The Pre-departure before Departure
Applying for your German Bank Account and Student Exchange Visa. This article provides a very comprehensive, albeit lengthy, personal account. Might be extremely useful to your pre-departure preparations.
Your Student Exchange Programme (SEP) does not begin the moment you step on your flight. It actually begins the moment you need to start applying for an overseas bank account and that potentially infuriating student visa. The entire process may potentially cause you to ‘depart’ out of your mind.
My name is Nicholas Lim, currently a Year 3 Political Science major from NUS-FASS and I am here to share with you some of my pre-departure experiences and tips. Some of these may be useful to those of you out there who are heading, or potentially heading to Germany for exchange.
Let me provide you with a brief run through of what you should look out for when applying for a bank account, transferring money to that account and finally the visa application. The entire process is definitely more than just a bite in a pretzel (if that even makes any sense).
Opening a Bank Account
There are many banks in Germany that you can open an account with. The bank that most of us go to would be the Deutsche Bank (DB), which can be said to be the DBS equivalent of Singapore. The banking system here in Germany, however, may not be what we are used to in Singapore, but more on that later.
On the DB website, you will be able to download a form which looks something like this:
DB has kindly provided a guide before the actual form, so please spend some time looking at it and when I say spend some time looking at it, I mean follow it step by step. You do not want to go wrong on crucial information like these.
The main complication that many of my friends had was the funds transfer section as seen here:
To ensure that we have sufficient funds to support ourselves in Germany, there is a minimum of about 720 Euros each month that needs to be ‘blocked’. By ‘blocked’, it simply means that your parents account or whichever account that will be used to transfer the money to this newly opened DB account needs to have 720 Euros times the number of months that student visa will entail.
So if the visa duration is 4 months, it will be 720 Euros x 4. This is essential because you will need to submit a bank account statement showing that your Singapore account has the SGD equivalent of the minimum amount that needs to be transferred over to the DB account.
Many of my friends had this problem because the account that they were using to transfer funds did not have the SGD equivalent for the funds to be ‘blocked’. As such, if the visa is to be 4 months, the minimum amount that needs to be blocked will be about 3000 Euros, which is about 5000 SGD. Some parents have multiple accounts for savings and spending, so be sure to notify your parents of this potential complication.
Before you can send over this form in hard copy to DB, you need to first go to the German embassy in Singapore to have your documents certified. Be sure to read the instructions and follow it carefully because embassies are very stringent when it comes to such requirements. For certification of bank account documents, you do not need to make an appointment but you do need to pay a certain amount of money, about $30. Please check with the embassy. Also remember, when in doubt, call the embassy and ask.
The difficult part about this bank application step is that if you have any enquiries or complications, there is no hotline for you to call and speak to a customer-service officer. All questions have to be submitted online and many of my friends have to submit multiple entries before receiving a response.
Upon receiving the official stamp from the German embassy, you need to mail the hardcopy documents to the DB in Hamburg. Please ensure that you follow the address given very carefully. You can have the option to use normal registered mail through Singapore Post, which will take about 2 weeks. I opted for the express mail service through Singapore Post and my documents reached Hamburg in about 2-3 days, following which,I received news about my bank account shortly after.
Strangely enough, DB spelled my name wrongly when opening the account. I became Nicholas Plim. I had to report this error via the website and, luckily, I received a response a few days later. It came as quite huge shock to me that a bank could commit errors like this. Thankfully it was resolved quickly.
DB will send you an email telling you that they have blocked the stipulated amount that you included in the application form and they will also remind you that the bank account has no funds. Upon receiving this we go to step 2.
This step is not as complicated so do not worry.
The email that DB sent you would have your bank account number and details. Be sure to print out that email because you will need all the numbers they have included to perform an international bank transfer.
My advice is that you head down to a bank and perform it with the help of a bank teller. Provide the details of your DB bank account and proceed to do the transfer from your Singapore account. You are able to transfer more than the ‘blocked’ amount but ensure that you do not transfer less. The bank teller will help you calculate based on the exchange rate of the day and will lock the SGD equivalent on the spot. The administrative fees I paid were just a few dollars. It is much safer to let an expert handle it and have your funds transferred to a correct place as compared to performing the transfer on your own via online banking. This is because you would have to search for the IBAN number, SWIFT codes etc. on your own.
DB will send you an email that the transfer was performed successfully in about 2-3 working days. Be sure to print this email for you will need it for the next step, among many other documents.
Please be reminded that Visa appointments are very filled-up and, usually, the next available time slot can be 2-3 weeks way from the current time of booking. I went to schedule my visa appointment in December and the next available slot was only in February. As such, please read the embassy requirements very carefully and adhere to what they say. I made the mistake of printing only one set of documents and had to find a printing shop to photocopy all documents.
