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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

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 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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How widespread is credit card acceptance for train ticket machines? –  Gilles Jul 11 '11 at 22:51
    
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

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

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

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