The Überweisung or bank transfer is by far the most common method of payment in Germany, both for paying invoices (unless you use direct debit) and for person to person payments.
Filling out a Überweisung form
If you hold a current account with a German bank you can usually get the necessary forms free of charge from your branch, your bank and it’s sorting code will normally be pre-printed and your bank may sometimes also pre-print your name and account number for your convenience.
The form consists of two pages, the orange sheet shown above which you need to hand in to your bank and a thinner, second page for your records. If you fill in the form by hand print all names and numbers clearly in black or blue ink, using capital letters where possible and keep to the boxes as this makes reading the form easier and also indicates how many characters any given field may have:
- Your name, the beneficiary’s name and his bank’s name can be up to 27 characters long.
- Account numbers have a maximum of 10 digits, if the number you were given is shorter just enter the number you know (spaces, dashes etc. are sometimes used to make account numbers easier to read but should be omitted when making a payment).
- The Bank Sort Code (Bankleitzahl) is always 8 digits long and is used to route your payment so please print it clearly.
- You have to lines of Verwendungszweck (multi-purpose or reference field), max. 27 characters each, to tell the beneficiary what the payment is for (e.g. number of the invoice).
Date and sign the bank transfer before handing it in to your bank, the signature on the bank transfer should match the specimen signature you gave when you opened the account.
How long do bank transfers in Germany take?
The answer is: That depends. First it depends on how your bank received your bank transfer: Electronic orders via online banking are usually quicker to process since they do not need to be scanned first. Secondly it depends on the clearing arrangements of your bank and thirdly it depends on the booking mechanism employed by your bank (real-time processing of orders or batch transfers once/twice a day).
Usually a bank transfer will take around two to three business days, more than four days (counting from the day after you handed in the transfer at your bank) are not permitted. If the paying and the receiving bank have special clearing arrangements or use the same computer and clearing center your payment may even arrive on the same business day.
What if you received a pre-printed form with your invoice?
Many companies will have a pre-printed bank transfer form attached to the invoice. All you need to do in this case is to add your name, account details (don’t forget your bank’s name and sort code at the top), date and signature. The form may look slightly different than the one above (for example it may only have a shorter reference field) but will contain any data the beneficiary needs to identify your payment. If you have a close look at the form you will notice that these types of bank transfer have a 17 or 18 in the bottom right corner as opposed to the 20 in our example. This transaction code identifies the type of form to your bank’s computer when scanning the paper.