Church tax, or rather the dreaded Kirchensteuer is a subject that gets us British expats going every time. I challenge you to find me an expat resident in Germany that doesn’t have a strong opinion on this tax.
What is Kirchensteuer?
In Germany, if you belong to a protestant or a catholic church, you are liable to pay 8-9% of your income tax each month. When you arrive in Germany to work and register yourself with the Finanzamt you will be asked to tick a box on a form to declare yourself either evangelisch (protestant) or katholisch (catholic).
When I moved here 4 and a bit years ago, I had no idea that this church tax existed, and so being the indignant 22 year old that I was, I assumed it was just the German authorities being nosy and left the boxes blank. LUCKILY. Had I ticked either of the boxes, money would have automatically been deducted from my salary each month and sent to repair church windows…or something like that.
Now, all was fine and for the last four years I have been enjoying a lovely, pretty atheist (the odd Christmas carol aside) life in Berlin. Then, last week I received a letter in the post from the Kirchensteuerstelle. They were writing to let me know that they were uncertain of my religious status and were sending me a questionnaire, which I am to return with the necessary evidence, in order to clear the matter up.
On the form, it asks me to declare whether I was
a) christened in a protestant church.
b) christened in a catholic church.
c) belong to a free church.
Gosh, having grown up in lovely England, where it is practically illegal to force someone to tell you what their religion is, I felt most put out. Why should I tell them? What’s it got to do with them, especially if I don’t attend church in this country.
Interestingly, the only other religion which is subject to a religious tax in Germany is Judaism – the form I received didn’t have a box to tick in the event that I was Jewish – then again you’d think that forcing people to declare their religion – whatever religion – is something that Germany of all places might think twice about.
The truth of the matter is that I was christened, when I was 3 months old. Naively, I thought that the very fact that it wasn’t my decision to be christened, and that I have since then shown limited interest and involvement with any church, would be enough to convince Germany that I am not liable to pay the church tax. WRONG.
If you were christened, regardless of which country and who cares whether you were mentally developed enough at the time to realise what you were signing up to, Germany and its churches have got you in their sights as their next cash cow.
How to avoid paying church tax in Germany?
The safest option is to go for the Kirchenaustritt option. This involves going to the Amtsgericht and paying €30 to officially ‘leave’ the church in Germany. Yes, even the human right of choosing to be atheist is going to cost you here.
I personally don’t want to be forced into doing the Kirchenaustritt. I don’t see why I should have to go to such extremes when officially, I don’t even belong to a church. That said, I can’t imagine that the only church I ever have been to in the UK would blame me, it’s not very Christian to steal money from people after all.
So, after many hours of frantic research, I have discovered that I am hopefully exempt from paying church tax on the grounds that the church I was christened at in the UK is Methodist. Hooray for the Methodists! The only problem is that this church doesn’t have me down as being a member – not that I ever left after my christening but the UK is a little more sane when it comes to religion – simply being baptised there doesn’t automatically make you a paying member for life.
So my quest to evade the Kirchensteuer continues – I will be keeping you updated on what the outcome is. If you too are struggling with a church tax nightmare in Germany, feel free to drop me a line as I might be able to give you some advice and save you some time and money thanks to all the research I have done on it recently!
It is things like this that make me realise how crazy Germany is as a country. You think they’re all normal and civilised and then BAM, they go and do something mad like this. As if paying GEZ wasn’t bad enough.