Best ways to spend travel money in Germany: Debit and prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card, and other ways to take spending money to Germany.

From the poster child of über-cool Berlin, to quaint and traditional rural towns, Germany is as surprising as it is delightful. In order to get the most out of your German getaway, familiarise yourself with its currency customs and start comparing your travel money options today.

Unlike the UK, cash is king in Germany. Research has found that even today, cash accounts for 80% of all transactions, and is necessary in many smaller shops and restaurants. However, you’ll still need access to cards to withdraw cash and pay for larger purchases. Use the guide below to learn the ins and outs of German finances and to hand pick the cards that will work best for your holiday.

Low cost travel money options for Germany

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Can I use my debit card in Germany?

Generally speaking, yes. Most shops, restaurants and bars accept debit cards from UK banks, however some smaller businesses may not accept them and it would be worth taking cash too. Also be aware that your bank may charge overseas fees each time you make a transaction or withdraw money.

It’s worth choosing a debit card provider that doesn’t charge for currency conversion, international ATM withdrawals fees or an account keeping fee. A travel debit card lets you make cheap overseas ATM withdrawals and over-the-counter purchases by waving the currency conversion fee, international ATM fee or both.

The Starling Bank Personal Account is the product to use if you’re conscious about saving money on international transactions. If your bank is part of the Global ATM Alliance group, such as Barclays, you can withdraw money from any Deutsche Bank ATM without paying the withdrawal fee.

  • Tip: Barclays cardholders can avoid the international ATM withdrawal fee as well as the local ATM fee by using Deutsche Bank ATMs in Germany.

Using a prepaid travel card

Prepaid travel cards let you load British pounds and lock in a rate when you convert the funds to euros. This allows you to avoid paying additional currency conversion fees which are often around 3%. However, these cards have other charges such as reload fees, card issue fees and inactivity fees (when you’re not using the card). You’ll also be provided a spare card in case one of them goes missing. These cards can be cancelled separately to one another.

Using a credit card

Credit cards are far less accepted in Germany than in the UK. Although you should be fine to use them in many more up-market restaurants and hotels. If in doubt about credit card acceptance, shop windows will have little Visa and Mastercard stickers. You can always ask too, many people in Germany have an understanding of English, or have a go with this one: “Akzeptieren Sie Kreditkarten?”

A credit card provides a line of credit suited for both regular and emergency use. If you don’t use your card, you won’t pay for it (besides the annual fee). Plus, if your card has an interest free days offer, purchases won’t accrue interest if you pay back everything at the end of the month.

  • Tip: Avoid using your credit card to withdraw cash. Cash advance charges will eat up your available credit quickly.

Using traveller’s cheques

Banks can cash traveller’s cheques if this is your preferred method of taking euros to Germany. Traveller’s cheques can be an expensive way to carry foreign cash. Expect to pay a commission of anywhere up to 8% when you get your cheques cashed. Traveller’s cheques have been replaced by ATMs, which make it cheap (if you use the right card) and easy to get euros when you arrive.

Paying with cash in Germany (euros)

Cash is key in Germany and will be necessary for most of your smaller purchases. It’s suggested that the history of hyperinflation in Germany following both World Wars has influenced Germans’ preference to use cash. Regardless of the reason, you will need cash to pay for many of your transactions on your trip. The best way to get euros is to make an ATM withdrawal when you arrive in Germany using a card which doesn’t charge an international ATM fee. Familiarise yourself with the various euro denominations to save hassle when you’re there.

How much money do I need to bring to Germany?

Germany is a western European country so don’t expect prices to be rock-bottom. However, it can be surprisingly affordable, especially in Berlin which is by far one of the best-value cities in Western Europe. There are of course options for everyone, but if you’re looking for luxury be prepared for relatively high prices. If you’re looking to save money we recommend eating at local street vendors or choosing cheaper Turkish and Middle Eastern restaurants. Check out our rough budget guide for Berlin below.

