by Tia Hardy Robinson
last updated January 31, 2021
NEW FOR 2021! Completing the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung to register as a freelancer must be done online via Germany’s ELSTER (tax) portal. This guide covers how to register for the ELSTER platform as a new user, as well as how to fill the Fragebogen out (for freelancers).
Big fat disclaimer: this article is provided for translation purposes only and does NOT constitute official tax advice. Please see our list of English-speaking tax advisers at the bottom of this article for professionals who can advise you on your own personal situation.
To start invoicing and collecting money in Germany, you’ll need to get a freelance Steuernummer or tax number (not the same thing as the Tax ID you received after registering your address) — and that means filling out the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung.
From 2021, this form needs to be completed online via the ELSTER portal — or as Germany calls it, ‘Your Online Tax Office.’ This guide will help you set up a user account for the first time as well as complete the freelancer registration form.
Please note: this guide is meant for those with straightforward freelance income (artists, teachers, writers, etc.). Some common jobs (such as bicycle delivery person, tour guide, cleaner, etc.) may not be classified as freelancing in Germany at all — but may actually be a Gewerbe, or trade, requiring you to get a Gewerbeschein or trade license. Please research your job category if you are unsure.
And as always — when in doubt, check your individual situation with a tax professional!
STEP ONE: REGISTERING TO USE ELSTER FOR THE FIRST TIME
- Go to the ELSTER website and click on Benutzerkonto erstellen to create user account.
2.You will be prompted to get a Zertifikatsdatei or certificate file in order to log in, which you’ll receive after registering — click Weiter (next). You will see an overview of the login process — click Weiter again.
3. When you are asked how you want to log in, choose Zertifikatsdatei by clicking the blue button Ausswählen (select).
4. Personalisierung — this page asks who the account is being set up for. Select Für mich or for me.
5. Identifikation — how do you want to identify yourself? Select Mit E-Mail or with email.
6. Dateneingabe — set up your user account by entering your email, Benutzername (user name) and Sicherheitsabfrage and Antwort (security question and answer). You’ll have to use google translate to help with all the possible questions — I chose ‘What phone number do you remember from your childhood.’ Click Absenden (submit).
7. Aktivierungsdaten eingeben — Now you’ll need to open your email to retrieve the Aktivierungs-ID and Aktivierungs-Code (activation ID and activation code) and enter it. Click Absenden.
8. Zertifikatsdatei erstellen — You’ll create your ELSTER password — be sure to save this as you will need it in the future. Click Erstellen (create) to generate your certificate file.
9. Zertifikatsdatei herunterladen — click the blue button to download your certificate file.
10. Erstmaliges login — first login. Select your certificate file by clicking Durchsuchen and enter your password. Click login.
11. Mein Profil ergänzen — complete my profile. Since this is your first log-in the tax office will ask for personal details to set up your account. First is Allgemeine Angaben or general information. For Name der Organisation you can enter your name and freelance job title like so: Tia Robinson, freiberüfliche Lehrerin. If you are doing many different freelance jobs you can also just write Freiberufler or freelancer. Under Anrede, Titel put your preferred Herr/Frau/Other/Prof/Dr words. Add Vorname (first name) and Name (family or last name).
12. Adresse, Telefonnummer — address and phone number. Straße, Hausnummer — street, building number. Adresszusatz is for additional address information, like if your address is registered under c/o Schmidt, for example. Postleitzahl, Ort — postal code and city. Land and Staat — federal state and country. Then your telephone number.
13. Steuernummer — tax number. For Land put your federal state.
14. Sind Sie Steuerberater/in?— Are you a German tax advisor? This guide is not for you! Click Mein Profil speichern und weiter — save my profile and next.
15. Welcher Benutzergruppe gehören Sie am ehesten an?— Which user group do you best belong to? If you are freelancer click Privatperson or private person.
16. Wichtige Hinweise — important information. There is some data protection info. here, you can google translate it all, then check the boxes that you read and agree.
CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE REGISTERED ON ELSTER! You will use this system to file your taxes, so be sure to save that login information!
