Tax administration in Germany
Responsibility for taxation in Germany is shared between two agencies: the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (BZSt) and the Finanzamt.
Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (BZSt)
The Bundeszentralamt für Steuern (Federal Central Tax Office or BZSt) is a branch of the German Federal Ministry of Finance. It deals with national tax matters, including:
- Issuing tax IDs
- Allocating VAT numbers for entrepreneurs
- Supporting federal states in combating fraud
- Providing information for foreign investors
Contacting the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern
Although most everyday queries should be directed to your local tax office (see below), you may also wish to contact the BZSt. They deal with general questions on topics such as:
- Tax IDs
- Capital gains tax relief
- Withholding tax relief
- VAT refunds for foreign entrepreneurs
- Church tax
The contact details are different, depending on the nature of your query. You can find all the contact details on the BZSt’s website.
The Finanzamt (tax office) is a local authority that administers taxes (with the exception of customs duties) on behalf of the municipality, federal state and federal government. There are around 650 tax offices across Germany, who are responsible for:
- Collecting income tax & motor vehicle tax
- Calculating and collecting property taxes and transfer tax (if you buy a house)
- Administering dog taxes (if you own a pet - sometimes payable to the citizens’ office)
- Collecting business taxes
- Processing annual tax returns
- Registering freelancers and new businesses
Contacting your local Finanzamt
The tax office responsible for you is determined by where you live. If you change your address, your competent tax office will change as well. You can find your closest Finanzamt by entering your postcode into the Finanzamt24 website.
Although most tax offices offer drop-in appointments, to avoid long waiting times it’s best to book an appointment in advance, if possible. Note that the staff cannot be expected to give advice in English. If this is likely to be an issue for you, it may be worth consulting with an English-speaking tax advisor, who can liaise with the tax office on your behalf.
Online tax office (ELSTER)
Rather than attending the tax office in person, it is increasingly possible to manage many of your tax affairs online, including income tax returns and VAT payments. This can be done via ELSTER, the “online tax office” created by the BZSt.
Expats & German tax offices
Once you have received your tax ID from the BZSt, your local Finanzamt will then be responsible for almost all of your day-to-day tax administration. You should direct any queries to them. Your income tax return (if you complete one) should also be submitted to your local tax office.