You can find the documents needed on the German embassy and these include your university acceptance form from your exchange university and from your home university, your resume, your passport photos, your passport itself etc. The entire list can be found on the website so I advise you to read very carefully. All your bank documents have to be present as well as the visa needs your DB account to have sufficient funds before it can be approved.
I made a misassumption that, upon the opening of my bank account, the funds would automatically be transferred from my parents’ bank account. This, however, is not the case. Luckily, the embassy officer was kind enough to allow me to email him the confirmation email from DB while he proceeded to process all my other documents.
Some of my friends received very late responses from DB with regards to the account. In that case, inform the embassy officer and the officer will allow you to submit all documents first and email the bank documents later.
Have all your documents ready, this is the most important tip I can give you. I apologise that I cannot provide you pictures of my application process due to confidential information but if you read my steps above and read DB’s and the German embassy’s website properly, it should be alright for you.
All in all, the application process was rather vexing. I was lucky and had quite an complication-free process but many of my other friends from German class made several trips to the embassy due to either missing documents or error in their documents. Some of them had their bank account request rejected several times before having it approved.
Personally, this step actually effectively encapsulates the essence of being independent and growing up. Our parents will not able to help. We have to do it all on our own. While challenging, I actually found the entire experience rather meaningful and looking back, it actually teaches us to be meticulous, patient and never be afraid to ask questions.
On a side note, you have the option to choose the other banks in Germany as well. Stadtsparkasse, Postbank or Commerzbank are some of the main banks here in Munich.
Activation of Bank Account
So, after all these arduous steps, you may think that your bank account has been activated and ready to be used. Well, not quite.
Read through the following steps to have a better idea of what follows:
- After you check-in to your hostel, you will receive an official document by your landlord to officially declare your accommodation
- The same applies if you are renting a private apartment
- Bring this document to the KVR Office (Kreisverwaltungsreferat) to register yourself officially into the Munich registry
- You will then receive an official document called the Meldebescheinigung
- Photocopy this document and then bring it to a branch of Deutsche Bank
- Together with this document, you need to bring along a filled up Service Order form. Link as attached below
- Submit these two documents to the Deutsche Bank and they will then have it sent to another office at another state to have it processed
- After around a week, you will start receiving letters regarding your Online Pin number, your TAN list which is like our OTP, your actual card and other administrative letters
- You may consider taking a picture of your TAN list because some online transactions may require you to key in the TAN number to authorise your payments. That way, you can make online payments anytime and anywhere. Just be sure to keep your phone save!
- They will come separately
Things to Note:
Here are some things to note about the Deutsche Bank so that you do not get a shock when certain things happen:
- They will charge you 70 cents for printing and postage should you have indicated an interest to receive your monthly statements through post
- They may charge you administration fees for certain online purchasing services
- They deduct 150 euros from your account in the first month of your bank account activation because, apparently, Deutsche Bank ‘incurs’ risks by allowing us to open a Blocked Account with them
- Transactions sometimes do not show up instantly online. They can take several days before showing up, leaving you to wonder if you have actually paid a transaction successfully. This is especially problematic when you are doing online purchases
- Deutsche bank will only issue you a Debit card. You cannot do any credit card online transactions. You can only pay online through a service called “Sofortuberweisung” which means, “immediate bank transfer”. Not every website has this function and you end up using your Singapore bank card instead
- Some of the people I know open additional accounts with other banks like Stadtsparkasse which issues credit cards to students, albeit with a maximum cap of 500euros. These cards are essentially debit cards but they have the Mastercard / Visa function
Maximal Spending Limit
- As mentioned above, there is a monthly blocked amount of about 720 euros that Deutsche Bank imposes upon you. This ‘blocked amount’ applies to your maximum monthly expenditure as well
- You need to take note of this when and calculate accordingly because once your rents, health insurance and other miscellaneous monthly deductions, you may have only about 300euros to spend each month so do not exceed 720 euros a month
- A piece of advice is to deposit additional money on top of the minimum amount that you are supposed to have blocked
Lack of Geldautomats (ATM)
- So, ATMS for Deutsche Bank are extremely limited around Munich and you have to plan when and where you wish to withdraw or deposit money.
- More often than not, you have to withdraw money from the ATMs of Deutsche Bank’s partners, called Cash Group, which includes Postbank, Commerzbank etc.
- Do not withdraw at ATMs of banks not in the Cash Group because you will be charge several euros for that
- More often than not, you see ATMs of other banks and not Deutsche Bank, which I find really strange
- Look out for this CASHGROUP image when you are drawing your money from the ATM
I hope that through this lengthy post, you will get better insights as to how the VISA and banking system works here in Munich or Germany, in general. Make sure you do your research and read and read and read what you need and what is required of you. Administration in Germany is not very straight forward. There are many steps and one process can involved several offices and departments. So do it step by step and, best advice, don’t think about how ridiculous it may be. Just do it 🙂