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STEP TWO: COMPLETING THE FRAGEBOGEN ZUR STEUERLICHEN ERFASSUNG
- Now let’s find that form! You should be on the Mein ELSTER or My ELSTER home page and see a menu that says Mein Postgang (my mailbox), Meine Formulare (my forms), Meine Profile (my profile) and Meine Supportanfragen (my support questions). Under that you see Formulare & Leistungen or forms and services — click on that to open the submenu.
- Click on Alle Formulare or all forms, and use the search tool to look for Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung. Click on the name when it appears and you will see multiple versions of the form. Provided you are just one freelancer doing your own thing (you do not have a formal business partner or have founded a corporation), select Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung für Einzelunternehmen, the correct form for 1-person companies. Click Weiter.
- Startseite des Formulars — start page of the form. Under Datenübernahme aus einem Profile (import data from a profile) click on Aus mein Profil (from my Profile) to import the personal date from your profile.
- Gegebenenfalls Einkommensteuernummer — income tax number if applicable. If you were working as an employee in Germany you have this but otherwise leave blank.
- Neue Steuernumer beantragen — apply for a new tax number. Here select Berlin (or your city) as your Land and then which tax office is responsible for you (in Berlin it is your Bezirk, or neighborhood where you are registered).
- Zu den Teilseiten — to the (21!) subpages. Take a deep breath, many sections you will leave blank! Click Nächste Seite or next page.
- 1-Angaben zur Person — personal details. Steuerpflichtige(r) is you, the tax payer. Enter your Ms/Mr/x/Dr selection. Name is family or last name. Gegebenenfalls Geburtsname is birth name, if applicable. This could be your maiden name (before marriage), or if you had another name at birth for whatever reason. Vorname is your first name.
- Under Ausgeübter Beruf you write the profession(s) you are doing. It is fine to add more than one, for example, Pressereferentin, Texterin, Fotografin (press officer, copywriter, photographer).
- Geburtsdatum is date of birth (day, month, year), and under Religion, which Germany wants to know about due to church/Jewish community tax, you have a myriad of choices if you are Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. If you do not fit into any of the categories you can select nicht kirchensteuerpflichtig, or not eligible for church tax.
- Next comes Stand der Ehe/eingetragenen Lebenspartnerschaft — marital or civil partnership status. If you are single enter Keine Angabe or not applicable. Otherwise enter married, separated, divorced, widowed, civil partnership, civil partnership dissolved, or civil partner has died. Seit dem- since which date.
- Adresse im Inland — Address in Germany. Enter your street, house number, c/o details under Adressergänzung, and postal code and city.
- Adresse im Ausland — Address abroad. Only enter this if you will keep your secondary residence abroad.
- Telefon —this part is fidgety. Enter your number in three parts — 0049 is the country code for Germany, then the first part of your mobile phone number (0151 or 0175, etc.) as the Vorwahl national, and then the rest of the number. I entered 0049 0151 1234567.
- E-Mail and Internet — enter your email address and website if you have one.
- 2-Ehegatte/Ehegattin/eingetragene(r) Lebenspartner(in) — Spouse or civil partner. This section only applies if you are married or in a civil partnership, otherwise you can skip. If you are married/civil partnered, you’ll enter in all the items you just did for yourself, now for your partner.
- 3-Bankverbindungen — bank details. Enter your bank details by clicking the +Weitere Daten hinzufügen or enter details. You will be prompted to add your IBAN (for an inland/German or ausland/international account), BIC code if it is an international account. Bankkonto ist gultig für die Steuerarten — here you can choose what types of taxes this bank account is valid for, Personensteuern, Betriebsteuern or alle Steuerarten — personal, business, or all taxes.
- Kontoinhaber is the bank account owner, so if the bank account is in your name select der/die Steuerpflichtige or the tax payer. If the account is under someone else’s name enter that under Name abweichende(r) Kontoinhaber(in).
- 4-Steuerliche Beratung should be filled out if you have a tax advisor. Otherwise you can skip to the next section.
- 5-Empfangsbevollmächtigte(r) für alle Steuerarten should be filled out if someone has power of attorney to receive correspondence and communicate with the tax authorities for you. If you have a tax advisor, they may also have this power of attorney to talk to the tax office on your behalf.
- 6-Bisherige persönliche Verhältnisse — previous address, in case you have moved within the last 12 months (from abroad to Germany, as well as from another city/neighborhood to where you are registered now). Add your move date and address.
