Living and working in Germany: Personal income tax of individuals moving to Germany

Foreigners often have a misconception of their tax situation if moving to Germany and working there.

Here are typical issues often misunderstood:

  1. Very often foreign employees coming to Germany think that their foreign source income is not subject to German income taxation. This is a misjudgement. Foreign source income is either taxable in Germany or it effects the progressive German income tax rate. In both cases the income has to be declared in the German income tax return.
  2. The calculation of foreign source income has to follow German legal requirements. This may require a recalculation of foreign source income. This is especially the case for business and rental income (for example recalculations of depreciations or capital allowances).
  3. Foreign income taxes including withholding taxes can be deducted against German income tax if foreign source income is taxed in Germany.
  4. It is also not correct to believe that being tax resident in Germany is unfavourable compared to a situation where somebody receives German based salaries as non-resident. This is due to the fact that non-residents cannot claim various allowances and personal expenses. A careful tax planning is advisable.
  5. Germany has the reputation of being a high tax jurisdiction. This may be the case for individuals with high income. The tax burden on lower or average income is endurable. And German tax law is less strict concerning the deduction of income related expenses than most neighbouring countries. Additionally it provides a wide range of personal allowances and a liberal acceptance of private expenses. Foreign individuals are often surprised by the relatively low tax burden on average income. The real problem is social security liability if applicable. The social security contributions are one of the highest in Europe. Individuals coming to Germany should always seek advice on whether or not they can avoid German social security contributions.
  6. Foreigners often think that personal payments to foreign organisations or insurance companies cannot be deducted. That again is a wrong impression. Payments to foreign pension schemes, private health insurance, private accident insurance, personal liability insurance etc. may very well be deductible in Germany.
  7. A special problem arises from employment income related to stock options. Respective benefits will be taxed in Germany under certain conditions. Taxed will be the difference between the value at the time of purchasing the stocks and the value at the time when the options have been granted. For the allocation of taxation rights the time between granting the options and the vesting time (vesting period) is applicable. This means that if somebody worked for an employer in the vesting period in different countries he may have to pay taxes in these countries. Example: The vesting period was 2 years. For one year employee worked in the USA and for the other year he worked in Germany. Than half of the benefit will be taxed in the USA and the other half in Germany.

We have developed a checklist “Foreign citizens working in Germany – Required documents and information” to file a German income tax return. The checklist can be ordered free of charge at our German office (www.iapa-online.com/hamburg-germany).


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