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Tax Refund in Germany

How to apply for a tax refund in Germany

[by Bastien, the editor behind Settle in Berlin]


Finding a job and working in Germany comes with the obligation of paying taxes to your fiscal administration, otherwise known as « Finanzamt ». As an employee, it's taken directly from your payslip every month and you need not worry about it for most of the year. At the beginning of a new year however, it will be possible to file a tax statement leading to a tax return which can often reach several hundred euros.

It's up to you to prove to the Finanzamt that you have had expenses to reduce your overall tax rate. You can do this by filling in a « Steuererklärung » which is a summary of your profile, situation and expenses as a tax payer for the previous year. Employees have until the 31st May to submit it to the Finanzamt. 

It would be a shame to pass on a sizable tax refund (Around 1000€ on average in Germany). We have laid out here the different methods to claim that money back.

On your own with forms and a good dose of patience

There is no going around it when it comes to German administration : some forms will need to be filled. For employees with no other additional sources of income, there will be 3 (for 2016): ESt 1 V 2016, Anlage N 2016,Anlage Vorsorgeaufwand 2016. They can all be downloaded from this website. With them, you will give information about your tax ID, your income, expenses and other insurances.

It is recommended to fill them in electronically via the dedicated ELSTER tool, issued by the German administration. You can sign-up here to open an account and receive your password by post (takes about a week).


ToyTown Germany has made a pretty complete help sheet to fill them in. I'd recommend checking it.

Health Insurance in Germany

The Healthcare System in Germany 

Everything you need to know about the German insurance system


Health insurance is compulsory for the whole population in Germany. Germany has a multi-payer health care system with two main types of health insurance:

'Statutory Health Insurance' 
(Gesetzliche Krankenversicherung) 

'Private Health Insurance' 
(Private Krankenversicherung).


Can I live in Germany without any health insurance?

No, it's illegal to be without insurance! By law, you cannot live in Germany, even temporarily, without being covered by health insurance. If you are not insured, your visa request or university enrollment will be denied.

But what if I have the EHIC?

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is issued by your national health insurance provider and is only valid during a temporary stay in Germany (as well as in any other EU & EEA country). If you're a EU resident, you should apply for your EHIC before traveling to Germany. You need to get information from your insurance provider in your country of origin for all terms & conditions.

More info about the EHIC here.

Important: If you decide to work in Germany, even for a short period, you must apply for a German health insurance!

Can I move to Germany with an international health insurance?

This could be quite risky, because most of the foreign insurance companies are not registered with the financial regulatory authority in Germany, or BaFin. Even international companies that are authorized in Germany often do not meet the requirements & standards decided upon in new reforms. Currently, almost none of the major international health insurers provide a German-language certificate recognized by the visa authorities in Germany, thus your visa or residence permit could be denied.

April 2016 Update: The Ausländerbehörde (LABO) in Berlin is already denying most of the international health insurance plans. 

Do I automatically get insured when I start to work or study in Germany?

No. In Germany, you do not automatically get an insurance card when you start working or studying. You must first register with a 'Krankenkasse' (German health insurance fund). As an employee or a student, you must inform your employer/university which health insurance company you have chosen.

There are two different types of German health insurances: the public health insurance (GKV) and the private health insurance (PKV). While most people could be eligible for the public health insurance, being accepted by a private health insurance is more difficult and tricky (many conditions).

I don't have a German address yet, can I apply for a German health insurance?

It depends. If you don't have a German address yet, you'll not be able to become a member of a public health insurance company (e.g. Barmer GEK, TK, AOK). By law, you need first to do the so-called 'Anmeldung' (German address registration). Once your German address is registered at the 'Bürgeramt' (local citizens office), you'll be able to apply for a proper German health insurance. More details in here.

If you're applying for a German visa, you'll need to prove to the German authorities that you already have a recognized health insurance. In this case, you'll need to apply for a travel health insurance (scroll down to the 'Travel Health Insurance' category).

