In Germany, "cash is king" is more than just a saying. It is the way life works. Expect to become very familiar with ATMs and euros as you travel through this fascinating country. This overview will help you navigate money matters in Germany.
Since 2002, Germany’s official currency is the Euro (pronounced in German like OY-row). It is among 19 Eurozone countries that use this currency. The symbol is € and it was created by a German, Arthur Eisenmenger. The code is EUR. The euro is divided into 100 cents and are issued in €2, €1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and tiny 1c denominations.
Banknotes are issued in €500, €200, €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 domination. Coins feature designs from each of the member countries, and banknotes picture typically charming European doors, window, and bridges as well as a map of Europe. To find out the current exchange rate, go to www.xe.com.
ATMs in Germany
The quickest, easiest and usually cheapest way to exchange money is to use an ATM, called Geldautomat in German. They are ubiquitous in German cities and can be accessed 24/7. They are present at UBahn stations, grocery stores, airports, malls, shopping streets, train station, etc. They almost always have a language option so you can operate the machine in your native language.
Before you depart, make sure you know your 4-digit PIN number. Also, ask your bank if you have to pay a fee for international withdrawals and how much you can withdraw daily. Your bank might have a partner bank in Germany which can save you money (for example, Deutsche Bank and Bank of America). It can also be helpful to inform your bank of your movements so foreign withdrawals do not raise suspicion.
Exchanging Money in Germany
You can exchange your foreign currency and travelers' checks at German banks or exchange bureaux (called Wechselstube or Geldwechsel in German). They are not as common as they once were, but can still be found at airports, railway stations, and even major hotels. You may also consider online services like PayPal, Transferwise, World First, Xoom, etc. They often feature better rates in this digital age.
Credit Cards and the EC Bank Card in Germany
Compared to the U.S, most Germans still prefer to pay cash and many shops and cafes do not accept cards, especially in smaller German cities. An estimated 80% of all transactions in Germany are in cash. The importance of cash cannot be overestimated. Before you enter shops or restaurants, check the doors—they often display stickers showing which cards are accepted.
Also, note that bank cards in Germany work a bit differently than in the USA. EC bank cards are the norm and work like a US debit card in that they connect to your current account. They feature a magnetic strip on the back of the card with a chip on the front. Many US cards now have these attributes as they are necessary to use in Europe. Inquire at your home bank if you are not sure about your card's features.
Visa and MasterCard are usually accepted in Germany—but not everywhere. (American Express to an even lesser extent.) Credit cards (Kreditkarte) are less common and withdrawing money with your credit card at an ATM (you have to know your PIN number) may result in high fees.
German Banks are usually open Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 17:00. In small towns, they may close earlier or at lunch. They are also closed on the weekend, but ATM machines are accessible all day, every day. Bank employees are often comfortable in English, but be prepared to find your way around with terms like Girokonto/Sparkonto (checking/savings account) and Kasse (cashier’s window).
Opening an account can be a bit tricky as some banks don't offer English-language information and require some fluency, or simply refuse foreigners opening accounts. In general, to open a bank account in Germany you need:
- Passport with applicable visa
- Certificate of residency (Anmeldung)
- Pay statement from your employer or Proof of funds
Note that checks are not used in Germany. Instead, they use direct transfers known as Überweisung. This is the way people pay their rent, receive their paychecks, and make everything from minor to major purchases.