EXPLAINED: How to understand the German 'Anmeldung'
The Anmeldung is most people's first experience of German bureaucracy. It's also a legal requirement.
For both new arrivals or experienced heads, bureaucratic frustrations can be common place Germany.
For most expats, the first such experience comes when sorting out the Anmeldung. The word officially translates as ‘registration’ and denotes the process that every person living in Germany must go through to register themselves at their address.
Once you do so, you receive a Meldebescheinigung - a certificate which proves your registration.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misleading and semi-factual information out there about the Anmeldung - particularly in regards to what happens when you move house or leave Germany - so we’ve prepared a basic guide for anyone who needs to know more about the process.
As with any of these guides, we do not intend them to replace genuine legal advice or information received from responsible authorities upon moving to Germany.
The following is just a broad overview of the Anmeldung, what it is, how it works - and what needs to take place when you melde yourself ab (or de-register yourself).
A legal requirement
It may have come as a shock to some - particularly European Union citizens who have not had to endure the German visa process - but completing your Anmeldung is a legal requirement for anyone living in Germany.
Everyone who arrives in Germany with the intention to live here is required to register within 14 days of moving in (although currently due to the pandemic this has been extended to six weeks).
Tourists generally don’t intend to live in Germany and are an exception, meaning that they're allowed to stay up to three months without registering.
Even if you’ll only be here temporarily - for instance students - you’re still required to register.
Whenever you move house, you're required to re-register your new address - regardless if you move from Berlin to Bavaria or just down the street.
If you haven’t done it yet - we’ve heard reports of Brits who have lived in Germany for a while and are just now understanding the importance of the Anmeldung process due to Brexit - make sure you act quickly.
The only thing worse than telling the Bürgeramt that you’ve lived here for six months without registering is telling them you’ve lived here for nine months without registering.
There are fines for registering late which range from €10 to €70, although reports of these being handed out are rare.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
Aside from it being illegal - reason enough to make sure you do it - living in Germany without a Meldebescheinigung significantly limits the possibilities of what you can and can’t do.
Without a document proving your registration, in the most cases you’ll be unable to do much of the following: open a bank account, get certain kinds of jobs, apply for a visa or residence permit, get a tax number, connect to the internet, signup for a gym membership and enrol in university or school.
You'll need an Anmeldung if you move into one of these new buildings in Frankfurt's 'Europaviertel'. Photo: DPA
Yet the Anmeldung can be a bit of a 'Catch-22': Technically speaking, you need evidence of living at a certain address in order to apply for an Anmeldung. Usually this will be in the form of bills, letters or other information - a lot of which will be hard to come by without actually having an Anmeldung in the first place.
If you’ve newly arrived, you might need to convince the lovely Beamter (civil servant) to let you register at the address without the necessary documentation, as you need the Anmeldung to apply for the documentation in the first place.
Most Beamte will be aware of this mind-twisting conundrum, meaning that with a little convincing - bitte bitte - it shouldn’t be a problem.
OK so you know that you have to do it, but how?
Firstly you’ll need to have a residence where you can register - and the permission of the landlord to do so.
You’ll need to bring evidence of this - i.e. a rental contract - along with what is known as a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung, which is a form signed by your landlord indicating you’re permitted to live there. In some cases just the rental contract has been sufficient, although when visiting any government office you’re bound to encounter a few sticklers for paperwork.
Hotels and hostels do not count, although if you’ve got a friend who will let you register as living with them - provided you actually live with them - then this is permitted.
Many sublets advertised on websites such as WG-Gesucht will specify if they give out an Anmeldung. Some short-term housing websites, such as Wunderflats, have also been set up to help internationals get started with both a temporary flat and an Anmeldung to go along with it.
The Anmeldung needs to be done at the Bürgeramt (citizens office which is sometimes called a Bürgerbüro, Kundenzentrum or a Kreisverwaltungsreferat), where you’ll be provided with an Anmeldung bei einer Meldebehörde document to complete. For this you’ll need to bring ID.
As with any contact with government, try and get an appointment to save yourself a long wait. This will be usually possible by phone or online. If you can’t get an appointment, then you’ll need to go along and pick a number and wait.
One final thing: take note that some Beamte won't want to talk in English. This can make the process - from speaking to filling out the forms - a little more difficult for foreigners.
It’s best to bring someone along who can speak a little German, although hand gestures and a healthy use of translation apps on your phone is likely to suffice.
Ich melde mich ab
One of the most poorly understood aspect of the Anmeldung system is the Abmeldung system, i.e. the process of de-registering.
When leaving Germany - whether or not you intend to come back - it's crucially important to ensure that you de-register.
If you fail to do so, as far as the German government is concerned you still live here. This can be problematic with regard to being liable for taxes after you leave, while it can also be an issue for health insurance - as you might be liable to pay even though you didn't live in Germany.
As is typisch, once you re-register you'll receive an Abmeldung certificate confirming that you've done so, which will help out in case you encounter any difficulties in the future.