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.

1,212 Comments

  • Reply Serena 25/05/2020 at 14:10

    Hi, I have moved to Germany last summer for work so I have been a full-time employee since July. I have got all the docs from my office in case I need to do the tax return but in many cases of these online tax return pages the fact that one part of last year I lived abroad seems to be a problem. Is this a common problem? s
    Since everyone I know told me to do the tax return thing since I moved from abroad for work and with all the expenses I had related to the moving, buying work equipment, even monthly money support for my family (they live back in my homeland) ecc and less to absolutely do it since I would for sure get some tax return.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/05/2020 at 09:46

      Hey Serena. I’m not sure what the issue is? Is this about declaring foreign income for last year?

  • Reply Gokhan 25/05/2020 at 10:20

    Hello,

    I have started working for a Germany company without having TAX ID since I could not relocate yet due to coronavirus. In this case, as far as I know (please correct me if wrong) my TAX Class will be CLASS 6 which is the higher amount deducted from my salary. My tax class will be Class I when I get there and have TAX ID. Can I get these extra tax amounts when I apply for Tax return?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/05/2020 at 09:43

      Hey Gokhan. yes, that is correct.

  • Reply Amit kumar 23/05/2020 at 18:13

    Hello Team, I need to fill online tax refund for Germany. I worked for 09 months in Germany for year 2018. Can you please suggest. Thank you Amit kumar

  • Reply Roxanne Motaghian 21/05/2020 at 23:19

    Hi there I hope you can help.
    I successfully submitted my first tax return last year but on my tax return confirmation I was given a new steurnummer. When filing my 2nd tax return should I use the new or original steurnummer on my forms?
    Thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/05/2020 at 09:36

      Hey Roxanne. The new one.

  • Reply nav 21/05/2020 at 00:20

    Hi,

    I have few question I hope I get an answer here:

    How should one answer to the following question in the tax form? “nachhaltige geschäftsbeziehungen zu finanzinstituten im ausland”

    If one has a credit card from a bank in Luxembourg and transferwise borderless account with debit card or a N26 american account? Are they considered as a geschäftsbeziehungen

    Thankyou!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/05/2020 at 13:41

      Hey Nav. Might be best to ask a Steueberater but in my opinion: you are just the client using a service. I don’t think it qualifies as a business relationship.

  • Reply Gagan Singh 20/05/2020 at 23:49

    Hi, I have a small question i havent filled my tax since last 5 years that means 2015 onwards( Already filled for 2013 -14). I just checked and it says that i can voluntrary fill it for past 4 years that means starting 2016. Then what will happen to 2015? do i just leave it ? or fill it anyways and someone will understand that i forgot and want to will it for last 5 years altogether(BTW in 2015 i got married so tax return is huge). Any comments would be much appreciated.

    Thanks
    Gagan

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/05/2020 at 13:39

      Hey Gagan. I can’t really answer on so little details. I’d reach out to your Finanzamt directly, if i were you.

  • Reply Marko 18/05/2020 at 17:33

    Hi, I came to Germany in Sept last year. My yearly income last year was less then 18k (since I only got 4 salaries). I’m married but my wife is not living in EU and I paid taxes being in the 1st tax class. Does the rule of “non taxable income up to 18,816 € per year for couples” apply to my situation?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/05/2020 at 09:58

      Hey Marko. As far as Germany is concerned, your marriage is not registered and not valid for tax reasons. Being in tax class 1 is a good indicator that you are considered a single person by the tax authorities.

  • Reply Jacopo 13/05/2020 at 20:27

    Hello. thanks for putting toghether those informations, you are much likely making lot of people happy.
    question: if i was both a freelancer and employed, will i need to fill up all the forms of both lists above or you can merge them somehow?
    do you know if SteuerGo allows you to make,finish and upload declaration via internet or you’ll need to re-upload it on my-elster?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/05/2020 at 09:46

      Hey Jacopo. You just submit all the different forms in one go, you don’t merge them. SteuerGo is also communicating those finished forms to your Finanzamt electronically, no need to use Elster after that.

  • Reply Dee 07/05/2020 at 08:58

    Do you have any information on whether unemployed people can and should apply for a tax return? I was employed in 2017 and 2018 and received arbeitslosengeld in 2018 — already did my returns for this. But in 2019 i was unemployed all the way till Fall and then I left Berlin. For 2019, is there a point in applying for a tax return?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/05/2020 at 15:55

      Hey Dee, as pointed out here, yes, you can but i don’t know if you should. It depends if you plan on coming back. In theory, you should yes because you were a German resident last year, liable for taxes.

  • Reply Sebastiano Panto 02/05/2020 at 10:23

    Hello, I’d have question regarding freelancers. Do you know how many years do I need to keep for example my phone, If authorities are willing to check what I declared on my taxes as work related expense? I heard there are different rules according to the amount of the expense (e.g. up to 800 I need to keep at least for 1 year etc…).

    Thanks
    SP

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/05/2020 at 15:29

      Hey Sebastiano. I’m not sure what you mean. Are you talking about doing “Abschreibung” over multiple years for work-related devices, material goods?

