The tax system in Germany

From income tax rates to corporate tax and VAT, here is everything you need to know about the tax system in Germany if you’re new to the country.

Taxes in Germany

By Stephen Maunder

Updated 31-1-2024

As an expat moving to Germany, it’s important to get your head around the various taxation measures in force in your new country. Whether you’re a freelancer, running your own business, or in paid employment, it’s important to learn how the tax system will affect you.

To help you sort out your finances, this overview of the tax system in Germany includes advice on the following topics:

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The tax system in Germany

German citizens and expats working in Germany need to pay tax on their earnings. The Federal Central Tax Office (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern) administers the tax system on a national level, while hundreds of regional tax offices (Finanzämter) administer local taxes.

Taxes in German are split between those charged by the federal government (Bundesregierung), states (Bundesländer), and municipalities (Gemeinden). The principles around tax law in Germany are set out in its constitution (Grundgesetz).

Federal and local taxes in Germany

The federal German government sets national taxes such as income tax, customs and export taxes, and value-added tax. Proceeds from the two biggest taxes – income tax and value-added tax – are split between the federation and the states on a quota basis.

Finanzamt office entrance in Paderborn
There are Finanzamt offices all over Germany, including this one in Paderborn

Real estate transfer tax (RETT) is administered on a state level in Germany. States can also set taxes on the likes of alcohol and gambling.

Municipalities are responsible for setting their own levels of tax on homeownership, and also set tax rates for stays in local hotels and inns.

In 2021, Germany abolished its solidarity surcharge (Solidaritätszuschlag), which levied an additional 5.5% on top of income tax for the majority of workers.

Taxes on goods and services (VAT) in Germany

VAT in Germany (Umsatzsteuer or USt for short) applies to most goods and services sold within the country. This tax is also commonly referred to as Mehrwertsteuer (MWSt), although this is technically incorrect as German law uses the word Umsatzsteuer. The standard rate of USt is 19%, though a reduced rate of 7% is available for some goods, such as foodstuffs, books, newspapers, and cultural events.

This reduced rate is also available to restaurants and cafes. This was initially introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Germany but has been extended till 31 December 2023 because of increased inflation.

The supply of gas and heat in private households is also subject to reduced rates from 1 October 2022 until 31 March 2024.

Deliveries within the European Union (EU), medical services, financial services, insurance, and real estate are exempt from USt in Germany.

Companies earning €22,000 (gross) in one financial year, or whose earnings are likely to exceed €50,000 in the next financial year, must pay USt.

Can you get a refund on VAT?

If you live outside of the European Union, you may be able to reclaim the VAT you paid when buying goods in Germany.

To reclaim VAT, you must purchase the items from a retailer that participates in the refund scheme. Not every shop participates, however; affiliated shops generally display a sticker on their door.

When you pay for the items, you should ask the shopkeeper for the VAT form. You then need to complete the form with your personal information and attach the original receipt.

You can find out even more about thresholds for VAT refunds and the specifics of how to claim in the European Commission’s full guide.

Who has to pay tax in Germany?

If you’re considered a German resident for tax purposes, you’ll need to pay German income tax on your worldwide income, regardless of whether you’re a German national or an expat.

Plane arriving at Frankfurt International Airport

You’ll usually be considered a resident for tax purposes if you spend more than half of the calendar year (183 days) in Germany. If you’re not a tax resident, you’ll only need to pay tax on the income you earn within Germany.

Tax allowances and exemptions in Germany

All workers in Germany are entitled to a tax-free allowance (€10,347 in 2023). Everyone must pay income tax on any income above this threshold.

Employees are allowed a blanket allowance of €1,200 a year for business deductions. These deductions can cover costs such as transport to and from work and purchasing equipment for work purposes.

Deductions are also available for childcare expenses (up to €4,194 a year per child), education expenses (up to 30% of tuition fees), charitable contributions (up to 20%), and alimony payments (up to €13,805) subject to meeting the government’s criteria.

Anyone working from home can claim up to €6 per working day in tax deductions (up to a maximum of €600 per year), to offset the extra costs of home working.

The German tax system for expats

Non-German residents must pay the same taxes as citizens in Germany, though there are agreements in place for those who are at risk of double taxation in Germany and their home country. Germany has bilateral tax agreements with many countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia.

Generally speaking, filing taxes as an expat in any country can be challenging due to language barriers and a lack of local knowledge of the topic. However, there are also a growing number of expat-friendly, English-speaking online platforms to help you file your German tax returns. These include:

If you’re an international freelancer or owner of a small enterprise or registered business, you can also use an online platform like Finom to manage your company taxes.

