Germans use a current account (Girokonto) for their daily banking business. With a Girokonto one can transfer money from one account to another (Überweisung). It allows automatic withdrawals (Abbuchung or Einzugsermächtigung) for paying regular bills such as telephone bills or rent. When opening a Girokonto, you receive an EC card (an electronic cash and debit card) with a PIN, which can be used for cashless payments in supermarkets or department stores. It is also convenient for withdrawing money from ATMs.
Most banks offer students a Girokonto free of fees or charges. Before opening an account, you should inquire if any fees apply and how much they are. They may vary from bank to bank. Some banks charge fees for a Girokonto from their customers who are over the age of 25, regardless of whether they are students or not.
For more information on and a comparison of current accounts, please visit:
Within approximately one week after having opened a bank account, you will receive your EC card and your PIN. For security reasons, they will be sent to you separately. With this card and your PIN it is possible to withdraw money, free of charge, from an ATM of any branch of your bank company in Germany. Ask for partner bank companies whose ATMs you can also use without paying an extra charge. Of course you can also withdraw money from any ATM of other banks, but they usually charge approx. €2.50 – €5.00.
Most ATMs worldwide will accept your card, too (maestro symbol).
Until you receive your new bank card in Ulm/Neu-Ulm, it is possible to withdraw money at the counter of your branch office.
Account statements (Kontoauszüge)
In each bank branch there is a machine, usually located near the ATM, called Kontoauszugsdrucker (printer for account statements). As soon as you have received your bank card, you can use it to print out bank statements at your bank. You should do so at least every four weeks to keep track of your balance and to avoid the costs for getting your bank statements sent to you via mail.
Instead of writing cheques, bills are paid by electronic money transfers. Since the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA)-transfer has been introduced in Europe, you need two numbers in order to transfer money to another account within the European Union:
- The International Bank Account Number (IBAN), consisting of 22 to 27 figures with numbers and letters.
- The Bank Identifier Code (BIC), an internationally valid bank sorting code, constisting of 8 to 11 alphanumerical digits.
With the IBAN and BIC of the recipient and your own IBAN, you can fill in a money transfer order (Überweisungsauftrag). In most cases, you will have to do this electronically by using the computer terminals (labelled Überweisung or SB-Terminal) provided for this purpose in the bank branches. If you need help, you can always as your bank staff for assistance.
For credit transfers in-between EU-countries, the same conditions apply as for national transfers. Transfers from or to non-European countries work the same way but take longer.
Regular payments: automatic withdrawal and standing order (Einzugsermächtigung und Dauerauftrag)
For regular expenses such as rent, health insurance, phone bills, etc., you will most likely be required to give permission for an automatic withdrawal (Einzugsermächtigung). You will have to sign a permission along with the respective contract. These companies will then withdraw the amount due from your account every month (usually during the first week of the month).
Attention! It is your responsibility to make sure there is enough money in your account when these sums are being withdrawn! If the withdrawal fails, you will be charged bank fees (usually around € 5.00 – 10.00). The withdrawal will not be repeated. Therefore, you will have to fill out a money transfer order amounting to the sum of the failed withdrawal on your own.
A Dauerauftrag is a standing order. This means you order your bank to transfer a fixed amount of money to the same account on a regular basis. Basically, it is the same as an automatic withdrawal, but initiated by you. You have to cancel it if necessary.
Online Banking / Telephone Banking
If you want to manage your banking business online or via telephone, ask your bank staff for the respective procedure.
Depending on the supported security system, you will receive a telephone PIN and a transaction number (TAN). Each transaction number can only be used once. Online banking is one way to handle transactions with reduced or no fees.
Travelers’ cheques have been made obsolete by credit or debit cards. Therefore, you should be aware that nearly no German restaurant, hotel or store accepts travelers’ cheques. Instead, you will have to exchange travelers’ cheques for cash at a bank. Please note that many banks charge fees for cashing cheques.
Mastercard and Visa are accepted in bigger stores and gas stations. Other credit cards are not very common. In gerneral, acceptance of credit cards in Germany is not as widely spread as in other countries. Stores often only accept EC Cards and those sometimes also just for purchases over a certain amount, e.g. € 5.00 or € 10.00.
Credit cards can also be used to obtain cash at ATMs if you have a PIN. However, please be aware that credit card companies usually charge high fees for this service.
You can roughly distinguish between:
- Traditional brick and mortar institutions:
- Local bank institutions like Sparkassen and Volksbanken (e.g. Sparkasse Ulm, Sparkasse Neu-Ulm/Illertissen, Volksbank Ulm, Volksbank Neu-Ulm). You will find many branches and ATMs of these banks in Ulm und Neu-Ulm but none in other cities. As a customer of for example Sparkasse Ulm or Volksbank Ulm, it is possible to withdraw money, free of charge, from an ATM of any other Sparkasse or Volksbank in Germany. Other services (such as adding a new Dauerauftrag) might only be available at your local Sparkasse/Volksbank.
- National bank institutions (Postbank, Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank). Only a few branches and ATMs of these bank companies are located in Ulm/Neu-Ulm, but you will find their branches all over Germany. These four banks form the "Cash Group". Customers may withdraw money free of charge from an ATM of any branch of these bank companies in Germany.
- Virtual banks are internet based financial institutions, which offer deposit and withdrawal facilities as well as other banking services through ATMs or other devices without having physical (brick and mortar) walk-in premises (e.g. norisbank, comdirekt, ING). Virtual banks are often part of an alliance whose ATMs you can also use free of charge.