European? Non-European? Why (despite what many say) your nationality DOES NOT matter for a refund.
After having worked in Germany for some time you will ask yourself whether or not it is possible to get a pension refund.
And now you start to calculate your gross salary amount X times 9.5 % times the number of years you have worked = the amount of contributions you paid into the fund, and you find out that it is quite a some money that you unwillingly had to pay over the years.
But what happens with that money after you left Germany?
Unfortunately, other than common practice in other countries that you might have worked, the Deutsche Rentenversicherung Bund / German pension office does not return the money to you when you leave the country automatically, and especially not immediately. And if you do not take action and apply for a refund, the money will just stay in the pension office forever.
You might have asked your former co-workers, employers, other expats, your tax consultant or German friends, checked the internet, and you might have ended up confused hearing so many different opinions, even from so called ”experts”.
German employees and tax consultants usually have no clue, because for Germans different laws apply and there is no legal base for a refund to a German national. Other expats have heard different stories and there are rumors out there like e. g. only non-Europeans can get refunds, Americans have a special deal with Germany and cannot apply, or most confusing, that you can only get a refund, if you have worked in Germany for less than 60 months = 5 Years total that might discourage you to even try to get your refund. But is it really that complicated?
We all went through this. And now it has been more than 12 years, that we deal with applications of all nationalities on a daily basis and know exactly what works and what not. Keep reading this article to find out the truth about who can get a refund.
This is why we are here today, helping other expats to get a refund of their contributions and to explain how it works. Everybody can do it themselves – or use our professional help.
We want you to be able to find out the truth about your situation and to give you a clear idea whether or not you are eligible to get a refund of your contributions. Maybe your situation is considered an “exceptional case” and it is at least worth trying, worst case you will not get a refund and will have to wait until German retirement age (as of now 67), to get monthly pension installments.
On a different note: It is free to apply for a refund, so why not just try? (If you wonder, yes, also we do not have any upfront costs, if anyone applies for a refund through us - we only charge if you actually get money!)
So now lets get some clarification about the misunderstandings you will get in most blogs, forums, even from most pension refund agencies. To us it is unclear why they spread wrong information, thus, losing a lot of possible customers. But well, now at least YOU know better:
WRONG: If you have worked for more than 60 months = 5 years in Germany, you cannot get a refund of your contributions. Read article.
WRONG: If you are an EU/EEA/CH-passport holder or a citizen of one of the contracting states that Germany has mutual social security agreements with, you cannot get a refund of your contributions.
Surprisingly this information seems to have become common sense and nobody is questioning its origin and if it is true ... I guess what is written and repeated in the internet easily becomes a common believed truth nowadays. Even professional tax return agencies (that you expect should know better) offering to help you get your refund, will tell you that you are not eligible for a refund. But is that really true?
In this article we will discuss point 2 – your expat nationality and whether or not this has an influence on your eligibility for a refund from the Deutsche Rentenversicherung.
(Sorry, if you are a German national you can stop reading from here on – this information will only help non-Germans, for Germans different laws apply.)
Due to mutual contracts within the EU-/EEA-states, CH and with several other countries, the German Pension Office does in deed differentiate between nationalities. But what is the big difference?
Actually, the ONLY question for getting a refund is where you currently reside. Nationality does not matter for an Expat pension refund! European, Non-European – it does not make any difference. All that matters is where you reside at the moment you apply for your refund. If you reside within the European Union, the EEA, or Switzerland, or one of the contracting states, and you are a national of either one of them, and you have worked in Germany for more than 5 years and paid contributions into the fund, you are given the option to what is called „Berechtigung zur freiwilligen Versicherung”. It means that you can chose to voluntarily pay contributions (even though you are not obliged to) into the German statutory pension scheme, in order to keep your pension growing and avoid gaps in the contribution period.
Why would that make sense? Imagine your plan is to actually retire in Germany once you reach retirement age. But you will work in different countries in the EU/EEZ before that happens, too. So, the German statutory pension fund gives you the opportunity to voluntarily keep paying your contributions, as if you were still employed in Germany, thus raising the amount of contributions and the money they will pay you as pension installments once you actually reach retirement age (currently: 67). This is what Berechtigung zur freiwilligen Versicherung is.
