till the end of the year. Till now I am not registered in Germany anymore. Can I still claim my 2017 tax back. If I live temporary in a country, should I use temporary address?

    Many thanks in advnace

  • Reply mani 19/12/2017 at 22:28

    hi
    i am applying for 2015 and 2016 this year. I am an employee. i dont have any bus tickets or proof of the gas filled in my car to provide as proof for the claim i am making in the cost incurred in traveling to office section. Are those really a must?If i dont have should i just leave them blank? and in 2016 i changed my job. So i have Lohnsteauer form from new company from august 2016 to dec 2016. So should i fill 2 different Anlage N forms for 2 companies in that year?(I hope i am clear in my question). Thanks in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/12/2017 at 17:06

      Hi Mani. You need to have proof in case the Finanzamt is asking to see those.

  • Reply Richard Wiredu 19/12/2017 at 11:56

    hello, i studied in Germany and am currently back to my home country. i worked for 10 month in this year so i want to know how i can file my taxes and ask for return from my home country

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 28/12/2017 at 17:03

      Hi Richard. yes.

  • Reply Natalia 18/12/2017 at 15:45

    Hi Bastien,
    I have been working in Berlin from Jan 2017 till Jan 2018 and then leaving the country for good. Should I do the tax declaration for months from 2017 now and then, in 2019 for one month from 2018? Or can I do only one declaration for the whole period? If yes, when should I do it, in 2018 or 2019?

    thanks a lot
    Natalia

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/12/2017 at 21:36

      Hi Natalia; as written in the post: you can do both years if you want to, in 2019 in your case.

  • Reply Ahmed Chughtai 17/12/2017 at 14:51

    Hi,
    I am married and my wife and i moved to Germany in 2017 . I was able to find a Job very fast and we had to move from one city to another after being registered in one city.
    [comment edit by SiB Editor_ please try to keep your comments short]
    So my question is…. is it sensible to try to claim everything back for 2017 in the Tax Return for 2017? I mean should we leave a few things out like the cost of courses or training or work PC for 2017 and put them as a claim back for 2018?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/12/2017 at 21:41

      Hi Ahmed, it’s your personal decision: if you know you are going to earn more next year, maybe it’s wise to delay some of costs (if you can).

  • Reply Rutvik 15/12/2017 at 10:29

    I had 2 Mini-jobs and since October 2017, I am working as a full-time employer. So, should I be getting returns for this year?
    I also have all my payslips from Mini-jobs since 2016. Please shed some light on this situation. Thank you in advance.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/12/2017 at 21:30

      Hi Rutvik, you can do a tax return for any amount of time your worked in 2017 and 2016. The amount of return might not be that high, that’s all.

  • Reply Christina 14/12/2017 at 16:53

    Hello, i have 2 questions:

    I am an australian married to spaniard. i have a residency visa because of this, it is registered with the auslaenderbehoerde but not yet the standesamt or the finanzamt. i never got around to it and am finally registering the marriage after 18months on monday. i want to do my tax return soon, can i change tax classes and then get tax back with new class (as a married person) retrospectively?

    the other question i have is – how long can you claim tax back from – i have lived and worked her for 3.5 years? but have never lodged a tax return.
    do i need to present all my pay slips for the tax accountant? i.e. will i need to get in touch with all my employers to get pay slips from

    Thanks in advance!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/12/2017 at 21:27

      Hi Christina. You cant use a new tax class retroactively, it will be only valid from the moment you changed it. It is written in the post how long you can wait to do a tax return. You don’t need to present your payslip, the yearly summary from your employer should be enough.

  • Reply Kim 14/12/2017 at 14:19

    Thank you for the great article! My husband currently works in Berlin for a German company and filed a tax return here. I work for an American company with US wages only, though I am here on a Spousal Visa. Do I need to file taxes in Germany? Also, is it ok to still have a US address while be a resident in Berlin?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/12/2017 at 21:25

      Hi Kim. I know there are certain rules concerning American people living in Germany, you should check that with a professional or ask your HR departement directly. They should know.

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