  • Reply Matt 01/05/2020 at 10:20

    Hi. I am a UK resident looking to invest in the company of a friend in Germany. I will likely only invest 100 EUR so the amounts (and dividends) will be very small. It’s mainly to show support for a friends business but because the amounts are so small I don’t want the hassle of filing tax in another country.
    I’ve read the first 9k EUR earned in Germany is tax free so will income from dividends for a non-resident be included in that and will I still need to file a tax return to declare the income? In the UK I’ve learned income from foreign dividends of less than £300 don’t even need to be declared so was hoping for something similar in Germany.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/05/2020 at 15:19

      Hey Matt. If you are a UK resident then it needs to be sorted out through UK rules and authorities, there is no action to take from you in Geermany.

  • Reply Pedro 27/04/2020 at 20:53

    Hello there. I´m registered as a Musician (frei berüflicher) on the Finanzamt in Magdeburg, but given the actual situation (COVID-19) I was forced to find a job that has nothing to do with music, in order to be able to pay my expenses. I already have a Steuernummer that I use to write my bills to my clients (in the music scene), but can I also write a bill for this new job with the same Steuernummer? On this new job, that will last until June, I got a Arbeitsvertrag für kurzfristig Beschäftigte. I’m about to get paid, and I don’t know what to do. Could somebody help? Thank you very much in advance!

    • Reply Pedro 27/04/2020 at 20:55

      I’m registered as Selbständiger I forgot to add.

      • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/04/2020 at 20:08

        Hey Pedro. If you have an Arbeitsvertag (correct me if i’m wrong), then it means you will have a salary, and you won’t be billing them for your work, right?

        • Reply Pedro 30/04/2020 at 20:31

          That is correct.

          • Bastien - Settle in Berlin 05/05/2020 at 15:18

            Yeah so then there is nothing to worry about in my opinion. The finanzamt will notify you if you need a new Steuernummer for your new situation.

  • Reply G 26/04/2020 at 15:54

    Hello . Thanks for this important guidance . I’ve been in Germany for 1 year , and have been in three situations : employee , employee with freelance casual work (under 3k), employee with two jobs (both low paid). Does the community think I could file all this on a self -help tax return , or would you recommend a Steuerberater (this would be a large dent in my income )?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/04/2020 at 20:06

      Hey G. You can use SteuerGo for that yes.

  • Reply Shqipdon 24/04/2020 at 18:21

    I’ve already sent the forms and received back a letter with the identification number (over 2 months now) but I’ve not received any transfer on my bank yet, can anyone help me how can I check for that or what should I do now?

  • Reply sarah 23/04/2020 at 11:20

    Hi. I moved to Germany from the UK in Sept last year. I kept my job in London and commute once a month to go back to work. I dont have a second home in the uk as I sleep at work (I’m a carer). I need to declare my UK income in Germany via a tax return. I can’t afford an accountant and every english language software i’ve looked up doesn’t support foreign income filing. So, i’m going down the ELSTER route.

    What I’m not sure is exactly what forms I need to fill in to file my tax return. My only income is my UK salary – i have no job in germany, no rental income/savings etc. Just a normal PAYE salary from the uk with all my tax, health insurance paid in the UK already and exported to Germany via S1 form. So what forms do I have to fill out in ELSTER? All the walkthroughs are based on someone working in germany who has extra foreign income. i can’t find any info if you have just one job which is abroad

    thanks in advance if any of you can help or indeed know if i even need to submit a tax reutrn, as i’m taxed automatically in the uk already.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/04/2020 at 21:41

      Hey Sarah. Your situation is fairly uncommon, i will give you that. I guess you would need to fill in the Anlage AUS, for your UK income, and the other compulsory forms, where you will then put 0, in the lines where they ask you for your German income. That’s the broad picture but bear in mind: i’m no Steuerberater. Otherwise, have you read this post already? It may contain some other answers.

  • Reply Isabelle 17/04/2020 at 15:20

    Hello!
    I am international student from Berlin and Ive been in Germany since 3 years. I have question about taxes. As a student I work as a freelancer in Orschestras, also outside of Germany.( 4 other countries)
    I am bit confused since I am going to earn more than 9000 euro this year.
    When I get a fee from “gig” its already minus tax? I have always get just a contract paper after concert and didn’t get any documents via post afterwards.
    Also when I am working in other counties its already minus county tax around 15 percent, is it any need to still declare it?
    As a student do I have to declare my concerts?
    All best
    Isabelle

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/04/2020 at 21:06

      Hey Isabelle. I am going to assume you are registered in Germany as a freelancer. In this case, i will direct you to this post, which has information about taxation too. As a German resident, you need to declare any and all income, even if earned abroad.

  • Reply Srikanth 14/04/2020 at 11:31

    Hello ,
    I stayed in Germnay from 9th March 2019 to 30th aug 2019.And rest of the time of that year i stayed in india.So in this case am I eligible to file tax returns and for refund in germany for 2019?.

    Thank you

  • Reply Dave 13/04/2020 at 15:39

    Quick question. I arrived in germany Late November of 2018 and I was receiving support from job center from December 2018 – September 2019. I found a job on August of 2019. Will I be able to request a tax refund for the months of August – December 2019?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/04/2020 at 13:55

      Hey Dave, you can still do a tax return even though you were out of a job most of last year yes.

  • 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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