Cash in germany

Heading to Germany for the first time next month. What is the best way to get euros? Order from a bank at home and take or exchange US dollars there?

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

ATM machine - read Rick's guidance under FAQs above

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10888 posts

The easiest and most convenient way to obtain local currency is using a debit card at a bank owned ATM in the country. I prefer to have a hundred or so Euros in pocket when I arrive. I save them from a previous trip or get at you local bank or American Express office. You will pay a premium of 8 to 10% to obtain Euro in the US put a small price for the convenience of not having to find an ATM in the airport when you arrive. A hundred Euro will cover your first day and get you to the hotel. Take two debit cards tied to two different accounts. Always good to have a back up.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9134 posts

If you're flying into Frankfurt, just grab some cash from the ATMs in the airport. You'll see some as soon as you exit the secure zone.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

You could also use the "Search" box in the upper right hand corner of this web page for more information related to this question that gets asked on this web site at least weekly if not more often.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11278 posts

I once arrived in Frankfurt airport with three debit/ATM cards. For technical reasons, the first two didn't work that day. The last one did, but I was starting to be glad I had brought 200€ cash with me. I always make sure I have some left over from my last trip. I was once in a town in the Black Forest when the communications lines for the ATMs were down and not one ATM in town would give cash. Fortunately, I had not waited until the last day, when I would have been out of cash, to get more. So things can happen. It's not the probability that you can't get cash, it's the consequences if you can't. Better safe than sorry. Last year, I was going from Germany to the Czech Republic and buying my Czech ticket at a small Czech town at the border. The Czech Rail ticket, paid for in Kc bought from Wells Fargo in Denver cost me about $16 (including 14% commission); a Bahn ticket from the last station in Germany is 33,90€ ($45 today). Hüttenfeld is close to FRA. Be sure to get Tom's phone number before you leave. I'm sure if the ATMs don't work, he will be happy to bring you cash.

Posted by Dawn
Springvale, Maine
6 posts

Good point. Thanks! I think I would feel better if I have some options. Many of the hotels we are staying at accept only cash.

Posted by terry
Brandon
44 posts

I agree it's best to use an ATM in Germany.. It's just a better value.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11278 posts

Wells Fargo and many other major banks charge at least 4% (3% exchange rate discount plus $5 fee for up to $500) for cash from an ATM in Europe. You can get Euro from Wells Fargo banks, or online, for 5%, avg. By the way, that rate is for Euro only (maybe also GBP); WF's rate for Czech Koruna, for instance, is about the same (11%) as Travelex's rate. So, if you will be using a major bank's ATM card anyway, getting some Euro before you go is not that bad a deal. BTW, Travelex, which has some ATMs in the London airport and exchange booths in other airports and issues prepaid cards charges 10% - 14%. Right now, Travelex is charging 11% over the Interbank rate for Euro; WF is charging 5.2%.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

I agree with what Lee said : "It is not the probability that you can not get cash, it is the consequences if you can not". In a Rick Steves travel guide book on a country in Europe, he advised travelers from the United States of America (and from Canada, ...) to carry cash equal to 300 U.S.A. Dollars, every day while they are at Europe. That 300 Dollars is money that the traveler does not expect to spend. That book was published many years ago. Now, in the year 2013, (Edit) I guess Rick Steves would advise travelers to carry more than 300 Dollars. A traveler's credit cards might be lost or stolen or damaged or rendered unusable. And a traveler might not be able to acquire cash from an ATM (cash machine, or money machine) in Europe. I experienced that. I put my card in a bank cash machine, I requested local currency. I did not receive any money. I did not receive my card. The card stayed in the cash machine. If I reported that incident to the local bank that owned that cash machine, that bank would not return my card to me. The bank in the U.S.A. that issued the card to me would mail a new card to my address in the U.S.A., two weeks later. And, in England, recently, I put my card into a bank's cash machine (it is the same as an ATM), I requested local currency. I did not receive money from that machine. I received, from that machine, a small piece of paper on which was printed the information that money from that machine was given to me. That cash machine is owned by the Bank of Scotland. If a traveler is not able to get cash by using a card, and the traveler can not use a credit card (for any reason), the traveler would need to have cash for paying for overnight accommodations, unless all of the overnight accommodations were paid for in advance, before the travel began. And, paying for railroad train tickets in advance is possible. And, I carry some food with me when I am at Europe.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

