What you need to know about your social security number in Germany
Getting your social security number in Germany is the doorway to its welfare system. Next to your tax ID, it’s probably the most important set of alphanumerical characters for newcomers here.
At the end of this post, you will know what it is, how to get it, what it does, and what to do if you lost it.
What is the social security number in Germany
Your German social security number (Sozialversicherungsnummer) is a 12-digit number used to track all of your social security contributions and identify you with the German public pension office (Deutsche Rentenversicherung). At various times you will also see this number referred to as: the insurance number (Versicherungsnummer), pension insurance number (Rentenversicherungsnummer), SVNR, or RNVR.
Rest assured, there are all different words for the same thing.
Your social security number is distinctly different from your tax ID (Steueridentifikationsnummer), an 11-digit number used by the tax office.
What does it look like?
The German social security number has 12 digits – 11 numbers and one letter. It has the following format:
12 123456 A 123
The social security number in Germany is divided into five parts and has the following attributes:
- The first two digits refer to the area number of the local pension office.
- The next six refer to your date of birth.
- The letter is the first letter of your last name.
- The 10th and 11th digits refer to your gender.
- And the final digit is a random number to differentiate your number from people with the same name.
What is it used for
Every employee in Germany has to make contributions to the statutory social security system:
- Health insurance (Krankenversicherung)
- Pension (Rentenversicherung)
- Old-age care (Pflegeversicherung)
- Unemployment benefits (ALG1)
This number helps the relevant authorities keep track of your contributions.
In addition to social contributions, your social security number is used by your employer to take pension contributions from your paycheck, so it’s important that they receive this number as soon as possible after you start working. That being said, most employers will register you with the German pension office as soon as you are employed, and you will be sent a social security card containing your social security number by post.
With the help of the social security ID, you can also claim the following state benefits:
- Parental benefits (Elternzeit & Elterngeld)
- Accident insurance (Unfallversicherung)
- Child benefits (Kindergeld)
If you plan on leaving Germany and don’t want to leave your pension to the government, you’ll also need this number to claim your pension payments back.
Who needs one?
If you are registered and working in Germany, you need a social security number. This applies to the CEO of the hottest tech startup as well as the cashier at your local Aldi. There are, however, a few scenarios in which you wouldn’t need a social security number, but we’ll take a look at these a bit further down.
Health insurance number vs social security number
While it might be logical to think that, since health insurance falls under social security, the same number that is used for social security identification would be used for health insurance identification. However, because of stringent data protection laws, Germany uses different numbers for different social security systems. So while your pension insurance number is used as a social security number, your health insurance number is used for a completely separate institution and purpose.
How to get a German social security number
There are two different scenarios that will determine how and when you receive your German social security number.
If you’re on public health insurance
When you apply for public health insurance, or when your employer puts you on public health insurance, you will automatically receive your social security number in Germany by post. On paper, this takes between one and six weeks, but it usually arrives in less than two. If you need it urgently, visit your local German pension office (Deutsche Rentenversicherung) branch and you can receive it on the same day.
If you already have public health insurance but for some reason don’t have your social security number, you can ask your health insurer for a membership confirmation document (Mitgliedsbescheinigung) or a social insurance card (Sozialversicherungsausweis). Both of these documents contain your German social security number and can be obtained online in a few minutes for free. This link, for example, lets you request a Sozialversicherungsausweis on TK’s website.
If you’re on private health insurance
If you’re on private health insurance and have been since arriving in Germany, it’s likely that you don’t have a social security number yet. In this case, you have to ask your local Deutsche Rentenversicherung office to issue you one. There are a few different ways you can go about this.
- You can write an email to your local Deutsche Rentenversicherung branch requesting the social security number. Make sure to include a copy of your passport and confirmation of registration (Meldebestätigung).
- You can also visit the Deutsche Rentenversicherung branch in person without an appointment. Bring your passport and Meldebestätigung and you will receive your social security number instantly.
If you need a bit of help, ask your employer to guide you through the process, or your health insurance broker if you have one.
Where to find your social security number
You can find your German SSN on the following documents:
Social security certificate
Your Sozialversicherungsausweis is a A4 document that contains your unique social security number and can be used as proof to show that you contribute to the German social security system. This is the document you get when you first register. While your social security number will always stay the same, your social security card will change if your personal information does. If, for example, you get married and your last name changes, then the pension office will issue you with a new social security card to reflect the new data.
This is the document you receive from your employer when you get paid. Your social security number is usually found under the abbreviation “SV nummer”.
Letters from the pension office
The pension office will also sometimes send you general information about your current situation. Your number is located on this document too, on the top left corner usually.
Your yearly summary sent by your Krankenkasse
A Meldebescheinigung zur Sozialversicherung or Jahresmeldung is a document you receive from your employer every year between January 1 and February 15 and serves as a confirmation that you’ve made your pension contributions throughout the year.
You also get this document when you employment contract ends.
German social security number for foreign students
If you’re a foreign student coming to study in Germany, you won’t have to worry about obtaining a social security number unless you plan on working. As a foreign student, you only need a social security number if you want to have a job in Germany. If this is your first job, then your employer will likely apply for your social insurance number when signing you up for public health insurance.
Social security number for freelancers
If you’re a full-time freelancer or self-employed person, you only have a limited social security obligation. You have to pay for health and long-term care insurance, but you’re free to choose whether or not you want to contribute to pension, unemployment, and accident insurance. Even for limited contributions, you will still need a social security number, which, depending on your situation, can be obtained in a number of ways:
- If you decide to sign up with a public health insurance company, they will give you a social security number automatically.
- If you decide to sign up with a private health insurance company, they will decide whether or not you don’t have to pay into pension insurance, and, during this process, a social security number will be created for you automatically.
- If you switch from being insured with a private health insurer to being employed, you will have to contact the pension office and they provide you with social security number.
Social security number exemptions in Germany
- Foreign employees who have been sent to Germany by a foreign employer.
- Foreign employees who are employed or self-employed in several countries.
- Foreign employees who are subject to an exceptional agreement with another state.
- Officials, judges, public servants & soldiers. However, since people belonging to those 3 categories are almost always born in Germany, they get one at birth.
Social security number for pension refunds
While many expats who plan on leaving Germany want to access their pension funds before retirement, very few are eligible. Only those who have contributed for less than five years to the German pension system and don’t have the option to make voluntary contributions even once they’ve left the country (among a few other requirements) are eligible to request a refund. That being said, up to five years of contributions are, for most people, quite a lot of money, so if you’re eligible, you will probably want to claim them back rather than leave it with the state. Without your German SSN, however, you won’t be able to start the claim process with the German pension office, so it’s important that you have it if you do plan on getting that money back.
Social insurance number is lost: here is what to do
If you have lost your social security card, there are a number of different ways that you find your your social security number. These include:
- Contacting your health insurance provider & request a Mitgliedsbescheinigung (membership certificate).
- Calling the Deutsche Rentenversicherung (0800 / 1000 4800) and ask them to post you a new social security card.
- Requesting a new social security card online from the Deutsche Rentenversicherung. You need to pick the option “Neuausstellung eines Sozialversicherungsausweises wegen Verlust / Zerstörung / Unbrauchbarkeit“.
If you do decide to call, it’s likely that the Deutsche Rentenversicherung won’t be able to provide you with any information for data protection reasons. Instead, they’ll simply post you a new social security card which should arrive after a few days.
Social security number Germany – FAQ
You receive your number automatically when you first sign-up with a public health insurance in Germany. If you are with a private health insurance, you need to request it manually at your local office. If you have lost your certificate, you can request a new copy online.
In Germany, social security & tax ID numbers are different. For privacy concerns, both institutions use different numbers and don’t share data.
The German SSN is know as “Sozialversicherungsnummer“. It’s a unique 12-digits identifier, assigned at birth or when your first register with health insurance.
Yes, if you have lost it, you can request a new copy online with the Deutsche Rentenversicerhrung directly, using this link. You need to pick the option “Neuausstellung eines Sozialversicherungsausweises wegen Verlust / Zerstörung / Unbrauchbarkeit” and fill-in your personal details. It will be sent by post to you within a few days. If you’re requesting it for the first time, you need to proceed via email or in person.
Foreign students in Germany do not need a social security number, unless they plan to have a job.
You can find your German SSN on your payslips, in letters from the pension office, or in yearly statements from your health insurance provider.
I hope this overview about the German SSN was useful to you. Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments.Bastien