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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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IMMIGRATION

Foreigners resident in Germany ‘not covered by new EES passport rules’

The European Commission has confirmed that non-EU nationals living in Germany won't be covered by EES - the major overhaul of passport rules and systems that's due to come into force next year.

Foreigners resident in Germany 'not covered by new EES passport rules'

The EU’s new entry and exit system (EES) is due to come into effect in May 2023, followed by the new ETIAS system in November, and between them they will have a major effect on travel in and out of the EU and Schengen zone.

EES means automated passport scans at EU external borders, which will increase security and tighten up controls of the 90-day rule. 

But the system is aimed at tourists and those making short visits to Germany – not non-EU citizens who live in Germany with a visa or permanent residency card – and there had been questions around how those groups would use the new system.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What the EU’s new EES system means for travel to Germany

The European Commission has now confirmed that EES does not apply for non-EU citizens who are living in Germany, telling The Local: “Non-EU nationals holders of residence permits are not in the scope of the Entry/Exit System and ETIAS. More about exceptions can be found on the website.

“When crossing the borders, holders of EU residence permits should be able to present to the border authorities their valid travel documents and residence permits.”

What this means in practice is that foreigners living in Germany cannot use the new automated passport gates that will be introduced with EES in May 2023.

The reason for this is that the automated passport gates only give the option to show a passport – it is not possible to also show a residence permit or permanent residency card. 

The automated system also counts how long people have stayed in Germany or Schengen, and whether they have exceeded their 90-day limit for short-term or visa-free stays.

Since residents are naturally exempt from the 90-day rule, they need to avoid the 90-day ‘clock’ beginning when they enter the EU. The best way to do this is to ensure that someone sees sees your residence permit upon entry. 

According to German immigration authorities, a stamp given out in error should not have an impact on residency rights. However, if the entry checks are conducted electronically, your passport could erroneously record an overstay, which could cause headaches later on. 

READ ALSO: British residents of EU told not to worry about ‘souvenir’ passport stamps

A Commission spokesman said: “EES is an automated IT system for registering non-EU nationals travelling for a short stay, each time they cross the external borders of European countries using the system (exemptions apply, see FAQ section).

“This concerns travellers who require a short-stay visa and those who do not need a visa. Refusals of entry are also recorded in the system. Non-EU citizens residing in the EU are not in the scope of the EES and will not be subject to pre-enrollment of data in the EES via self-service systems. The use of automation remains under the responsibility of the Member States and its availability in border crossing points is not mandatory.”

According to the French Interior Ministry, residents from non-EU countries should go to a manned gate and present their passport and residency papers together, instead of using the electronic gates. 

The Local has contacted the German Interior Ministry to confirm whether similar guidance applies in Germany. 

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