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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

FAMILY

What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

It is not something anyone wants to spend too much time dwelling on, but as we all know bereavements are the only certainty in life other than taxes. This list aims to take you through the paperwork that comes with a death in Germany.

What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

Death is a tragic and disorientating part of family life whenever it hits. But living in a foreign country can make things more complicated.

In the event that the deceased lived to a good old age, they have hopefully made arrangement for what to do next. In the event of a more unexpected bereavement though, this panning might not be in place. Should the deceased be buried in Germany or repatriated to their homeland? If they are to be buried in Germany, what type of funeral would they have wanted?

The following article gives some information on what everyone needs to do in the event of a death on the family in Germany, as well as some tips on the special circumstances of dealing with a death abroad.

READ ALSO: ‘Behind all the numbers there are human fates’: Germany mourns 80,000 pandemic victims at memorial

Immediately after the death

The bureacratic side of dealing with a bereavement can differ from state to state in Germany. Like many things in this federal republic, the laws on death are written in state parliaments.

But there are some things you’ll have to do wherever you are.

If the person dies at home, the next of kin will have to immediately notify a doctor. You can call your local GP or a Notarzt (emergency doctor). They will come and evaluate the cause of death and the time of death. They’ll then fill out what is called a Todesschein or Leichenschauschein (death notice), which is important for later stages of the bureaucratic process.

Emergency doctor

An emergency doctor’s van arrives at a house in Heidelberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa//Pr-Video | R.Priebe

You actually have a legal duty to notify a doctor and to see to other things such as employing a funeral home.

If the death takes place at a hospital or care home, the administrators there will take care of the initial formalities.

In the hours after the death you will also need to bring together all the important documents that you will need over the coming days. You will need the deceased’s identity card or passport, their birth certificate, marriage certificate (and divorce papers if relevant), and will.

Contacting an undertaker

The next important thing to do is to find a funeral home. Employing of funeral home is part of your obligations and next of kin. Generally you have to do that within 36 hours of the death, although some states might even require this to happen sooner.

The good news is that the funeral home can basically help you with all of the subsequent arrangements including the bureaucratic stuff. 

It is not rare in Germany for the deceased to have already made contact with a funeral home before their death.

The costs of German funeral homes can be high, meaning that many people have already made arrangements before they die so as not to burden their families with the costs.

Even a simple funeral can cost between €3,000 and €5,000, according to the Verraucherzentral consumer watchdog. Many Germans are therefore prepare for their own death by taking out a Sterbegeldversicherung.

According to the Verbraucherzentrale though, one often ends up paying more into a Sterbegeldversicherung than the actual costs associated with dying. And, as opposed to other types of insurance, one is insuring oneself against something that will definitely happen. This means that it can make more sense to put money aside or to set up a contract with a funeral home before one’s death.

As next of kin, it’s important to know what financial planning the deceased put in place so that you can then access these funds to pay for the costs of burial, a gravestone if necessary, and the rental of a burial plot among other things.

If they have already found a funeral home then your job is made easier. If not, it is best to get a Kostenvoranschlag (cost estimate) from a few undertakers.

The US embassy lists English-speaking funeral homes in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. The British embassy has also published a list of English-speaking funeral directors. If you don’t live in one of those cities you can look online for a Bestattungsinstitut (funeral home) or you can ask around among friends and colleagues for a recommendation.

Notifying the authorities

Another thing that needs to happen quickly is that you need to notify the local registrar, or Standesamt (registrar’s office) in German. You general have to notify them within three working days, but the funeral home can do this for you (at an extra cost).

The Standesmant will issue the deceased with a Sterbesurkunde (death certificate), which is an important document for dealing with life insurance and the will, for example.

The cross of the Mariensäule in Rheinland-Palatinate in the morning fog.

The cross of the Mariensäule in Rheinland-Palatinate in the morning fog. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Harald Tittel

To obtain the death certificate, you will need to provide several important documents. These include the Todesschein, the deceased’s birth certificate and marriage certificate. If these are in another language, you need to present the Standesamt with the original as well as a German version that has been translated by a certified translator.

For a small additional sum, the Standesamt can provide an international death certificate that is written in English and should be valid for legal issues related to the death abroad.

READ ALSO: Ehegattensplitting: How did Germany’s marriage tax law become so controversial?

Graveyard obligation

If it was the wish of the deceased to be buried in Germany, then there is an important element of German law that you should be aware of.

The deceased’s remains have to be placed in a graveyard, regardless of whether they have been cremated or are buried in a coffin. This law, known as the Friedhofszwang dates back to Prussian times. Some states have tweaked it around its edges, so you will have to inform yourself about the specifics where you live. Generally though, keeping an urn at home is streng verboten (strictly forbidden).

There are two exceptions to this rule, however: the person can be buried in a forest in a specially designated Waldfriedhof, or their cremated remains can be scattered at sea in a Seebestattung.

People can be laid to rest in a designated forest in Germany. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael

Informing embassies

There is no need for you to inform an embassy of the death of a citizen of that country. But, if the person has a next of kin at home whom you do not want to inform personally or cannot inform personally, the embassy can usually take over this work. Meanwhile, you can register the death in the home country through the consulate, a step that means there will be a record in their native country of their death.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about German inheritance law

Repatriation

One issue that makes a death abroad that much more complicated than dying at home is the question of whether to repatriate the remains or not.

Repatriation can be pretty expensive and it is also made more complicated by various legal requirements that vary from state to state. The British embassy advises you to discuss repatriation with your funeral home, which will generally be able to make the arrangements for you.

In some circumstances it could be possible to take an urn by hand luggage, but in other parts of the country you need to fulfill stricter criteria.

Repatriating a corpse for burial back home is much tricker and more expensive than repatriating cremated remains. That is especially the case during the pandemic.

The US embassy warns that people who have died after suffering from Covid-19 cannot be repatriated unless they are cremated first. That is because Germany does not allow for the embalming of people who died from a communicable disease. The US meanwhile does not allow corpses to enter the country which have not been embalmed.

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