February 2023: 8 changes affecting expats in Germany
February 2023 is the month when coronavirus masks will finally leave everyday life in Germany, but there are lots more changes to be aware of over the coming weeks.
Masks scrapped on public transport
Over two and a half years since they were first introduced, February 2, 2023 is the date that masks will no longer be mandatory on long-distance public transport in Germany.
At the beginning of December Saxony-Anhalt and Bavaria became the first federal states to remove the mask obligations on public transport. More states followed, but the authority to remove masks on long-distance trains remained with the federal government in Berlin.
The national mandate for masks on long-distance public transport in Germany was set to be scrapped on April 7, but health minister Karl Lauterbach recently announced the date would be moved forward. For now, FFP2 masks will continue to be mandatory in healthcare settings.
Corona infection home office rules removed
From February 2, employers in Germany will no longer be obligated to facilitate home office or provide tests for workers who test positive for coronavirus.
The requirement to allow all employees to work from home where possible was already removed in March 2022. Now however, there will be no requirements for workers with coronavirus to work from home. Instead, it will be up to the employers’ discretion how they respond to outbreaks in the workplace. Though non-binding, the government still recommends that infected workers stay at home while they have coronavirus.
Retroactive gas price cap continues
Back in November the German government announced that gas price cap rates will be retroactively extended to household utility costs from January and February 2023. Germany’s now well-known gas price cap will come into force from March 2023 and is currently expected to last until April 2024.
Under the gas price cap, 80 percent of a household's usual consumption (calculated according to the previous year's consumption) will be capped at 12 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), while any consumption above this will be charged at the going market rate. The state will then make up the difference between the capped price and prices paid by gas importers.
Tax declaration deadline extended
If you employ a tax advisor in Germany to complete your annual tax declaration, the deadline for your advisor to submit your 2021 return has been extended. Normally, tax advisors are due to hand in their clients' declarations by the end of February, two years following the tax year in question. However, this year the German government has decided to extend the deadline for 2021 declarations by six months, until August 31, 2023. For advisors submitting declarations for the tax year 2022, the deadline has also been extended to July 31, 2024.
Tax advisors can be few and far between in Germany, so even though the deadline has been extended it's best to get in touch with one as soon as possible. It is also possible to do your tax declaration yourself on the local tax office (Finanzamt) online platform ELSTER, though then these extended deadlines will not apply to you.
Car first aids kits
From February 1 all drivers in Germany must carry a first aid kit with them on their journeys in case of a medical emergency. This first aid kit must meet standards which were established one year ago. In addition to the existing standard kit, two face masks are now required. The previously mandatory triangular bandage and bandage cloth are no longer required.
To meet these requirements it is not necessary to buy a whole new first aid kit, but just to add two face masks to your existing kit.
Energy-saving lamps no longer produced
Energy-saving light bulbs are set to disappear from February. Following a new law by the German government, energy-saving bulbs will no longer be sold due to the health and environmental risks of mercury.
From next month, plug-in and ring-shaped fluorescent lamps will no longer be produced in Germany but any remaining stock of energy-saving lamps may still be sold.
LED lamps are a good alternative for saving energy, they do not contain mercury and require much less electricity to power.
Wind and Land law
The Wind and Land law is being introduced in February to help Germany reach its renewable energy goals for 2032. The law will accelerate the expansion of wind farms across the country with a goal of covering 2 percent of German land with turbines.
The Wind and Land law will make the process of establishing new wind farms less bureaucratically arduous for the government, and more land will be made available for turbines. The required distance between turbines will also be reduced.
Beer will get more expensive
We all hoped that beer would remain the one and only edibles untouched by Germany’s record-breaking inflation rates, but it is not to be. From February the price of beer bands under the Warsteiner group will increase by 6,80 euros per hectolitre.
The affected brands include Warsteiner, Herforder, Frankenheim, König Ludwig, Kaltenberg, Paderborner and Isenbeck.
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