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South Africans in Germany

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Income Tax / Lohnsteuer

We receive a lot of questions about income tax declarations and where to get help, especially getting help in English.
First I have to state that we are not tax consultants and by German law are not allowed to give any tax advice. You can read more about it here, the article is German but can be easily translated.
Basically your immediate family can assist you with your taxes, see the article, but if there is no family relationship you are not allowed to assist someone. You are not allowed to help with your friend’s tax return. This also includes a partner if you are not engaged or married.
See more from Steuertipps,

Some of the options available to you are:

  • Get a Tax advisor. In Germany they are called der Steuerberater
  • Get help from a LohnsteuerhilfevereinA wage tax aid association is a self-help institution run by employees for employees to provide assistance in wage tax matters and in special income tax assessment cases (Section 13 StBerG). They were created in 1964 at the instigation of the trade unions. The aim of the legislature is to ensure that employees can receive tax advice at reasonable costs regardless of their income.) To find one in your area you can search online or on this website. You can specify your language as well e.g Englisch or English
  • Do it yourself. You might want to consider using software or apps. The tax rules in Germany are extremely complicated especially when both partners are working and you have kids.
    These rules also changes yearly so make sure that if you use software, it is up to date

Where to get more information:

Some basic information

The German Tax year runs from January to December and you can submit your tax return between 1 January and 31 July the following year.
Lohnsteuer and Einkommensteuer – They differ by the method of collection. Lohnsteuer is collected at source and paid directly to the Finanzamt (tax office) by the employer while the individual must pay Einkommensteuer himself.
There are 6 German Income Tax Classes “Lohnsteuerklasse”. You can find the list here.
South Africa uses a Residence base tax system and Germany a Source base system.
To get a basic idea of your taxes you can use a Wage tax calculator from SteuerGo
ELSTER (Elektronische Steuererklärung) – For online tax submissions. You need to register for a free account. The application is currently only in German

How and where do I register for Tax

As an employee, you will receive your tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer), Format: 12 345 678 901, when you register at the Bürgerampt and Auländerbehorde.  This is like an Identity number and you will keep it for life. Children born in Germany receive their tax ID at birth.

As a freelancer or company, you must register for a tax number (Steuernummer), Format: 12/345/67890 or 3012034567890, that you use on your Invoices.
This number is related to your place of residence and if you move to a new town you will need to apply for a new number. Application is done at the Finanzamt.

You also apply for a VAT number (Umsatzsteuer-Id), Format: DE123456789,  at the Finanzamt.

How to Berlin has an excellent article about registering for tax

Double Taxation Treaty between South Africa and Germany

Double Taxation Treaty between South Africa and Germany

Resources on the web

Finding a tax advisor

The following organisations were suggested by members of our FB group, we are not affiliated with any of these organisations.


  • Lohi Lohnsteuerhilfe Bayern e.V.
  • ISAR E.V. Lohnsteuerhilfeverein
  • KSW Legal

English speaking tax advisors

Apps and software