Church tax in Germany: What is it and do I have to pay it?

Church tax in Germany: What is it and do I have to pay it?

by Anne Walther

Updated April 21, 2023

Starting a job is very exciting, and the expectations for your first paycheck are always high.  Those expectations tend to run up against the various deductions from your monthly paycheck, which may include money taken out to cover health insurance and income taxes. If you’re employed in Germany, you may also notice that a small fraction of your money goes toward a so-called “church tax.”

Church tax, or Kirchensteuer in German, is a percentage of your salary collected by the religious community in which you are a member.  This money is used to finance various different activities and services pertaining to that community. But what exactly does the church tax in Germany entail, and which services are you entitled to? Perhaps most importantly: Do you have to pay the church tax if you are not a member of a church in Germany? Let’s have a look!

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What is the church tax and who has to pay it?

In Germany, state-recognized churches collect taxes from their members in order to finance their activities as well as wages. Everyone who is a member of an officially recognized religious group automatically gets a percentage of their monthly wage taken from their paycheck. Usually, this amounts to around 9% of income tax — with the exception of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, where the church tax amounts to 8%. 

For native Germans, church tax is often automatically collected. Many Germans are baptized at a young age and thereby become members of a particular church, which means they pay taxes to that church when they begin to earn income as an adult. 

If you’re a foreigner moving to Germany, you can declare your affiliation to a church when you register at your local citizen’s office. 

The possible answers upon registration include:

  • ev – Evangelical
  • rf – Reformed
  • rk – Roman Catholic
  • ak – Old Catholic
  • is – Jewish
  • oa – none/other

The citizen’s office will forward your answer to the tax office and a church tax may be collected accordingly. 

Why is there a church tax in Germany?

Church tax in Germany dates back to the 19th century. Modern church tax, however, is designated to the members of a particular religious group to pay for the public services that religious group provides. These services may include baptisms, marriages or religious burials. 

Each Bundesland in Germany has its own contracts with different church communities, which enables it to collect taxes. These church communities include:

  • Evangelical churches
  • Catholic churches
  • The Old Catholic Church
  • Jewish religious communities
  • Israelite religious communities
  • Free religious communities
  • The Reformed Church of France in Berlin
  • The Mennonite community in Hamburg
  • Unitarian religious communities in Rhineland-Palatinate

There are several religious communities that qualify for church taxes, but decide not to collect them. As a result, members are not automatically taxed. 

People who are not members of one of the above-mentioned religious communities and don’t pay taxes are not entitled to church services. However, they can still visit religious spots or occasionally participate in church-related activities. For example, many Germans, regardless of their belief, still visit their local church on Christmas Eve.

How can I stop paying church tax?

A process called Kirchenaustritt (leaving the church) allows you to officially quit your religious community. This process may come into play if you convert to a different faith, or if you mistakenly signed up as a member of a church you are not actually a part of. 

A not-for-profit website can give you a complete overview of all the steps required to finalize the process. This usually includes an application at your local registry office and the provision of relevant documents such as your ID and your registration certificate. Keep in mind that, according to where you are based, processes may differ.

Take me to church — but only if you want!

Being part of a religious community can come with a lot of perks, including the services your local church provides to you. But of course, every service comes with a cost. For this reason, the German church tax is in place and allows standardized financial support for the communities in question — and the option to drop out if you want. To learn more about religion in Germany, check out our other articles or ask around in your local community!

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