- Falls Sie in den letzten drei Jahren für Zwecke der Einkommensteuer steuerlich erfasst waren — in case you have been audited for income tax in Germany the last 3 years, add the federal state, your tax number and the tax office responsible for you then.
- 7-Angaben zum Unternehmen — info. about your company. Under Art der Tätigkeit you put an exact description of your freelance work. Under Bezeichnung des Unternehmens you put the name of your company — if you are freelancer in Germany, the legal name of your company is your own name, and you are allowed to additionally add a job title if you like. For example, Tia Robinson, Künstlerin (artist). For Beginn der Tätigkeit (inclusive Vorbereitungshandlungen) you put the start date of your freelance work including preparation discussions and planning.
- Adresse des Unternehmens — your business address im Inland (Germany) and im Ausland (abroad). If you have a coworking space or studio you can use this address, otherwise many freelancers will use a home address. Postfach is postal box.
- E-Mail and Internet is your work email and company website if applicable.
- 8-Abweichender Ort der Geschäftsleitung — this only applies to companies who have a different office for the executive board
- 9-Betriebstätten — you can enter up to 10 branch locations of your company here. ; )
- 10-Handelsregistereintrag — Chamber of commerce registry. Freelancers are generally not registered in the chamber of commerce registry so you can skip this.
- 11-Gründungsform is the type and start date of your business. Under Gründungsart you can put Neugründung or new foundation. Only if you bought the business from a former owner do you complete Vorherige/r Inhaber/in.
- 12-Bisherige betriebliche Verhältnisse — previous business situation. Here they are asking if you have been doing any other freelance, self-employed (Gewerbe/trade) or farming and forestry work, have had a formal business partnership, or have owned at least 1 percent of a corporation, in the past 5 years. If not skip this section.
- Steuernummer Vortätigkeit — previous tax number. If you DO already have a tax number in Germany, please add here your Land (federal state) tax number, and the tax office that was responsible for you.
- 13-Angaben zur Festsetzung der Vorauszahlungen (Einkommensteuer, Gewerbesteuer) — Information for calculating tax pre-payments. Add your voraussichtliche Einkünfte or projected income here. There are four columns: 1-your earnings this year (Steuerpflichtige(r)), 2- your spouse or civil partner’s earnings this year (Ehegatte(in)/Lebenspartner(in)), 3- your earning next year and 4-your partner’s earning next year.
- Note: ‘this year’ means this calendar year (2021) so if you start working July 1, 2021 you will prorate the earnings for 6 remaining months of 2021. Earnings here means PROFIT (income minus expenses). You will estimate profit you/your partner will earn from:
Land- und Forstwirschaft — agriculture and forestry
Gewerbebetrieb — trade (applies if you have a Gewerbeschein or trade license)
Selbständiger Arbeit — self-employed work (here, freelance or self-employed work not requiring you to register a Gewerbe or trade)
Nichtselbständiger Arbeit — non-self-employed work (i.e. part- or full-time employment or mini-job)
Kapitalvermögen — investment income
Vermietung und Verpachtung — rental and leasing income
Sonstigen Einkünften — other income (for example pension)
- Voraussichtliche Höhe der…- probable amount of… — this section is for projected special expenses and estimated income tax payments. If you are unsure, you can also leave lines 117 and 118 blank. Sonderausgaben — Special expenses. This refers to things like private insurances or pension savings, which are a special tax write-off. If you are unsure it is fine to leave this blank; this will not affect your ability to write those things off later when you file your taxes. Steuerabzugsbeträge — Tax deductions. Your contributions to payroll tax (as an employee), solidarity tax and church tax can be written off; however, if you are unsure, it is fine to leave this blank for now.
- 14 -Angaben zur Gewinnermittlung — how will your income be reported (which type of accounting will you use). Freelancers usually select Einnahmenüberschussrechnung or single-entry bookkeeping, an accounting method where you track your income and expenses monthly and pay income taxes based on your profit. Under Liegt ein vom Kalenderjahr abweichendes Wirtschaftsjahr vor? (Does your business year differ from the calendar year?) freelancers usually put ‘No’ as the business year is almost always the same as the calendar year, meaning Jan.-Dec.
