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IMMIGRATION

What is Germany’s electronic ID card and how do you use it?

If you have a German residence permit, post-Brexit residence document or other form of German ID card, you may be wondering what all this fanfare about the online identification function is. Here's what you need to know.

German electronic ID card
A woman uses her electronic ID card with her smartphone. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke

For immigrants and locals alike, much of daily life in Germany involves brandishing some sort of identification document. In person at the Bürgeramt, bank or post office this can be simple enough, but what if you happen to be living in the 21st century where many of these everyday admin tasks are completed online?

That’s where the electronic residence or ID card comes into play.

Designed to bring Germany kicking and screaming into the digital age, your online identification card should, in theory, make it much easier to prove your identity online. 

Here’s some essential info to get you started.  

How do I know if I have an electronic ID card? 

Since 2017, all residence permits and personal ID cards in Germany have been issued with an electronic chip containing your personal data. This chip allows your identity document to be read by a card reader or smartphone in order to use the electronic identification (eID) function. 

Aufenthaltstitel

An example of an electronic residence permit. Source: BAMF

If you’re a Brit in Germany or have migrated to Germany from outside the EU, you should have received what’s known as a ‘PIN letter’ when your residence permit or post-Brexit residence title was issued. This would have contained some information about the electronic ID function of the card, a so-called ‘Transport PIN’ to activate the card and other information on how to lock it in the event that the card is lost. 

READ ALSO: How Brits can prove their post-Brexit rights in Germany – before they get their residence card

So, what does the electronic ID actually do?

As you can see from this list of services on the Personal ID information website, the range of things that the digital ID can be used for are pretty broad. Here are a few of them. 

  • Applying for or managing government services like unemployment benefits, child support, education allowance (BAföG) or pensions
  • Using administrative portals run by your city or state government 
  • Signing or creating an online petition for the German Bundestag 
  • Applying for financial products like insurance, a bank account or a loan 
  • Other commercial services you may need ID for, like renting a car or setting up a mobile phone contract online 
  • In vending machines where ID is required such cigarette machines 

Remember manically waving your passport in front of your webcam to try and set up a bank account with Deutsche Post’s Postident verification tool? Apparently, those days should soon be behind us thanks to this online functionality.

READ ALSO: Germany to require ID for buying prepaid phones

As a rule of thumb, you’ll need to look out for the below symbol, which is also on the back of your ID card or residence permit. This symbol means that you can use your eID with that government service or business. 

eID symbol

The electronic ID symbol. Source: BAMF

Sounds good. Can I start using it right away?

At the moment, that depends on whether you collected your residence permit or ID card from your local Bürgeramt or Einwanderamt (registration office or immigration office) or whether it arrives by post.

The Local understands that most cards that are collected in person have already been activated and can be used as an eID right away. If the card arrived by post, you will need to activate it in person at your local Bürgeramt before you can use it. This is soon set to change, however, as the government is currently working on an online activation feature that is due to launch sometime in February. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to prove you’re a resident in Germany

For now, though, you can check whether your ID is activated or not by downloading the AusweisApp2 on your smartphone. NB: The app is also available for download on your computer, but you will likely need your smartphone as a card-reader, unless you – like a true German – happen to have a USB card reader lying around. 

Got the app? Great. If you’re on your smartphone, open the app and click on ‘Gerät und Ausweis prüfen’ (Check device and ID). Then tap your card on the phone to see if your phone is able to read it and whether the ID is valid and activated. Your phone needs to be what’s known as an NFC device in order to read it. This is the same technology that lets you use your phone for contactless payments, so all relatively modern phones should have it. 

Once you know that your device and card are good to go, the next thing to do is change your Transport PIN to a 6-digit personal PIN that you’ll remember. You can do this by clicking on ‘Meine (Transport-)PIN ändern’ (Change my Transport PIN) in the app. Then you’ll be all set to enter the brave new world of online identification. 

How do I transmit my data electronically? 

At the moment, this is all done through AusweisApp2 and the portal or company you’re trying to set up an account with.

Once your ID is activated and set up in full, open the website of the company or government service you want to identify yourself to. When prompted, click on ‘Online-Ausweisfunktion’ or ‘Elektronische Identitätsnachweis’ as a method of identification. This should automatically open the AusweisApp2 on your computer or smartphone.

If you’re on your computer, you’ll have to connect your smartphone in order to use it as a card reader. To do this, simply open the app on your phone, click on ‘Fernzugriff’ and then select ‘Fernzugriff starten’. A four-digit code should pop up. 

AusweissApp2

The ‘See my personal data’ screen on the laptop version of the AusweisApp2. Source: AusweisApp2

This can be entered into the AusweisApp2 app on your computer to connect both devices. To do this, simply click on ‘Meine Daten ansehen’ (‘See my personal data’) on your computer app, then ‘Proceed to PIN entry’, where you’ll be prompted to put in the code.

Then simply tap your card as normal and enter your 6-digit PIN to confirm the transmission of the ID. Once this is done, you should be able to check who’s receiving the information and confirm everything is in Ordnung. The institution asking for the information will also be screened in the app. 

