This guide reviews various aspects that one should consider when leaving Germany. This includes tips on how to keep German bank accounts and phone numbers, what you should be aware of with regards to taxes and health insurance, and what other actions you may want to take before leaving Germany. This applies particularly to German citizens who only leave temporarily to study or work abroad.
Keeping registered: yes or no?
Everybody who lives in Germany is required to be registered with the local authorities (Einwohnermeldeamt). If you leave Germany to study or work abroad, you may wonder if you are required to deregister and what the consequences are. Let us review the most important aspects:
Registration (Meldestatus). If you have some long-term accommodation in Germany, you need to be registered. This includes rooms, flats or any other type of long-term accommodation. If you have several accommodations, you need to be registered for all of them which may lead to some additional local taxation (Zweitwohnsitzsteuer). If you leave Germany for some time, it is largely (i.e., within reason) up to you if you deregister or not. The registration itself mostly has
Tax residence (unbeschränkte Steuerpflicht). The standard condition of being a tax resident of Germany is that you have a residence there (Wohnsitz). Technically, it is sufficient that you have theoretically access (Schlüsselgewalt) for some type of residence (typically a place to sleep with bathroom and kitchen). If you have the key to your parents' place and there is still a room where you could stay whenever you want, you would likely count as tax resident of Germany. This is a priori completely independent from your registration status, but in many situations your registration status would be taken as additional evidence for your intention regarding your main place of residence.
Health insurance requirement (Krankenversicherungspflicht). Everybody living in Germany is required to have a German health insurance that meets the German requirements. These are primarily a German public health insurance (gesetzliche Krankenversicherung), a German private health insurance (private Krankenversicherung) or potentially an insurance from another European country. It is now subtle
For most students who would like to carry forward losses (associated to their studies abroad) should stay registered with their parents in Germany. As long as you have access to some accomodation there (like your old room), this is perfectly legal.
You should carefully consider if you should sign up for additional insurances, while you are still in Germany. Germans love insurances and so the overall cost is often lower than in other countries. However, you cannot keep all insurances when leaving the country, so you should check specifically.
Note that insurances are best used to protect yourself from existential risks, i.e., risks that will financially ruin you otherwise. This is because you will almost always pay more for the insurance as your expected loss is (as your insurance premiums also need to cover administrative overhead, false claims by others and potential profits of the insurance company). Consequently, having health and liability insurance is a very good idea, unless you are extremely wealthy. On the other hand, insuring your smartphone or luggage is rarely necessary, as such losses will most likely not ruin you financially.
We recommend to consider getting the following insurances:
Health insurance. One of the most important insurances is your health insurance. However, it is difficult to give a recommendation on what to do with it when leaving Germany, as it highly depends on the country you are moving to. If you have a private insurance in Germany, you should check if you are also covered abroad and how the cost compares to local insurances. For students within the EU, it is often best to keep the German insurance, unless you automatically covered in the respective country. If you work in the other country, you often do not have a choice and must get insurance based on the country's employment laws or through your employer (which often is subsidized).
If you want to cancel your German insurance, you should consider the following: For private insurances, it is often good to pay a small monthly fee (like 1-2 EUR) to have the option to return to this insurance later on without any health check (but your premium category may increase). Moreover, you can also choose to pay for a so-called "Anwartschaft", in which case you can return into the same premium category (i.e., you will pay the same as somebody who stayed in the insurance). If you had public German health insurance, they are usually required by law to take you back after you return, so signing up for an "Anwartschaft" is rarely necessary. However, it is best to request a formal confirmation letter of this fact, which you can use as proof when you return later.
Liability insurance. You can get extremely comprehensive liability insurance with worldwide coverage at very affordable prices (like 20-40 EUR). When signing up for an insurance before you leave Germany, you should check how long the insurance will be valid. There are many insurance that can be kept for up to five years, but there are also insurances that will cover you anywhere in the world, as long as you pay your yearly premiums. As the goal is to cover existential risks, you may also want to consider to have a deductible of 200-500 EUR, as this will incentivize you to only use the insurance in real emergencies and you save money on the premium.
Travel health insurance. Travel health insurance for trips of a certain length is extremely affordable (often 10-20 EUR per year), when bought for a whole year. Usually, this insurance will not cover you in Germany and it also only covers trips of a certain length (like 30-60 days), after which you would need to return to your home, which often needs to be in Germany or within the EU. Therefore, this insurance is best if you keep a permanent home in Germany or if you only move within the EU.
When you move abroad during a calendar year, you will typically be tax liable in both countries, i.e., Germany and the country you are moving to. Typically, you will need to declare your taxes in both countries and even inform each country of income received in the other one. However, Germany has tax treaties (Doppelbesteuerungsabkommen) with most countries in the world to avoid that you are taxed twice on the same type of income. Instead, the tax treaty specifies exactly under what conditions which income is taxed in which country. In many situations foreign income will not be taxed in Germany, but your tax rate will still depend on it (Progressionsvorbehalt): In a first step, you need to declare your worldwide income and a tax rate is calculated. In a second step, this tax rate is only applied to that part of your income that is taxable in Germany according to the tax treaty.
