Tax number and tax ID in Germany: What's the difference?

Why do you need a tax ID in Germany, and what's the difference between a German tax number and a tax ID? Read our guide to learn more and how you can apply.


3 minute read
Updated on 12 Jul 2024

Tax number and tax identification number in Germany. While they sound similar, their purposes are actually different.

As a matter of fact, if you want to kick start your career in Germany, you might need both a German tax number and a German tax ID number. So let's learn more about them.

Tax number vs tax ID in Germany

The German tax number and tax ID are quite similar in theory but have a different purpose.

  • The tax number (Steuernummer) is a variable, administrative tax number used for business and self-employed tax purposes and can change with circumstances.
  • The tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer) is a permanent, personal tax ID number used throughout a person's life for individual tax matters; a social security number.

Tax numbers in Germany are used for business-related tax matters, such as VAT returns, corporate taxes, and trade tax declarations. The Steuernummer is used by business owners and freelancers when they go to register their business at the local tax office (Finanzamt). This number changes whenever you change tax juristiction, e.g., you move to a new state. The format varies by federal state but generally consists of 10-13 digits or a combination of digits and letters.

Tax ID in Germany is used for all types of personal tax matters, such as income tax returns, or opening a bank account in Germany.You receive it when registering of your address at the municipality. Your German tax ID is issued once and doesn't change if you move to a new state. The German tax ID consists of 11 digits and is unique to each individual.

Tax ID in Germany (Steueridentifikationsnummer)

Now that we've covered the differences let's zoom in on the German tax ID and learn more about it's purpose and how to get it.

How do I get my tax ID in Germany (Steueridentifikationsnummer)?

German citizens are issued a tax ID when they're born. For international residents, the tax ID number is issued at registration at the municipality. After you're registered, the local authorities forward your data to the Federal Central Tax Office (Bundeszentralamt für Steuern) who issue your German tax ID. You should receive your Steueridentifikationsnummer by post within 2 to 4 weeks after registration. It's important to save this letter as you need to know this number while living in Germany.

In case you lose the letter you can find this number on other documents:

  • payslips
  • previous tax returns
  • the Elster tax portal

Still not found again? Then you can request a new letter of notification of your tax identification number. On the website of the Bundeszentralamt für Steuern, you just have to fill out the online application form and you will find the letter in your mailbox within a 8 weeks.

Why do I need a tax ID in Germany (Steueridentifikationsnummer)?

As the name might suggest the tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer) is intended for one main purpose, to identify you in front of the German government. With the 11-digit number, you have your own identification mark, which you use for administrative tasks such as:

  • file your tax returns
  • open a bank account
  • applying for child benefits

You'll be asked by your employer to provide your German tax ID as they need it to pay income taxes on your salary. While you can work in Germany without a Steueridentifikationsnummer, you'll pay much higher income taxes.

Tax number in Germany (Steuernummer)

Historically, everyone who registered in Germany was issued a tax number which was used to manage their tax affaits. However since 2008, the Steuernummer is primarily used by business entities or self-employed individuals. So if you're planning on starting a business in Germany or becoming a freelancer, read on!

How do I get my tax number in Germany (Steuernummer)?

You get your tax number in Germany when you go to register your business at the local tax office (Finanzamt). This number is used to identify your business and changes if you move your work to a different federal state.

For example if you're freelancing in Berlin but move to Hamburg, you'll need to register with the Finanzamt in Hamburg and receive a new tax number.

Why do I need a tax number in Germany (Steuernummer)?

As the name suggests, the tax number is also used to manage tax affairs in Germany. Contrary to the Steueridentifikationsnummer, the German tax number is only for residents who own a business. So, only freelancers, self-employed individuals or business-owners need a tax number in Germany.

One thing to keep in mind is that if you're employed by a company but receive additional income through investments, e.g., renting out properties or stocks, you'll need a German tax number, too.

This article is for informational purposes only.

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