- 15-Freistellungsbescheinigung gemäß §48b EStG — This refers to a special law for construction and building, so if you have significant expenses related to installing or building your business facilities, check with a tax advisor.
- 16-Angaben zur Anmeldung und Abführung der Lohnsteuer— This section is about payroll tax. We will assume you have no employees so skip to the next section!
- 17-Angaben zur Anmeldung und Abführung der Umsatzsteuer — Information for registration and deduction of VAT. This section is about Umsatzsteuer or VAT. Please note that even if you do not earn enough to have to charge VAT you still need to complete some items. If you will, or think you need to, collect VAT then we highly recommend talking to a tax adviser.
- Summe der Umsätze (geschätzt) — Amount of turnover (estimated). This line asks for your estimated total earnings (not including deductions) in your first year of freelancing (im Jahr der Betribseröffnung) and for the following year (im Folgejahr). For your first year of freelancing, estimate the income from your start date to the end of the calendar year, so for example March 15, 2021-Dec. 31, 2021. For the second year, you will use the entire calendar year of 2022.
- Geschäftsveräußerung im Ganzen (§ 1 Abs. 1a UStG) — Transfer of entire business. If you did not buy an entire business, check Nein.
- Kleinunternehmer Reglung — Small business owner regulation. Small business owners earning less than 22,000€ per year, not factoring in deductions and expenses, are considered Kleinunternehmer. They are not required to charge VAT.
In additional, some organizations you may be working for, such as universities or language schools, may have applied for an official VAT exemption as an educational institution. Income which is already VAT-free does not count towards the 22,000€ limit. Income from part- or full-time employment (Beschäftigung) does also not count towards the 22,000€ limit.
- If you estimate that you will earn less than 22,000€ in 2021 and will not charge VAT as a small business owner, check the TOP box with the first two sentences reading: Der auf das Kalendarjahr hochgerechnete Gesamtumsatz wird die Grenze des §19 Absatz 1 UStG voraussichtlich nicht überschreiten. Es wird die Kleinunternehmer-Reglung in Anpruch genommen. This says you are not planning to earn over 22k and are taking the small business owner exemption.
- Steuerbefreiung — Tax exemption according to §4 of the UStG (VAT law). This only applies to select industries (shipping and freight services, insurance brokers, doctors and hospitals, schools and universities, delivering human organs, etc.) so most freelancers will leave this blank. When in doubt, ask a tax adviser, especially if you plan to be delivering human organs.
- Steuersatz — Reduced tax rate according to §12, Paragraph 2 of the UStG. A few special classes of items (musical or theater performances, books & magazines, cattle farming, artificial insemination of animals, etc.) have a reduced VAT rate of 7% (versus the standard 19%). If you will collect VAT but plan to sell work in this category, check this box.
- Durchschnittssatzbesteuerung — Average taxation rate according to §24 of the Umsatzsteuergesetz. This only applies to forestry so leave blank.
- Soll-/Istversteurung der Entgelte — Target or actual tax payments. If you will charge VAT, you must decide if you will report and pay VAT based on what you should have collected from customers as reported on your invoices (SOLL) or what you have actually collected to-date (IST).
Sollversteuerung. If you will report and pay VAT based on your incoming and outgoing invoices (regardless of whether all your customers have paid), check this box and skip to line 154.
Istversteuerung. If you will report and pay VAT based on what you have actually collected from customers, check this box and also fill out a reason why. Reasons A and C are the most likely to apply to freelancers:
A. Ich beantrage die Istversteuerung, weil der auf das Kalendarjahr hochgerechnete Gesamtumsatz für das Gründungsjahr voraussichtlich nicht mehr als 500,000€ betragen wird. The total revenue in the year of opening my business will not be over 500,000€.
B. Ich beantrage die Istversteuerung, weil ich von der Verpflichtung, Bücher zu führen und auf Grund jährlicher Bestandsaufnahmen regelmäßig Abschlüsse zu machen, nach §148 AO befreit bin. I am not obliged to do double-bookkeeping based on §148 AO.
C. Ich beantrage die Istversteuerung, weil ich Umsätze ausführe, für die ich als Angehöriger eines freien Berufs im Sinne von §18 Abs. 1 Nr. 1 des Einkommensteuergesetzes weder buchführungspflichtig bin noch freiwillig Bücher führe. I am a freelancer and do not have to do double-bookkeeping, nor do I choose to do it voluntarily.
