I am living in the US but am a German citizen.

Some years ago, I got a new 'Personalausweis' (German citizen ID card), with the new 'electronic signature function' (I chose 'yes' when asked).

However, it seems that this was not enough - when trying to use it, it needs some 'activation'. All sources I could find tell me to go to the local authorities and 'get it activated' - but I live in the US and don't want to fly over the Atlantic just for that; especially as the potential success and usefulness is unclear.

How can I get this function 'activated'? I have a card reader in my laptop, and it does recognize my 'Personalausweis'. But I cannot get any further. What can I do?

One of the things I would like to use it for is reviewing my social security/pension history and details at the corresponding government authority ('Rentenversicherungsanstalt'). That seems to need this function...

  • I have a similar card in Hungary, there when I ordered the ID I was asked how I wanted to activate it, and when I said I won't be in the country I was given a separate card with a PIN code I could use for activation from abroad
    – SztupY
    Mar 26, 2016 at 10:31
  • 2
    Did you ask (phone) a German consulate/embassy? Google gives you 3 contacts
    – user6860
    Mar 27, 2016 at 11:43
  • I didn't yet - the next Embassy is still a day-trip away from me. I was hoping there would be a German citizen here that has activated this feature and remembers how it works.
    – Aganju
    Mar 27, 2016 at 14:21
  • Usually you would need to visit your local citizen's office to activate it. It needs to be done by a government employee and costs a few Euro. But I'm confused as that's what should have happened when you chose "yes". Do you remember setting a PIN when receiving the card?
    – neo
    Mar 28, 2016 at 11:11
  • 1
    Are you referring to the eID functionality, making it possible to identify yourself (by entering a PIN) as 1) having and b) being the authorized user of a German Personalausweis? - Or are you actually referring to the functionality of the Personalausweis to hold a certificate (which has to be purchased separately) for electronically signing things? - An answer depends greatly on which one you want... Aug 9, 2017 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


The (kinda) new German Personalausweis has two - separate - uses vaguely related to "electronic signatures":

  1. The "Online-Ausweisfunktion" (on-line identification), also called eID (for "electronic Identity" [sic!])

    When applying for one, you will indeed be asked, if you want to use this feature. If you answer "yes" (and are old enough), you should get a "PIN-Brief" (PIN letter), containing

    • a five digit PIN for final activation of the feature (which will have to be changed to a six digit one during activation)
    • a PUK
    • a password for deactivating the eID in case you lose the card!

    Using this feature, anyone registered with and authorized by the German authorities can electronically "ask" the Personalausweis for certain information (like name and age of the bearer - the need for each piece of information will have to be proven to the authorities) and get a signed response from it, thus knowing that the information is correct.

  2. The "Unterschriftsfunktion" (digital signature)

    To use this, one has to acquire a singing certificate (subject to German Signaturgesetz) from one of the authorized suppliers of those.

    Using this certificate, one can electronically sign things, which then have basically the same legal standing as physical documents under German law.

The services of Deutsche Rentenversicherung seem to need the eID functionality, not the signature.

So, what you need to do is

  1. Locate your "PIN-Brief"
  2. Use the "Transport-PIN" therein to activate your eID and set a PIN
  3. Use the eID with your PIN to use the services you want.

Everything depends on you still having this letter, though.

Update for the clarified intent of the question: After researching a little it seems clear that, at least technically, there is a possibility to activate the eID function without the PIN-Brief.

As, according to this page for the Generalkonsulat Miami, which I suppose is the correct one in this case, a Personalausweis can be ordered there and the PIN can be set there.

As they have the technical means to do this, you should be able to set your PIN, when you - personally - take your Personalausweis to their location. You will probably have to make a date for that and pay them dearly.

The only two possibilities for changing a PIN seem to be "with a valid PIN or Transport-PIN" or "on-site of a German Personalausweisbehörde"!

Even though I'm quite confident that this information is correct, I'd still call them and ask, before driving there...

  • Is it not possible to have the letter (and I suppose possibly the card) reissued in case the letter is lost?
    – phoog
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:07
  • I definitely never had that letter. I am not living in Germany, and the Personalausweis reads 'no address in Germany' in that field. So wherever they mailed it to - if at all - I never got it. That is the core of my question - what can I do to get this while not having a German address?
    – Aganju
    Aug 10, 2017 at 0:15
  • @Aganju I updated my answer to include information about how you should be able to achieve your goal. It might not be a solution you like, though... ;) Aug 10, 2017 at 7:06

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