Germany, while modern in many respects, has its unique nuances related to monetary transactions. Whether it’s recognizing the variety of coins and notes, knowing when and where to use cash, or comprehending the cashless payment systems, understanding the German currency is key to ensuring a smooth experience.
We look into the intricacies of the Euro as used in Germany, offering insights into its history, its physical forms, how it’s commonly used in transactions, and more.
- The Euro is Germany’s official currency, introduced in 2002 to replace the Deutsche Mark.
- Cash is still widely used in Germany, but cashless payment options like debit and credit cards are increasingly common.
- Be aware of transaction fees when using ATMs and making other financial transactions.
- Non-EU residents can benefit from tax-free shopping by reclaiming the Value Added Tax (VAT) on eligible purchases.
- Special currency cases include the existence of local currencies in some regions and the limited acceptance of cryptocurrencies.
History of the Euro in Germany
Germany, with its rich history, has witnessed a series of transformations over the centuries, and its currency is no exception. The Euro, today’s common currency for many European nations, hasn’t always been the medium of exchange in Germany.
From Deutsche Mark to Euro
Before the introduction of the Euro, Germany’s official currency was the Deutsche Mark. Established in 1948, the Deutsche Mark quickly became a symbol of Germany’s economic miracle in the post-war years. It was not only a cornerstone of economic stability but also a mark of national pride.
However, as Europe moved towards more profound integration during the late 20th century, the idea of a single currency began to take root. The Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, set the foundation for the European Union and paved the way for the Euro. It was in this context that Germany, along with 10 other EU member states, decided to adopt the Euro.
On January 1, 1999, the Euro was introduced as an electronic currency for banking and financial transactions. Three years later, in 2002, the Euro banknotes and coins entered into circulation, marking the end of the Deutsche Mark era.
The Euro and the European Union
Germany’s transition to the Euro wasn’t just an economic shift but also a political and symbolic move. By adopting the Euro, Germany demonstrated its commitment to a united Europe. The currency became a symbol of shared values, mutual trust, and a collective desire for stability and prosperity in the European region.
The Euro today is used by 19 of the 27 European Union countries, forming the Eurozone. As one of the EU’s largest and strongest economies, Germany plays a crucial role in the stability and strength of the Euro on the global stage.
The Basics of the Euro
When it comes to daily transactions in Germany, knowing the basics of the currency can save you time and prevent potential confusion. The Euro (€) is the standard currency, and understanding its denominations and physical forms is essential for anyone new to the country.
Coins and Notes
The Euro currency system consists of both coins and banknotes. Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, as well as €1 and €2 coins.
Each coin has a common European design on one side and a country-specific design on the other. In Germany, you might notice the eagle, a symbol of German sovereignty, on the coins.
Banknotes are available in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, and €500 denominations. The design elements on these notes feature architectural styles from different periods in European history but do not represent any actual existing structures.
It’s worth mentioning that while all denominations are legal tender, the €200 and €500 notes are less commonly used for everyday transactions.
Understanding the Denominations
For someone new to the Euro, distinguishing between the different coins can be a bit challenging initially. The coins are differentiated by their size, color, and thickness:
- 1, 2, and 5-cent coins have a copper-colored appearance.
- 10, 20, and 50-cent coins are golden in color but slightly lighter and smaller.
- €1 and €2 coins are bi-metallic, with a silver-colored outer circle and a gold-colored inner circle for the €1 coin, and the opposite for the €2 coin.
Using Cash in Germany
Navigating the financial landscape in Germany can be a unique experience, particularly because of the country’s fondness for cash transactions. While card payments and digital wallets are making inroads, the importance of carrying some cash cannot be understated.
Prevalence of Cash Transactions
In Germany, cash is king. You’ll find that small businesses, bakeries, and even some restaurants and bars may only accept cash.
According to a study by the Bundesbank, Germany’s central bank, a significant portion of transactions in the country are still conducted in cash. This makes understanding how to obtain and use cash in Germany a necessity for anyone new to the country.
ATMs and Banks
If you’re looking for cash, ATMs are the most convenient option. They are widely spread across cities and towns and often offer English-language options. Most ATMs accept international cards, but be aware of the fees for transactions, which can be higher if the ATM is not affiliated with your bank.
Bank branches are another option, but operating hours may be limited, especially in smaller towns. In most cases, bank staff can assist you in English, but it’s always a good idea to check before going.
Tips on Using Cash
Here are some points to consider:
- Always carry some small denominations for quick transactions and for places that don’t accept cards.