Within the EU-member states and contracting states you are automatically granted voluntary contributions. As long as you have the possibility to pay voluntarily, you cannot apply for a refund of your contributions. Also, you are obliged to be insured in the local pension scheme. These two criteria make it impossible for you to apply for German pension refund. OK - we do not want to confuse you ... this article is about that you are a EU/EEA/CH or contracting state national ... and why you can still get a refund, despite all the misinformation out there that you might already have started to believe.
So, how can you get a refund? It is quite easy – if you at the moment of application reside in a non-contracting state the situation is completely different for you. Here you are no longer obliged to be insured (in the German Pension Scheme) and, most importantly, you are not given the option of voluntary contributions into the scheme. Now you are eligible for a refund, no matter your nationality.
Let me give you an example of one our recent clients. Lets call him Pierre for privacy reasons. Pierre is French. He worked in Germany for 12 years as a biology teacher in several different private IB schools. Afterwards he moved back to France. Now - according to what you have heard - being French and having worked for more than 5 years in Germany, it is clearly impossible for Pierre to get a refund, right? It is right, as long as he lived in France. But he took a job position for one year in Abu Dhabi, Emirates. The Emirates are not a contracting state. Residing here he was eligible for a full refund of his contributions. He actually got 69,000 Euros back.
You might wonder what the logic behind that is. Well it totally makes sense. Pierre paid money for his future retirement in Germany. While he lived in France later, he was given the opportunity to keep his money growing by paying voluntary contributions (or merge it with his ongoing pension contributions in France). So if that is possible, the German Pension Office does not refund money, of course, they are trying to keep it in the system or at least within the European system. But once Pierre moved to the Emirates, even if he wanted to, he could not keep his pension money in Germany growing by paying voluntary contributions. It is common sense that in that case he has the right to get his money back invest it in his new retirement plan or elsewhere for his future.
Before YOU can apply for your refund, a waiting period of 24 months has to pass after you have left your last German occupation = after you paid the last monthly contribution into the fund - do not get confused, you will hear a lot that the waiting period only starts once you have left Europe. That is not true. It starts the next month after you paid your last contribution in Germany. Technically, you could still live in Germany for 24 months and then leave Europe and the next day apply for your refund.
To give you some more examples from our daily routine (names are fictional):
Mark from New Zealand works in Germany for 3 years. Then he moves to Spain where he continues to work for another 3 years. 2 years (24 months) after having left Germany, he wants to apply for his German statutory pension contributions to be refunded, but he cannot do that, because he lives in Spain where he is eligible for voluntary contributions to the German pension office. Only after he moves back home after another year he can apply for his refund. He had left his German job more than 24 months ago, but he had to wait until he did actually move out of the EU, in order to apply for the refund.
Tom from England works in Germany for 7 years before moving back to Manchester. There he wants to apply for a refund but he cannot apply because he is residing within the EU/EEA. Thus, given the Berechtigung zur freiwilligen Versicherung (see above), meaning he could voluntarily keep paying contributions into the German governmental pension fund, he is not able to apply for a refund. Later in his life he took a job in Shanghai, China. Once residing in a non-contracting state, he was able to apply for and receive a full refund of his contributions.
Maya from Canada worked in Germany for one year. Afterwards she decided to stop working and continue her studies, also in Germany. Two years later she went back to Canada. She was able apply for her refund immediately, because the last time she had paid contributions into the fund where already more than 24 months ago. Important note: The 24 months waiting period starts with the first month your contribution stopped/you stop working – not to mistake it with the date you actually leave Germany, which in her case, was much later.
On a last note: If you still believe, that you cannot apply for a refund because of your nationality, why don't you just try it? Applying is for free. You can even apply in your home country's language. A bit inconvenient though is that the German Pension Office will always reply to you by letters in German language and you will have to figure out, what other documents they might want from you and what deadline you have to keep to reply in order not get denied.
Another, faster and more convenient option is to apply through us. Of course, we cannot affect the working speed of the Pension office. But we make sure, that your application is complete and that all documents required are included, documents otherwise they will ask you to hand in later. And: Other than other agencies we do not charge any upfront fees, nor do we charge a minimum fee (to cover our costs, in the – until now never experienced – case that your application gets denied). Instead, you only pay our commission, after you successfully got a full refund. So there is no risk for you in trying, even if you are soo convinced that you cannot get a refund.