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How To Get A German Pension Refund For Expats: My Step By Step Experience

Living in Germany was a great experience and I absolutely loved living in Frankfurt. However, all good things come to an end. Upon leaving Germany, one of the first things you should do is understand that the contributions you made to the German Pension system are fully refundable assuming you satisfy a few criteria. I ended up getting back about €13k for my time working in Germany.

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The process is a bit convoluted and you’ll need to submit a lot of paperwork to the Deutsche Rentenversicherung to get it all back. However, this is a lot of money so what’s it worth to you? You don’t need to take your money out of the German Pension system as you’ll get regular pension distributions upon retirement age (66-67). However, I wanted that money now to continue investing in my portfolio of stocks as I didn’t care for the small distributions I would receive 30 years later.

This post will go into detail about exactly how to get your money back from the German pension system, including my own personal experience getting my money back.

Do I have to contibute to the German Pension system?

Yes. Everyone contributes to the German pension system. Whether you are German or a foreigner, you’ll need to contribute to the pension system unless you are self-employed.

The Pension contribution is 18.6% of your salary and is capped at a certain amount that changes every year. This amount is split 50/50 between you and your employer. You’ll contribute to this every month until you hit retirement age where you will then receive distributions like any other pension system in the world.

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Who is eligible for a refund of the German pension fund?

Germany, like my time living in South Africa, allows for you to withdraw your pension when you leave the country subject to a few rules. This is a great way to access cash today that you can use to invest and help build up to financial independence instead of waiting until your mid 60s to access it in small installments.

Bamberg old bridge

There are essentially two requirements for you to get a German pension refund.

  • Be a citizen of a Non-EU country
  • Have worked in Germany for less than 5 years.
  • You must reside in a Non-EU country

There are some nuances which I will discuss but those are the main requirements. This is unlike the USA which does not allow you to withdraw your social security benefits regardless if you’re a citizen, or whether you plan to stay in the country (terrible).

The first two bullet points are the most important. If you’re a citizen of say Italy or Greece, you will not be able to refund your German pension. Instead, you can keep it until you’re of age (mid 60s) and receive a fixed amount every month. If you’re from say Canada, the US, or even the UK as they are no longer part of the EU, you’ll be able to get a full refund.

What if I worked longer than 5 years in Germany?

Sorry to say it but you are not eligible for a refund. 60 months is the cutoff and if you’ve worked in Germany for longer than this, you’ll have to wait until you’re of age to start receiving monthly benefits from the pension system. You cannot take a lump sum payment before hand.

What are the requirements to getting a pension refund in Germany?

The requirements to getting a refund are simple. You’ll need to contribute to the German pension system for at least 1 month but no more than 60 months. Once you’ve finished working in Germany, you must move out of the European Union to get your money back.

Rothenburg ob der tauber germany medieval fairy tale town
Rothenburg ob der tauber germany

You’ll need to wait at least 24 months from the last paycheck to submit your claim for a refund. I had always thought that it was 24 months from when you left Germany but that is not the case. You could quit your job in May 2023, stay until November 2023, and start your pension refund in May 2025.

The German Government imposes this cooling period I guess in the case that you might forgot about it in which case you’re making a generous donation to their retirement system. The 24 month rule is not negotiable so do not bother to submit anything beforehand.

Make sure you get your abmeldung

To get a German Pension refund, you’ll have to have filed your abmeldung which is your de-registration from Germany. Similar to the anmeldung which is for registering your address in the German system, an abmeldung is the opposite for when you leave Germany.

You’ll need the abmeldung because that’s how the German pension authority will know that you’ve left the country. This form is free and easy to do by simply visiting the local Burgeramt and filling out a few forms. This form will also have your last listed address in Germany which is a requirement for the pension refund.

What if you also claimed unemployment insurance in Germany?

If you lost your job in Germany and was put on Arbeitlosengeld I and received unemployment benefits, your 24 month period starts after your last unemployment payment. So if you lost your Job in June 2023 and received Arbeitlosengeld until January 2024, you can only apply for pension refund on January 2026.

What if you get a Niederlassungserlaubnis in Germany?

If you obtained a niederlassungserlaubnis which is the German permanent residence scheme, you are no longer eligible for the pension refund since you have essentially committed to life in Germany. If you gave it up or let it expire by being out of the country for a long time, you could then apply for a pension refund again.

What if I married a German citizen?

If you married a German citizen, you can still get your pension refunded. As long as you are not living in the EU and have worked for less than 5 years, the same rules apply to you.

What if I go back to work in Germany after already receiting a pension refund?

If you’ve been away for many years and have already obtanied a pension refund but want to return to the country for work, you’ll simply restart your pension contribution from scratch like you were never there.

How much money do I get back from my German Pension?

The amount of money you can get back from your German Pension is the entirety of what you contributed during your time working in Germany.

