Are you familiar with that old English nursery rhyme,
‘One for sorrow,
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy...
It’s about magpies. You know, those smart city birds who look a bit like crows but with stunning blue highlights. Contrary to crows, they’re actually terrified of shiny things.
Right, so you do know them. But… what do magpies have to do with freelancing in Germany?
Good question! Glad you asked.
2021 update – What’s changed for the Fragebogen?
As of January 2021, the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung must be done through the German Government’s online tax portal, ELSTER.
The name ELSTER comes from ELektronische STeuerERklärung (electronic tax declaration). It also translates to magpie in English, so now our introduction makes sense! Riddle solved.
Unfortunately, in keeping with the nursery rhyme, this solitary magpie can often bring sorrow. But moving the Fragebogen online is actually a welcome change for new business starters in Germany. It signals progress – less German bureaucracy and movement towards a paperless future (just imagine!).
And together we can make the Fragebogen feel a bit less intimidating.
What is Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung?
The Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung is the Questionnaire for Tax Collection. It’s the single most important form you need to fill out to start your self-employment in Germany.
Whether you’re a Freiberufler or Gewerbe, you’ll need to submit this form through ELSTER to start your self-employed life in Germany.
Why do you need to fill in the Fragebogen?
Filling in the Fragebogen is an essential step in registering your self-employment with the Finanzamt. It officially marks the start of your freelance or trading work in Germany.
Based on your responses, the Finanzamt will confirm your status as either a Freiberufler or Gewerbe. You’ll also be assigned a tax number (Steuernummer) and a VAT number, if applicable (Umsatzsteuernummer) – so you can get right to work!
Tip – Umsatzsteuernummer und Steuernummer? Was?
4 must-dos before completing the Fragebogen
1. Decide whether you’re a Freiberufler or a Gewerbe
These are two legally distinct forms of German self-employment. The differences between them can be hard to grasp, so we cover them in depth in our Expat’s guide to freelancing – Freiberufler vs Gewerbe. This is essential reading if you’re still unclear on the topic.
2. Complete Gewerbeanmeldung
If you’ve completed Step 1 and discovered that your business activity qualifies you as a Gewerbe, you’ll need to register your business and secure a trade licence (Gewerbeschein). For more info on this, read our Expat’s guide to Gewerbeanmeldung – How to register a business.
3. Open a bank account
To complete the Fragebogen, you’ll need to have an active bank account. Consider all your options. What’s right for your business? We explore the advantages of opening a business account right off the bat in our Expat’s guide to a business account.
4. Find a German translator (Google Translate + proofreader)
Elements of this form must be completed in German. For example, you’ll be asked to provide an exact description of your business activity. The Finanzamt uses this to determine your status as a Freiberufler or Gewerbe – so it’s of vital importance that you be as accurate as possible.
Can you find a German-speaking friend to lend a hand? If not, you can Google ‘Fragebogen in English’ for a line-by-line breakdown of the form then prepare your answers in advance.
Tip – Simplify work life with Holvi
If you’re a Freiberufler, this is a perfect time to open a Holvi account. All you need is your valid ID. You can add your Steuernummer after completing the Fragebogen.
What you’ll need to fill in the Fragebogen
Here’s what you’ll need on hand when filling out the form online:
- Your German tax ID (Steuer-Identifikationsnummer)
- Your personal details
- Your bank details
- An exact description of your future self-employment activity (must be written in German)
- Financial details of your future self-employment activity (expected profit, not revenue)
What happens after ELSTER?
Practically speaking, after completing the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung, the Finanzamt will:
- Confirm your status as a Freiberufler or Gewerbe
- Send you a tax number (Steuernummer)
- Send you a VAT number, if applicable (Umsatzsteuernummer)
But let's get real, these are immediate next steps. Self-employment is a potentially lifelong adventure, full of ups, downs and constant learning – whatever happens next is entirely up to you!
Want to learn more about freelancing as an expat in Germany?
Who would have thought magpies would have anything to do with German taxes? We hope this article helps you fill out the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung and start your self-employment in Germany. If you want to explore more expat topics, check out: