If you’re arriving in Germany from outside Europe, you’re probably used to being able to whip out your credit card at a moment’s notice.
However, over 80% of all transactions in Germany are made in cash. Foreign debit or credit cards (and even locally-issued credit cards!) are usually not accepted at supermarkets, drugstores, train ticket machines, restaurants and bars, government payment machines… hey, even some large furniture stores baulk at the sight of a Visa.
Let’s say you want to go shopping at IKEA (and hey, who doesn’t love frolicking down those aisles for the better part of a day). This just in: IKEA does NOT take credit cards. IKEA takes German EC Cards and cash, but that won’t help you when you’ve got an entire flat to furnish and you haven’t yet opened a German bank account.
True story: a friend rocked up to the payment counter at IKEA-Lichtenberg with two full trolleys of furniture, a shiny credit card in his hand and a satisfied smile on his face. A well-spent morning of stocking up on lovingly-selected pieces for his new pad. He had thought we were joking when we’d urged him to take a big wad of cash with him. Needless to say, he went home empty-handed!
Then there’s the Ausländerbehörde, the Bürgeramt, almost all the public offices where you might have to part with a small amount of money to get a permit, license, passport or something else. You won’t be able to pay using a foreign card or credit card. At the Ausländerbehörde in Berlin, there is a list of the nearest ATMs pinned up on the wall next to the payment machine. Believe us when we tell you, none of them are particularly close.
Having a local Girokonto (checking account) is your ticket to an EC (debit) card and to access your Euros when you need them. Let Red Tape Translation know if you’d like some help opening a bank account.