Now that you’ve done your Anmeldung, it’s time to start experiencing what every expat in Germany suffers from – “the letter box jitters”. And yes, that is the official medical term. In your home country, maybe you skipped gaily to your letter box to see what loveliness friends or family had sent you. This will not be the case in Germany. As you’ve registered your address, every pesky government agency now knows where you live, and so, the onset of letter box jitters begins. Symptoms include sidling past your letter box for days on end, giving it the evil eye as you walk by, opening it at arm’s length, squinting your eyes and grimacing as you reach in with trembling hand to see what awaits you…
One thing’s for sure – you can’t avoid opening it forever. And some day, in the not too distant future, you’ll receive a letter from the party people at ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice, formerly known as GEZ – Gebühreneinzugzentrale (fee collection headquarters) because ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice is longer and therefore scarier to foreigners.
It’s a tax on German TV and radio that every household has to pay in order to finance the production and broadcasting of content by TV or radio stations regulated by public law. (Still with us?) These are somewhat of a 4th power to the government and guarantee fair and unbiased media coverage. These channels are not funded by ads or companies and are therefore obliged to inform people without any "fake news". So, you’ll be contributing to keeping this 4th power going. Since 2015, the amount has been €17.50 per month - a bargain really when you think about it.
Each and every household in Germany, NOT every member of the household. So, if you live in a household of four people, you only have to pay €17.50 per month, not whatever €17.50 multiplied by four is. Ah, laziness...
Do I have to pay it?
In the vast majority of cases, yes. There’s really no getting around it and avoiding it will only result in fees and penalties mounting up. Trust that German bureaucracy will get you in the end.
Here we can pause and take a moment to ponder how, if you want something from German bureaucracy, you may not hear anything for months or decades. If it wants something from you, it moves at the speed of light. Interesting, no?
(OK, back to it.)
Vast majority? So, you’re saying there’s a chance…
There are exceptions, or exemptions in this case, to every rule. If someone else in your household is already paying it, just fill in the reverse side of the form and send it back. Anyone receiving financial help from the state (e.g. unemployed or disabled people, students with federal student loans, etc.) is also exempt from paying the contribution. Everyone else just has to live with it.
But I don’t own a TV or a radio!
Tough luck. You still have to pay.
But… but… I can’t even understand German so why should I pay for German TV and radio?
Sucks to be you but you still have to pay.
Because they’re extremely kind people at the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice, formerly known as GEZ – Gebühreneinzugzentrale (fee collection headquarters) because ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice is longer and therefore scarier to foreigners, they offer you several payment options - every three months (in the middle or at the start of the month), twice a year, or once a year. You can either set up a direct debit or make a transfer. Although some people like to make the red tape gang at ARD ZDF blah blah actually work for their money by sending out reminders to transfer the money, direct debit is probably the easiest option. Just accept defeat, fill in your bank details and send the form back in the pre-paid envelope. Or, and don’t fall off your chair now, you can even pay the TV Tax online. For Germany, this is pretty futuristic stuff.
The good news is, you’ve solved your immediate problem. The bad news is that, unfortunately, there is no known cure for “the letter box jitters”. You simply have to be brave and boldly (or nervously) unlock that seemingly innocuous box every few days. Giving it the evil eye won’t stop the mail from coming so you’ll just have to deal with each thing as it comes. Be strong, little one, you can do this… we’ll hold your hand all the way.