Read our articles on filing your taxes while living abroad for more information on American, British, and Canadian taxes. If you’re a UK national, you can also learn about the QROPS scheme for transferring UK pensions when moving abroad.

Income tax in Germany

If you earn money from employment or self-employment, you’ll need to pay income tax. The first €10,347 is your tax-free allowance, so you’ll only pay tax on earnings above this amount.

German income tax rates are progressive, starting at 14% and rising to 45% on the highest earnings. The German government reviews its tax bands each year.

The income tax bands for the 2022 and 2023 tax years are the following:

Income tax bands for 2022

German income tax bandsGerman tax rate
Up to €9,9840%
€277,826 and above45%

Income tax bands for 2023

German income tax bandsGerman tax rate
Up to €10,3470%
€277,826 and above45%

How to file your income tax return in Germany

If you’re employed by a company in Germany, you won’t need to submit a tax return unless you have additional income from other sources (for example, freelance work or property).

The German income tax year runs alongside the calendar year. The deadline for tax returns in 2023 (for 2022’s tax return) is 31 July 2023.

Self-employed income tax in Germany

Self-employed workers must submit a tax return each year.

If you’re self-employed, you’ll be able to benefit from the same €10,347 allowance as other workers, and an additional €2,800 allowance for German health insurance.

You can reduce your tax by offsetting work-related outgoings against your tax bill. Depending on the nature of your business, this can include things like work-related travel, stationery, and the services of an accountant.

Tax on property and wealth in Germany

Tax on property ownership

Homeowners in Germany must pay real estate property tax (Grundsteuer), an annual municipal tax that is mandatory for all property owners. How much you’ll pay varies depending on the value of your property and the local tax rate.

When buying a property in Germany, you’ll need to pay real estate transfer tax (RETT), which varies from 3.5% to 6.5% of the property’s purchase price, depending on the state you’re buying the home in.

Tax on selling and letting properties

When you sell a home, you may need to pay capital gains tax if you’ve owned it for less than 10 years. This can make buying a property in Germany much less attractive if you’ll only be living in the country for a few years.

If you let out a property, you’ll need to pay income tax on any profits you make after your allowable deductions. You must record this income in your annual tax return.

Tax on savings and investments

Savings and investments are subject to tax in Germany. Income from dividends and interest are taxed at a flat rate of 25%, plus a 5.5% solidarity surcharge. In total, this comes to 26.5%. Single taxpayers have an annual investor’s allowance of €1,000.

Inheritance tax in Germany

Inheritance tax rates are consistent across the whole of Germany. They apply to savings, property, and other valuable assets. However, several allowances and exemptions are in place.

How much you’ll pay in inheritance tax depends on your relationship with the deceased. Close relatives such as spouses and children have a higher tax-free allowance than more distant relatives.

The German inheritance tax system sets three categories of relationships, which are then set against the amount inherited to determine the tax charged.

For example, a spouse, child, or grandchild won’t pay any tax on a €500,000 inheritance, but a sibling, niece, or nephew would pay a rate of 25% (after their tax-free allowance of €20,000).

You can learn even more and find out the full rates in our guide to inheritance tax in Germany.

Company taxes in Germany

The national corporate tax level is 15%. A solidarity surcharge of 5.5% is added, resulting in a total federal rate of 15.825%. Local municipalities then levy additional trade taxes ranging from between 8.75% to 20.3%.

There are some tax credits and allowances that businesses can offset against their corporate tax bills, such as a municipal tax credit and a research and development credit.

In addition to corporate tax, companies may also need to pay capital gains tax on the sale of business assets, trade tax, and dividend tax.

Import and export taxes in Germany

If you’re traveling into Germany from a non-EU country, you’ll need to adhere to rules around what goods can be imported. The German government sets limits on certain imports, such as cigarettes, alcohol, medicines, and motor fuels.

Customers at duty-free shop at Frankfurt International Airport
A duty-free shop at Frankfurt International Airport

If you exceed travelers’ allowances, you must pay import duties. You can find out how much you might need to pay on the website for the Bundeszollverwaltung (ZOLL, or the Federal Customs Service).

Tax avoidance and evasion in Germany

Tax avoidance in Germany is punishable by fines or up to five years in prison. The most serious cases are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Failing to update the tax authorities about relevant developments to your financial situation can result in tax avoidance. The same applies to providing incorrect information, so make sure to stay on top of your finances to avoid a hefty fine.

Tax advice in Germany

Doing your taxes in Germany can be complex, especially while you’re still new to the system. The information here offers a general overview, but you should always get professional advice from an expert regarding your individual tax situation.

The good news is that there many tax professionals offer English-speaking services. You can find a list of tax advisors in Germany in our directory.

Trade bodies such as the International Federation of Accountants can also help you find an advisor.

Useful resources