5

I lived in Germany for 2 years (up until earlier this year) and used my Comdirect bank account to receive my salary while I was working there. Fast-forward and I leave my job and return to my home country outside of the EU...

I still have my bank account open, and I have the Girocard and Credit card with me. A new opportunity arose and I have a client (which is actually a large company) from Germany that is going to pay me a monthly fee. Paying me outside the EU is a hassle for them, therefore I was looking at the option of using my now unused German account to receive this monthly payment.

I'm not a very good German speaker so I don't know if Comdirect will charge me and how much. Also, am I going to pay any German tax if I do this? What if I need some service from the bank (eg. a new card since the old one's expiring)... Will they send the cards to a foreign address? Is all of this even possible for me as a non-resident of EU?

Thank you!

12

There is no reason why that wouldn’t work, and there should be no additional cost just for living abroad. However, the bank may bill you more for actions that actually cost more, such as sending replacement cards to you.

You should notify the bank of your new address soon, because if they find out that your old address is no longer valid (due to a returned letter) they will try and research your new address and charge you for any costs they incur. I hear that you can’t enter a foreign address via the web interface yourself, but it should be possible over the phone (+49-4106-7082500), and they will speak English.

The tax situation may be more complicated, depending on your country of residence and the tax treaty it may or may not have with Germany, and the type of income you receive.

5

You are required to inform your bank about any change in address. Foreign addresses may or may not be a problem, but you will likely have to provide additional documentation.

Personal checking accounts usually disallow business use (gewerbliche Nutzung) but typically tolerate income from freelance activities. If so, there wouldn't be any extra fees for receiving payments or for using the account. Of course, international bank transfers to your foreign account might still be quite expensive. The bank is not responsible for paying any taxes for you, except sometimes for capital gains tax.

Cross-border freelancing is complicated. You have to understand the tax law both in your home country and in Germany, and any bilateral double tax agreements between the countries. For the German side, you have to separate Umsatzsteuer (VAT) from other taxes such as the Einkommenssteuer (income tax).

  • The VAT has to be payed at the location where the service was performed, which is the location of the client for tax purposes. For B2B services the client is responsible for paying this tax, though your invoices need to contain certain information (especially your Ust-ID/VAT ID, though I have no idea how to get one as a non-EU freelancer).

  • How income tax is treated depends highly on any tax treaties between the countries. You will have to declare this income as usual for other freelance income in your home country – though you may have to declare it as a foreign source. You will also have to pay income tax in Germany unless a tax agreement says otherwise. Typically, these agreements stipulate that income from freelancing only has to be taxed at the location where you reside.

Because this gets quite complicated, you should not do cross-border freelancing without either a good own understanding of the tax law or a tax advisor who is competent in these matters.

  • In the UK, there is a lower limit below which businesses do not have to register to charge VAT (currently £85,000). It sounds like the OP would fall below this. Is there anything similar in Germany? – Martin Bonner Dec 18 '18 at 17:06
  • 1
    @MartinBonner: yes there is - but I don't think this applies to OP at all as the only thing they have in Germany is the customer - this VAT decision is necessary if you start a business in Germany. For B2B services IIRC the importing customer will have to decare the "import" in their VAT declaration and can immediately claim that VAT. OP doesn't need to do anything. OP: ask your customer - if they are a big company, they will know that. If they are not, they'll have to find this out. – cbeleites Dec 18 '18 at 17:30
  • I don't think the tax situation is as complitated for OP. If OP is not in Germany (nor has a business location in Germany) but only has German customers, the freelancing income is not subject to German income tax as it isn't "inländische Einkunft" [domestic income] at least that's what I gather from §49 EStG. – cbeleites Dec 18 '18 at 18:57
  • 1
    @cbeleites I'm not very familiar with the EstG but the crux is §49 Abs. 1 Nr. 3. Freelance income is taxable in Germany if the work was “im Inland ausgeübt oder verwertet”. Whether a Verwertung has occurred will depend on the precise work OP will be doing, but without further info a beschränkte Steuerpflicht cannot be ruled out. But this is terribly tricky so the only reasonable advice is to get a tax advisor. – amon Dec 18 '18 at 19:15
2

My experience is mostly with the inverse situation (German resident + freelancer with foreign customers). And of course, answers with taxes are usually "it depends"...


Banking

@chirlu's answer covers it pretty well. In addition,

  • What if I need some service from the bank (eg. a new card since the old one's expiring)... Will they send the cards to a foreign address?

    Do ask that directly to your bank. I've had a Canadian bank not sending the new card to my German address...

  • While banks often exclude commercial use of private accounts, that does not necessarily exclude freelancing. However, occasional incoming wires (as opposed to thousands of ebay payments per week) are unlikely to cause trouble.

  • Check the small print on your account: banks sometimes have monthly fees on their account which they waive if the account regularly receives salary/incoming payments > X/with average balance > Y.
    Depending on the size of the monthly payment from your customer, such a fee could make that method of receiving the money quite expensive.


The tax stuff:

  • I found the chambers of commerce quite helpful in getting a quick approximate explanation about VAT in foreign countries.

  • Wrt your German customer and taxes: while there are some differences depending on what exactly you sell (something material/good, service that you provide being at their location, electronic product, digital service) the most common situation is that the customer declares the import of your good/service in their VAT declaration (and immediately gets it back, so burocracy but in total no tax due).
    As you say your customer is a big company, I'd expect them to tell you if and what they need something from you. You could also ask them how they do the VAT for your bill.

    • For questions about German VAT, see here which tax office is "yours".
    • @anon is right that we cannot be 100% sure the income from your German customer isn't subject to income tax because of "beschränke [Einkommen]steuerpflicht" according to § 49 EStG. However, in the most important case for that the customer has to pay those taxes in form of a 15 % flat rate on behalf of you (§ 50a EStG).
  • If I'm in doubt whether/where/how I have to declare/indicate something I often directly ask the tax office*, and that's also my advise to you.
    They are by law required to give you the information/help to fill in their forms correctly. Of course they won't give advise on how to avoid paying taxes or how to avoid reporting. But my experience with asking "I have a question how to fill in your form. This is the situation: ... where does this go?" or "I have a question whether I need to do some kind of declaration with you. This is the situation: ..." is quite good. I've had situations (in particular with foreign 3rd country business) where they even said they'll have to look it up themselves** and they'd call me back - which they did and told me exactly which line, which page, which form what has to go!
    I'm told that I'm somewhat lucky as other tax offices don't even answer phone calls. And of course, this may not work [as well] for you as you say your German isn't that great.

  • An important point that may bring you into contact with the German tax office is that you have been German resident until earlier this year. This may mean that you anyways have to file an income tax declaration for this year. I'd use this opportunity to also try to get answers about possible VAT and income tax repercussions for your new situation.

  • Last thought: with a regular monthly fee for equally regular monthly services, you may have to be careful if you ever move back to Germany to not run foul of the Scheinselbständigkeit rules.

* I also ask questions to a tax advisor and accountant, but those are different questions.

** Just think how that would translate to a tax advisor bill, particular on international issues - for something the tax office has to tell you.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.