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REVEALED: The documents you should never throw away in Germany

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected] • 27 Oct, 2022 Updated Thu 27 Oct 2022 17:28 CEST
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A woman opens a letter from the German pension fund. Photo: picture alliance / Jörg Carstensen/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

It's easy to find yourself drowning in paperwork in Germany, and you may even be tempted to clear out some documents you don't think you need anymore. Before you do: make sure they're not on this list.

Anyone who's lived in Germany for a while will have noticed that every life event seems to come with a document or two. Whether it's getting a new residence permit, registering at an address, starting a new job or even getting married, it all becomes part of the ever-expanding paper trail. 

If you're trying to get organised, you may be wondering if all these documents are really worth keeping. But there are some bits of paperwork that you should make sure you keep around, as they're bound to come in useful later on.

Here are some of the most important documents that you should never throw away in Germany. 

Birth certificates

You'll need your birth certificate at several important points in Germany, from applying for citizenship to getting your pension. In some cases, a certified translation may be required, though almost all government offices will require the original as well.

Parents also need their children's birth certificate to apply for parental allowance, child allowance, child benefit and to register their child for health insurance. It is also needed for securing a daycare place and as proof of periods of parental leave for pension purposes. 

If you lose a German birth certificate, it's best to go the local Standesamt (registry office) where the birth took place. Since 2009, an electronic register accessible by other registry offices also exists.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The tax cuts foreign parents in Germany need to know about

Address registration 

Your address registration, or Meldebescheinigung, is one of the documents you'll need most often in Germany - and it can be especially important if you're a foreigner. You'll need it to open a bank account, take out a phone contract or apply for a library card, but also to prove how long you've been resident in the country. 

That's why it's often a good idea to keep previous registration certificates from old addresses that can track your continuous residence in the country. If you apply for German citizenship at any point, the Einbürgerungsbehörde (Citizenship Office) is likely to ask you for a full registration document that details everywhere you've lived since you arrived in the country.

If you happen to lose your registration, you'll need to apply for a new one at your local Bürgeramt.

Visa documents and residence permits

This sounds like an obvious one, but if you're a foreigner in Germany, keeping proof of your right to live and work in the country is an absolute must. You'll probably be asked to present this to employers and at various public offices like the Finanzamt, so it's worth keeping any visa documents or residence permits safe.

If you do end up losing your permit, contact the Ausländerbehörde (Foreigner's Office) as soon as possible.

READ ALSO: What to do if you lose your residence permit in Germany

School leaving certificate 

If you want to apply for a pension in Germany, you'll generally need documentation of all education you've undertaken since the age of 16. The school-leaving certificate also need to be presented for a place at university, graduation certificates for apprenticeships or job applications. For foreigners, it may also be required for a citizenship or visa application.

You can usually get a replacement school leaving certificate from your former school, but this can take around a month. 

Marriage certificate 

As well as being a sign of your devotion, your marriage certificate is essential for reorganising your life in Germany after getting hitched. You may need to show it to your boss to get special leave for your honeymoon, or to set up new joint bank accounts or insurance policies. You'll also need to show it to the Finanzamt when changing your tax classification. Since Germany has a strict system of inheritance for people who choose not to make a will, the marriage certificate is also used to prove who's the next of kin if one partner passes away. 

For all of the above reasons, it's best to keep your original marriage certificate somewhere safe, but if you do end up losing it, a replacement can be secured at the relevant registry office for around €10-15. 

READ ALSO: ‘Ja, ich will’: What it’s like to get married in Germany 

Divorce certificate 

Once divorce proceedings are completed in court, the divorce certifcate (Scheidungsbeschluss) can be used to transfer bank accounts, change names and get married again. It's also useful in inheritance cases - specifically to prove that the ex-partner should be excluded as an heir. 

Both partners - as well as the divorce lawyer - should have a copy of the divorce certificate, but replacements can be sourced for around €30 from the family or district court that handled your case. However, it's worth noting that the process can take around six months, so keeping the original safe will help you avoid stress in the future. 

District court in Minden

Outside view of Minden district court in North Rhine.Westphalia. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Inderlied

Social security number and registration 

If you want to work in Germany, you'll need to keep hold of your social security number and/ or ID, since employers will ask for it before taking you on. You should also make sure you keep hold of the social security registration certificates that are sent out each year detailing your pension contributions and current health insurance, as these are needed to calculate your statutory pension.

The best way to keep hold of your social security number is to make a note of it, but you can also secure replacement IDs from your health or pension insurance provider. To get proof of social security payments, you'll need to go through your employer. 

Company pension plan

Company pensions aren't paid out automatically in Germany, which means you'll need confirmation of your plan to apply for it in later life. That's why it's essential to keep details of your company pension plan - and apply for replacement documents through your company as soon as possible if you lose them. 

Church register excerpts

If you want to have a church wedding or, for example, become a godparent in the Protestant Church, you'll often need proof that you belong to that church. This can be done through parish records detailing things like baptisms and confirmations.

By the same token, if you leave the church, it's also useful to keep proof to hand. That can save you some difficult conversations with the tax office if they query why you're no longer paying church tax. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rules foreigners should know about German church weddings

Certificate of inheritance 

When a family member dies, relatives and other heirs often need to prove their relation to the deceased with a document known as a certificate of inheritance or an Erbeschein. This document is needed to transfer things like bank accounts or change ownership of property in the land registry, claim money from a life insurance policy and take legal decisions like cancelling contracts on behalf of the relative that passed away. 

It's advisable to get at least five copies of the Erbeschein as many places ask for originals, and getting replacements can be expensive and time-consuming. If you do find yourself needing one, you can apply at the probate court. The cost will be linked to the size of the inheritance: the bigger the inheritance, the bigger the fee.

Confirmation of financial assets

If you're owed shares, dividends, repayments or have some kind of profit-sharing sharing agreement with a company, your right to these assets is often recorded in writing. These documents act as vital proof of your rights and should be kept until you end up claiming them. 

Court documents

Documents at the state court in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

Will 

If you don't want your assets to be divided according to German law, writing a will is the best way to assert your wishes after death in a will, or Testament. This should be kept in a safe place where it can also be found if you pass away. This could be somewhere at home, or it could be stored in official safekeeping at the propate court - a service that costs around €75 and includes an entry in the federal register of wills. 

If you lose your original will, it's best to try and replace it as soon as possible, since copies aren't accepted by the courts. If the will is lost at the time of death, the standard German inheritance law will apply, with assets passed on to the closest surviving relatives. 

READ ALSO: 

Death certificate 

This Sterbeurkunde, which confirms the date of an individual's death, is necessary for tasks like dealing with the deceased's legal issues, accessing social security and applying for an Erbeschein, or certificate of inheritance. 

In most cases, only the original or a certified copy will be accepted. You can get these from the registry office at the place of death. 

 

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Imogen Goodman 2022/10/27 17:28

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