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Church Tax in Germany (Kirchensteuer): What it is and how to stop paying it

Church Tax in Germany (Kirchensteuer): What it is and how to stop paying it

Church Tax in Germany (Kirchensteuer): What it is and how to stop paying it

Plenty of us have been there: shortly after completing your registration in Germany, you receive your first payslip, only to realise that the church has taken a chunk of your salary. What’s going on? 

Expats are often surprised to find they are unwittingly subject to church tax in Germany (Kirchensteuer). In this article, we look at what the tax is, how much it costs, who is liable, and how you can stop paying it. 

What is church tax (Kirchensteuer)?

In case you didn’t already realise it, in Germany, state-recognised churches can collect taxes from their members. This includes: 

  • Evangelical churches
  • Catholic churches
  • The Old Catholic Church
  • Jewish religious communities
  • Israelite religious communities
  • Free religious communities
  • The Reformed Church of France in Berlin
  • The Mennonites community in Hamburg
  • Unitarian religious communities in Rhineland-Palatinate

Members of other religious communities, including the Orthodox, Baptist, Salvation Army, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim and Buddhist communities, are not liable to pay church taxes in Germany.

Communities may either rely on taxation authorities in Germany to collect the contributions for them, via regular income tax (for a small fee), or choose to collect the church tax themselves.

Who has to pay the German church tax?

Broadly speaking, anyone who is a member of a church that collects taxes is liable to pay the German church tax. For Germans who have been baptised, that’s relatively simple to work out, but in the case of expats, it gets a little more complicated. 

One of the first things you need to do when you arrive in Germany is register with your local citizens’ office to receive your registration certificate. In the Anmeldung form, you are asked questions about your religion. If you do belong to a religious community, you can indicate this here using one of the following abbreviations:

  • ev - Evangelical
  • rf - Reformed
  • rk - Roman Catholic
  • ak - Old Catholic
  • is - Jewish

Your answers will then be forwarded to the tax office, who will link your tax ID to your church tax liability. 

What if I’m not religious?

If you are not religious (or just don’t want to pay the tax), you can specify this by writing “oa” in the box (which stands for “keiner öffentlich-rechtlichen Religionsgesellschaft angehörig” or no religious affiliation) or simply put a dash through the box and opt out - at least, in theory. 

There have been some reported cases of people marking themselves as not religious on their registration forms, only to later be asked for hundreds of euros in back payments. 

Churches in Germany have been known to contact churches abroad for details about their members, and so if you were baptised in your home country, or regularly attended services, you could find yourself found out and slapped with a big bill. If you’ve ever been religious, you might end up paying the church tax. 

Using church facilities if you don’t pay church tax

It’s also worth noting that if you are religious and you want to become a member of Catholic, Protestant or Jewish communities, or use their facilities - for instance to get married, have a baby baptised, or have a Christian burial - you will need to register and pay church tax. 

How much is the church tax in Germany?

How much you pay in church tax varies according to your salary and where you live. Like other surcharge taxes (for instance the solidarity surcharge), it is based on the amount of income tax you pay, minus any child allowances. In Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, your church tax bill amounts to 8 percent of what you paid in income tax. In the other federal states, it’s 9 percent.

If you do pay church tax, you can deduct this amount in full as a “special expense” on your annual tax return to reduce your taxable income. 

How do I pay church tax?

Church taxes are collected the same way as many other taxes in Germany - they are deduced directly from your salary by the tax authorities. 

To find out how much you’re paying, consult your payslip for the item “church tax” (Kirchensteuer or KiSt. / KS).

How do I leave the church in Germany and stop paying tax?

If you’ve unwittingly signed up for the church in Germany, there is a way you can leave and get out of paying the tax - but it can be time-consuming and painfully bureaucratic. This process is called the Kirchenaustritt (leaving the church). 

Although the details vary from place to place, broadly speaking, it costs around 30 euros to renounce your church membership. You will have to apply to your local administrative court (Amtsgericht) or registry office (Standesamt), with your registration certificate and some form of ID. If you are married, you will also need your marriage certificate. The website Kirchenaustritt.de (in German) can help you work out who your local authority is, as well as providing some useful advice on the process.

Note that you may encounter difficulties with leaving the church if you have been baptised or attend church services back home. 

Once you’ve jumped through the necessary hoops, you will receive an Austrittsbescheinigung (leaving certificate), demonstrating that you are no longer a member of the church. Your church tax payments should automatically cease, although there can be a delay of a few months. 

Abi

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Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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