- Umsatzsteuer-Identifikationsnummer — VAT Tax ID Number. If you plan to do business within the EU (not just Germany) you will need a VAT Tax ID for the EU and add this to your invoices instead of your Steuernummer.
- Steuerschuldnerschaft des Leistungsempfängers bei Bau- und/oder Gebäudereinigungsleistungen — Special tax liability for construction and cleaning services. This will not apply to freelancers.
- 18-Umsatzsteuerliche Organschaft — this applies to parent companies of tax groups and does not apply to freelancers.
- 19-Besonderes Besteuerungsverfahren ‘Mini-one-stop-shop’ — The special VAT process for a ‘Mini-one-stop-shop’ applies to those providing telecommunication, radio or television services, or other electronically provided services (webhosting or downloadable products like software, music, e-books or webinars, etc.) that you supply to a private customer based in another EU country (so, B2C). You can read more about what may fall into this category here.
Please note that this rule operates independently from whether or not you are a Kleinunternehmer earning less than 22,000€. That means it could apply to you even if you sell one e-book for just a few Euros to a customer in France.
If you think a Mini-one-stop-shop may apply to you, we highly recommend talking to a tax advisor. It is fine to leave this section blank for now and set up a Mini-one-stop-shop later after talking to a tax advisor.
- 20-Umsätze im Bereich des Handels mit Waren über das Internet — Revenue from selling goods over the internet. This is a new point on the Fragebogen, so we highly recommend talking to a tax advisor if this applies to you.
- 21-Zusammenfassung der nachzureichenden Unterlagen — overview of documents to submit to the tax authorities. If you are setting up a SEPA direct debit from your bank account, or have a tax advisor/power of attorney, you may need to attach or mail in additional documents. The other points generally do not apply to freelancers.
- Prüfungsmodus — checking the information for missing or incorrectly-filled out fields. When you get a green check and the message Es sind keine Fehler vorhanden, it means everything is complete and you can select Weiter.
- Formular absenden — this page asks you to first review over all the information you submitted for accuracy. If everything looks correct you can submit the form. You should get a message with a green checkmark confirming the form was submitted — Formular wurde versendet. You can print or save a confirmation of your submission by selecting Versandsbestätigung drucken, or return to the main ELSTER screen by selecting Weiter zu Mein ELSTER.
YOU DID IT! Your freelance Steuernummer should arrive by post, and then you can add it to your invoices.
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Still need help? One of the most common questions we’re asked at Expath is for an English-speaking tax advisor. We’ve compiled a list of those we’ve heard good things about from our other customers — please note that tax advisors in Germany are often busy and not always accepting new clients, so you may need to be persistent in contacting people until you find one!
Please note that these international tax advisors have been recommended by others and are not officially endorsed by Expath.
* Mia Stahlschmidt — http://steuerzeit.de/ (based in Kempen Germany, offering secure online service to clients in Berlin)
* Suat Goeydeniz — http://stb-goeydeniz.de/
* Ralf Otto — http://www.ralf-otto-steuerberater.de/en/
* David Eschenhagen — http://www.eschenhagen.eu/
* Wilhelm Geron & Florian Mätzschker at Unigarant — https://www.unigarant.de/
* Helga Vellmann — https://www.steuerberaterin-vellmann.de/
* Cox — http://www.cox-steuerberatung.de/
* Böhmer — http://www.schueler-boehmer-stb.de
Affordable online advising and bookkeeping services for freelancers and the self-employed:
* Sorted: https://en.getsorted.de/?ref=Expath — initial signup (affiliate link)
You can also try searching the German tax advisor association database by language & location here — http://www.dstv.de/suchservice/steuerberater-suchen.
Tax advisors can be expensive (but worth it!). It’s always a good idea to politely check up front how much and when the tax advisor or accountant will charge you, so you don’t get any surprise bills (although they are also a business write-off).
Good luck — and if you love your tax advisor and want to recommend her or him feel free to share in the comments or let us know at Expath and we’ll pass that on to our customers!
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Tia Hardy Robinson is the cofounder and owner of Expath. She has helped thousands of freelancers move to Germany, apply for work permits, set up as a freelancer, find a job, & more!