The citizens’ office (known as a Bürgeramt, Bürgerbüro or Bürgerdienst) plays a very important role in Germany. As an expat, the Bürgeramt is probably the institution you’ll visit most regularly, as they deal with everything from address registration to pet licences.
What is a citizens’ office (Bürgeramt)?
Introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of the citizens’ office is to make local government administration more accessible by bringing a range of municipal services under one roof. Functions previously carried out by the central town hall (Rathaus) were therefore passed over to local citizen’s offices (Bürgerämter).
Although they may not always deliver on their promise to decrease waiting times (it is not uncommon to have to wait over two months in larger German cities), citizens’ offices do offer a one-stop shop for many important and useful services in Germany.
What are citizens’ offices responsible for?
You will need to visit your local citizens’ office to take care of many different types of everyday administration in Germany, including:
- Registering your address, deregistering or re-registering if you have changed address
- Issuing certificates of registration
- Applying for or renewing your ID card or German passport
- Exchanging your driving licence for a German one
- Applying for housing benefit
- Registering your car
- Obtaining a residents’ parking permit
- Paying dog tax and receiving licences for pets
- Registering your business
- Obtaining recognition for foreign documents
Find your local citizens’ office (Bürgeramt)
There are hundreds of citizens’ offices in Germany, with almost every town having at least one (Berlin has 60). Usually, the competent office is the one closest to you. The Deutsche Post website has a useful directory of Bürgerämter.
While some citizens’ offices cater for all of the above requests, others may only offer limited services. Your local office’s website will detail exactly which services they offer.
Visiting your local citizens’ office
It is best to make an appointment in advance of visiting the citizens' office - most offices have an online appointment tool. You can also book an appointment on the phone. However, be aware that appointments can get booked up very far in advance.
If your need is urgent (i.e. you need a tax ID or a proof of address to open a German bank account), it might be worth waiting for a drop-in appointment. You can simply show up to the office, take a number, and settle down for a rather long wait.