Germany - Income Tax

Germany - Income Tax

Taxation of international executives

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All information contained in this document is summarized by KPMG AG Wirtschaftsprüfungsgesellschaft based on the German Income Tax Law  2016 (§§ 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 9a, 10, 10b, 10c, 17, 19, 20, 23, 32, 32a, 32d, 33a, 37, 38, 39b, 49, 50 EStG; R 9.4 and R 9.11 LStR 2015); Abgabenordenung (§§ 8, 9, 149, 152, 233a, 238, 240 AO); Bundesumzugskostengesetz (BUKG), Auslandsumzugskostenverordnung (AUV), Bundesversicherungsanstalt für Angestellte (BfA); Inheritance and Gift Tax Act as amended on 2 November 2015 (§ 19 ErbStG); Debatin/Wassermeyer, Doppelbesteuerung, Kommentar, Stand  August 2014; Guidance issued by the Federal Ministry of Finance on Taxation of Employment Income According to the Double Tax Treaties on 12 November 2014).

Tax returns and compliance

When are tax returns due? That is, what is the tax return due date?

31 May.

What is the tax year-end?

31 December.

What are the compliance requirements for tax returns in Germany?


In general, income tax is assessed by calendar year after filing an individual tax return. Married couples can file tax returns jointly or as separate individuals.

Returns for the preceding calendar year must be filed with the local tax office by 31 May. An extension until 31 December will be granted without application where a professional tax adviser prepares the return. A further extension may be available by special request. However, the tax authorities may request, on an individual basis, that the return be filed before these dates.

If the tax return is not filed on time, the tax authorities may assess penalties. The penalties are at the discretion of the tax authorities but must not exceed 10 percent of the tax.

If the employer is a German company or a foreign enterprise with a permanent establishment or a representative in Germany, the employer is legally obliged to withhold taxes from an employee’s salary and to remit the taxes to the tax office monthly.

From 2004 onwards, a German entity is also obliged to withhold wage taxes from an employee’s salary that is paid abroad if the salary costs are economically borne by the German entity.

The income tax is not payable at the time the tax return is filed. The tax authorities will issue a final tax assessment notice once they have processed the return. Any balance due is payable within one month after receipt of the tax assessment notice. Interest is charged or credited on final payments if the tax assessment notice is not issued within 15 months after the end of the respective calendar year. The applicable rate is 0.5 percent for each full month after the 15th month. Penalties for late payment after receipt of the tax assessment notice are 1 percent per month of the unpaid amount.

The tax office can assess quarterly prepayments based on the prior year’s tax or on estimates of income not subject to withholding tax. These prepayments are due quarterly on 10 March, 10 June, 10 September, and 10 December.


Non-residents are subject to tax on certain categories of income from German sources under the concept of limited tax liability. If the income from employment is subject to wage tax withholding, the tax obligations are fulfilled with the withholdings and no German tax return needs to be filed.

Tax rates

What are the current income tax rates for residents and non-residents in Germany?


Income tax is calculated by applying a progressive tax rate schedule to taxable income as follows:

Income tax table for 2016

Taxable income bracket Taxable income bracket Tax rate on income in bracket
From EUR To EUR Percent
0 8,652
0 17,304
8,653 53,665
No limit 45
No limit 45*

*married couple filing a joint return

In addition to the income tax rates indicated above, the following taxes and surcharges are additionally levied on all types of income:

  • solidarity surcharge: 5.5 percent of the income tax
  • church tax: 8.0 or 9.0 percent of the income tax – church tax is only levied if the taxpayer is a member of a church that is recognized for church tax purposes


Resident tax rates also apply to non-residents, but the zero percent brackets shown earlier is available only to non-resident employees. Non-residents are generally not allowed to file as married persons (however special EU rules exist).

Residence rules

For the purposes of taxation, how is an individual defined as a resident of Germany?

