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I'm planning on travelling from Frankfurt to Zurich, then from Zurich to Heidelberg and finally from Heidelberg to Frankfurt again via Deutsche Bahn.

Since I don't have credit/debit cards, I'm not able to book tickets online, so I'm planning to buy the tickets at the train station. Am I able to pay in cash? I don't have any form of swipeable identification card, just my country's (Argentina) ID and passport.

Ideally I would buy the tickets about 2 o 3 days before the actual trip.

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    You may be able to buy the tickets ahead of time, at the cheaper advance purchase price, in person at an agency abroad, for instance in Argentina bahn.com/i/view/overseas/en/home/contact/… – Carl Jul 17 '16 at 4:07
  • Note that you can only buy DB tickets at DB stations, like the Main station, but not at U-Bahn stations, those only sell intra city tickets (Verkehrsverbund). I think S-Bahn stations sell them as well, since S-Bahn is operated by DB despite being part of the Verkehrsverbund. – CodesInChaos Jul 17 '16 at 16:17
  • @CodesInChaos It depends on which Verkehrsverbund it is and which ticket machines are at which station. But yes, in general suburban train stations’ machines sell all DB tickets (if they are sold by machines). – Jan Jul 29 '16 at 23:30
  • "general suburban train stations’ machines sell all DB tickets" not true any more. A few months ago I encountered a train station that had only ticket machines for regional/local ticket (RMV = Rhine Main transport association/TA operating Frankfurt region) despite being a station where also long distance trains stop! (The ticket counter was labeled RMV but also sold long distance tickets - outside operating hours: tough luck...) – cbeleites supports Monica May 4 at 22:36
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You can buy Deutsche Bahn tickets at a train station with cash, either at the counter (if you are at a manned station within the counter opening hours) or in the self-service machine (at any time). You won't need any card for that, not even your ID or passport.

  • Thanks for your help! It is very appreciated. Do you think that booking the tickets just 2 days in advance (for the Frankfurt-Zurich trip) is possible? – Fernando Martin Jul 17 '16 at 1:22
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    @FernandoMartin: you could buy the tickets just 5 minutes in advance, provided there will still be places. But note that buying earlier (especially 3 or more days earlier), you might be able to buy significantly cheaper tickets in special offers (for example 29 EUR vs 89 EUR you would have to pay later for a full-price ticket. – yannn Jul 17 '16 at 1:26
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    DB generally sell tickets even if the train out of seats, and you get to stand. In reality they don't know how many people are going to be on the train unless it's one that requires mandatory seat reservations, since they offer lots of expense flexible tickets where you get to hop on any train you see. If you want to be totally sure you get a seat, you should buy a seat reservation in addition to the ticket. You should have no problem getting one of those two days ahead of travel either though – Carl Jul 17 '16 at 4:05
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    However, be aware of German holidays. Normally, getting a train isn't a problem, but if you're travelling Easter, Christmas, or one of the "Thursday holidays" with people taking off the Friday, i recommend getting a ticket + seat reservation as early as possible – Guntram Blohm supports Monica Jul 17 '16 at 4:52
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    Also note that buying tickets at the counter is more expensive than at the machine. For someone not used to the machines, it will take about 5 to 10 minutes to figure out all the steps it wants you to do. It will also ask if you have a BahnCard, which you do not have, so you can skip that part. It might be cheaper to buy and immediately cancel a Probe BahnCard 25 for 19 Euros, which you can do in the ticket office, where they will give you a temporary printout. That makes sense if 25% discount on all your tickets is more than the 19 Euros for that card. – simbabque Jul 17 '16 at 10:48
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In addition to Omega Terus' answer:

Some of the self-service machines only accept coins, which can be a problem if you didn't anticipated it and all shops / counters are closed. If possible you can try to buy the ticket early (a day early, few hours early) so you have some time to gather coins if needed.

Source: Own experience, ~ 7 years ago.

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    And rather annoyingly, even if the machines accept bills, they only return coins - even large amounts. – mts Jul 17 '16 at 14:25
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    This must have been a machine in a tram or a very small rural station. On not-tiny stations in cities, normally machines accept at least 10 EUR and 20 EUR bills, sometimes might now want to take larger bills if the ticket price is much smaller then the bill value. – yannn Jul 17 '16 at 14:28
  • @Omega Terus Indeed. It happened to me twice: once in a small rural town (with probably an older machine) and once in the Netherlands where a DB machine was placed just across the border. – J Riverside Jul 17 '16 at 14:31
  • Typically you can use 50-EUR bills if the ticket costs more than 20 EUR (you get more than ten 2-EUR coins as change in that case). The acceptance rules change depending on how may coins the machine has left for paying change. – CodesInChaos Jul 17 '16 at 16:23
  • @OmegaTerus In my experience (unless it's changed very recently), there are many stations with machines that only take 5€ and 10€ but not 20€ bills. That seems to be the norm in Munich, at least: the machines at the Hauptbahnhof took 20€ bills, but not the ones in suburban stations. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jul 17 '16 at 19:16
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Pay at the counter

Every train station except rural stops has a ticket counter, where you can buy tickets for immediate departure or up to 90 days in advance. They take cash and ask no questions (other than your destination and departure date). Larger stations have a dedicated Reisezentrum (travel center), in smaller stations the counter may be hidden in the snacks/newspaper/convenience shop, or there is a travel agency in the station building.

Vending Machines

Called Fahrkartenautomat. They were recently overhauled, all of them should take at least €50 notes, I'm not sure about €100. They can speak Spanish.

On the train

You can buy a ticket for cash onboard on long distance trains, but then there is a surcharge of €7.50 (AFAIK). Warning, this is only possible on long distance (IC, ICE) trains, not on local ones like RE,RB or S-Bahn.

Paypal

Even if you don't have a card, you might be able to open a Paypal account, transfer some funds in advance, and book tickets online. You should definitely check out this if you know the exact time when you would travel, since there are substantial discounts available when booking a few weeks in advance, e.g. €49 instead of €114 just for the Frankurt - Zürich leg. You'll need you passport number for tickets booked online. Note that discounted tickets are not refundable on or after the day of departure.

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    Online tickets are not an option because you need an ID token which the asker doesn't have (a passport is not a valid ID token). Surcharge on the train will rise to 12.50€ next month. – neo Jul 18 '16 at 7:01
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    Maybe they could order a free bahn.bonus card to a hotel, that can be used. – neo Jul 18 '16 at 7:01
  • @neo JFTR, although passports are not supported, some EU national ID cards are, currently: DE, AT, CH, FR, NL, BE, LU, IT, PL, CZ. A “bahn.bonus Card” may actually work, but it will be shipped to the registered address and it’s possible it won’t arrive in time in Argentina or DB will simply refuse to send it overseas or to a hotel, although there’s no explicit international restriction in their current terms of service (AGB). – Crissov Jul 18 '16 at 9:25

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