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On my last trip to Germany my credit cards (chip-based Visa and MasterCard) were declined more than usual. I've been there like 10 times and haven't noticed this before but on this trip train ticket machines refused to service them, small shops didn't accept them and even a huge consumer electronics network store Mediamarkt said "EC cards only". (Whatever "EC card" is)

Has anything changed in regard to credit cards in Germany in recent years or was I just unlucky this time? And what's the root of this problem? As far as I understand these chip-based credit cards technically are not that different (if at all) from debit/atm cards.

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'EC' can stand for EuroCheque or Eurocard. Seems like this linked to MasterCard's 'Maestro' debit card network, which is sometimes not support by the usual MasterCard payment process. – Ankur Banerjee Jul 11 '11 at 8:08
    
@Alan: You should mention which country you are from. I work in tourism in Australia and there are many many factors which determine whether I can get our card machine to work with a particular card: The country the card is from, The bank the card is from, The type of account, Which systems the card is connected to (Cirrus, Plus), which country you are in, which model of card processing device is being used, What options were used on the device. On our machine I must select "credit" for "debit cards" and I can often get a card to work with a signature which won't work with a PIN for instance. – hippietrail Jul 12 '11 at 11:10
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@hippietrail: at most location with person present it doesn't even go to a "machine". A person sees a Visa or MC logo and says "no credit cards". So for Germany I don't think it matters where you are from. – Alan Mendelevich Jul 12 '11 at 11:22
    
@Alan: Ah policy issues rather than technical issues (-: I ran into the same problem in Japan recently in convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and supermarkets. – hippietrail Jul 12 '11 at 11:50
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There seem to be speficic issues with using US-issued credit cards in Europe: How can Americans get a chip-and-pin credit card for use while abroad? – Pekka 웃 Sep 2 '11 at 7:11

10 Answers 10

up vote 24 down vote accepted

In short: no.

Mostly, credit card acceptance in Germany is still the exception rather than the norm. There are a couple of places, however, where you can expect at least Visa and MC to be accepted, most notably ATMs and gas stations.

Be prepared to pay in cash everywhere else.

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I believe it's non-existent. You should have cash on you for train tickets. At least I've tried a couple of times and failed. – Alan Mendelevich Jul 12 '11 at 6:15
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@AlanMendelevich Not true at all! Already since many many years, you can pay with credit cards at train ticket vending machines. In fact, I did that frequently with a Visa card when I didn't have cash and when I didn't want to enter the PIN of my EC card. Mastercard is also accepted, and maybe some other credit card types. Quote from Wikipedia: "Die aktuellen Fahrkartenautomaten der Deutschen Bahn AG erlauben neben der Bezahlung mit Bargeld auch die Verwendung unbarer Zahlungsmittel wie electronic cash, Kreditkarte oder GeldKarte." – feklee Jan 29 '13 at 12:27
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@feklee: True for Deutsche Bahn's standard vending machines, but there are also competing operators and regional transport networks (Verkehrsverbünde) whose machines may or may not accept credit cards. – chirlu Jun 4 '15 at 13:14
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I think you mean: "In short: yes." If credit cards are not normally accepted, then there are definitely issues. – DCShannon Jun 9 '15 at 20:14
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@DCShannon: Debit cards (EC, standing for "electronic cash" cards) are generally accepted. Not credit cards, because of the fees mainly and also because debit cards work like wire transfers which are a common way to pay (bills but also goods delivered to your door) in Germany. – tricasse Jan 20 at 22:12

Edit: There is an interesting question over at money.stackexchange.com explaining that US-issued magnetic stripe credit cards do not work in many european machines that require the card to have a chip:

Sometimes it works, more often it doesn't. I challenge you to buy a train ticket from a machine anywhere in Europe. It was particularly unnerving on a highway in France trying to pay the toll from a machine which didn't take cash at an unattended toll booth... none of my credit cards worked except, oddly, American Express.

Germany is indeed a developing country as far as Credit Cards are concerned. Things are changing, at least for Amex, Visa, and Mastercard - but slowly.

Some exceptions:

  • Supermarket chain REWE accepts credit cards in most, if not all, stores. There may be a minimum purchase imposed by the local franchisee, I have seen €5 and €10 amounts.

  • I have never had any problems buying Deutsche Bahn train tickets with various credit cards (Visa, Mastercard). I cannot testify to how cards issued in other countries are accepted, but there shouldn't be any problems. (Turns out there may be - see edit above.)

  • As @Simon notes, most gas stations accept credit cards.

  • The vast majority of hotels accepts credit cards.