If you do not have any or very little worldwide income, you might not be required to file taxes in Germany. However, it might still be a good idea to declare your taxes if you can declare a loss that can be carried forward to be used later, when you receive an income in Germany. This is the typical situation of a German student who studies abroad, after having already completed their primary qualification (apprenticeship or Bachelor's degree). Many Germans moving abroad for their Master's degree, a PhD program or an internship can accumulate significant losses for tuition, accomodation, travel, application fees etc. which can be carried forward as losses to reduce the tax bill after starting a job in Germany. You can read more about this here.
Free German phone number
If you leave Germany for a longer time, you will typically cancel your phone plan. While there are German phone plans that you can use abroad, you often need a new phone number in the country that you are moving to. Unless you have phone with a dual SIM card slot, it is therefore difficult to use two phone numbers at the same time.
The free Sipgate Satellite app provides an excellent solution to this problem. It gives you a free German phone number that directly rings your phone (whenever you are connected to the internet) without the need for an extra SIM card. Moreover, you get 100 minutes of free calling to German numbers using the app. This is perfect to deal with banks, insurance companies or German government institutions (such as the German tax office), while being abroad.
You can also use this number as a method for Two-Factor Authentication provided that they can call you to read out the respective code. However, this number does not support text messaging (neither sending nor receiving) for reasons explained here. Therefore, I would not recommend to port your number here, but rather keep it as a seperate number. If you need a German number for text messaging, check out the next tip.
Free German SMS number
You may need to be able to receive text messages on a German phone number for Two-Factor Authentication with you German bank or credit card. While you often can change this to Google Authenticator or another app solution, there are some service provider where you just cannot get around of receiving text messages at a German number.
There is a free solution that requires a little bit of preparation, but in the end you can receive arbitrary text messages at a German phone number, which get automatically forwarded to your email address. You need to go through the following steps:
Get a free Sipgate simquadrat SIM or eSIM. You will receive a free prepaid SIM card, which allows you to receive free text messages on a German number. However, this is inconvenient if you want to receive them via email, as you might be abroad.
Activate the free function SMS to Mail in the feature store (button on the top right after you login to your account). Activating this option means that any text message that is sent to your number will get also forwarded to your chosen email.
Put the SIM card in some old phone which you connect to power. Unfortunately, the SMS to Mail function only works if your SIM card is connected to the network, as the email is sent at the same time as your phone receives the text message. Note that receiving text messages is free, even outside of Germany. You could either have an old phone with SIM card laying around somewhere in Germany (place of parents/relatives/friends) or at your home outside of Germany.
It might be a bit of a hassle, but in the end you have the convenience of receiving text messages sent your German number anywhere in the world as long as you have internet and without the need of a dual SIM card.
Get a free Curve Blue card
The free Curve Blue card* (5 GBP bonus using the link) is a single card, that allows you to unify all your Visa and Mastercards in a single card. In practice, you can use this single card and then choose in the app, which of your regular credit card accounts are charged. While this also simplifies your wallet, this service is particularly useful if you want to use your credit card abroad. Curve often offers better exchange rates and avoids foreign transaction fees. It also helps when using foreign credit cards (in particular, US cards) that often offer higher cashback rates of 1-5% on purchases (compared to typically 0% offered by German credit cards).
Activate your electronic ID function and install AusweisApp2
If you are a German citizen, you should make sure activate the electronic ID function of your German ID. The AusweisApp2 lets you use your smartphone as card reader to use the electronic authentication function of your German ID (elektronische Funktionen des Personalausweises). This enables you to identify yourself online to use various German government services, such as requesting a certified criminal history for yourself or the history of your driving tickets.
Setup an account with Sign-Me
The little known service sign-me.de of the German Bundesdruckerei allows you to sign digital documents (PDFs) using your German ID. In particular, you can sign with a qualified electronic signature which is legally equivalent to an ink signature. While this is still not commonly used for typical contracts (such as rent contracts), electronic signature are already important in the business world and may also become increasingly relevant for consumers. Tip: Currently, each qualified electronic signature costs 5 sign-me coins, which usually cost 1.18 EUR, but you get a free starting balance for your first few qualified signatures.
Setup free Briefankündigung
If you keep a German address to receive mail, the German post office provides the free service Briefankündigung. This service was recently introduced and it allows you to get pictures via email of mail pieces that will arrive at your address the next day. For now, you are required to have or open a free email account with GMX.de or Web.de. Luckily, you can just forward your emails from there to your regular email. This is extremely useful if you are traveling or studying abroad and your friends/housemates/family takes care of your mail. Using the Briefankündigung you can always keep an overview of mail that is supposed to arrive for you and you even get pictures, so you often know the sender and may even be able to deduce what the respective may entail. In the future, there may even be an option to receive scans of the letter content if you give permission, but this is still up in the air for now.