Expat Essentials

Audrey Shankles in Wiesbaden: Cash is still king as Germany embraces more cards, payment apps

Editor’s note: Confused about why you can use PIN cards in the Netherlands but often can’t use cash, yet you need cash for many transactions in Germany and can’t use PIN cards? So are we. This post about money and payment options in Germany is the fourth installment in a series about personal finance across Europe.)

Germany loves cash. As shown here, here, here, and here. Even in these unprecedented COVID times, one will still find most merchants really want their paper and coins. Sixty-two percent of all transactions in Germany were made with cash in 2019. While this is a declining trend, and more Germans chose card or smart payments, cash transactions aren’t going away any time soon.

An example from the other night: the veterinarian.

I really thought most medical practices would be converting over to digital and card payments by now, but my new vet was EC Karte or Bargeld (cash) only. Because I leave my apartment once every six weeks, and because I was stressing over my cat, I had forgotten that perhaps I might need more cash on hand, as my consumer experiences of late have only been “add to cart” “pay with Google Pay.”

While I was filling out the intake forms, at the bottom was a place to mark for payments in cash or EC Karte and I panicked as I checked my purse for any coins or bills that may have been living there forgotten for months.

Happy story, I had enough on hand for the vet bill, because vet bills are regulated and affordable in Germany.

But how does one prepare for leaving their home country which might be more, advanced, when it comes to shopping and purchasing? Do you freeze the cards of your foreign bank in ice? Attempt to get a German card? Pull out tens of thousands in cash to stash in your apartment for the duration of your stay? (Don’t do this.)

Here are some tips on how much cash to have on hand, where you may be able to pay with card, and how Germany is entering the digital age, kicking and screaming the whole way.

Places you are most likely only going to pay in cash

If you don’t have a EC Karte, and for Americans these are getting quite difficult to obtain in Germany, then assume cash is your only choice.

Some places won’t even accept the EC Karte:

• The post office and associated kiosks/filalle/paketshop
• Older, independent restaurants
• Kebab shops
• Parking garages
• Parking meters
• Taxi cabs (I would recommend Uber or FreeNow, if you have a choice, since these will always be card)
• Flower stands
• Farmers’ markets
• Independent bakeries, butchers, vegetable stands
• Tow trucks (don’t ask how I know)
• Dry cleaners

Places you will have a choice:

• Modern, chain restaurants (or modern restaurants in general)

• Chain bakeries (or regional bakeries)
• Modern or chain grocery stores
• Department stores
• Chain retail
• Train station ticket kiosks

Places with more ‘advanced’ payments like Google or Apple Pay:

The places in the list above that accept cards are now more likely to accept contactless NFC payments, especially in chains and better known brand names.

A tip for those with the Payback Karte: You can set up payments through Payback by tying your bank account/card to the app and collect points and pay in one step.

The payments seem to take 3-to-5 days to clear the bank. If you want to pay by Payback, tell the cashier at checkout and they will scan your phone like they would the card. Even if you don’t want to pay with Payback, you can still have your loyalty card in the app available to scan at checkout. You can switch between the two at any time.

Pro expat tips:

• I would recommend having 50 euros on hand at all times as this amount – at least in Wiesbaden – will cover any daily expenses that would come up. I’ve learned from friends it’s not uncommon to carry 200-to-300 euros at any time; that’s out of my comfort zone, however. Plus I’d rather my money work in the bank, earning an amazing .01 percent interest per month.

• It’s also handy to always have a 1 euro coin. These will let you unlock grocery carts. Sometimes dry cleaners or car washes will have plastic tokens with their logo that will also do the trick. During COVID times, many grocery stores require entrance with a cart, so the coin will be very handy right now.

Bottom line:

Above all, if the place you’re going to looks small, quaint, independent or charming, it’s probably cash only. If it’s a chain or a regional brand, you can probably use your credit card. Until more Germans choose to embrace cards of any type, cash is always going to be the bottom line.

About the author:

Audrey Shankles is an American who moved to Germany, and who writes about how that’s going at www.a-broad.com. She comes from the Washington DC region in the United States and has been in Germany for over 5 years. While she misses the Nats, the Caps and brunches along the Potomac, she’s fallen in love with the Rheingau, 3 euro beers, and taking the train everywhere. 

Audrey has held a multitude of jobs and explored numerous careers and fancies herself a “person who does things with people she likes.” When writing, she focuses on helping people understand their appliances and recipes in German, posts her personal thoughts about living abroad and her failures at integrating into German society.

See more of Audrey’s posts for Dispatches here.

See her blog, Audrey is (a)broad, here.

See Pt. 1 in our personal finance series here.

See Pt. 2 here.

See. Pt. 3 here.

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