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I tried my (Lithuania/Swedish bank issued) VISA and MasterCard cars in DB machines. Neither worked. – Alan Mendelevich Sep 23 '11 at 5:34
    
@Alan good to know, thanks. – Pekka 웃 Sep 24 '11 at 13:32
    
As of today, discounter supermarkets like ALDI and Lidl accept credit card for arbitrary low payments, while many more expensive supermarkets often do not even take debit card for payments below 5 Euros. Most restaurants still do not accept credit cards. Contactless payments using credit cards (with the wifi-like symbol) are growing, again in discounters. – simbabque Jul 16 at 20:22
up vote 11 down vote
+200

This question is from 2011 and things have improved, even in Germany. As of 2016 you can survive using credit card payments only, but there are still plenty of places that do not accept them.

As a rule of thumb a credit card is more likely to be accepted if

  • you are in a metropolitan/touristy area
  • with hotel/supermarket/... chains
  • for larger sums of money (e.g. at least 20€)
  • Mastercard and Visa are commonly accepted, less so American Express and even less Diners Club

This means if you are going to stay with a family-run no-frills hotel in a small town or get a snack from a bakery you should better have an alternative way of payment.

Paying cash still is the norm in Germany for everyday use and people carry more cash compared to e.g. the US - carrying 50-100€ in cash on a regular day (depending on your daily spend) is normal and even more if travelling. If paying by card the standard is the EC-card which would likely be issued by a German bank and works in Europe only. Especially older people use their cards to withdraw money once a month and use cash only.

Likelihood of acceptance of credit cards by spending categories: [keep in mind the general comments above as well]

  • ATMs: should accept your card for withdrawals
  • Supermarkets: here you can find an overview, in a nutshell as of the end of 2015 all major supermarkets, including discounters, accept Mastercard and Visa
  • Train tickets: you should be able to buy train tickets online, at the counter and at most ticket machines with a Visa or Mastercard
  • local public transport: depends on the city. Better in major cities, where you could also buy tickets for local transport at the train ticket machines of DB
  • taxi: depends on the city, don't rely on it. At least in Berlin drivers have to accept it, otherwise they are not allowed to carry passengers (but they do charge a small fee for paying by credit card)
  • hotels: even in larger cities some small hotels on the lower end of the price spectrum do not accept cards at all. They are usually quite forward about it but read the conditions/fine print when booking.
  • restaurants: I would not bet on a regular place where Germans go to eat in the 10-20€ range to accept credit cards. Changes a lot if you go upscale of course or McDonalds and the likes.

N.b. the recent improvement in credit card acceptance is due to new EU regulation capping card fees for merchants since 2015. This triggered the increased acceptance at supermarkets and expect further improvements in the future.

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Credit Cards in Germany are as useful as stones when it comes to paying for goods. Either get cash from you credit card in a real bank during business hours (Most ATMs only handle EC cards), or get your own EC card if you plan to stay longer.

I was working for a shop in Germany a few years ago and they wanted to accept credit cards for internet payments; however the payment provider charged way too much for this service (5% transaction fee or so?) so that's probably one of the reasons why credit cards are not popular in most stores.

The other difference for the customer is that most banks only let you spend the money you have in your account when using EC cards, so you don't get credit but a "not enough funds" message when you run out of money. However you can apply for an overdraft limit (called "dispolimit" in German) on EC cards, or your account for that matter.

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How does one get an EC card? As a foreigner moving to Germany, who would be a good provider for me? – nibot Aug 29 '11 at 19:23
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You get one from your bank where you open your bank account; but don't ask me whichbank to choose. i think there are all the same more or less. i usually choose one that has the ATM's in the most convenient location for me. – iHaveacomputer Aug 29 '11 at 21:02
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A card that doesn't provide credit but which has a Visa or Mastercard logo is generally called a "debit card" when being specific but many people don't fully understand the difference due to varying laws, banks, traditions, and terminology between countries. – hippietrail Oct 4 '11 at 8:22
    
@hippietrail: yes, but i was talking about the german EC-Cards in my last paragraph, not about Credit Cards: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_cash :) – iHaveacomputer Oct 4 '11 at 21:04
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The "Most ATMs only handle EC cards" is certainly not true. Any ATM in Germany will happily accept any VISA or MasterCard. As for shops, the more expensive ones do accept (REWE, Real), the cheaper ones not (Lidl, Kaufland). – miernik Nov 13 '11 at 8:33

On a recent trip to Germany (Berlin) (December 2015), my Mastercard Debit card (Chip + Pin) was accepted in all large stores (Karstadt, Ullrich, Kaufland), as well as the BVG Mobile App, but notably not in the U-Bahn ticket machines (per https://www.bvg.de/en/Tickets/Other-ways-to-buy/At-ticket-machines, payment is accepted only in cash or with EC card).

ATMs allowed me to withdraw cash, I didn't have any problems with them not accepting the Mastercard.