Bürgeramt Registration Checklist

What's the Anmeldung?

Anmeldung’ means ‘to register’ in German. It's basically the fact of registering your residence in Germany.

If you plan on working or attending a College/University, you are required by law to register your residence in Germany. This is achieved by submitting in person an Anmeldung form to your local registration office called ‘Bürgeramt’, ‘Bürgerbüro’ or even ‘Kundenzentrum’. This is required for any change of address and needs to be done within 14 days of relocating to your new German address. 

If you don't register in Germany, you'll not be able to get a residence permit, apply for a tax ID, open a bank account or take out German health insurance.

Here below is a checklist on what to bring to the Bürgeramt when registering your residence in Germany.

[Important changes in law starting from November 2015]
Last Update: June 2016

Need more details about the Anmeldung process? 
Read our Anmeldung Guide in here.



Freelancing in Germany

How to become a freelancer in Germany

Last update: February 2016
[This Guide is not for self-employed owning a business, but for freelancers with "non-commercial" activities!]

Can I be a freelancer in Germany (Freiberufler)?

As per the Income Tax Act (§ 18 I Nr.1 EstG) a freelancer work includes the following activities: Independent scientific, artistic, literary, teaching or educational activities, and the independent professional activities of physicians, dentists, veterinarians, lawyers, notaries,...

Here is a non-exhaustive list of freelancing professions: 

Choreographer, designer, photographer, cameraman, artist (visual and performing), musician, director, singer, actor, writer, dancer, copywriter, interpreter, translator, journalist, reporter, photo-journalist, video-journalist, historian, architect, urban planner, interior designer, landscape architect, pilot, biologist, chemist, geographer, computer scientist, engineer, surveyor, restaurateur (with university degree), notary, patent attorney, lawyer, business consultant, economist, tax consultant, tax agent, doctor, psychotherapist, veterinarian, dentist, pharmacist, physiotherapist, masseur, dietitian, teacher, lecturer, educator, kids nanny, programmer (freelance work for another company), customer services agent (freelance work for another company),...

Important: Please be aware that the field of activity is what counts and not the qualification. An architect running a construction firm will normally not be considered as a freelancer. Ultimately, the tax office decides whether the activity is "commercial" or categorized as a "liberal profession". It is often a case by case situation!

Parenting and Paperwork in Germany

The old woman and the sea (of paperwork) or, advanced parenting in Germany

[by Nicolette Stewart]


Every since Baby Pickles arrived I have felt like I’m being buried alive. Letters, forms, papers, confirmations, more forms, more forms, and more fucking forms. Welcome to parenthood in Germany. Not so pleased to meet you, but thanks for the mad cash that you keep telling us we will someday get for working on your shrinking population problem. (“Problem.”)

I suck at paperwork. Though I vaguely enjoy filling out forms in a sort of obsessive compulsive way, I have trouble filling them out and getting them to the post office on time because at the end of the day I just don’t care. Taxes, registering my address, getting visas—how do people manage to give enough fucks to get this shit done before the very last second? At least some of Pickles’ paperwork will result in money in the bank, but still, paperwork is paperwork is hell, and I always procrastinate getting to the post office for as long as possible, and I am very, very good at forgetting things.

The paperstorm began immediately after Pickles’ was born. Her birth certificates could be picked up at the Standesamt, we had been told. We were supposed to pick them up right away, but I could barely walk because I’d just had fucking abdominal surgery you assholes, and duh, we were pretty fucking busy just trying to stay alive those first weeks. When I finally made it there, they told me that I needed to “order” the birth certificates, and I could pick them up later. Futile trip to the ugliest building in town! Thanks Standesamt!

Registering in Germany: Anmeldung Guide

The Anmeldung Guide

(New Anmeldung law as from 01.11.2015 - Amendment: 01.11.2016)

Last update: January 2017

This Anmeldung Guide was written to help foreigners start their life in Germany. The Anmeldung is the most important step when relocating to Germany. Here are 8 things you should know about the Anmeldung to start off well in Germany.