- Be aware of the “Mindestbetrag,” or minimum transaction amount, in some stores if you do intend to use a card.
- Keep an eye on your cash. Germany is generally a safe country, but it’s always good practice to be cautious.
While cash remains a popular form of payment in Germany, the options for cashless transactions are steadily increasing. Various types of cards and digital payment methods are accepted, especially in larger cities and more modern establishments. Here’s what you need to know.
Types of Cards Accepted
Debit Cards: Girocard (previously known as EC card) is the most common type of debit card in Germany, but international debit cards like Maestro and V Pay are also widely accepted.
Credit Cards: Visa and MasterCard are the most commonly accepted credit cards. American Express and Diners Club are less common but can still be used in larger stores and hotels.
Mobile Payment Options
Mobile payments are gaining traction in Germany, albeit at a slower pace compared to other countries. Apps like Apple Pay and Google Pay are increasingly being accepted in supermarkets, retail stores, and even some restaurants and cafes. These apps can often be linked to German bank accounts or international credit cards.
Where Cashless Payments Might Not Be Accepted
It’s essential to be aware that not all establishments in Germany accept cashless payments. Smaller retailers, some restaurants, and even certain service providers may only accept cash. It’s advisable to ask in advance if a particular payment method is accepted, especially in smaller towns or older establishments.
Using Cards for Public Transport
Many public transportation systems, like trains and buses, have embraced cashless transactions. Ticket vending machines usually accept cards, and in some cities, you can even use a mobile app to purchase your tickets.
Understanding exchange rates is particularly relevant for foreigners living in Germany, especially for those coming from countries outside of the Eurozone. While it may seem like a complex topic, a basic understanding can go a long way in helping you manage your finances wisely.
How Exchange Rates Affect Foreigners
Exchange rates determine the value of one currency in terms of another, and they can fluctuate based on a variety of economic factors. For foreigners, this means that the effective cost of living can change based on how strong or weak their home currency is compared to the Euro.
Whether you’re sending money back home or receiving funds from abroad, the exchange rate will impact how much money actually gets transferred.
Related: Cost of Living
Where to Get the Best Rates
There are several options for exchanging currency, each with its pros and cons:
Banks: Most traditional banks offer currency exchange services. However, the rates are often less favorable, and there may be additional fees.
Currency Exchange Offices: These can be found in airports, train stations, and city centers. Rates can vary, and fees are common, so it’s essential to compare before making a transaction.
ATMs: Using an ATM to withdraw Euros can offer a better exchange rate, especially if your bank has partnerships with German banks. Be cautious of the fees.
Online Exchange Services: Platforms like TransferWise or Revolut often offer more competitive rates and lower fees. They are increasingly popular for international money transfers.
Banking in Germany
For most foreigners, setting up a bank account is one of the first steps towards financial independence in Germany. Not only does a bank account make it easier to manage daily expenses, but it is also often a requirement for other aspects of life in Germany, such as signing a rental agreement or receiving a salary.
Related: Minimum Wage in Germany Explained
Opening a Bank Account as a Foreigner
Opening a bank account in Germany is generally a straightforward process, but you’ll need to provide several documents. The specific requirements can vary depending on the bank, but usually include:
- Identification (passport or national ID)
- Proof of residence in Germany (registration certificate or utility bill)
- Proof of income or employment (if applicable)
Once your account is active, you will typically receive a Girocard, which is a German debit card, that you can use for most financial transactions including cash withdrawals and in-store payments.
International Money Transfers
Sending money to and from Germany is usually a simple process, especially if you’re transferring within the Eurozone. However, international transfers can involve fees and less favorable exchange rates.
Many people opt for online services like TransferWise or Revolut for such transactions, as they often offer better rates and lower fees compared to traditional banks.
Online Banking and Mobile Apps
Most German banks offer comprehensive online banking services and mobile apps that allow you to manage your account, make transfers, and keep track of your expenses. Although the primary language for these platforms is often German, many banks offer English-language options as well.
Important Banking Terms
Understanding some key German banking terms can help you navigate the banking system more efficiently.
|Used to manage money; savings or current
|Transferring money from one account to another
|Machine for cash withdrawals
|The total sum of money in an account
|Adding money into an account
|Taking money out of an account
Transaction fees might seem like small details, but they can add up quickly and become a significant expense if not monitored closely. In Germany, these fees can vary depending on the type of transaction, the location, and the financial institution you are dealing with.
