It’s one of the most controversial topics in everyday German life. It affects pretty much every expat who moves here. And we’re going to explain why, unfortunately, you have little chance of avoiding it…
What is the Rundfunkbeitrag? Explaining Germany’s controversial public service media tax
The Rundfunkbeitrag is a licence fee for public service broadcasting.
It funds the production of radio, TV, and other services from the broadcasters ARD (Das Erste), ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) and Deutschlandradio.
This also includes the regional TV and radio broadcasters such as SWR, HR, BR, RBB, NDR, MDR, WDR etc, which are also publicly funded bodies.
In some circles you may hear the Rundfunkbeitrag referred to as GEZ. This was the previous name for this fee, prior to 2013, when some changes to the law determined why you have to pay the Rundfunkbeitrag.
Be aware that searching online for “what is the GEZ” rather than “what is the Rundfunkbeitrag” will throw up outdated information.
When should I register for the Rundfunkbeitrag?
Within a few weeks of your arrival in Germany, you’ll typically receive a letter from the authorities asking you to register for the Rundfunkbeitrag. They’ll know who you are and where you live because they have access to information from municipal citizen registration offices (Anmeldungen or Einwohnermeldungen).
After you’ve done your Anmeldung, fumbled through getting some health insurance, opened a bank account, got a German SIM card and got some personal liability insurance, – (deep breath) – this will most likely be the next bureaucratic hassle that will occupy your time.
How does the Rundfunkbeitrag work?
The fee is payable in quarterly instalments. Since 1st April 2015, this fee has been set at €17.50 per month. It is levied per household, and not per person, which is one of the few saving graces of the system.
It’s probably best to let the Rundfunkbeitragsservice explain it though.
Their downloadable guide in English is actually a very good overview of how it works. It explains in simple language what the Rundfunkbeitrag is, and how it’s administered.
Any household in Germany is legally obliged to pay this quarterly fee, regardless of whether or not you watch the TV channels or listen to the radio stations covered by it. The Rundfunkbeitrag also covers online media consumption via on-demand services such as media players, podcasts and streaming services.
Shared households (Wohngemeinschaften) are only required to pay this once per household, so 4 students living together for example would only be liable for paying the fee once. My tip here would be: Don’t be the chump who ends up being the bill payer!