The German pension works by taking 18.6% of your paycheck up to a certain amount (changes every year) which is split half half with your employer. When you apply for a German pension refund, you will only be eligible for your portion of the contribution.

You can simply use the calculator on German Pension Refund’s website which is very simple as all you’ll need is how long you’ve worked and how much you earned. For the below example, I used an example where I worked 24 months and made €100k per year.

As you can see, your refund will be just north of €14k which is a good chunk of change!

How long does it take to get your money back?

After you’ve waited out your 24 month waiting period, you can start applying for your refund. The German bureaucracy is archaic and you’ll have to mail in your forms which I’ll cover in the next section. Assuming you’ve done it right, it can take anywhere between 2-3 months to receive your money back. This is a big if though because if you mess something up, they will only communicate this to you by mail which will slow things way down!

Using German Pension refund services

In the end, I went with a service that specializes in obtaining your German Pension refund for you. This front to back service was extremely easy to use and I only had to do a few things to get the ball rolling. There are a few companies that do this in Germany and I ended up choosing Germany Pension Refund (not the most original name I know, but they must be loving their SEO power)

I did spent quite a few hours deciding if I was able to do the German Pension refund myself but ultimately concluded that it would have been all by impossible. From my research of the German Pension refund process, I would have had to mail in the forms to the German Pension authority multiple times as well as liaising with the German embassy in my new country of residence. As I’ve written before, Germany’s reliance on old school snail mail is one of the things I dislike the most about living in Germany.

Mailing in an application to the German pension authority from a different country and waiting for them to mail me things in return to an international address seemed like a nightmare. That was also if everything went to plan. If anything went wrong in my pension refund package, I would have to wait for that communication by mail which would have probably taken months if not years to complete the whole process. Therefore, I deduced it was worth the money to enlist the services of professionals that do this for a living. Best of all, the company is in Germany and they love to mail things.

What forms are required for a german pension refund?

You’ll need to fill out numerous forms which you can find out the official Germany pension website. You’ll need the following things to process your refund:

  • Completed V0901 Form (huge 15 page long form)
  • Certified copy of your passport
  • Abmeldung
  • Docment proving you live in another country
  • German Social insurance number (so they can find you in the system)
  • Power of attorney (only if you decide to use an outside service to do the process for you)

Thankfully, using German Pension Refund, I didn’t have to fill out the huge form and it was all done for me.

My personal experience using German Pension Refund to get back my Pension money back

I had actually eyed German Pension Refund’s website for awhile. Even when I moved to Germany, I knew I would eventually leave as I wanted to travel to other parts of the world and live in Bali among other things. I finally pulled the trigger when my 24 months was up and sent them an email.

Communication was very smooth and the Johannes was very thorough and crystal clear on the requirements. To get your German pension money back through German Pension Refund, you’ll need to provide them with a few forms that gives them the right to act on your behalf, as well as a few official documents.

Getting the pension form notarized

The most difficult part of this entire exercise was getting this document notarized. If you are living in a place without easy access to notary publics, this will be challenging. While living in Singapore, Notary publics here charge a criminally high amount of $200 SGD to just stamp a document. This is a free service at many banks in the US for comparison.

If you’re in this predicament, simply make an appointment at the nearest German Embassy. These appointments are free to make and they actually notarized this for me on the spot without any question.

Submitting all my documents to the Deutsche Rentenversicherung

After I had all my documents in order, I sent it back to Johannes at German Pension Refund and he took care of the rest. He told me they would deal with the bureaucracy and handle all the mailing which was music to my ears. He also said the process typically takes 2-3 months.

During these months, they kept me in the loop and told me the status of my application. After 2 months and 1 week exactly, I finally got an email back from Johannes that my documents were all approved and I was to receive my German Pension Refund shortly. It took another two weeks for the funds to actually be transferred to my bank account.

All in all, the process was seamless and took just under 3 months to complete!

How do you get the German pension refund into your bank account?

With German Pension Refund, they will deposit your money into any currency and any bank account you’d like. If you already have an EU bank account with an IBAN, this will be the fastest and easiest way. If you don’t, they use Wise to transfer to your bank account and currency of choice. You’ll have to eat all the fees of course but Wise is pretty decent.

This means you can have them transfer all your German pension money to your bank account in the US in US Dollars if that’s what you prefer!

How much does German Pension Refund charge?

Dealing with German Bureaucracy doesn’t come cheap so you can obviously expect to pay for this type of service. German Pension Refund takes a flat percentage of your pension refund. I paid about 9.75% which is steep but in the end worthwhile for me. I ended up getting about €13000 back which meant I had to pay them about €1,300. I think if I had worked in Germany longer and was due a pension in the €40,000 range, I might have considered doing this myself but the money was well worth it because I’m sure I would have spent many hours stressing out over the archaic German system.

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