Have you never heard of girocard? It’s a payment method particularly common in Germany and a few other European countries but not far beyond. In fact, girocard is one of Germany’s favorite payment methods.
German girocard is an equivalent of a regular debit card that you are familiar with. The big difference is that online payments with girocard are very limited. Yet, girocard that is co-branded with Maestro or V-Pay can be used abroad. You can withdraw money and pay cashless at terminals in most EU and non-EU countries.
With more than 100 million issued cards, girocard is the most common debit card type in Germany. With girocard, money is directly debited from your current account.
Cardholders can withdraw cash at around 60,000 ATMs in Germany and pay cashless at point-of-sale (POS) terminals. As with any regular card, you have your personal 4-digit pin. You can get a free girocard at Norisbank.
Girocard in Germany and what is used for
When someone opens a bank account with one of the major banks in Germany (Sparkasse, Volksbanken Raiffeisenbanken, etc.), they will receive a girocard, and usually at no additional cost.
Girocard comes in quite handy in Germany. You can withdraw money from all German and many international ATMs and make payments at the counter in shops or wherever you need to pay.
The origin of Girocard
The girocard was introduced by German banks in 2007 with the goal of standardizing payment systems in Germany. Before that, an EC card was used for payments.
Beyond the simple withdrawal of money at German ATMs, this nowadays has many additional functions compared to the first version of EC cards. However, nowadays, German still call girocard an EC card.
Girocard is intended to facilitate cashless payment transactions throughout the EU, as well as worldwide.
The introduction of the Girocard was based on the goal to create a uniform payment in the SEPA area (Single Europe Payments Area) and to help these German debit cards to gain international acceptance.
What is Girocard exactly?
The Girocard is a European version of a debit card that enables contactless payment and debits the amount directly from your associated current account.
Girocard can be used to make payments worldwide and withdraw cash from any ATM with the girocard or Maestro symbol.
The girocard provides a framework for the German debit payment and ATM system. Furthermore, the latest generation of girocard allows contactless payment, payment by cash card, and withdrawal of cash abroad via V Pay or Maestro. Overall, a girocard can be valid for up to 4 years.
The German debit card system is known as girocard and is the most widely used in Germany. You can pay with the girocard at all merchants in Germany that accept card payment. Also, many cards are co-branded with Maestro or V-Pay for international payments.
What other cards are used in Germany?
1. Maestro card (Girocard)
The Maestro card is the girocard with a co-branding from Mastercard. With Maestro, you can also use it to make cashless payments outside Germany. Hence, a girocard with the Maestro co-branding becomes an international payment card.
2. Debit card from Mastercard
The debit Mastercard is also widely used internationally, especially in the USA. Many merchants also accept the card in Germany.
In Germany, however, Mastercard is often used as a credit card brand. You can recognize the Mastercard debit card by the “Debit” lettering above the Mastercard logo.
Visa is an extensive debit card system from the USA, which is better known in Germany as a credit card rather debit provider. Visa, however, operates a co-branding for girocard called V-pay, also allowing to make international payments and cash withdrawals.
Girocard is a safe solution for paying and making withdrawals. This applies not only to Germany but also abroad. Co-brands like Maestro or V-Pay make this card type even more secure and provide safe usage abroad.
Pay with Girocard
Girocard is primarily a payment card. In fact, 68% of card payments in Germany are made with girocard. Girocard is a trusted payment method for all customers, young and old. It’s accepted at about 922,000 terminals in Germany alone.
Girocard can be used to make cashless and contactless payments. Payments with the card are free in the entire EUR zone.
Girocard can often be used abroad if it has the V-Pay or Maestro logo. In this case, the girocards use the system of the credit card issuers Visa (V-Pay) or MasterCard (Maestro).
It isn’t particularly suitable for online shopping. Many online stores don’t accept these cards. However, with girocard you can make deposits to PayPal, and later pay online via Paypal. So online purchases can work that way.
Girocard is used to withdraw money from ATMs in Germany and other European countries. You can withdraw cash from around 60,000 ATMs across Germany and abroad. In the Eurozone, they are mostly free of charge, but it can depend on the card issuer.
Girocard vs debit card
Girocard is a German equivalent of a debit card, but it’s still different. So it can be used to the full extent only in countries with Euro currency. Yet, the acceptance rate outside of Germany is lower than when using a debit card. Debit cards are recognized worldwide.
Furthermore, online payments at all international vendors are also available with debit cards. We can’t say the same about its giro brother.
Can you use German Girocard abroad?
It’s possible to pay with girocard also abroad, but it must be co-branded with either Maestro or V-pay. With the Maestro payment system, you can use your girocard both in EU and non-EU countries, while V-pay has some limitations and generally works only in the EU.
So girocard with V-pay system works in the EU plus the following countries:
- San Marino
- Vatican City
Maestro cards can be used worldwide.
Be aware of possible fees you might need to pay abroad.
Fees are often charged when withdrawing money with girocard abroad. Using the ATM of another bank network (different from German) can cost an extra 4,95 EUR in fixed fee per withdrawal. Generally, prices depend on your bank.
There is also a maximum limit you can withdraw daily, depending on the bank and the country you visit.
Like ATM withdrawals, exchange rate fees may apply when paying abroad with girocard in non-EUR currency. Transactions in EUR are generally free of charge.
So if you are planning a trip abroad, a credit card is a better solution. In non-EU countries, using a credit card will be cheaper than girocard.
For a free credit card, you can opt for a Santander VISA or DKB.
Disadvantages of Girocard
1. Fees: When paying abroad, you may have to pay high fees when withdrawing money from ATMs, exchanging money, or paying in stores. You should consider using a debit or credit card.
Even within Germany, you might face some fees. It can vary depending on the bank and even on the region. Sparkasse charges 5 EUR when withdrawing money in another region at a non-Sparkasse ATM.
2. Limitations when traveling: Furthermore, girocard can’t be used as a security deposit in a hotel or car rental.
You will need a debit card with a reasonable amount on the account or a credit card for it. Plus, when you are abroad, paying and withdrawing money can be expensive or even not possible with girocard.
So if you are planning a more extended trip, a credit card is the better way.
3. Not suitable for online shopping: most online stores outside Germany won’t accept girocard as a payment method.
How to pay online with Girocard?
In most cases, you can’t pay with girocard online, only in the physical shops. Yet, some online merchants have options to pay with girocard, but this option is available primarily in Germany. International sites and merchants don’t have this payment method.
Therefore, you can pay online with girocard only if the vendor/website accepts that type of payment. In that case, you will see the Giropay option when going forward with payment (see examples in the picture below).
Since July 2021, clients of Sparkasse can pay online with Apple Pay Wallet in online stores and apps. Unfortunately, it’s how far we have come. Other banks don’t even have this option.
Which German banks provide Girocard?
When you open a current bank account in Germany, most banks will issue a girocard to you. Some might charge a small fee; some might deliver it for free. Girocard will be sent to you by mail.
Some banks have changed girocard from a standard card for a current account to an international debit Visa or Mastercard. Therefore, there aren’t many banks that have only a girocard as an offering; we know Norisbank as some of them.
That said, the majority of German banks provide customers with a debit card which is superior to the girocard. For example, you can get it at German direkt banks like DKB and Consorsbank for free.
1. Girocard from Norisbank
Norisbank is a direct bank from Deutsche Bank. It’s a trusted company where you can get a free Giro account as a resident of Germany.
Here is an overview of the benefits and conditions of girocard from Norisbank:
- Maestro girocard
- Free for everyone under 21 years of age or with a cash inflow of at least 500 EUR/month
- Possible overdraft
- Credit card is optional
- Cashless payments worldwide (where Maestro is accepted)
- Contactless payment
- Free mobile banking app
- Open an account online
- Free cash withdrawals worldwide – withdraw cash at around 9,000 ATMs (including Postbank, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and HypoVereinsbank)
In addition, you can get a debit Mastercard with this Giro account.
Moreover, cash withdrawal is also possible at around 1,300 Shell gas stations and at the checkout in some supermarkets (e.g., ALDI SÜD, Netto, PENNY, REWE, Baumarkt).
If you don’t meet the conditions for a free girocard, the monthly fee is just 3,90 EUR.
International debit cards
DKB’s free bank account is one of the most popular in Germany. Banking and Visa debit card are free of charge. Visa debit combines the functions of a German girocard and debit card. However, you can also apply for a girocard which costs only 1 EUR per month.
You can withdraw cash for free worldwide with an account turnover of at least 700 EUR per month. Also, cash deposits are possible via retailers like Rewe, Penny, DM, and Real. Keep in mind that a fee of 1,5% applies when depositing money.
Consorsbank provides a free bank account and a debit Visa card. Yet, you don’t pay fees if more than 700 EUR are received in your account every month; otherwise, a fee of 4 EUR per month applies.
The girocard can be added for 1 EUR per month. With a Visa card, you can withdraw money at zero costs within the EURO zone. For foreign currencies, the fee for withdrawals and payments is 2,1%.
Bank 1822direkt is a Sparkasse partner; hence, you can withdraw and deposit money at all Sparkasse ATMs, which are plentiful in Germany.
- Free girocard included
- Free account
- 4 to 6 free cash withdrawals after a 2 EUR fee applies (depending on the chosen account)
- Free credit card in the first year after 29,90 EUR or free with an annual turnover of 4,000 EUR
Credit card as an alternative or addition to Girocard
As you can see, girocard has its limitations. To open more opportunities for payments and cash withdrawals, it’s advisable to get a credit card. In Germany, you can even find some free credit cards with great benefits, especially if you often travel abroad or shop online.
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Some of the best and most affordable credit cards in Germany and the EU are:
- American Express Payback
- Awa7 Visa Card
- Free Advanzia Mastercard