The Identity Card – der Ausweis

Identity Cards and Residence Registration

Most European countries, including Austria and Germany, require their citizens to have and carry a personal identity card, known in German as a Personalausweis. (In Switzerland it is called an Identitätskarte, and it is not mandatory.) The Ausweis serves much the same purpose as a driver’s license in the US and Canada. However, a European ID card is not a driver’s license. (See Driving in Germany for more about that topic.)


A sample German Personalausweis.

The Ausweis also functions as a sort of passport for Germans and Austrians traveling within the European Union (and sometimes other countries), where they do not need a regular passport. Even though Switzerland is not an EU member, the Swiss ID card is also valid for travel to many neighboring countries.


A sample Swiss identity card (Identitätskarte).

The current plastic German ID card was introduced in November 2010. The new credit-card sized ID has improved security features and is smaller than the previous ID card. With a special card reader, the new card can also be used online.

German citizens over the age of 16 are required to have an Ausweis or a German passport. Each card has an RFID chip with a digital version of the ID photo and two fingerprints (optional). A German ID card is valid for ten years (six years if obtained before the age of 24) and costs €28.80. Since 2007, parents have been able to get a German ID card for a newborn infant if they want to. Holders of earlier ID cards do not have to get a new one until their old card expires. In the old days, when the Ausweis was a paper document, it was common to get a new one when you changed your address, but that is no longer the case. (But see more about Anmeldung below.)

The plastic, credit-card sized Austrian ID card has been in use since January 2002. It costs €61.50 and is valid for ten years (five years for children under age 12). As in Germany, Austrian citizens can also use a passport instead of an ID card.

Anmeldung – Registration
When you move to a German-speaking country to live, you are required to do two things: (1) Register your new address with the local authorities, and (2) obtain a residence permit (visa) for stays longer than 90 days. But even if a German or Austrian just wants to move from one apartment to another in the same building, he/she must register the new address with the authorities. This Anmeldung is required within a few days of moving, whether within a building or across the country. If you move away, then Abmeldung (deregistration) is necessary before you leave. To take care of Anmeldung or Abmeldung, contact the registration office (Einwohnermeldeamt) at the city hall (Rathaus). In larger cities, the Bürgeramt or Bürgerbüro in your district is where you go to register. In some cities it is possible to get an appointment online, or even to deregister online.

Also see: Getting a Visa for Germany

More | Living in Germany

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