How to get a refund after 5+ years working in Germany.
Updated: Nov 2, 2019
After having worked in Germany for 5+ years and automatically having paid contributions to the German pension scheme (Deutsche Rentenversicherung), you might ask yourself whether or not it is possible to get a pension refund once you left Germany.
First of all, congratulations! Out of a large number of expats you have realized that you did pay contributions. Many do not even realize they paid contributions and leave their money behind. Mainly because these payments were taken out of your paycheck automatically. While everyone is focused on getting tax returns, few realize that they can also get a refund of their pension contributions. For those of you who do not know how much money that is: Pension contributions amount to 9.5 % of your gross salary and your employer is obliged to pay them directly to the Deutsche Rentenversicherung, often without your notice.
But YOU are here – so you do know better. But you are not sure, if you can get your money back after you have left Germany. And how much of it. You ask your former co-workers, other expats, your tax consultant or German friends, you might check the internet or even ask agencies that offer to help you get a refund.
And all you hear are common misunderstandings like: ”You are European, you cannot get a refund!”, ”You are American? Do not worry, the US has some special deal with Germany and everything is taken care of. But a refund? Not possible.” Or ”Did you work for 5 or more years in Germany? Yes? Then you cannot get a refund. It is only possible for people who worked for less time.”
And chances are high that you believe what you hear. And do not even try to get a refund – and you are not alone. Thanks to the internet where this WRONG information is repeated over and over again, unfortunately 99% of expats believe these major misunderstandings.
Even if you ask German employees or tax consultants, they usually know close to nothing about refunds, simply because different laws apply for German nationals. Expats, employers, even the so called ”experts” – everyone fell for a big misunderstanding, basically because nobody actually studies the German Social Security Law when it comes to refunds. So please, forget what you have heard until today because it is simply wrong. Keep reading this article to find out how you can get a refund despite having worked in Germany for 5 years or longer.
WRONG: ”If you worked in Germany for 5+ years, it is impossible to get a refund of your contributions.”
What does having worked for 5 years really mean?
The general idea of any pension fund naturally is that employees pay contributions while they work until they reach the legal age of retirement. Then they retire from work and get a monthly pension installment paid as an acknowledgment of a lifetime spent working and a means to survive. Retirement age in Germany currently is 67.
In order to be eligible for these pension payments, the German statutory pension scheme requires a qualification period of 60 months (total) of contributions. An employee who pays into the pension system for 60 months is automatically qualified for future retirement payments, someone who contributes for 59 months or less instead, does not qualify for pension payments.
But why 60 months? (If you want to skip the part that explains about the history and background of the system, feel free to scroll down to ”Who can get a refund after 5+ years and how is that possible?")
The idea behind that originated in Germany after WWII. Back then Germany had a high demand for labor in order to rebuild the country and economy.
Germany then, had very different demographics, a high birthrate and a young population. While men traditionally took on a professional career, most women would finish school, then work for two or three years just to quit their jobs after they got married at early age.
But Germany was in desperate need of labor and making it a rule that one could only receive any retirement money after more than five years of working was a means to keep young women in jobs.
In doing so, Germany gained about 50 % (male/female population) more employees for at least two or three more years per person.
Along similar lines the government made a big effort to promote female labor and overcome traditional views, but it took until the early sixties, that the trend of working women instead of house wives was fully established, and that both parents would take on careers, no matter if they had children or not.
TRUE: After you worked in Germany for 5 years you have qualified for pension payments at the age of retirement.
The German pension system is not keen on paying contributed money back to you before you have reached the legal age of retirement. Why is that?
The German pension system is distributing money from the working to the retired. This system still works well despite the demographics of an aging society because wages and inflation went up over the years. The retirement money is calculated on the total average amount you contributed over the years, without interest or inflation adjustment.
For example: If your monthly gross income is 4,000 Euros, after 5 years (to qualify for the pension) you have paid 22,800 Euros into the fund. With this money someone who has a pension of 965 Euros per month can be paid for 2 years.
In order to keep contributed money in the system, countries have made mutual social security agreements.
Who can get a refund after 5+ years and how is that possible?
First of all, despite what you have heard or read before: European or Non-European – your nationality does not matter to get a refund!
No matter if you are a national of a European member state, a country that is part of the European Economic Area, Switzerland or a national of a so called contracting state like the USA, Canada, Australia etc. (18 more non-European countries – you can get a refund – depending on where you currently reside. Find out if you reside in a non-contracting state.
