If you will be staying in Germany for longer than three months, you need to register your address (anmelden) at your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt).
Meldepflicht (compulsory registration) requires everyone, whether German or international, to register at their home address. Registration authorities (Meldebehörde) register the persons residing in their area of jurisdiction in order to track population and places of residence.
Receiving your registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung) & tax ID
Your registration appointment (Anmeldung) is the most important step when relocating to Germany, as it provides you with your registration certificate (Anmeldebescheinigung). You will need this for all kinds of administrative tasks in the country, for instance applying for a residence permit, opening a bank account or finding a job.
When you register, you will also automatically receive your tax ID (steuerliche Identifikationsnummer). This separate document is a unique number provided to you by the Federal Central Tax Office. Your employer will need it to work out what rate of income tax you should pay. It may also be required for taking out health insurance or starting a pension.
How to register in Germany
By law, you need to register within 14 days of moving into your new address in Germany. If you don’t yet have a fixed address, registering can be tricky, as one of the documents required to register is a confirmation of residence signed by your landlord. In some municipalities, it may be possible to have this filled out by the proprietor of your temporary accommodation, but usually you will be unable to register until you have a rental contract. If you are uncertain, check with your citizens' office.
Making an appointment to register
It’s best to make an appointment to register, either in person or by phone. Most citizens' offices in major municipalities also offer online registration appointment bookings, although these are usually only available in German. When selecting a service, look for “Meldeangelegenheiten” to find the option to register. If phoning, ask the office for an appointment for “registering an address” (Anmeldung einer Wohnung). The service is usually free, but some offices may charge nominal fees. Be aware that many places in Germany do not accept payments by credit card.
Note that appointments are limited and it is not always possible to get an appointment within the 2-week cut-off period. However, it usually suffices to have booked your appointment within 2 weeks of moving in, even if the appointment itself is later than that. If you urgently need your registration certificate or Tax ID, you can always go to the citizens' office for a drop-in appointment. Turn up as early as possible, take a number ticket, and be prepared for quite a long wait.
The registration appointment
The appointment itself lasts about 10-15 minutes, as the official checks your documents, fills in the paperwork and then gives you a stamped certificate of registration. Your Tax ID will arrive separately in the post within 2-3 weeks.
Staff cannot always be expected to speak English and so the registration appointment will usually be conducted in German. If possible, take a German speaker along with you. You can often print off and fill out the registration form (Anmeldeformular) in advance from your citizens' office's website to help you prepare. It is also possible for someone who speaks German to attend the appointment in your place. They will need a letter signed by you authorising them to act on your behalf. They will also have to take your completed registration form and corroborating documents along with them, as well as their own passport or identity card.
Church tax (Kirchensteuer)
You will be asked at your registration appointment whether you belong to a religious denomination. If you identify as either Protestant (evangelisch) or Catholic (katholisch), you will be expected to pay a church tax of between eight and nine percent of your annual income tax. To avoid paying it, make sure you register yourself as "without religion" (ohne Religion).
Citizens’ offices (Bürgerämter) contact details
You can find your local citizens' office by selecting "Einwohnermeldeamt" and entering your postcode on the Deutsche Post website. There are usually multiple ones in each German city. You do not necessarily need to register at the office closest to you, so it might be worth going to one further away if they have an appointment available sooner.
Documents needed to register
Your citizens' office's website will list exactly which documents you need to bring with you to the appointment. The required documents are usually:
- Valid passport or ID card (not a driving licence).
- Visa (if applicable).
- Proof of residence certificate (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung - see below).
- Completed registration form (if someone is attending on your behalf; otherwise the registration form will be filled out by the official at your appointment).
- Marriage certificate (if applicable).
Note: if you are registering multiple people at the same time (i.e. your partner or children), make sure to bring all of their documents as well. It is acceptable to have one proof of residence certificate for more than one person.
Proof of residence certificate (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung)
Once you start renting a room or apartment, it is important to ask your landlord for a proof of residence certificate (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung). A rental contract will not suffice.
As of November 2015, the federal government has made it compulsory for landlords to cooperate with registration by providing proof of residence. As so much bureaucracy in Germany depends on having a certificate of registration, it would be inadvisable to rent a place from a landlord who refuses to provide a residence confirmation.
Penalties for not registering
Registering is compulsory for all citizens by law. Remaining unregistered, giving incorrect details or registering late are not permitted. If you do not register correctly, you could be fined up to 1.000 euros.
Registering for a short stay
If your stay in Germany will be less than three months but you are working or studying, you will need a registration certificate and / or a tax ID, which means you will still need to register at your local citizens' office.
If you change your address in Germany you will need to go through the same process again to register at your new address within 2 weeks. You do not need to de-register from your old address.
If you are leaving Germany permanently, you also need to de-register at the citizens' office within two weeks of moving out. You are not allowed to de-register more than one week before you move away.