Place to Live
The first step to live & work legally in Germany is to find an accommodation as soon as possible. In fact, you cannot live in Germany more than 3 months without having an officially registered address. 

There are some exceptions: the Anmeldung may not be a necessary step if you plan to stay in Germany as a tourist for a few months, but bear in mind that you will not be able to open a bank account and get any electricity or internet contract without registering your residency.

In brief, who is obliged to register at the Bürgeramt?
* People who intend to live in Germany for more than three months;

* People who want to work or study in Germany;

* People who want to sign any kind of contract in Germany (open a bank account, register with a German health insurance, get an electricity or internet contract, and so on).

How to relocate to Germany?

Guide for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens moving to Germany

(not suitable for citizens from third-party countries)

Last update: November 2015


Here are the steps to follow if you want to live in Germany and are free to move inside the EU without a visa

Where do you come from?

  • As an EU citizen, you can live, work and study in Germany without any visa or permit restrictions (incl. Romanian, Bulgarian & Croatian citizens);
  • As a citizen from Switzerland, Norway (EEA), Iceland (EEA) or Liechtenstein (EEA), you can also live, work and study in Germany without any visa or permit restriction. 
  • Important: we recommend you check this visa requirements before you take any further steps;

More details about visas for Germany.

What's next?

How to get married in Germany?

Getting married in Germany? 

Last update: October 2014

Here is a Marriage Guide written by an expat couple (American-Italian) living in Berlin

My name is Emma, a US citizen from Kansas City, MO. I came here in Berlin in Winter 2010/11 and got engaged to Gianni the following Winter. We started the necessary bureaucratic processes in February 2012, and the first step was taken by having a look at the US Embassy website. This, in fact, already lists the documents to be presented to the German authorities, even though the list may change for different cases and for each of the 16 different German states.

First of all, one needs to go to the local Standesamt (registrar’s office) to see what documents they require you to submit. In Berlin, we were told that all non-German couples need to go to the Standesamt Mitte (Klosterstrasse U2). There, among hundreds of cheesy wedding magazines (showing jewels, dresses, new homes, etc.), each couple is called one by one. In our experience, we always waited for quite some time. In my case, I was asked to collect and come back with the following documents:

Working in Germany: Job Listing Sites

The Top Job Listing Sites in Germany

Last update: January 2016
Working in Germany

Looking for a job in Germany? And you have no idea where to start?

First of all, it helps a lot to have some sort of special skills and/or be a highly qualified worker, since an employer in Germany will need to be able to justify why you, a foreigner, could be the best applicant for the job instead of the German competition! Luckily for you, fluent English (and possibly German) can count, as there are many startup positions available. Obviously, specialized and advanced degrees can help too, as well as relevant working experience.

What are your chances, as a qualified professional, of migrating to Germany and to continue your career over here? 

Do the quick test right now

Which occupations are in demand?

Check it out here

5 Steps for moving to Germany:

10 Steps to sorting your German paperwork

Practical Guide to sorting your German Paperwork
(for non-EU nationals - long-term stay)

Last update: August 2015
German Paperwork Help
10 Steps to sorting your German paperwork 

Apply for a job or university (of course, not from within Germany)

If you get a job or get accepted by a German university, you are then allowed to apply for an entry visa. 

Here is a Job Listing for vacancies in sectors where Germany has a shortage of qualified professionals.

* If you are a citizen from Australia, Israel, Japan, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and USA (exception for the Green card holders), you can apply for a job while in Germany (within 3 months) as you do not need any entry visa.
* If you are a citizen from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco and San Marino, you do not need an entry visa if your only purpose is studying, so you can apply for a student permit while in Germany. However, you will not be allowed to work at all. If you want to work, you need to apply for a visa before entering Germany.

Check out the Table of countries whose citizens require/do not required a visa to enter Germany.