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In Germany, and many other European countries except for the UK, Maestro is the de facto card-payment method. Many shops do not accept credit cards and if they do, Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted than AmEx. Now, that does not mean you'll have to pay cash everywhere. Recently (somewhere in 2015) more shops started accepting credit cards. This includes most bigger shops and warehouses and restaurants. Smaller shops are hit and miss, since the shops often have to account for increased transaction costs.

While a credit card should work nearly everywhere where moderate to big payments are done, you should probably also bring a Maestro card or some cash. Every ATM should accept the 3 biggest cards and there are many possibilities to get a Maestro card.

Note: some small shops will accept NFC payments by phone but no credit cards, although these are somewhat uncommon.

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I wouldn't rely on a Maestro card to work everywhere where card payments are accepted in Germany. Most places process German cards via their Girocard network or by direct debit (ELV) which both only work with German cards. There are some places that only accept Girocard but not Maestro. Unfortunately it's not easy to tell whether a store accepts Maestro, often the logo is missing even when they do accept it nor does staff usually know the difference. – neo Jan 22 at 8:15
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@neo I never had any issues myself, even when they said they don't accept it. But it's good to realize that. – J. Constantine Jan 22 at 8:25

A core reason is that shops don't like to accept them, so much that they sometimes even 'fake' that they fail (even disconnect the machine and claim it won't work); or give a discount for higher priced articles when asked. The fees to them are high (as in other countries), but in Germany specially, the EC card (just like a debit card) has taken over the market completely. Most Germans have no credit cards, or only use them while vacationing; many dislike the concept; and some don't even know what it is. Also, German credit cards don't work like US credit cards, rather you must have an automatic full payment by deduction every month from your checking account (which makes them even more unattractive).

Hotels, car rental, mid- to high-level restaurant, and chains do generally accept credit cards (foreign as well as German cards). recently, several supermarket chains have also started to accept them, so it is moving to a much broader acceptance.

[I am German, btw., but live in the US, so I know both sides well.]

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Have you been to Germany since, say, September 2015? Even the stingiest of all stores, Aldi, accepts credit cards nowadays (and has big posters that it's "from the first cent"). Since the EU interchange regulation fees have fallen quite a bit. Large companies now have around the cost same for cash payments and Visa/MC branded debit cards (and only a tiny bit more for credit cards). And it has been easy to get a US style credit card in Germany for a long time if you wanted to. What has taken over Germany is the almost free ELV (via Girocard) but other payment methods are now available. – neo Jan 21 at 20:55
    
I have been there in October 2015, and I am aware of that.The question is from 2011 though. Yes, it is slowly changing. It will still be a while until you can pay at low-end non-chain restaurants with credit cards, if ever. – Aganju Jan 21 at 20:59
    
Just because the question is from 2011 doesn't mean we should only have outdated information here ;) That questions ranks highly for relevant search terms and gives an inaccurate impression, just like most pages found by Google. I offered a bounty for a list of places where one can and cannot pay with credit cards in 2016. And it's in surprisingly many places nowadays, especially when compared to all the answers here. – neo Jan 21 at 21:07
    
Thanks, @neo, for clarifying. Yes, it is changing, since a year several supermarket chains accept Credit Cards now, which makes a difference for travelers. I'll update the answer a bit. – Aganju Jan 21 at 21:38
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Certainly not all supermarket chains take credit cards. Even Visa debit is dodge. My EC card is indispensible (and equally useless outside Germany). – ssmart Jan 21 at 22:00

A good solution for me (located in germany) was to create an account at an online bank like DKB or ING-Diba which is for free. You then get a credit card which you can use at every ATM in europe or in case of ING-Diba worldwide to get cash without paying fees. The cards are chip based and can be used - if credit card payment is accepted - everywhere for payment. If not you can get cash at the ATM.

If payment is accepted you can also get cash when paying for goods. Just say to the clerk that you also need a certain amount of money in cash. You'll get it and your card will be charged with this amount. You can avoid using ATMs/paying fees or save time this way.

If you use these smaller ATMs placed at street corners in germany be aware of skimming! My account got blocked because of this and I know several people who had the same issue with these kind of ATMs.

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I am in a small village in Germany right now and my Spanish Debit card (MC) only works to get money from the bank and in some major restaurants. No supermarkets or small bars accept it.

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I have never had trouble with using a USA swipe credit card in any ATM machine in Europe.

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Could you elaborate a little more on that ? – blackbird57 Jan 21 at 21:30
    
I've had a couple places the USA style swipe card, even with USA incompatible chip, did not work. The ones that come to mind are a French parking garage and tickets in the Amsterdam metro stations (although there were compatible ticket machines in the long-distance rail stations). Several restaurants and shops were set up so that hitting "cancel" when asked for PIN would switch to chip-and-sign. But every ATM still accepted the magnetic stripe on my VISA debit card (also PLUS and STAR networked). – Andrew Lazarus Jan 21 at 21:53

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