BerlinBudgetMid rangeExpensive
sleepSleepHostel
£15 – £30 per night
3-star hotel
double room
£50-£100 per night
5-star hotel
£150 + per night
foodEatCurry wurst and chips
£4
Midrange restaurant
£20 – £40 per dish
4-course+ meal at a 5-star restaurant
£250 a head
cameraDoWalking tour of Berlin – free (give a tip if you enjoyed it)
Jazz every Wednesday at The B-flat Jazz Club on Rosenthaler Straße – free
Private WW2 and Cold War walking tour of Berlin –
£20 per person
Private Berlin Wall tour –
£35 per person (up to 3 hours)
1-hour private flight over Berlin
– £250 (up to 3 people)
Tour of Jewish heritage in Berlin – £200 (up to 3 people)

*Prices are approximate and based on summer seasonality and are subject to change.

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Germany. American Express and Diners Club credit cards are accepted in far fewer locations. While Germany ranks highly in Europe for the acceptance of new technology like contactless and mobile payments, it’s still a cash economy. Some businesses may not accept cards for purchases below a certain amount, for example €20, and most supermarkets (even ALDI) won’t take credit cards at all.

While it’s important to find a card that will let you make over-the-counter purchases cheaply, finding a card which lets you use ATMs without the ridiculous charges is most crucial for your trip to Germany. Whichever option you choose make sure you notify your bank before heading to Germany to ensure your card isn’t blocked.

A quick summary of your travel money options in Germany

Travel money optionProsConsiderations
Debit cards for travel
  • No currency conversion and international ATM fees
  • No extra set-up before setting-off
  • Usually offer cheaper ways to access cash via ATMs while overseas
  • Debit cards are linked directly to your personal savings account. If your card is stolen, or you become a victim of fraud, the thief could gain access to your entire bank balance.
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Comes with a backup to use, if the card is missing or stolen
  • Loads your money at a fixed exchange rate
  • Easier to manage expenses
  • All travel cards support euros
  • May need to wait for the funds to be cleared before you can use your money.
  • ATM fees, reload fees, inactivity fees, card issue fees.
Credit cards for travel
  • Line of credit for both regular and emergency use
  • Accepted in large German retailers and mid to up-market restaurants
  • Often comes with features such as complimentary travel insurance or a rewards scheme
  • Withdrawing cash from an ATM can get expensive. The transaction is treated as a cash advance. Charges are often around 3%.
Traveller’s cheques
  • Acceptance
  • Security
  • Expensive way to carry foreign cash.
  • Commission of up to 8% when cashed.
  • Not all merchants accept traveller’s cheques.
Cash
  • Greater payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses.
  • Higher risk of theft.

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

euro-banknotes

ATM withdrawals

ATMs are plentiful all over Germany. Independent ATM operators will charge a fee, but Germany’s major banks will not. Stick to ATMs attached to the side of a bank to be sure. If you put a British issued credit, debit or travel card into a German ATM, the screen will automatically come up in English, 9 times out of 10. If not, you will be prompted to “pick your language” making ATM use easy for non-German speakers. Make sure you choose to be charged for your withdrawals in euros as otherwise you’ll be forced to pay the unfavourable Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) exchange rate.

Where to exchange cash

There are a number of places you can change cash including banks and exchange offices in Germany. Some exchange offices (Wechselstuben) can offer a good rate, but always check what’s on offer against the market rate before you agree to a deal to get an idea of how many euros you should receive. Sometimes it might be better to withdraw money from an ATM.

Why you’ll need a combination of travel money options

Is it possible to find a card that ticks all the boxes in Germany? No currency conversion fee, international ATM fee and no annual fee? That’s unlikely. Remember German Bank ATMs don’t charge a fee either. Even if you can get by using the one card for all your transactions, never put all your eggs in one basket. A combination of travel debit or travel prepaid cards and credit cards will ensure you can make cheap transactions in euros all the while giving you access to an emergency line of credit and travel perks like insurance.

Why pay fees and charges on holiday if they can be easily avoided? A little homework before you leave can mean the difference between smooth sailing and rough seas. If you have any questions or comments that will help you or other readers clarify the best way to take and spend money in Germany, please leave them below.

We show offers we can track - that's not every product on the market...yet. Unless we've said otherwise, products are in no particular order. The terms "best", "top", "cheap" (and variations of these) aren't ratings, though we always explain what's great about a product when we highlight it. This is subject to our terms of use. When you make major financial decisions, consider getting independent financial advice. Always consider your own circumstances when you compare products so you get what's right for you.

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