An individual is considered resident if he/she maintains a domicile or habitual place of abode in Germany. A domicile is a home or dwelling owned by or rented to the taxpayer who has full control over that property. Domicile is a question of fact and is not determined by the intention of the taxpayer.

The habitual place of abode is established when an individual is physically present in Germany on a long-term basis. Long-term is defined as more than six months.

Is there a de De minimis number of days rule when it comes to residency start and end date? For example, a taxpayer can’t come back to the host country for more than 10 days after their assignment is over and they repatriate.

No. The habitual place of abode is established when the individual is physically present in Germany for a continuous timeframe of more than six months. A continuous abode is established and maintained if the interruptions are for a short period only (such as holidays, journey home, and business travel), so that the stay is still regarded as one continuous stay.

What if the assignee enters the country before their assignment begins?

For determining the habitual abode, the continuous period of six months will be considered as explained above.

Termination of residence

Are there any tax compliance requirements when leaving Germany?

Before leaving Germany, an individual must inform the registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) in the town where he/she lived and he/she should verify he/she has a current passport which is valid until the end of his/her expected foreign stay. No exit requirements exist for tax purposes, i.e. no declaration has to be filed with the tax office before leaving the country.

There are no special payment procedures on termination of residence, and no tax clearance is required. After leaving Germany, the employee is no longer subject to unlimited German taxation, but may be taxed as a non-resident on income from German sources, such as on bonus payments for the assignment period.

There is no special filing requirement on termination of residence. In the year following the termination of residence, the taxpayer has to file an income tax return for the prior year under the normal rules covering the residence period and the period after the move during the tax year.

If the taxpayer receives income from German sources as a non-resident in later years, he/she must file an annual tax return covering this income, unless it was subject to withholding tax.

What if the assignee comes back for a trip after residency has terminated?

If the journey is actually in connection with the previous stay, these days will also be added to the previous stay for the determination of the habitual place of abode.

For treaty purposes, the German tax authorities have now officially adopted the OECD-approach on counting the 183 days in cases of changing treaty residence.

Communication between immigration and taxation authorities

Do the immigration authorities in Germany provide information to the local taxation authorities regarding when a person enters or leaves Germany?


Filing requirements

Will an assignee have a filing requirement in the host country after they leave the country and repatriate?

There is no special filing requirement on termination of residence but he/she has to file a German income tax return for the tax year of departure.

Economic employer approach

Do the taxation authorities in Germany adopt the economic employer approach1 to interpreting Article 15 of the OECD treaty? If no, are the taxation authorities in Germany considering the adoption of this interpretation of economic employer in the future?


De minimis number of days2

Are there a De minimis number of days before the local taxation authorities will apply the economic employer approach? If yes, what is the De minimis number of days?

No. However, if an assignee works for the host company for only three months or less, there is a tendency to assume that the host company should not be regarded as the individual's economic employer, unless the individual was fully integrated in the host company's business operations during this time.

Types of taxable compensation

What categories are subject to income tax in general situations?

As a rule, it can be stated that all types of remuneration and benefits received by an employee for services rendered constitute taxable income. These include, but are not limited to, the items below:

  • reimbursements/payments of foreign and/or home country taxes
  • reimbursements/payments of school tuition fees
  • reimbursements/payments of tax return preparation fees
  • reimbursements/payments of home leave costs
  • cost-of-living allowances
  • expatriate premiums
  • housing allowances and the imputed value of housing provided directly by the employer
  • benefits-in-kind generally form part of taxable compensation
  1. Certain benefits, however, are subject to a favorable method of taxation, including company cars and life insurance premiums up to certain limits. Where a company car is provided, the private use of the car represents a fringe benefit to the employee, which must be included in the monthly salary calculation. The taxable benefit may be assessed by calculating one percent per month of the list price of the new car plus an additional amount for commuting.
  • incentive compensation in certain circumstances
  1. If Foreign Service premiums or bonuses are paid as inducements to accept an assignment before the tax year in which the individual arrives in Germany and becomes a resident, such payments are taxable at non-resident rates. If the foreign premiums or bonuses are paid in the same calendar year in which the individual becomes resident, these payments are taxable at resident rates together with other income earned in the year.
  2. Stock option plans or other kinds of equitiy compensation have become common features of German compensation schemes. German income tax law does not recognize the granting as a taxable event. Instead, the exercise of a stock option or receipt of other equity compensation generates ordinary income from employment. The taxable value of stock options is the difference between the fair market value at the date of exercise of the shares and the option price. If a tax treaty applies, sourcing is determined in the timespan “grant to vest”. A favorable tax rate may apply on such income (one-fifth method).

Tax-exempt income

Are there any areas of income that are exempt from taxation in Germany? If so, please provide a general definition of these areas.

The following categories of income are exempt from tax:

  • payments from health or accident insurance
  • certain social security benefits including unemployment benefits and maternity grants
  • grants paid in promotion of research or in connection with promotion of scientific or artistic education or training
  • kindergarten fees if certain conditions are met.

In case a secondary household is established in Germany for business purposes, the following payments are exempt under certain circumstances:

  • home trips
  • meal allowances up to certain amounts and subject to certain time limits
  • rent at the place of work (actual cost limited to EUR 1,000 per month).

If certain other conditions are met, rental cost incurred for the employee, meal allowances and commuting expenses can be reimbursed tax-free, in general.

Expatriate concessions

Are there any concessions made for expatriates in Germany?

German income tax law does not provide for special deductions or tax-free expatriate premiums. The German Constitution stipulates that German nationals and foreigners must be treated equally for tax purposes.

Salary earned from working abroad

Is salary earned from working abroad taxed in Germany? If so, how?

The taxable salary of residents cannot be reduced by allocating income to foreign business trips except where exclusions are available under tax treaties. Such exclusions generally require a foreign employer or a permanent establishment in the other country. Split payrolls are possible.

In the absence of a double tax treaty or depending on the provisions of the applicable treaty, a managing director of a German company may be subject to German income tax even if he/she is a non-resident of Germany and is not physically present in Germany while performing the services.

Taxation of investment income and capital gains

Are investment income and capital gains taxed in Germany? If so, how?

Worldwide investment income is subject to German income tax at 25 percent plus solidarity surcharge plus church tax (where applicable). The tax is generally withheld at the source. The tax withheld is final unless one of the following applies.

  • The taxpayer's income tax rate is lower than 25 percent.
  • Not all investment income was subject to withholding (such as foreign investment income).
  • Church tax was not considered in the withholding although applicable.

A standard annual deduction of EUR801/EUR1,602 (single/married) is offset against the taxable part of worldwide investment income. Investment income includes interest, dividends, and gains from the sale of shares purchased after 31 December 2008.

Special rules are in place for mutual funds which do not fulfil the registration / publication requirements in Germany.

Gains derived by an individual from the sale of non-business property other than shares are not subject to tax, except in cases where the asset has not been held for the required holding period or where certain thresholds are exceeded. For real property, tax will be due on the gain if on the date of sale the property has been held 10 years or less (exemptions exist for the sale of the taxpayer's residence). Even if the asset has not been held for the required holding periods mentioned earlier, the gain will be tax-free if all gains in a calendar year are less than EUR600 in total.

Dividends, interest, and rental income

See earlier for taxation of dividends and interest.

Rental income is taxable unless exempt under a double tax treaty.

Gains from stock option exercises

Residency Status Taxable at                                              
  Grant Vest Exercise
Resident N N Y
Non-resident N N Y

Note: Sourcing under a tax treaty follows the “grant to vest” method. 

Foreign exchange gains and losses

Depending on certain circumstances, foreign exchange gains will be treated as a speculative transaction, which is taxable. 

Capital losses

The use of capital losses for tax purposes is subject to various restrictions and limitations.


Inheritance and gift tax is levied on transfers of property by reason of death, gifts during lifetime, and transfers for certain specified purposes (gift tax), as well as on the net worth of certain family foundations and trusts. The tax is generally assessed on the net worth of the property transferred after deducting certain exemptions as well as personal exemptions depending on the family relationship. Taxable transfers of property are subject to tax at graduated rates (ranging between 7 percent and 50 percent).

Additional capital gains tax (CGT) issues and exceptions

Are there additional capital gains tax (CGT) issues in Germany? If so, please discuss?

See above explanations for investment income and capital gains 

Are there capital gains tax exceptions in Germany? If so, please discuss?

Pre-CGT Assets


Deemed disposal and acquisition

No. Special rules apply if a taxpayer holds one percent or more of the shares in a corporation.

General deductions from income

What are the general deductions from income allowed in Germany?

The following are standard deductions for each of the specified types of income:

  2016 EUR
Standard annual investment deduction  
Single 801
Married 1,602
Standard investment expense deduction  
Standard employment deduction 1,000


The following are standard deductions for each of the specified types of income:

  2016 EUR
Standard special expense deduction  
Single 36
Married 72
Special non-resident deduction 0

Furthermore, a series of non-income related deductions are granted. The most important are:

  • standard deductions apply (see earlier charts)
  • payments to public, mandatory pension insurance (cap)
  • payments to public or private health and nursing insurances for basic insurance coverage
  • expenses for the taxpayer's professional education
  • thirty percent of contributions to private schools up to a maximum amount of EUR5,000 (on certain conditions)
  • church taxes
  • charitable contributions to German charities and charitable activities abroad if certain conditions are met (limited to the lesser of the amount incurred or 20 percent of income from different classes)
  • alimony payments to the ex-spouse (limited to the lesser of the amount incurred or EUR13,805), if the payments are taxed at the level of the recipient
  • under special circumstances, further deductions are available. For example certain education expenses, supporting expenses, and deductions for disabled individuals as well as additional insurance contributions.
Child-related deductions
For the first and second child, a monthly benefit of EUR190 is paid. The monthly benefit amounts to EUR196 for the third child and EUR221 per child from the fourth child onwards. Payment is dependent on certain conditions being met. If the taxpayer does not qualify for the monthly child benefit or if the tax savings from the following exemptions exceed the child benefit, then these deductions can be claimed instead on the annual tax return for single/married taxpayers.
0 - 17 years EUR3,624/7,248
18 - 25 years EUR3,624/7,248 if attending school/vocational training, plus EUR462/924 if not living at home
Parents can offset two thirds (up to EUR4,000) of the expenses for childcare per child per year if the child is under age 14, and for disabled children between age 14 and 25.
Other deductions
Alimony payments to a divorced or to a separated spouse who is a resident of Germany, another EU Member State or certain treaty countries can be deducted as personal expenses up to a maximum amount of EUR13,805 per year if certain requirements are met. Additionally, basic health and nursing contributions which are paid for the supported person are deductible. The alimony payment constitutes taxable income to the recipient. Alimony payments to a divorced or to a separated spouse who is not a resident of Germany can be deducted under certain conditions up to a maximum amount of EUR8,652 per year, if this is applied for. If the other annual income of the recipient exceeds EUR624, the deductible amount is reduced by the excess over EUR624.
Expenses incurred in carrying out employment can be deducted from gross salary. These expenses include commuting expenses, expenses for tools or other work equipment, certain membership dues, and certain away-from-home expenses. The deduction is generally not limited. If the employee does not claim higher itemized business expenses, a standard annual deduction for income-related expenses of EUR1,000 is granted.
If the employee uses his/her private car for business travel and is not reimbursed by the employer, he/she can claim as a business expense a flat amount for business mileage (presently EUR0.30 per km for each km driven).
Church taxes paid under German church tax codes are deductible for income tax purposes in the year of payment.

Tax reimbursement methods

What are the tax reimbursement methods generally used by employers in Germany?

