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  • Writer's pictureLewis Grunfeld, CPA

US Expat Taxes in Germany: A Guide for American Expats

Updated: Jan 22

Understanding US expat tax requirements is essential for Americans residing in this Germany, renowned for its picturesque landscapes, historic river valleys, and rich cultural heritage. This guide offers a concise overview of tax-related matters crucial for US expats living in Germany

Executive Summary

  • Filing Requirements: US expats must file taxes if income exceeds certain thresholds, varying by filing status and age.

  • Tax Benefits: Opportunities include Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and Foreign Tax Credit to reduce tax liability.

  • Deadlines: Key deadlines are April 15th, with extensions to June 15th, October 15th, and December 15th for expats.

  • Compliance: Adherence to filing requirements is essential to avoid penalties like failure-to-file and interest charges.

Who Needs to File US Expat Taxes from Germany?

As a US citizen or green card holder living in Germany, it's essential to understand your tax filing obligations with the IRS. Regardless of where you live, if your income exceeds certain thresholds based on your filing status, you are required to file a US tax return. These thresholds are adjusted annually for inflation. For the tax year 2023, the filing thresholds are as follows:

  • Single: If you are single and under 65, you must file if your income was at least $12,950. If you are 65 or older, the threshold increases to $14,700.

  • Married Filing Jointly: For couples under 65, the threshold is $25,900. If one spouse is 65 or older, it increases to $27,300, and if both are 65 or older, it's $28,700.

  • Married Filing Separately: This status has a much lower threshold. If you are married but file separately, you need to file a tax return if your income was at least $5, regardless of age.

  • Head of Household: If you qualify for this status, the threshold is $19,400 for those under 65. For those 65 and older, it's $21,150.

Expert Insight: Even if your income is below these thresholds, there may be other reasons to file a tax return, such as claiming a refundable tax credit or report significant interest in a foreign corporation.

Germany vs. US Tax Rates

Germany's tax rates significantly exceed those of the United States. For instance, Germany's highest marginal income tax rate stands at 45%, while the top rate in the US is 37%. The following tables provide a detailed comparison of the taxable income ranges and corresponding tax rates for both single and married taxpayers in Germany and the US.


Germany's Tax Brackets for 2023 Tax Year (Filed in 2024)

Taxable income range - single taxpayers (EUR)

Taxable income range -married taxpayers (EUR)

Tax rate (%)

0 to 10,908

0 to 21,816

0%

10,909 to 62,809

21,817 to 125,618

14% to 42%

62,810 to 277,825

125,619 to 555,650

42%

Above 277,825

Above 555,650

45%

U.S. Tax Brackets for 2023 Tax Year (Filed in 2024)

Taxable income range - single filing status

Taxable income range - married filing jointly

Tax Rate (%)

$0 to $11,600

$0 to $23,200

10%

$11,601 to $47,150

$23,201 to $94,300

12%

$47,151 to $100,525

$94,301 to $201,050

22%

$100,526 to $191,950

$201,051 to $383,900

24%

$191,951 to $364,200

$383,901 to $462,500

32%

$364,201 to $462,500

$462,501 to $693,750

35%

Above $462,500

Above $693,750

37%

US Tax Deadlines for Expats in Germany

American expatriates residing in Germany must be mindful of several critical tax return deadlines, which differ from those typically faced by taxpayers within the United States. While April 15th is a well-known deadline for all U.S. taxpayers, expats have additional dates to consider. If any of these deadlines occur on a weekend or a U.S. federal holiday, the due date will be adjusted to the next business day.


  • April 15th: Standard filing deadline for US taxpayers.

  • June 15th: Automatic two-month extension for US citizens living abroad.

  • October 15th: Extended deadline for those who request an extension before the June 15th deadline.

  • December 15th: Additional extended deadline for thoes who requested the additional 2 month overseas extension.

Expert Insight: While extensions are available, they only extend the time to file, not the time to pay any taxes due.

What Tax Credits and Income Exclusions Can Expats in Germany Claim?

Understanding the various tax credits and income exclusions available is essential for expats to minimizing their tax liability and ensuring compliance with U.S. tax laws. Below, we explore some of the key tax credits and income exclusions that are particularly relevant for American expatriates in Germany:

  • Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: The foreign earned income exclusion is a significant benefit for U.S. expats, allowing them to exclude up to $120,000 (as of 2023) of their income earned in a foreign country from U.S. taxation. To qualify, expats must meet certain requirements, such as the physical presence test or the bona fide residence test, demonstrating that they have been living and working in a foreign country for a specified period.

  • Foreign Housing Exclusion: The foreign housing exclusion allows expats to deduct a portion of their housing expenses incurred while living abroad from their taxable income. The exclusion covers various housing costs, including rent, utilities (except telephone charges), and certain insurance premiums. The amount of exclusion depends on the location and can vary significantly based on the local cost of living.

  • Foreign Tax Credit: The foreign tax credit is designed to prevent double taxation for Americans paying taxes in both the U.S. and a foreign country. It offers a dollar-for-dollar credit against U.S. taxes for any income taxes paid to a foreign government. This credit is particularly beneficial for expats residing in countries with high tax rates, as it can significantly reduce or even eliminate their U.S. tax bill.

