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eSignatures in Germany: Here’s What You Need to Know

If you were wondering whether eSignatures were legal in Germany, the short answer is: yes. As a member of the European Union, Germany considers eSignatures as legally valid as handwritten signatures.

That said, there are a few special considerations worth noting if you want to make sure your documents meet legal requirements. Let's jump in and see what to look out for.

The three types of eSignatures in Germany

In Germany, electronic signatures fall under the eIDAS Regulation, which harmonizes electronic identification and trust services across the EU. This regulation ensures that eSignatures have the same legal validity as handwritten signatures. German law recognizes three types of electronic signatures:

  • Simple electronic signatures (SES)
  • Advanced electronic signatures (AES)
  • Qualified electronic signatures (QES)

SES, as the most basic form of electronic signature, is also the least verifiable one. Think checkboxes that you click on to agree to the terms of using a website.

AES, on the other hand, offers security features such as encryption and signer authentication. This type of eSignature can be uniquely linked to the signer, it can identify the singer, and controls subsequent changes to documents.

Finally, QES carry the highest level of legal validity. The requirements are the same as for advanced electronic signatures, except for the fact that qualified electronic signatures require a qualified certificate and a qualified device. Wondering what this means in practical terms? We've got you.

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What QES looks like in practice

In the European Union, an example of a qualified device (signature creation device) is a biometric ID card. As an EU citizen, you can activate the qualified signature certificate that the ID card contains.

You go to the government accredited eSignature provider's website, create a username and password, and use a card reader to link your data with your signature certificates. Then, you download an app to your phone and use it to eSign documents sent to you. That way, the unique data from your ID card is linked to your signature.

Since it's highly unlikely for someone else to have access to your ID card or the PIN or fingerprint you use to access your phone app, tampering is almost impossible. That said, in most cases, an AES is more than enough to sign most documents.

The "written form" requirement in Germany

Another thing to consider when using eSignatures in Germany is the "written form" requirement for documents. Here, "written form" does not mean literally "in writing". Rather, it relates to the requirement for a QES (qualified electronic signature).

Documents that require QES under German eSignature law

If you're signing any of the following, make sure you're using a qualified electronic signature:

  • Temporary employment contracts
  • Consumer loan agreements
  • Transfer of shares of a stock corporation
  • Powers of attorney
  • Rental and lease agreements
  • Terminations of rental agreements

Documents that do not require QES under German eSignature law

In the following cases, an advanced electronic signature (AES) is usually enough:

  • HR agreements (except for employment termination agreements)
  • NDAs
  • Software licensing agreements
  • Corporate resolutions
  • Real estate agreements (except for debts, claims, and rental contracts)
  • Insurance agreements
  • Agreements in the education sector
  • Commercial contracts
  • Invoices
  • Consumer transactions
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Documents that require a traditional signature under German law

In Germany, a traditional handwritten signature cannot be electronically replaced when it comes to:

  • Any document that requires notarization
  • Employment termination agreements
  • Deeds
  • Wills
  • Inheritance contracts
  • Marriage contracts
  • Any document containing acknowledgements of debt

Final thoughts

While eSignatures are legal in Germany, the type of eSignature you use will depend on the type of document you need to sign. Make sure to check the legal requirements to ensure your documents hold up in court.

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Patricija Šobak's profile image
Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.