German employers often conclude net salary agreements with their assignees from abroad. Consequently, the German tax allocable to company income is borne by the employer and tax refunds allocable to company income are also due to the employer.

Calculation of estimates/prepayments/withholding

How are estimates/prepayments/withholding of tax handled in Germany?For example, pay-as-you-earn (PAYE), pay-as-you-go (PAYG), and so on.

Wage tax needs to be withheld on salary by the employer, whereas prepayments can be assessed by the authorities for all other categories of income.

When are estimates/prepayments/withholding of tax due in Germany? For example: monthly, annually, both, and so on.

The wage tax is due monthly and is arranged by the employer. If applicable, tax prepayments are due on a quarterly basis and need to be paid by the individual.

General tax credits

What are the general tax credits that may be claimed in Germany? Please list below.

The withholding tax from German investment income (interest, dividends, gains from shares sold) will be credited against the German tax on investment income if investment income is included in the assessment. The foreign withholding tax on investment income (if taxable in Germany) can also be credited against the German tax on investment income. The credit is limited to the percentage allowed by the applicable double tax treaty.

Sample tax calculation

This calculation assumes a married taxpayer resident in Germany with two children whose three-year assignment begins 1 January 2015 and ends 31 December 2017. The taxpayer’s base salary is USD 100,000 and the calculation covers three years.

  2015 USD 2016 USD 2017 USD
Salary 100,000 100,000 100,000
Bonus 20,000 20,000 20,000
Cost-of-living allowance 10,000 10,000 10,000
Housing allowance 12,000 12,000 12,000
Company car4 6,000 6,000 6,000
Moving expense reimbursement 20,000 0 20,000
Home leave 0 5,000 0
Education allowance 3,000 3,000 3,000

Exchange rate used for calculation: USD1.00 = EUR0.9284. 

Other assumptions

  • The calculation has been generated based on KPMG LINK Cost Projector, Version 2015.5 (calculations are based on 2015 rates as most recent rates incorporated into KPMG LINK Cost Projector).
  • All earned income is attributable to local sources.
  • All allowances are paid gross.
  • Bonuses are paid at the end of each tax year, and accrue evenly throughout the year.
  • The company car is used for business and private purposes and the gross list price is amounting to USD 50,000. 
  • The employee is deemed resident throughout the assignment.
  • Tax treaties and totalization agreements are ignored for the purpose of this calculation (i.e. German social security contributions do apply).
  • The employee is not subject to German church tax.
  • The housing allowance is provided in cash.
  • Only standard deductions have been considered.
  • All moving expenses can be proven by receipt/invoices.

Calculation of taxable income

Year-ended 2015EUR 2016EUR 2017EUR
Days in Germany during year 365 365 365
Earned income subject to income tax      
Salary 92,840
Bonus 18,568
Cost-of-living allowance 9,284
Housing allowance 11,141
Company car1 5,570
Moving expense reimbursement 0 0 0
Home leave 0 4,642
Education allowance 2,785
Total income 140,188
Employment deduction 1,000 1,000 1,000
Social insurance deduction 8,552
9,053 9,331
Special expenses 72 72 72
Child allowance deduction 14,304 14,496 14,496
Total taxable income 116,260


Calculation of tax liability

  2015EUR 2016EUR 2017EUR
Taxable income as above 116,260
Income tax 32,307
Solidarity surcharge 1,777
Child subsidy 4,512
Domestic tax rebates (dependent spouse rebate) 0 0 0
Foreign tax credits* 0 0 0
Total German tax 38,596

*In many cases assignees are entitled to receive child subsidy (cash payments) from the authorities. To eliminate a double benefit/advantage by claiming on top the child allowance deduction in the tax return, the child subsidy must be paid back together with the income tax.

1Note that an additional taxable benefit for the use of the company car for commuting between the home and the office may arise. The amount depends on the distance between the taxpayer's home and office.

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