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.

542 Comments

  • Reply Jay 20/02/2018 at 10:58

    Here is my question: If you only have a rental property in Germany, and not a resident, and not an employee of Europe. Then you don’t have to file a tax return. Or do you have to file a tax return.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/02/2018 at 16:50

      Hi Jay. I suppose that you would have to file the income from that property in the tax statement you make in own country. You won’t pay income tax in Germany for that matter.

  • Reply Emma Bosse 19/02/2018 at 11:36

    Hi This is a very interesting feed! Thank you! Do you happen to know how much (percentage) do Freelancers have to pay on their income?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/02/2018 at 18:53

      Hi Emma. You can do a simulation with this little tool here.

  • Reply Andy Miller 17/02/2018 at 19:12

    Hi Bastien,

    Thanks for the information but I still have a silly question to ask..! Is it possible to claim a tax refund even though I haven’t paid tax in Germany..?

    My situation is this: ex UK military pensioner now living permanently in Germany but not working so no taxable income earned. Simply living off my pension and paying the full Health insurance + long term care insurance payments.

    I’ve just seen my Healthcare statement today which said I have paid €3164 for 2017 and that I can claim an income tax refund on this amount, if true then that would be around €600 in my pocket…?

    I know in the UK, you have to pay tax and put something into the system, before you start taking the cream back off the cake.
    I would be very surprised if Germany had a different rule which would allow me to claim this money, but at the risk of looking really stupid, I need to ask anyhow..!

    Thanks,

    Andy

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/02/2018 at 18:03

      Hi Andy. I can’t really help you as this is beyond my experience but as rule; any German resident need to declare their income sources, even if they are foreign, one way or another.

  • Reply Monika 16/02/2018 at 14:26

    Hi Bastien,

    Thanks for the great article and help that you provide!

    You mentioned above that: “employees whose sole income are their salaries are not required by law to submit a tax return”. Can you give me some other examples of types of income that exist?

    Many thanks!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 17/02/2018 at 11:10

      Hi Monika. Income from rental investment, from stock-markets, from land or forest, from funds or ETFs and many more.

      • Reply Monika 17/02/2018 at 16:52

        Is the purchase of a house (for own living) relevant for the Tax declaration? Would it affect the tax return in a positive or negative way?
        Thanks!

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 18/02/2018 at 09:20

          Hi Monika. It might be best to approach a Steuerberater to see how you can optimize your situation concerning the expenses you had. The purchase itself is not so relevant in my experience, unless you use the space to earn money with.

  • Reply Adnan 14/02/2018 at 10:25

    Hi,
    I only worked 1 month in Germany (Regensburg), and just like in most countries I’m eligible to get my taxes back.

    – Anything special I need to do because I worked only 1 month?
    – Do you have to physically put your tax declaration in the post? Or can you do it also online. Reason: I don’t live in Germany anymore.
    – Any other suggestion?

    Thanks very much in advance. Really appreciate what you are doing.

    Best regards,

    Adnan

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 14/02/2018 at 22:48

      Hi Adnan. Since 2018, you can send this online, not via paper anymore. The amount of time you worked doesn’t matter.

  • Reply Mona 12/02/2018 at 13:23

    Hi, I asked a question couple days ago. I’ve been waiting, but even though you replied the questions other people asked after me, you did not reply mine, can I ask why?
    thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/02/2018 at 21:22

      No reason. I sometimes don’t have time to reply to all comments right away and usually proceed with the simplest cases first. It’s up to me.

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