ATM Withdrawal Fees
If you use an ATM that is affiliated with your bank or a partner bank, withdrawals are usually free. However, using an ATM from a non-affiliated bank often incurs a fee, which can range from €1.5 to €5 per transaction. If you’re using a foreign card, additional charges may apply, and the exchange rate could be less favorable.
Bank Service Fees
Traditional German banks may charge monthly maintenance fees for your account, though many offer free accounts with limited services. Some banks charge for extra services like paper statements, while online transfers within the Eurozone are generally free. It’s advisable to read the fee schedule carefully and ask for clarification if needed.
Card Transaction Fees
Using debit or credit cards within the Eurozone generally does not incur additional fees. However, using your card outside of the Eurozone might result in foreign transaction fees, usually a small percentage of the transaction amount.
Digital Payment Fees
Mobile payment apps and online money transfer services often offer free transactions or charge lower fees compared to traditional methods. However, they may have their own fee structure for specific types of transactions, like international money transfers.
Always be cautious of hidden fees, especially when conducting financial transactions in a foreign language. For example, some establishments might offer to charge you in your home currency when using a card. While this may seem convenient, the exchange rate provided is often less favorable, resulting in a de facto fee.
If you’re a non-European Union resident staying temporarily in Germany, you might be eligible for tax-free shopping, a system that allows you to reclaim the Value Added Tax (VAT) on your purchases when you leave the EU. This is especially beneficial for those planning to buy high-value items like electronics, luxury goods, or designer clothing.
How It Works
In Germany, the standard VAT rate is 19%, which is already included in the price tag of most items you purchase. Tax-free shopping allows you to claim a refund for the VAT component when you exit the EU. Here are the basic steps to follow:
- Eligibility: Check that you’re eligible for tax-free shopping. The key requirement is that you must be a non-EU resident and plan to take the purchased goods out of the EU within three months.
- In-Store Process: When making a purchase, inform the store staff that you wish to buy the items tax-free. You’ll be given a tax-free form that you need to fill out. Keep the form and the receipt safe.
- Customs Validation: Before leaving the EU, show your purchased goods and tax-free form at the customs office for validation. The form usually needs to be stamped as proof.
- Claim the Refund: Once the form is validated, you can claim your VAT refund. Some stores provide immediate refunds upon returning the stamped form, while others may offer a mail-in option.
Not all stores participate in the tax-free shopping scheme, and some might have a minimum purchase amount to qualify for the VAT refund. Look for a “Tax-Free” sign at the entrance or ask the staff if they offer this service.
- Make sure to have your passport with you when you shop, as it’s often required to verify your eligibility.
- Keep all the original invoices and forms safe, as you’ll need them to claim the refund.
- Plan ahead, as customs offices can be busy, especially at airports and major border crossings.
Special Currency Cases
While the Euro is the standard currency used in Germany, there are some special cases and unique situations where different rules may apply. Being aware of these exceptions can help you navigate the financial landscape in Germany more efficiently.
Old German Currency
Germany transitioned from the Deutsche Mark to the Euro in 2002. While you’re unlikely to encounter the Deutsche Mark today, it’s worth noting that certain Bundesbank branches still allow for the exchange of old Deutsche Mark banknotes and coins at a fixed rate.
In some small communities and regions, local currencies are introduced as a social experiment or to boost local commerce. These are not replacements for the Euro but are accepted in conjunction with it for local transactions. An example is the “Chiemgauer” in the region of Chiemgau, Bavaria.
Germany has a rapidly growing fintech sector, and some establishments may accept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. However, this is still relatively rare and mostly limited to specific niches or online transactions.
Traveler’s Cheques and Foreign Currency
Traveler’s cheques have largely fallen out of use but may still be exchanged at some major banks. As for foreign currency, you’ll find that it’s generally not accepted for everyday transactions but can be easily exchanged at banks, exchange offices, and some hotels.
Regional Payment Cards
Some regions or cities have specific payment cards that offer discounts or other benefits when used by local businesses. These are generally pre-paid cards and can make for a useful local payment method if you’re staying in one area for an extended period.
Being cognizant of these special currency cases can help you avoid confusion and make the most of your financial options while living in or visiting Germany. Whether it’s exchanging old German currency or considering the use of local currencies and payment cards, a bit of knowledge can go a long way.
Useful Apps and Websites
Most German banks offer their own apps to manage your account, make transfers, and keep track of your expenses. Common features include: