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I’m trying to complete an ESTA application (German citizen). One of the questions asked is about a National Identification Number, with this explanation:

Enter the number on your identity document, other than a passport, issued by your country. The National Identification Number, if issued to you, is required to complete the application. If you do not have a National Identification Number, enter UNKNOWN.

This leaves me wondering what I should enter. “Number on your identity document, other than a passport,” sounds like they are asking for the identity card number (Personalausweis). The term “identification number”, on the other hand, rather makes it appear like a permanent identifier such as the tax payer identification number (Steuer-Identifikationsnummer). It’s also conceivable that neither is applicable and I should enter unknown instead.

I’ve tried searching for further information on the embassy’s website, but found this number mentioned in one (unhelpful) place only; apparently the question was added to the form less than a year ago, which might explain why I only find few mentions elsewhere on the web, and they are all inconclusive.

Interestingly, this question appears only after I’ve selected the country of citizenship (Germany in this case), and it does not appear for many other countries; e.g., this question is asked for citizens of the Netherlands or South Korea, but not of Austria, Switzerland, Sweden or the UK.

  • Given that it is asking for the "number on your identity document other than passport" only the ID i.e. Personalausweis seems to fit. Don't see how the tax ID# would fit that. – mts Aug 19 '15 at 16:57
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    This German cultural exchange organisation has a step-by-step visa application document (in German and partially English) that indicates that the NIN field doesn't apply to German nationals. – MH. Aug 19 '15 at 18:29
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    @mts: Well, the tax ID# is a permanent identification number for the person, and everyone has one. The number on the ID card is ... well, the number of the ID card. Once you renew your ID card (which has to be done periodically), the new ID card will have a new number (and if you do not have an ID card, you do not have such a number). Hence, the question is which one of the contradictory conditions is more important: That it's a number on an identity document, or that it's an identification number for the person. – O. R. Mapper Oct 12 '16 at 9:41
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According to the US Visa Service this number refers to the ID number on the German Personalausweis:

Die "National ID Number" bzw. nationale Identitätsnummer ist für deutsche Staatsangehörige ein Pflichtfeld. Die "National ID Number" bezieht sich auf die Personalausweisnummer (= Nummer des vom Land ausgestellten Identitätsdokuments). Diese Nummer ist in der rechten oberen Ecke des deutschen Personalausweises zu finden. Wenn kein gültiger Personalausweis vorhanden ist, sollte an dieser Stelle am besten "UNKNOWN" oder "DOES NOT APPLY" angegeben werden.

(emboldening added) which Google translates as:

The "National ID Number" or national identity number is a compulsory field for German nationals. The "National ID Number" refers to the identity card number (= the number of the identity document issued by the country). This number can be found in the upper right corner of the German ID card. If a valid ID card is not available, "UNKNOWN" or "DOES NOT APPLY" should be specified at this point.

German ID card
(image courtesy Wikipedia)

  • @pnuts How did you find that so fast? Sure, go ahead. Google even gets it right this time. – teylyn Oct 12 '16 at 3:29
  • @pnuts Gawd, Erika Mustermann. I had almost forgotten about her. That's what 15 years in New Zealand do to German identity. WRT the translation, I assume that any German who needs to answer this question on the ESTA application will have sufficient language skills to understand what's posted on the US Visa Service site. – teylyn Oct 12 '16 at 3:51
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    The US Visa Service in question appears to be a private German company. They do not indicate where they have the information from, which makes me wonder how accurate it is. – michaeljt Jun 30 '17 at 19:34
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Wiki has a page on National Identification Numbers.

It specifically mentions Germany:

In Germany, there is no national identification number in the full meaning of the term.

So as a German citizen, you'd be putting down Unknown.

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    This represents some random Wikipedia editor's interpretation of the phrase "national identification number". I don't see how you can be sure that it agrees with the US government's interpretation. – Nate Eldredge Aug 19 '15 at 15:06
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    I had to fill out something asking for my German ID number and I used my Sozialversicherungsnummer and it went through fine. It wasn't ESTA, but surely the OP can't be the first German traveller to the US. – Gayot Fow Aug 19 '15 at 18:22
  • @NateEldredge that page has over 500 edits from many people dating back over 5 years. It's hardly some random editor. – Mark Mayo Aug 20 '15 at 0:39
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    @Gayot Fow: No, can’t be first indeed. It seems (from reports in various forums) that people have put their Personalausweisnummer, their Sozialversicherungsnummer, their Steuer-Identifikationsnummer, even their Passnummer (even though that is asked for elsewhere in the form) and „unknown“ into that field and all had ESTA status granted. So it seems U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t actually care about the content. – Still, I’m curious as to what the original intention was. Because this field specifically appears for Germans, I don’t believe they wanted us to write „unknown“. – chirlu Aug 20 '15 at 21:12
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    @chirlu: With the respective links to forums as references, this could be a good answer, too. – O. R. Mapper Oct 12 '16 at 9:46

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