Now, in the year 2013, I recommend carrying cash equal to 500 U.S.A. Dollars, especially in the expensive countries (Switzerland, Sweden, Norway) I just want to put out there that I have had the exact opposite experience - so there is no "one" standard out there. Since my hotels are paid by credit card, I cannot imagine needing $500 in cash every day for emergencies. I don't even spend $500 in cash per day in total(except maybe in Iceland which was quite expensive). There has been no $500 emergency in all my travels that could not be taken care of with a simple trip to an ATM. If one ATM doesn't work, just find another one...there are so many everywhere. I've spent more than a month in Germany and pretty much operated like the US - meaning take out cash only when needed and "as you go". Probably did not have more than 50 Euros at once in my wallet. I still don't get why folks carry tons of cash on them - it's a recipe for trouble. No wonder money belts are needed because carrying wads of cash makes people anxious. One person wrote to the helpline asking how to exchange his/her hundreds of leftover Euros upon return - my take is, you shouldn't withdraw what you can't reasonably spend. I think there's an unreasonable worry that ATM's won't work or let someone withdraw money...that just hasn't happened to me yet and I travel quite a bit to different countries.

Posted by Sarah
United States
162 posts

Perhaps I'm thinking small, but I did not bring any language skills on my first trip to Italy. I had thought ahead and brought some euros with me. 5,10,20,50 were the denominations. I was all set until I tried to get a luggage cart, which uses a refundable euro coin (I can't remember if it's a 1 or a 2). The change machine didn't work, and the difficulty could have been avoided if I had just brought some coins. I firmly believe on keeping a bit of the currency of any country you'll be in, even for a layover. Just don't forget the coins, if you agree that you might encounter a need for a bathroom, bottle of water, and so forth before you make your ATM transaction. Some airports aren't open when the later planes arrive. Have a great time!

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

There has been no $500 emergency in all my travels that could not be taken care of with a simple trip to an ATM. I carry $200USD in emergency cash with me, and yes I have had to use it a few times: -because of my work schedule I have to start my vacations on Sundays, arriving in Europe early Monday mornings when airport ATMs are often out of cash from the busy weekend. I've exchanged some of that cash to get me to the city center where ATMs are more plentiful. -despite informing my banks I was traveling to Beijing, my ATM cards were still blocked on arrival. I exchanged some of that emergency cash for a taxi to the hotel, where I could call the bank to straighten it out. -A couple years back when Hurricane Irene hit my neck of the woods, the commuter center for a local credit union was completely flooded out and customers couldn't access cash via ATMs for about a week. If one of their customers was overseas during this they could be stranded without some sort of backup -A few years ago there was an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean which severed fiber underwater fiber optic cables. According to media reports folks h from the area of the world had trouble using ATMs for a few days until things got rerouted. I can't imagine traveling without some sort of backup plan.

Posted by Dawn
Springvale, Maine
6 posts

Thank you everyone for all your travel wisdom! This will be my first time in Europe and so many things seem to be done differently than i am used to. In the US, I rarely have more than $10 in my wallet. I always use my debit card.
I don't want to be stuck if something doesn't work. At least 2 of my accommodations are cash only.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

200 Euros is less than half of 500 Euros so we're talking different scale here ...again, everyone has a different travel style and needs. I just put my experience out there so the poster knows that there is a different viewpoint that counterbalances the others. I agree with another poster that getting small coins is crucial. Getting large bills from ATMs has caused me to go into a bank multiple times to get smaller coins.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
6840 posts

200 Euros is less than half of 500 Euros so we're talking different scale here Semantics. If one feels 500 vs some other lesser or greater amount is good a backup for their situation what's the big deal.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3314 posts

Well said Michael. The issue is your comfort level. If you feel good about relying only on the credit card and the ATM at your arrival airport, more power to you. I don't. This is a personal decision and everyone has to determine there own risk level.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4769 posts

To get smaller bills from an ATM, simply request an odd amount, like 325 or 345 euro, instead of just 300.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
11278 posts

In my experience in Germany, over 120 days in 9 trips since 2000, ATMs give the first 100€ in small bills (20s, 10s, 5s), the rest in 50s (which are not that hard to use, particularly to pay hotel bills). Not sure what happens if you ask for 375? Do you get only 75 in small bills? or 175? Anyway, I, personally, have never gotten a 100€ note from an ATM, nor had problems using 50s. But, the smallest division you will get at an ATM is 5€; you'll never (?) get coins.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9134 posts

"you'll never (?) get coins." Not from a standard Geldautomat. But in some banks, they have machines that allow you to withdraw various denominations and amounts of coins directly from your bank account. I have no idea if they work with accounts from the US, however. In some ATMs, if you request €300 or more, you'll receive at least one €100 euro note.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

Not withdrawing more Euro than one can reasonably use is a valid argument. Still, I carry more than than I would need in an emergency, not that it's going to be wasted but for the reason that I plan on coming back. The small accomodation places, ie, small hotels/Pensionen I pay in cash in Germany regardless if they accept a credit card, at a chain hotels I use the credit card.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2702 posts

Hi, There are Geldautomaten in Germany that specifically give change in coins for Euro bills, can't recall if it was for breaking a five and a ten, or a ten and a twenty....very handy.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
1841 posts

$500 dollars is a "ton of cash" to this retired guy.

