Shopping in Germany: What you need to know

by Elizabeth Fromm
Stripes Europe

Shopping on the economy can be exciting for many, but it can also leave you feeling pretty lost trying to navigate through the foreign language and different customs. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a daunting task, as long as you know how what you are doing and how to get around beforehand.

1. Using cards (kreditkarten)- Germans are pretty old school when it comes to using cash. They like to feel the paper leaving their hands and are generally told to avoid using credit cards. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t get around most places with your cards. It does mean that you need to know which cards you can use and when cash is your only option. Stores like Globus, Wasgau, Edika, and Poco accept American Visa and Mastercard. Smaller stores like Aldi, Lidl, Kik, and Tedi generally do not accept American Visa and Mastercard, but they do accept Giro cards. Giro cards use the German interbank network and act as a German debit card. You can order one through any local bank that provides them or by opening a German bank account. Service Credit Union is a local credit union that offers Giro cards which can be linked to your American Service Credit Union account. For smaller mom and pop shops, make sure you swing by an ATM to grab some cash before shopping.

2. Shopping carts (einkaufswagen) - Speaking of carrying cash, it is advised you always carry at least a Euro cent coin or a shopping cart coin if you are planning on using a shopping cart. Most German stores have coin operated carts that prevent you from using the cart unless you use a coin to unlock it. You’ll get your coin back when you return the cart, but the coin is used to encourage shoppers to return the cart rather than leaving carts scattered around the parking lot.

3. Shopping bags (einkaufstasche) – Shopping bags, even the plastic ones, are typically not free in Germany. It is pretty standard to pay for your own shopping bags in Europe in general. Expect to pay 5 to 10 cents per bag or you can bring your own like most locals.

4. Cash register (kasse) – Unlike shopping in America where cashiers will bag your groceries, German cashiers do not. Expect to have to bag your own groceries upon paying for your items. This is standard in groceries stores, but can vary in clothing and specialty item stores. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared to bag your own items and be pleasantly surprised when they bag them for you.

5. VATs and taxes (steuer) – VAT forms can be used for shopping all across Germany for everything from food to furniture. Some places will put the funds directly back on your card, while others will simply hand you cash back. Some stores such as Globus, IKEA and Primark will even let you save your receipts for the whole month and use one VAT form for all of your monthly purchases. For these stores, they usually require you get a stamp on your receipts after each purchase and your VAT must be dated prior to all the receipt dates.

6. Sizes (größe) – Unlike American clothes, most German clothing and shoe sizes are listed in height or length. Even children’s clothing is sized by height by centimeters, rather than age. Usually it’s best to inspect your own wardrobe and find out what your conversion is prior to your shopping adventure. However, most places offer clothing and shoe conversion charts within their stores and often have staff that speak English to help you find what you are looking for.

7. Translating- In some situations, label reading may require some additional help to understand what ingredients are in each product. In this case, there are multiple apps you can find on your phone to quickly and easily translate from German to English. Google Translate is a popular, user-friendly option, but many apps these days allow you to even take pictures of text to translate everything in one click of a button.

Now that you know the basics, grab your wallet and shopping list and go explore your local shopping! Germany has many unique items to offer from food to home decor and so much more. Whether it’s your next dinner or Christmas gifts for friends and family, Germans have everything you could need and in true German fashion. 

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