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For members

MOVING TO GERMANY

Reader question: How can I get an official German ID without a residence permit?

It can be useful to have some form of ID for day-to-day life in Germany. But what do you do as a foreigner if you don't have a residence permit to use, and you don't want to risk carrying your passport around? Here's what you need to know.

A man presents his German ID card
A man presents his German ID card. Photo: picture alliance / Sebastian Willnow/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

According to the Ministry of Interior, all German citizens must own some form of official identification from the age of 16 onwards. There’s also a very prevalent myth which states that people in Germany must carry this official ID on them wherever they go.

The first thing to ask is whether this rule is actually true, and whether foreigners in particular are obliged to own, or carry, official ID?

Contrary to what many people are told, neither foreigners nor Germans are legally required to carry a form of ID with them when out and about – unless, of course, they’re crossing the German border. 

“Section 48 of the Residence Act does not contain any obligation to carry a passport,” states legal website Juraforum.de. “The Dessau-Roßlau Regional Court (Case No.: 13 OWI 329/11) determined that a foreigner does not have to carry an identity document at all times.

“An identity document must only be presented after a reasonable period of time upon request.”

In other words, though it can make it easier if you have ID with you if you’re stopped by the authorities for any reason, experts say you aren’t obligated to present ID straight away, but rather “after a reasonable period of time”. 

That technically means that you can leave your passport at home and only present it as proof of identity once you’re able to.

But what if you’re keen to have some form of ID that you can carry with you for day-to-day things like using vending machines or proving your age in a supermarket?

Or, more commonly, to show that your vaccine passport or recovery certificate belongs to you under Germany’s 3G/2G or 2G-plus Covid health pass restrictions?

That all depends on your citizenship and residency situation.

For German nationals, getting hold of an official ID card is a simple as going to your local Bürgeramt. For non-EU nationals, your residence permit card will have an electronic ID function and can be used to prove your identity within Germany.

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

For EU citizens who aren’t German, things can feel a little bit trickier, as you don’t need a residence permit and are not entitled to a German ID card.

So what are your options?

Well, since January 1st, 2021, non-German EU and EEA citizens have been able to apply for an electronic ID (eID) card under German law. To do this, you’ll need to be at least 16 years old and have another form of valid official ID, such as a passport, in your possession.

The eID cards cost €37 and are issued for a period of 10 years. 

While these aren’t considered valid travel documents, they can be used to prove your ID within Germany, for example at vending machines or self-service terminals in local public offices. 

General information about the eID card for EU/EEA citizens can be found here. If you’d like to know more about the digital function and how to use it, see our recent explainer here:

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

Member comments

  1. It has been a complete disaster having to carry all our passports nearly EVERWHERE we go to do practically anything. Especially for my kids. If they lose them, we’re in a heap of trouble as it takes 6-8 weeks to get a new one and getting an appointment at a local embassy or consulate is difficult. We, Americans, are not accustomed to it. We usually use our driver’s licenses, military IDs, or work badges to prove identity. Passports are meant for cross-border identification and this is crazy to us.

    1. Why do you carry your passport? I’m also American. I carry my and my children’s residence permits (Aufehaltstitel) unless we travel outside Germany.

      1. We don’t have residence permits because we are here with NATO. We have SOFA visas stamped in our passports. Military IDs don’t work nor do driver’s licenses. Only the passport.

        1. Ah, ok. I was trying to figure out how someone outside the EU could stay more than 90 days without a residence permit. Makes sense now.

    2. I recently got my passport card (US) and carry that instead of my actual passport. It’s been a lifesaver since it fits nicely in a pocket or wallet.

      I’ve used it twice so far without issue. Perhaps that could help your situation, at least a little bit.

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For members

VISAS

What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Germany?

People visiting Germany from a non-EU country are often subject to the 90-day rule, which states that they can only stay for 90 days out of 180. But how strictly is this rule enforced - and what happens if you end up overstaying?

What happens if you overstay your 90-day limit in Germany?

Most people who’ve come to Germany for short leisure trips should be aware of the so-called ’90-day rule’. 

The applies to citizens of non-EU countries that have a visa waiver agreement with the European Union, including people from New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada, and – since Brexit – the United Kingdom. 

It also applies to people travelling in Germany on a Schengen Visa for tourism or business purposes. Though visa durations can vary depending on personal circumstances, the most common type of Schengen Visa issued allows people to stay in the free-travel area for up to 90 days out of 180. 

But while the rules may seem pretty clear-cut, it’s often not obvious what the consequences are for people who end up staying longer than they’re supposed to. Here’s a rundown of the current rules and how Germany applies them.

What exactly is the ’90-day rule’?

