This article is provided for translation purposes only and does NOT constitute official tax advice. Please see our list of English-speaking tax advisers at the bottom of this article for professionals who can advise you on your own personal situation.
To start invoicing and collecting money in Germany, you’ll need to get a freelance Steuernummer or tax number (not the same thing as the Tax ID you received after registering your address) — and that means filling out the Fragebogen zur steuerlichen Erfassung.
Please note: this guide is meant for those with straightforward freelance income (artists, teachers, writers, etc.). Some common jobs (such as bicycle delivery person, tour guide, cleaner, etc.) may not be classified as freelancing in Germany at all — but may actually be a Gewerbe, or trade, requiring you to get a Gewerbeschein or trade license. We recorded a tutorial about Freelancing in Germany that explains the difference between these forms of self-employment.
But as always — when in doubt, better check your individual situation with a tax professional.
Step One: Registering to Use Elster for the First Time
Go to the ELSTER website and click on Benutzerkonto erstellen to create user account.
You will be prompted to get a Zertifikatsdatei or certificate file in order to log in, which you’ll receive after registering — click Weiter (next). You will see an overview of the login process — click Weiter again.
When you are asked how you want to log in, choose Zertifikatsdatei by clicking the blue button Ausswählen (select).
Personalisierung — this page asks who the account is being set up for. Select Für mich or for me.
Identifikation — how do you want to identify yourself? Select Mit E-Mail or with email.
Dateneingabe — set up your user account by entering your email, Benutzername (user name) and Sicherheitsabfrage and Antwort (security question and answer). You’ll have to use Google Translate to help with all the possible questions — I chose ‘What phone number do you remember from your childhood.’ Click Absenden (submit).
Aktivierungsdaten eingeben — Now you’ll need to open your email to retrieve the Aktivierungs-ID and Aktivierungs-Code (activation ID and activation code) and enter it. Click Absenden.
Zertifikatsdatei erstellen — You’ll create your ELSTER password — be sure to save this as you will need it in the future. Click Erstellen (create) to generate your certificate file.
Zertifikatsdatei herunterladen — click the blue button to download your certificate file.
Erstmaliges login — first login. Select your certificate file by clicking Durchsuchen and enter your password. Click login.
Mein Profil ergänzen — complete my profile. Since this is your first log-in the tax office will ask for personal details to set up your account. First is Allgemeine Angaben or general information. For Name der Organisation you can enter your name and freelance job title like so: Tia Robinson, freiberüfliche Lehrerin. If you are doing many different freelance jobs you can also just write Freiberufler or freelancer. Under Anrede, Titel put your preferred Herr/Frau/Other/Prof/Dr words. Add Vorname (first name) and Name (family or last name).
Adresse, Telefonnummer — address and phone number. Straße, Hausnummer — street, building number. Adresszusatz is for additional address information, like if your address is registered under c/o Schmidt, for example. Postleitzahl, Ort — postal code and city. Land and Staat — federal state and country. Then your telephone number.
Steuernummer — tax number. For Land put your federal state.
Sind Sie Steuerberater/in? — Are you a German tax advisor? This guide is not for you! Click Mein Profil speichern und weiter — save my profile and next.
Welcher Benutzergruppe gehören Sie am ehesten an? — Which user group do you best belong to? If you are a freelancer click Privatperson or private person.
Wichtige Hinweise — important information. There is some data protection info. here, you can Google Translate it all, then check the boxes that you read and agree.
Congratulations, you are now registered on ELSTER! You will use this system to file your taxes, so be sure to save that login information!
Read Part 2 of our guide to find out how you should fill in the form.
Affordable online advising and bookkeeping services for freelancers and the self-employed: Sorted — initial signup (affiliate link).
You can also try searching the German Tax Advisor Association database by language and location.
Tax advisors can be expensive (but worth it!). It’s always a good idea to politely check up front how much and when the tax advisor or accountant will charge you, so you don’t get any surprise bills (although they are also a business write-off).
Good luck — and if you love your tax advisor and want to recommend them, feel free to let us know and we’ll pass that on to our customers!