Germany is proud of its national efficiency stereotype. While it might not always seem like it, the country gets stuff done – just look at Germany’s strong economy and relatively low working hours compared to other EU countries. But German efficiency comes with complex processes and systems. Like the German tax system, for example.
Sometimes it feels like the authorities are mocking us by inventing unpronounceable terms like ‘Umsatzsteuervoranmeldung’ and ‘Lohnsteuervorauszahlung’. Or, when it comes to tax numbers, ‘Steuer-identifikationsnummer’, ‘Steuernummer’ and ‘Umsatzsteuernummer’.
These last three terms are hugely important for any expat freelancer. So to bring clarity, we’ve written this guide.
Because once you’ve successfully registered as a self-employed worker in Germany, you have no choice but to set off on the German tax adventure. And the first steps include getting a Steuer-identifikationsnummer or (Tax Identification Number), Steuernummer (Tax Number) and Umsatzsteuernummer (VAT number). So... what are these numbers, and why do you need them?
What is ‘Steuer-identifikationsnummer’, or ‘Steuer-ID’?
The Steuer-ID is your Tax Identification number. In the German tax authority’s system (Finanzamt) you are this number. The Steuer-ID is unique to each person living in Germany, assigned to you at birth or at the moment you register in Germany. It remains your personal Tax ID number for the rest of your life. Parents receive letters with their baby’s Steuer-ID a few weeks after the child is born, while as an expat you should receive your letter within 3 weeks of registering in Germany. How’s that for a fresh start?
The Steuer-ID is created randomly, so it doesn’t give away any personal information about the number holder. It must be mentioned in all letters to the Finanzamt, and is used to process everything relating to Einkommensteuer (Income Tax).
How to get a Steuer-ID
Obtaining the Steuer-ID is simple – just wait until it arrives in the post. If you lose it, you can request for it to be sent to you again. Unfortunately, this can take a while. For security reasons you can only receive your Steuer-ID via post or in person.
But as a freelancer, the Steuer-ID isn’t the only German tax number you need. To register as a freelancer in the first place, you’ll need a Steuernummer.
Tip: The fastest way to find your lost Steuer-ID?
If you’ve lost your Steuer-ID, the fastest way to retrieve it is by visiting your regional Finanzamt. They can share it with you on the spot. Just make sure to bring your passport or another acceptable form of ID.
What is ‘Steuernummer’?
Steuernummer is your Tax Number – a unique number that identifies freelancers and businesses in Germany.
Now, there are some similarities between Steuer-ID and Steuernummer. Steuernummer is part of the old tax system, while Steuer-ID was introduced to the German public in 2007. In the future, Steuer-ID is supposed to replace the Steuernummer completely (because we like efficiency), but for now, you need both numbers to register and do your taxes as a freelancer or entrepreneur in Germany.
The biggest difference is that the Steuernummer is not forever but can change based on where you live and which regional Finanzamt is responsible for you. When you move, your Steuernummer changes.
How to get a Steuernummer
To start your career as a freelancer, a Steuernummer is crucial, and you need to apply for it at your local Finanzamt! You can’t do your taxes or invoice without it.
Depending on whether you’re freelancing alone or running a small business with employees, operating in Germany or across borders, you might need to provide the Finanzamt various documents. It’s best to just ask what’s needed in your case, before making your way to the Finanzamt.
Tip: Are taxes already stressing you out?
Our article ‘5 moments German taxes frustrate every freelancer’ gives tips on how to avoid tax stress. Read, relate and flourish in your expat freelancing life.
What is ‘Umsatzsteuernummer’
Umsatzsteuernummer (or USt-IdNr) is your VAT number. It’s used to identify you when making VAT payments to the Finanzamt. It’s a 9-digit number with the format ‘DE123456789’.
How to get an ‘Umsatzsteuernummer’
Getting a VAT number is straightforward in Germany. Once you fill out the Fragebogen zur Steuerlichen Erfassung (Questionnaire for Tax Registration) on Elster, you’ll be assigned a VAT number.
Want to learn more about freelancing as an expat in Germany?
The world of German taxes is big and complicated. We hope this article helps simplify tax numbers – one particularly onerous aspect of your new German work life. If you want to explore more expat questions, check out: