I am a student from South Africa travelling to Germany in around a month. I want to book my train tickets on the Deutsche Bahn website. Since I'm a bit hesitant to order tickets for delivery by mail (postal strike and generally unreliable postal service in South Africa) the only other options are an online or cell phone ticket.

However the Bahn only accepts Bahncards, credit card, EC/Maestro or ID documents as identification. I don't have a credit card, accepted ID or Bahncard and for the EC/Maestro option the bank needs a registered address in Germany.

What can I use as ID choice on the website to identify myself on German trains?

My "debit" card functions as a credit card (i.e. I can make online purchases, name printed on front and CVV code at the back). Functionally I doubt DB will notice a difference when I use it as a payment method, but I'm hesitant to use it as my ID on the train since it does state on the card that it is only a debit card and not a credit card.

I am also in a neighbouring country during my visit, for which I used http://www.b-europe.com to book a ticket, which did not have such stringent requirements during the booking process (arguably both cities are not in Germany). They only required the name as displayed on my passport and I do have a European passport. However I checked, and I can theoretically book long distance trains within Germany without more stringent requirements.

Would this be an option to consider?

  • 1
    @Vince That thread doesn't cover debit cards vs credit cards Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:22
  • 1
    In Germany debit cards are much more common than credit cards. I don't think you will have a problem substituting one for the other.
    – Calchas
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 22:24
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    @DividedUniverse It is not recommended here to ask multiple questions in one post and here you have actually three: 1: Is my debit card accepted as id? 2: Can I buy discounted DB tickets somewhere else? 3: What proof is required for a foreigner to get the student discount for a bahncard 25? At least the last question is completely unrelated to the previous two. Please move that question to a new post, otherwise you may risk that this one is closed as 'too broad'. Commented May 22, 2015 at 0:54
  • 2
    @Calchas: Debit cards are in Germany colloquially called EC cards. The regulations clearly specify that these are only accepted when issued by a German bank. Commented May 22, 2015 at 0:56
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    @DividedUniverse: Does your debit card look (and not only function) like a credit card? Does it have the logo of a 'full' credit card service like Visa or Mastercard (and not only 'Visa Electron', 'V Pay' or 'Maestro')? Is your name and the card number embossed or only printed on the card? Commented May 22, 2015 at 1:00

4 Answers 4


This answer is outdated.

See mts' answer below.

Neither DB's homepage nor their terms of service have clear definition of what constitutes a credit card. The only things that are mentioned in the terms of service are that it needs to:

  • show a name
  • have a number
  • be machine readable (i.e. has a magnetic strip)

The website additionally includes it needs to be one of the following:

  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Diners Club
  • Visa
  • JCB

That term is also neither defined in German law nor does it have a common established meaning in Germany. German banks routinely issue debit cards which look like regular credit cards and call them credit cards.

So, as long as your card fulfills the criterions above and is accepted by the website you should be fine.

Tickets booked at websites other than bahn.de may be subject to different rules.

  • Thank you, that probe bahncard is an excellent tip! I did not know they were valid for that long.
    – None
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:44
  • As I already commented on the other post, my card is a "MasterCard" but also "debit" written on it. At the moment I'm still not sure what will happen when the automated system approves the transaction, but is not accepted by the conductor in the train due to being a debit card.
    – None
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:48
  • 4
    @DividedUniverse I'm pretty sure they accept any MasterCard branded card and the conductors are not trained to recognize every special case. As long as there is a magnetic strip they shouldn't care what else is written on the card. Only DB can give you a definite answer. They have a pretty responsive Facebook team (that also speaks English).
    – neo
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 7:54
  • 2
    This answer got outdated by a change of rules of DB. Would you mind marking this at the top of the answer? Currently @mts answer is still valid.
    – asdfex
    Commented Aug 9, 2018 at 14:51

This question (and the current answers) are out of date. As of 1 October 2016 Deutsche Bahn no longer requires an identification card but only an official identity document (or their Bahncard).

Per their help pages (in German, I was unable to find an English version)

Ab dem 01.10.2016: Identifikation per amtlichen Lichtbildausweis

Bei Buchungen nach dem 01.10.2016 entfällt die Angabe einer Identifikationskarte. Bei der Kontrolle im Zug müssen Sie sich dann lediglich durch Vorzeigen eines amtlichen Lichtbildausweises oder Ihrer BahnCard legitimieren.

Folgende Lichtbildausweise werden anerkannt:

  • deutscher Personalausweis
  • deutscher Reisepass
  • Kinderreisepass
  • europäischer Personalausweis
  • internationaler Reisepass
  • elektronischer Aufenthaltstitel
  • Bescheinigung über die Meldung Asylsuchender (BüMa)
  • BahnCard (ggf. in Verbindung mit einem Lichtbildausweis)

Es gelten nicht: Führerscheine, Schülerausweise, Truppenausweise und Schwerbehindertenausweise.

which summarizes to what I have stated above. The man in seat sixty-one has already reflected these changes:

If you wanted to use a German Railways print-at-home ticket (shown as online ticket on bahn.de) you used to have to show your credit or debit card as I.D. on board the train. I'm glad to say that this changed in October 2016, all you now need is a passport or other recognised ID to prove your name to support a print-at-home online ticket. You may or may not be asked for it by the conductor.

  • 3
    "show your credit or debit card as I.D. (...) a passport or other recognised ID to prove your name" - I don't think that's the point. The point why you have to show such a document for the print-at-home ticket (and only for the print-at-home ticket) is that it acts as a unique token, because the print-at-home ticket (and, again, only the print-at-home ticket) might otherwise fraudulently be printed several times and used by several people scattered throughout the train. Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 13:10
  • 3
    Multiple uses should not be the issue, the ticket get marked as "used" immediately in the system. It's more about preventing unauthorized people from reselling these tickets having used stolen payment data to buy them.
    – helm
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 10:16
  • @O.R.Mapper Not only for a print-at-home ticket: Also for a bought-at-machine ticket discounted through Bahncard 25 or Bahncard 50.
    – gerrit
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 13:10

You have no need to worry. Deutsche Bahn accept debit cards just fine. I have used my UK Visa Debit Card to buy tickets online and identify myself many times.

Furthermore, I believe that when you select "Credit Card" as identification, you have to present the card you booked with(they swipe it to check), not just any card that happens to have your name on it(after all, it's not a photo ID so unless it has the same number it could be the card of someone else with the same name). So providing the website allows you to purchase your online ticket with your card, it is not only certainly valid as ID, it's probably the only card that's valid as ID.

  • 1
    It must be the very same card indeed, even if it has since expired. It's an anti-fraud measure.
    – chirlu
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:04
  • 5
    Not really correct. When booking a DB online ticket, you can use one credit card for identification and another one for payment. It does not have to be the same card. During ticket inspection, you must be able to present the card you used for identification purposes and do not have to show the card you used for the actual payment. Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:51
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I was just about to say, there is a tickbox that one can select to use the CC one used for identification also as payment method.
    – None
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:53

So you want to make sure you have a proper identification, and according to the Deutsche Bahn, your bank card is your best bet. I think the question here is that more what makes your card a debit or credit card.

It depends on how you want it to behave

I have also a bank card that may act as a debit or credit card and have used it extensively either as one or the other, always compatible. On money.SE, the questions I found seem to show that a bank card is not a debit or a credit card, but may act, if the owner decides, as a debit or credit card. Whether this is a debit or credit card determines how the card communicates with the payment system. While this is how you interpreted it for the payment, your question is about the identification. I suppose it is the same, i.e. your card may be identified as a debit or a credit card. My first guess is that if you present your card as a credit card, and the controller uses a machine, the machine will search its credit card features.

DB accepts cards communicating through VISA, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and Diners Club systems

The Deutsche Bahn says it accepts credit cards of the types VISA, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and Diners Club. So the Deutsche Bahn has systems being able to interact with these types of cards, and in the end what matters is that your card is one of these to interact with the Deutsche Bahn system.

DB identifies your card with first name, last name, credit card number and expiration date

The Deutsche Bahn website says that the identification you show to the controller is what you have stated at the time of purchase. And if you follow the booking flow on bahn.de, the credit card option of identification actually asks you for 4 things : first name, last name, credit card number and expiration date. I expect that if your card can communicate with the Deutsche Bahn system, what this system will try is matching this information, no more.

This information is written on any bank card (as far as I know). So this means there is no need for a machine to read your card. The controller may just look at the card and read these. In general, I could not find any information apart from this disputed answer that the controller uses a card reader (the dispute is based on the fact that far from all German ID cards could be read by a machine - and no French ID card, though they are an accepted type if identification).

German debit cards use Girocard, yours probably not

On Wikipedia I could find that German debit cards are run on an interbank system called Girocard. This means that the communication protocol for debit cards (how the debit card and payment system communicate) is Girocard, a German system. So non-German cards a priori cannot interact with the German payment systems (they may, if they are Maestro or V-Pay). That's probably why the Deutsche Bahn explicitly writes that For identification with ec-cards/Maestro, your bank must have its registered office in Germany. So this means that most likely, the controller's machine will not be able to interact with the debit feature of your card, but only the credit feature.


So in the end, while I am no technical expert on the identification of a card, I think that your debit/credit card (as long as it is one of VISA, MasterCard, American Express, JCB and Diners Club) should be accepted as a proof of identification.

An alternative would still be to buy your ticket at any ticket vending machine or at a counter in a station. You would not need any piece of identification. But on some routes, you may pay more buying last-minute at the station than online earlier.

  • Even if this is a probably correct, thorough technical explanation of the difference between credit and debit cards, I don't see how all this answers the OP's question. Summarizing it to the point that there is not necesssarily any physical difference between the actual plastic bits of a credit or debit card and that the train conductor may not notice, would have fit in a comment. Commented May 22, 2015 at 0:48
  • @Tor-EinarJarnbjo I think the OP is asking whether his card will be interpreted as a debit card or credit card for identification purpose. I answered how a card could be identified as either one. If you consider there is no difference between a debit and credit card and this is obvious to everyone, then the question has no point in the first place.
    – Vince
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 1:07
  • Yes, it's more an interpretation question. So far all online retailers (Steam, online shopping, Deezer etc) have accepted the card when I enter my card number in the cc field (I do need a positive balance though that covers the transaction amount). It also states its a "MasterCard" unlike Maestro cards. However it also says "Debit" on the card. So while I don't think I have a booking problem, I'm not sure what will happen if the conductor checks my card and then sees "debit" written on the card.
    – None
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 3:42
  • 2
    @Vince The terms of service (section Internet 6.3.3, page 100) clearly state that German and foreign ID cards are only inspected visually while all other cards are scanned by the machine.
    – neo
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 7:47
  • If the ticket conductor's machine doesn't read the magnet stripe correctly, the conductor still has the possibility to type in the number manually. In this case, there should be no difference between debit and credit cards. Also, if you manage to pay the online ticket with the debit card, I'm 95% sure that the printout will say that you payed by credit card.
    – DCTLib
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 9:23

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