As we mentioned above, the 90-day rule dictates that people from certain non-EU countries can only stay in Schengen states for up to 90 days in every 180.

It applies to people visiting Germany for tourism, business or leisure activities from countries like the United States, Japan, Australia and Singapore, which have a visa waiver (i.e. visa-free travel) scheme in place. You can check if you’re eligible to enter Germany without a visa here.

The 90 days can be used all in one go or over the course of several different trips. However, the important thing to remember is that no more than 90 days should have been spent in Schengen within 180 days of first entering the travel zone. 

As an example, if you enter Germany on the 1st of January and leave on June 30th, you can’t return until at least September. You should also note that moving to another Schengen country like France or Italy after your 90 days is up won’t cut it: the rule applies to time spent in the EU, so you will need to leave the Bloc entirely. 

People from countries without a visa waiver scheme can generally apply for a 90-day Schengen Visa. This generally has similar conditions to the visa waiver programme for Austrians, Brits, etc., but you would need to apply for another visa in order to return after the 180 days is up. 

If you plan to work or study in Germany or want to stay longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for visa. Nationals of certain countries, including the US and the UK, can apply for a visa while already in Germany, while others will have to apply for this before they travel.

You can find more details on moving to Germany from a third country in the following articles:

What consequences are there for overstayers?

If you spend more than 90 days in the EU or Schengen zone without a visa or residency permit then you are officially an overstayer. And unlike the pre-EU days when passport control consisted of a man in a booth with a rubber stamp, scanning of all passports on entry/exit of the EU makes it pretty easy to spot overstayers.

This is set to become even more stringent when the EES scheme comes into effect next year – full details on that HERE

The EU lists a range of possible penalties although in practice some countries are stricter than others.

A police officer at border control in Germany

A police officer at border control in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

Within the system, anyone who overstays can be subject to the following penalties:

Deportation – if you are found to have overstayed, countries are within their rights to either imprison you and deport you, or give you a certain number of days to leave. In practice, deportation is rare for people who aren’t working or claiming benefits: they are more likely to be advised of the situation and told to leave as soon as possible.

Fines – fines can be levied in addition to other penalties and vary according to country. In Germany, they will depend on a range of circumstances, such as how long your overstay, whether the overstay is deemed intentional and if you have any previous convictions. For cases that are deemed to be ‘administrative offences’ – i.e. overstaying out of negligence – a fine of up to €3,000 is possible. In criminal cases, courts can set fines on a case-by-case basis. They could decide to issue a fine based on the number of days you’ve overstayed (for example, €40 per day) but are also likely to consider any other aggravating or mitigating factors. 

Prison sentences – in extremely rare cases, people who overstay their visas in Germany can face up to a year in prison. However, this would generally involve aggravating factors like working for several months or committing another offence while in the country.

Entry ban – countries can impose a complete ban on re-entry, usually for three years although it can be longer. A complete ban is usually only put in place for people who have over-stayed for a significant amount of time.

READ ALSO: Does transit through Germany’s neighbours affect Brexit 90-day rule?

Difficulties returning to the Schengen area – even if you avoid all of the above penalties, the overstay alert on your passport will make it more difficult for you to return to the EU, and this applies to any EU or Schengen zone country, not just the one you over-stayed in. People who have this alert on their passport are likely to face extended checks at the border and may even be turned back. You will also likely encounter difficulties if you later apply for a visa or residency.

People who simply stay in an EU country without securing residency become undocumented immigrants and will not be able to access healthcare or social security provisions. If caught, they face deportation.

How is Germany enforcing the rules?

Compared to some other EU countries, Germany has a reputation for having especially strict immigration rules. Though they may not spot your overstay immediately while you’re still in the country, it’s likely to be picked up when you leave. 

This could have consequences for future visits or visa applications, or other consequences mentioned above. 

A woman passes through the automated passport control in EU

A woman passes through the automated passport control at Düsseldorf airport. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Federico Gambarini

How can I avoid overstaying in Germany?

One of the best ways to avoid an accidental overstay in Germany is to have a firm grip on the rules. It’s worth remembering, for example, that the date you arrive counts as the first day of your stay, even if your flight lands just before midnight. The same goes for the date you leave: anytime after midnight counts as the next day, even if it’s in the early hours of the morning. 

If you’re planning to make multiple short trips to Schengen in the 180 day period, you can use this handy calculator to work out how many more days you are allowed to stay. 

Of course, unforeseen circumstances can occur, such as sudden illness or other problems affecting your ability to return home. In these circumstances, you should contact your nearest Foreigners’ Office (Ausländerbehörde) as soon as possible to see what options are available to you. In some cases, they may allow you to extend your time in Germany without treating it as an illegal overstay. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

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