Private: Understanding German Taxes

An Expat's Guide to Navigating the German Tax System

As an expat living in Germany, understanding and complying with the local tax system is essential. Germany has a reputation for having a complex tax system, but with the right knowledge and guidance, you can navigate it successfully. In this article, we will provide you with an expat-friendly guide to understanding and complying with the German tax system.

Residency and Tax Obligations

One of the first things you need to determine as an expat in Germany is your tax residency status. Your tax obligations in Germany depend on whether you are considered a resident or a non-resident for tax purposes.

In general, if you have a permanent residence in Germany or spend more than 183 days in a calendar year in the country, you will be considered a tax resident. As a tax resident, you are subject to taxation on your worldwide income in Germany.

On the other hand, if you have a temporary residence in Germany and spend less than 183 days in a calendar year in the country, you will be considered a non-resident. Non-residents are only taxed on their income derived from German sources.

Types of Taxes in Germany

Germany has various types of taxes that individuals may be subject to. Here are some of the most common taxes you need to be aware of:

Income Tax

Income tax is the main tax that individuals in Germany pay on their income. The income tax rates in Germany are progressive, meaning that the more you earn, the higher your tax rate will be. The tax rates range from 14% to 45%.

As an expat, you will need to file an income tax return in Germany if you are a tax resident and earn income in the country. It is important to keep track of your income and expenses to ensure accurate reporting.

Value Added Tax (VAT)

Value Added Tax, commonly known as VAT, is a consumption tax levied on the sale of goods and services in Germany. The standard VAT rate in Germany is 19%, with a reduced rate of 7% for certain goods and services.

As an expat, you will encounter VAT when making purchases in Germany. It is important to understand the VAT rates and keep track of your expenses, especially if you are eligible for VAT refunds as a non-resident.

Solidarity Surcharge

The solidarity surcharge, also known as "Solidaritätszuschlag," is an additional tax introduced after the reunification of Germany. It is calculated as a percentage of your income tax and is used to support the development of the former East Germany.

As an expat, you will be subject to the solidarity surcharge if you are liable for income tax in Germany. The current rate is 5.5% of the income tax amount.

Property Tax

Property tax, or "Grundsteuer," is a tax levied on real estate properties in Germany. The tax rate is determined by the local municipality and is based on the assessed value of the property.

If you own property in Germany, you will be responsible for paying property tax. It is important to understand the local regulations and keep track of the payment deadlines.

Tax Filing and Deadlines

As an expat in Germany, you will need to file your tax return annually. The tax year in Germany follows the calendar year, starting on January 1st and ending on December 31st.

The deadline for filing your tax return in Germany is typically May 31st of the following year. However, if you engage a tax advisor, you may be eligible for an extended deadline.

It is recommended to start gathering all the necessary documents and information well in advance to ensure a smooth tax filing process. Some of the documents you may need include your income statements, expense receipts, and proof of any deductions or credits you are claiming.

Tax Deductions and Credits

Germany offers various deductions and credits that can help reduce your tax liability. Here are some common deductions and credits that expats can take advantage of:

Relocation Expenses

If you have relocated to Germany for work, you may be eligible to deduct certain relocation expenses, such as moving costs, transportation expenses, and temporary accommodation costs.

Child Benefits

If you have children, you may be eligible for child benefits, also known as "Kindergeld." The amount of child benefits depends on the number of children you have and their age.

Education Expenses

If you are pursuing further education or training in Germany, you may be able to deduct certain education expenses, such as tuition fees, books, and transportation costs.

Double Taxation Agreements

Germany has signed double taxation agreements with many countries to avoid the double taxation of income. These agreements ensure that you are not taxed twice on the same income in both Germany and your home country.

It is recommended to consult with a tax advisor or accountant to determine which deductions and credits you are eligible for and to ensure proper documentation.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with the German tax system can result in penalties and fines. It is important to fulfill your tax obligations and meet the filing deadlines to avoid any unnecessary penalties.

If you fail to file your tax return on time or provide inaccurate information, you may be subject to late filing penalties, interest charges, and even criminal charges in severe cases of tax evasion.

It is always advisable to seek professional advice and assistance to ensure compliance with the German tax system and avoid any potential penalties.


Navigating the German tax system as an expat may seem daunting at first, but with the right knowledge and guidance, it can be manageable. Understanding your tax residency status, the types of taxes in Germany, and the available deductions and credits can help you comply with the tax regulations and optimize your tax situation.

Remember to keep track of your income and expenses, gather all the necessary documents, and file your tax return on time. If you are unsure about any aspect of the German tax system, it is always recommended to consult with a tax advisor or accountant who specializes in expat taxation.

By staying informed and proactive, you can navigate the German tax system with confidence and ensure compliance with the local regulations.