The social security agreements between the above mentioned countries – as long as you reside in one of them – do not allow you to get a refund of pension contributions paid in any of them. The money is not lost, instead, the contributions made and working times spent in different countries will be either merged together into your final retirement payment or you will be able to get pension installments from different countries once you reach the age of retirement.
In legal terms the German Pension office puts it that way: a) if you are obliged to pay contributions into their scheme (= employed in Germany), or b) if you are given the option to voluntarily keep paying into the German Pension system (= you reside within the EU/EEA, in CH or in one of the contracting states, residing in those you are given that option), you cannot apply for a refund of your 5+ year contributions.
So how can you get a refund?
It is pretty simple. The legal terms define who cannot get a refund based on where the person resides (note: not nationality).
Anyone who does not reside in a contracting state is eligible for a refund. No matter how many years you contributed into the system, you will get a refund!
If you reside in a non-contracting state, you are a) not obliged to pay insurance contributions to the German Pension Scheme and also you are b) not given the option (even if you would like to) to keep paying into the German Pension System voluntarily. In other words, you cannot grow your pension savings in Germany anymore, and you are ”out of reach of the benefits” you could get from that.
If you reside in a non-contracting state at the moment of applying for a refund, you are eligible for a refund. No matter if you worked in Germany for one, five, ten or thirty years.
We have successfully claimed refunds for hundreds of clients from all over the world in the last twelve years. Many of them European citizens, many of them have worked for more than 5 years in Germany. Believe me, I know what I am talking about.
Two recent examples to get a better understanding:
1. Nolan, a British national, worked in Germany for 8 years (more than 5, so he qualified for future pension payments) as an IT developer. His pension contributions had summed up to 120.000 Euro. As a British national within Europe he would never be able to get a refund. He would have to wait until he is 67 to get pension payments. After Germany, he took a position at a company in Moscow, Russia. Russia is not a contracting state, so once he had left his last job in Germany and 24 months had passed (mandatory waiting period before application), we got him a full refund of his contributions.
2. Keshin, an Indian national, did a chemistry PHD scholarship in Germany before working as a researcher for BASF, then at the Max-Planck-Institute, and finally as a university professor. Years worked in Germany total: 17. Pension contributions paid total: ca. 190.000 Euro. In 2018 he moved back to India, only to find out that it had become a contract state in 2017 – and not possibility to get a refund for him. He had planned to move back home, take the money and buy real estate. So in order to get a refund, he decided to reside in a non-contracting country for a short period. He enrolled in a university language program for foreign students in Abu Dhabi, thus being able to get a visa and rent a room to prove that he resides in Abu Dhabi when he applied for his refund. And guess what: We were able to get him a full refund, because at the moment he applied he resided in a non-contracting country.
If you are a national of a non-contracting state and you reside back home or in a different non-contracting state, you can apply for a refund of your contributions for the same reasons mentioned above.
Before you can apply though, you will have to pass the mandatory waiting period of 24 months after your last contribution to the German pension system (which is not necessarily when you left Germany. You might hear that you have to wait for 2 years after you left Germany, that is wrong. The two years already start counting from the month you quit working.)
TRUE: You are eligible to get a pension refund after 5+ years of contributions, if you reside in a non-contracting state.
It is impossible to get a refund of your contributions if you worked for more than 5 years in Germany and you reside inside the EU, EEA, Switzerland or one of the contracting states.
But: If you reside in a non-contracting state (no matter what nationality you are – except German), you are eligible for a refund of your contributions.
However, no interest is paid on your contributions. But it is possible to get a full refund of the contributions paid by you.
For those of you, who still do not believe they can get a refund after 5+ years of contributions, or because they believe their nationality matters more than where they currently reside, I have a message for you: Please try it. The application process is for free!!! You can do it yourself.
Or, if you want to lean back and enjoy having experts taking care of your application, taking care of the German language end-to-end communication with the Deutsche Rentenversicherung, safe time (because we know exactly what documents you need and what other proof they might ask for) and make sure you actually get a complete refund – feel free to contact us.
We do not charge any minimum fee.
We do not charge any up-front-costs.
You only pay a commission to us, if and after you actually got a complete refund of your contributions.
Feel free to ask any questions.
It is our job to help you get your refund.