  • Refundable Child Tax Credit: The child tax credit provides a financial boost to expats with children, offering up to $1,500 per child as a refundable credit. To be eligible, children must meet certain requirements, such as age and dependency criteria.


Penalties for Late or Incorrect US Tax Filing

For US expats in Germany, understanding and adhering to tax filing requirements is crucial to avoid penalties. These penalties can be significant and include:

  • Failure-to-File Penalty: Generally 5% of unpaid taxes for each month the return is late, up to 25%. If filed more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is the lesser of $435 or 100% of the unpaid tax.

  • Failure-to-Pay Penalty: Typically 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date, until fully paid.

  • Fraud Penalties: If inaccuracies are due to fraud, penalties can be up to 15% per month, with a maximum of 75%.

  • Interest Charges: Compounded daily from the due date of the return until the tax is paid in full, calculated at the federal short-term rate plus 3%.


Essential IRS Tax Forms for Expats Residing in Germany

As a U.S. expat in Germany, it's crucial to be aware of the different IRS forms that apply to your situation. Understanding and correctly filing these forms is key to ensuring tax compliance and optimizing your tax situation. The following are some of the most important tax forms that U.S. expatriates in Germany need to be familiar with:

  • Form 1116 (Foreign Tax Credit): This form is used to claim a credit for income taxes paid to the German government, helping to avoid double taxation on the same income.

  • Form 2555 (Foreign Earned Income): Essential for those claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, this form allows expats to exclude a certain amount of their foreign earnings from U.S. taxation.

  • Form 8938 (Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets): This form is for reporting certain foreign financial assets, including bank accounts, investments, and assets held through foreign entities. The reporting threshold varies based on filing status and whether you live in the U.S. or abroad.

  • Form 8833 (Treaty-Based Return Position Disclosure): Used when a taxpayer takes a position that a U.S. tax treaty with a foreign country (like Germany) overrules or modifies the provisions of the U.S. tax law. It's essential for expats who are claiming treaty benefits that impact their U.S. tax.

  • Form 5471 (Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations): This form is required for U.S. citizens who are officers, directors, or shareholders in certain foreign corporations. It's a critical form for expats involved in foreign businesses to report their foreign corporation's activities and comply with U.S. tax laws.


Catching Up on Overseas Filing From Germany

US expats in Germany who haven't filed their US tax returns might be eligable to use the IRS Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures to get back into compliance. This program allows for filing the last three years of tax returns and six years of FBARs without late penalties, provided your failure to file was non-willful and the IRS hasn't already contacted you about the delinquent filings. It's crucial to act quickly, as eligibility for this lenient approach is lost if the IRS initiates contact first. This program is an excellent opportunity for expats who were unaware of their filing obligations to become compliant with minimal repercussions.


Does the US Have a Tax Treaty with Germany?

Yes, the US and Germany have a tax treaty in place, but it's important for American expatriates to note that many benefits of this treaty are limited due to the 'savings clause.' This clause essentially allows the US to tax its citizens as if the treaty didn't exist, which means that most treaty benefits don't apply to US expats. Despite this, the treaty still plays a crucial role in preventing double taxation on income like pensions, dividends, and interest, by clarifying how these are taxed by each country.


Social Security Taxes for Self Employed Expats in Germany

Self-employed U.S. expats living in Germany are only subject to German social security taxes, not U.S., thanks to the US-Germany Totalization Agreement. This agreement ensures American expatriates avoid double taxation, clarifying that their social security contributions are due only in the country where they work.


Foreign Bank Account Reporting

In addition to their tax filing obligations, U.S. expats in Germany who have a combined maximum value of more than $10,000 in foreign financial accounts at any point during the tax year also need to file the Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report (FBAR). The FBAR, or FinCEN Form 114, is a critical measure for informing the U.S. government about Americans' overseas financial activities, playing a significant role in the prevention of tax evasion. It's crucial for expats to understand that failing to file the FBAR can result in severe penalties, including fines of up to $10,000 for non-willful violations.


Need Help With Filing Your U.S. Taxes From Germany?

At CPAs for Expats, we specialize in helping US expats stay compliant with their US taxes. Our low fees and 4.9/5 rating on independent review platforms attests to our commitment to excellence and client satisfaction. Contact us today, and let our tax experts simplify your life and taxes.




Frequently Asked Questions

Do American expats have to pay taxes in Germany?

What is the deadline for American expats to file taxes in Germany?

Can American expats in Germany claim the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion?

Are there tax treaties between the United States and Germany to avoid double taxation?

What is the FBAR requirement for American expats in Germany?


Article by Lewis Grunfeld, CPA

Lewis Grunfeld, CPA, is a renowned expert in international and U.S. expat taxation, with expertise spanning over ten years. He has successfully helped thousands of expats around the world navigate and comply with U.S. tax laws, and achieve significant tax savings. His work is driven by a strongly rooted passion for assisting the expatriate community through a wide range of tax challenges, ensuring tailored solutions for each unique situation.

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