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

@Ron - Sorry I did misunderstand a part of what you said. But I still am a little fuzzy on the part where you advised to bring more $ in cash today (using your example, $500 vs $300) than several years ago. I would think that with substantial advances in financial technologies and easy access to your back from anywhere in the world (mobile phones, collect call numbers on the back of every credit card, etc), a person should be freed up from having to carry as much cash as he/she once did. Am I missing something? I'm genuinely curious. I have to admit it may be a generational thing. I hardly carry any cash here in the US in my wallet as well - I use my credit card wherever I can (and it gets paid off every month). My experience in Europe is only slightly different than here - I do make a greater effort to have more bills and, especially, change/coins.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

Agnes, This year (2013) the amounts of money that a traveler spends for overnight acomodations and food and transportation at Europe is higher than the amounts of money spent for those things several years ago when Rick Steves suggested carrying $ 300. (U.S.A.) to be prepared for emergencies. I guess : Rick Steves would now recommend carrying much more than $ 300. And, I guess : many people do not say that they carry a big amount of cash, because they do not wish for all the people in the world to know that they carry a big amount of cash. And, carrying cash is more secure than being dependent on the use of a plastic card for getting cash from an ATM in Europe and Britain. When I am at Europe or Britain, I carry cash, and my ATM cards for acquiring cash from my checking account in a bank in the U.S.A. via a cash machine, and credit cards (MasterCard, and Visa).

Posted by Agnes
Alexandria, VA, USA
616 posts

@Ron - thanks for your reply. I guess where we differ is that I am already assuming that my lodging is paid via credit card, so the cash needed everyday would exclude lodging and be for true emergencies (for me that would be very minimal). I understand that a lot of folks make cash only hotel arrangements - I've done that myself in some places - but for me at least, that's a very small share of total bookings. I was interested if folks on this board have relaxed their standards of how much to hold in their wallet daily for random emergencies over time (say today vs 10 years ago)...my guess now is "no" due to frequent comments about carrying multiple cards, getting money exchanged ahead of time, etc. Not saying there is anything wrong with that (to each his own, based on comfort) but it is an indication of worry that something may go wrong. In my case, that worry has decreased a lot over time (and of course something could happen regardless). Anyway, I think all viewpoints are valid and everyone has a rule of thumb of their own that should be respected.

Posted by Maryam
Washington, DC
562 posts

To answer the original post, if you are looking to get euros (not the debate of how much to bring with you vs. how much to get there vs. whether to bring any with you at all), then please just use your ATM/debit card at machines while in Germany (preferably during banking business hours and physically attached to a bank, but for initial withdrawal at airports or some other rare situation, a stand alone machine would be fine). Easy and cost efficient. For most purchases, consider using your credit card (get one, like Capital One, that does not charge transaction fees). Now, as to the debate of how much folks like to bring with them, that is such a personal preference that it would be very hard to argue one's case against another. Read all preferences and pick the one that works best for you. A family member of mine would never even think of leaving the house without at least $100 in his wallet and his checkbook (non-vacation situations), whereas I have not had any cash with me in the past five days and write maybe a single check per month. I do always bring about $100 US cash with me while on vacation, and whatever euros I have leftover (usually about 200-300 and really no more). I use my debit card from a credit union for cash withdrawals, and the aforementioned brand's credit card for most purchases. Have fun!

Posted by Dawn
Springvale, Maine
6 posts

Thanks Maryann. It relaxes me to know that most people just get euros at ATMs in Germany. My credit union does not do foreign cash exchange, and the first bank I called only does it for members. I may try one more bank, but if it becomes too difficult and costly, I'll just bring some USA cash for an emergency and get euros in Europe.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1970 posts

We've been in Germany for the past three weeks and find we use cash much more here than we do in the States or in France, our second home base. Although we have a chip and pin card, using cash is easier and faster, and avoids billing errors that have to be dealt with later. We use the card for the for automatic train ticket machines, but cash for hotels, restaurants, admissions, etc. It's a time-out from accumulating airplane miles. Several of the ATMs we've used have been inside bank buildings. We usually have 300-400 euros between the two of us, and no we don't wear money belts or worry about it. In the past we've had two card black outs: in Belgium one day in 2007 every ATM in the country went off-line. Second, our Credit Union in the States shut down all cards after a security breach. We were overseas and relying on the ATM. Purely by chance and unplanned by us, we had a second account. Lesson learned. Perhaps you can find someone in your town who can trade you some euros for dollars before you go.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

The information on a magnetic strip on an ATM card (Debit card from a bank) or on a credit card can be "erased" if the card is close to a key card that is used for unlocking a door of a room in a hotel.