There’s a helpful step-by-step guide in English and video tutorials in German on the AusweisApp website, so be sure to check those out if you need more help. The app can be used in either German or English. 

This all sounds pretty complicated. Isn’t there a better way?

We agree entirely. Luckily, the government are currently working on a simple digital version of the card that can be stored and transmitted via the app without needing a card reader or the digital card at all.

According to the Ministry of the Interior’s website, this update is expected in the first quarter of 2022 – so by April at the latest in other words. We’ll keep you updated as soon as we know more. 

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For members

RESIDENCY PERMITS

What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Third-country nationals with the right to live and work in Germany are generally issued a residence permit in their passport or in the form of an ID card. But what do you if you happen to lose this vital document - or if it gets stolen? Here's a step-by-step guide.

What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

Losing an important document can be a nightmare scenario for foreigners in Germany – especially if it’s the one you rely on to live and work in the country. So if you search for your residence permit one day and suddenly realise it’s missing, you may feel the urge to panic. 

Luckily, there’s a process to follow to get a replacement and ensure nobody else can misuse your residence permit in the meantime. This being Germany, it may take a little time, but rest assured you will be able to replace the document. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Different types of permit

If you’re a non-EU national in Germany, you’re likely to have one of two documents proving your rights and status in the country: 

  • a residence permit that’s placed on a page in your passport (Zusatzblatt zum Aufenthaltstitel), or
  • an electronic ID, or eID, card (electronischer Aufenthaltstitel) for permanent residents. 

Some third-country nationals who’ve been in Germany for less than five years on a visa will have their residence permit in their passport, while others will have been issued an eID card. Permanent residents will generally have an eID card. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to prove you’re a resident in Germany

Brits who lived in Germany before the Brexit cut-off date are likely to have a special type of electronic ID card known as an Aufenthaltstitel-GB. This looks pretty similar to a permanent residence card and basically signifies that the holder is entitled to the same rights as EU citizens living in Germany. 

You’ll need to do things slightly differently depending on which type of residence permit you have, so we’ll cover each in turn. 

In either case, if you suspect you’ve been a victim of theft, it’s a good idea to file a police report so they can be on the lookout for any potential fraud. 

What to do you if you lose your electronic ID card

1. Call the cancellation hotline 

If you’ve mislaid your eID card or it’s been stolen, the first thing to do is call up a national hotline on 01801 33 33 33 and put a block on the card.

To do this, you’ll need to have your Sperrkennwort (blocking passport) handy. The way you’ll have received this can differ from state to state, but usually it is sent out in a letter along with the PIN and PUK for your electronic ID card around the time that the eID was issued. 

This will block anyone from using your eID function. If you find your card again, you can unblock it by visiting the Ausländerbehörde. 

If you haven’t activated the eID function or happen to have mislaid your blocking password as well, then move straight to the second step below. 

READ ALSO: What is Germany’s electronic ID card and how do you use it?

2. Get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner’s Office)

Once you’ve put a block on your card, you’ll need to get in touch with the Ausländerbehörde to let them know what’s happened and arrange a replacement card.

You can do this via email or telephone but may also have to book an in-person appointment if they need to see certain documents for issuing the replacement. If you need to block the eID function and don’t have your Sperrkennwort, you’ll need to take your passport to the Ausländerbehörde to do this.

Bear in mind that you won’t get your new ID card straight away. Depending on the state, it can take a up to three months to be issued. You’ll also need to pay a fee for the replacement card, which can vary from state to state and is normally paid with cash or EC card at the Ausländerbehörde. 

Also, once an order for a new card has been sent off, you’ll no longer be able to reactivate your old card should you find it again. 

Ausländerbehörde Berlin

People go in and out of the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / Kay Nietfeld/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

What to do if you lose your passport and visa 

1. Order a new passport 

It probably goes without saying, but if you lose your passport with your residence permit in it, the first thing you’ll need to do is get hold of a new passport. This should be done via the government of your home country. 

2. Book an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde

Once you’ve got your new passport, make an appointment at the Ausländerbehörde to get a replacement printed out. If you’re unsure what documentation to bring with you to the appointment, check on their website or send them an email beforehand.

Once again, you’ll need to pay a fee for the replacement, which is normally done on-site with cash or an EC card. 

What if I’m travelling out of the country soon? 

If you’re leaving Germany and don’t have time to get a replacement eID card or residence permit, contact the Ausländerbehörde straight away. They should be able to assist you with emergency proof of residence, which is normally done in the form of a Fiktionsbescheinigung (a certificate confirming your status and rights before the official proof has been issued).

Obviously, if you’ve lost your passport, your first port of call will be your home country’s embassy, who can normally issue emergency travel documents within a matter of days. 

For Brits covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, bringing other proof of residence in Germany such as your registration (Anmeldung) with you or a work contract should suffice to avoid getting a stamp in your passport when you re-enter. But even if you do, it won’t affect your rights.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that there are no hard borders in Schengen, so if you’re travelling around the EU, you’ll generally be fine without your visa. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I re-enter Germany without my post-Brexit residence card?

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