Germany is well known for being the largest national economy in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. With a complex and rich history, Germany is popular for its colourful architecture, castles and landscapes…not to mention the beer!
Germany remains one of the top destinations in the world for travellers, and whilst being predominantly a cash society, credit cards are accepted, so you’ll have no problems if you run out of cash.
Visa and Mastercard credit cards are widely accepted and you’ll be able to use your American Express card in a few places, too, but not many.
ATMs are known in German as Bankomat, and they’re normally located inside or outside bank branches. You’ll also find them at major airports, but they are less common in shopping centres and petrol stations. German ATMs accept foreign bank cards, so using your Visa or Mastercard will be easy.
Cash in Germany
More than 80% of payments in Germany are made using cash, meaning it’s crucial to carry some cash with you on your travels. It is important to know that smaller shops, like bakeries, butchers, news agents only accept cash or the German EC card. It is highly recommended before you buy an item or sit down to eat, you check the accepted payment type.
This type of card is the most secure and most common in Germany. You will be required to input your PIN number associated with it every time you purchase an item, or withdraw cash from an ATM.
If you use a chip-and-signature card, you may have issues when trying to make a purchase at an unattended point of sale, like a petrol station. For visitors travelling to Germany with only chip-and-signature cards, it is wise to rely on cash instead.
Germany has moved from magnetic-stripe cards to chip cards, and all banks in Germany now issue the latter. You’ll still be able to use your magnetic-stripe card in Germany, although you can expect some confusion. In the switching of technology, some retailers falsely believe that they can no longer accept magnetic-stripe cards while some others will not let you use them, to do their bit in reducing credit card fraud. All they basically need you to do is swipe your card instead of inserting it into the machine, and then get you to sign for the purchase.
Is it safe to use my card in Germany?
By exercising some caution when using your credit card in Germany, you’ll have a relatively trouble-free experience.
Keep your PIN safe. Use one hand to enter the PIN and the other to shield it from prying eyes and hidden cameras.
Select ATMs with care. Try and stick to ATMs in banks and avoid using ones in the street.
Watch out for “skimmers”. When installed in an ATM, a card skimmer works by stealing information from credit and debit cards. If you feel the card slot is not as smooth as it should be or if there’s a problem with the keypad, cancel your transaction and look for another ATM.
Keeping your credit card (physically) safe
Remain alert to street crime, especially where two or more people work in distracting victims before decamping with their valuables. Instances of theft at airports are not uncommon, so stay vigilant while arriving and departing. There have been numerous instances of thefts from hired cars so don’t leave your wallet or purse in a parked car. In some cases, thieves pose as police and ask to see wallets for identification purposes. In such a scenario, make sure you’re speaking with genuine police officers. It is very unlikely that a real officer will want to sift through your wallet.
Potential credit card fees
Credit card fees can leave a noticeable dent in your pocket when you’re travelling overseas, so know what you’re up against well in advance and choose a card with no or low fees.
Foreign transaction fees
British credit card issuers typically charge a fee equivalent to 1% to 3% of your transaction, so carefully review your card’s fine print to avoid statement surprises. Some cards designed for travel come with no foreign transaction fees, so this could be a good time to switch.
If a retailer offers to bill your credit card in sterling, dynamic currency conversion comes into play. While this might sound like a good deal, you’ll actually end up getting a worse exchange rate, and you might also end up paying currency conversion fees. Whenever you’re presented with an option, choose to pay in euros.
Cash advance fees
Using your credit card to withdraw money from an ATM may not make sense unless it’s a bona fide emergency. Each time you withdraw funds from an ATM, you’re likely to pay a cash advance fee. Your APR for cash advances is typically higher than your purchase APR, and you’ll typically get no grace period on interest — instead, you start paying interest immediately. Again, some cards designed for overseas spending will waive this fee.
The table below serves as an example of how much extra you may pay to use your credit card for in Germany.
Additionally you can get an idea of costs by using these online currency conversion tools from Mastercard and Visa.
What is a cash advance fee?
A cash advance fee is calculated (and charged) when you withdraw cash from your credit card. It’s usually the greater of a flat fee or a percentage of the transaction. For example, “2.5% of the transaction, minimum £3.00”.
How to prepare before travelling to Germany
Go with Visa or Mastercard. Carry at least two cards on your trip to Germany, preferably connected with Visa or Mastercard. If you just take an American Express card, you won’t get to use it in many places.
Keep your bank posted. Banks, in their efforts to thwart fraudulent transactions, block credit cards if they detect suspicious activity such as unexpected overseas transactions. To make sure this does not happen to your card, let your bank know about your travel plans before you leave the UK.
Keep the emergency number handy. Know which numbers you’ll need to call if you end up losing your card or if you need an emergency replacement.
Know where you’ll get cash from. Consider using your debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. If you need to exchange money, stick to banks or official money-exchange offices because possessing counterfeit money in Germany is a serious crime. Try to avoid exchanging money at airports and popular tourist destinations because of typically poor exchange rates.
Ask yourself these simple questions before you leave so your spending in Germany does not hit any roadblocks.
Which cards will I take? Visa and Mastercard are the favourites. If you’re planning a trip, check out cards which give you complimentary airport lounge access. If you’re planning well in advance, consider earning air miles for your trip with a frequent flyer credit card.
Have I let my bank know? If you don’t inform your bank about your travel plans, you may end up with a temporarily suspended card.
What fees do I need to pay? If your existing cards come with foreign transaction fees, look for one that does not. Paying in Sterling outside of the UK might come with currency conversion fees.
How will I get cash? Using your debit card at an ATM is the simplest way to access your own money. You can carry cash and traveler’s cheques with you. Exchanging Sterling to Euros is easy and you’ll get several options.
When you’re in Germany, you don’t have to worry about where and when you can use your credit card. Just keep some cash handy to pay for small purchases.
We use banks to take care of all our other financial needs, so surely we should use them when sending an international money transfer, right? Not necessarily. While major UK banks offer money transfer services, they typically present less competitive exchange rates coupled with high transfer fees. Learn how to send money to Germany the smart way.
Visa and Mastercard are almost on a par. American Express follows at a distant third.
There are no currency restrictions, although you’ll need to declare if you’re bringing in more than €10,000 or its equivalent in another currency.
Chris Lilly is a publisher at finder.com. He's a specialist in credit-based products including business and personal loans, mortgages and credit cards, and is passionate about helping UK consumers make informed decisions about their borrowing. In his spare time Chris likes forcing his kids to exercise more.
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