Expat “How To” Guides for Germany > Shopping in German-Speaking Europe
Shopping is shopping, right? Wrong. If youâ€™re used to shopping in the USA, we have some helpful advice for shopping in Germany and Europe.
GERMAN SHOPPING BASICS
Credit Cards (Kreditkarten) – In German-speaking Europe you can never assume that a store or restaurant will accept credit card payment. Germans prefer plain old cash. Thereâ€™s usually an ATM (Geldautomat) in larger stores and shopping centers, where you can obtain the cash you need, but it’s wise to carry more cash than you might back home.
Sales Tax/VAT (Mehrwertsteuer)
Unlike in the United States, when you see a price tag or a menu in Germany, Austria or Switzerland, what you see is what youâ€™ll pay. The VAT (value-added tax) is included in the price, but you can see the tax amount on your receipt. The sales tax is a national tax, not a state (Bundesland) or Swiss cantonal tax. The standard tax rate is 20% in Austria (10-12% for groceries, books and magazines), 19% in Germany (since Jan. 1, 2007; 7% for groceries, books and magazines, flowers, transportation.), and 7.6% in Switzerland (since 2001).
Specialty Shops (FachgeschĂ¤fte) – In Austria, Germany and Switzerland it is still possible to shop in a specialty store where the sales people have some expertise in their field. Although big-box super stores have arrived in Germany, many shoppers prefer a smaller FachgeschĂ¤ft, where they can get good advice. Whether it’s cameras, meat, or books, you may also enjoy being waited on by someone who knows what he or she is talking about.
In Europe and the German-speaking countries, the sales tax goes by various names. In Germany itâ€™s the value-added tax (Mehrwertsteuer, MWST). In Austria itâ€™s a turnover tax, or Umsatzsteuer, but the effect on your pocketbook is the same.
Under certain conditions, when making larger purchases, it is possible for non-Europeans (non-EU residents) to get a VAT refund for non-edible items. However, the procedure is complex (there are forms to be filled out) and arrangements must be made at the time of purchase. You have to prove you are taking the purchased items out of the EU within three months of purchase. The minimum amount entitled to a refund varies from country to country.
Americans, used to shopping at almost any time of day or night, need to be aware of the LadenschluĂźgesetz (store closing law). Notice that it is a store closing law, not a store opening law! Germany, Austria and Switzerland have the most limited business and shopping hours in Europe.
Since 2006 each of Germanyâ€™s 16 states has been allowed to pass its own laws concerning store hours, and all but two have done so. But donâ€™t plan on shopping on Sunday or after 8:00 p.m. in most of Germany and the other two major German-speaking countries. (To buy groceries or shop on Sunday, go to the nearest large train station, which often has full-size grocery stores and other shops.) Shopping hours are most liberal in Berlin, but even there they have not yet reached anything close to American conditions or even those in many other EU countries. See Shopping Hours in Germany for more on this topic.
Buying Groceries (Lebensmittel)
The first thing an American notices in a German supermarket is a more limited selection of brands and products. (The selection in Switzerland and Austria can be even more limited.) While an American supermarket may offer 20-30 different breakfast cereals, a German one may only have a dozen or so (including a few youâ€™ve never seen before!). On the other hand, German grocery stores usually offer a wider selection of cheeses, meats, bread varieties and other foods, although many Germans still prefer going to a butcher shop (Metzgerei), a bakery (BĂ¤ckerei) or pastry shop (Konditorei) for such things. See Grocery Shopping in Germany for more on this topic.
TIP: Bring your own cloth/canvas bags! You’ll have to buy bags if you don’t.
The second thing you may notice is that the checkout clerks are seated at their cash registers rather than standing. Checkout (die Kasse) in a German grocery store is much like that in the US, with laser scanners, etc. But you may feel rushed as you try to pay and bag all your groceries yourself! (That is not the cashierâ€™s job and baggers are extremely rare.) The next customer in your checkout lane will soon be shoving his or her way into your space. And donâ€™t forget to bring your own shopping bag â€“ or youâ€™ll have to pay for one.
In larger German metropolitan areas there are also Costco-like super stores (Globus Handelshof, Kaufland, Metro, Real, etc. – see links below) that sell groceries and other items at â€śwholesaleâ€ť prices. As with Costco, you usually have to be a member in order to shop at such hyper stores, and youâ€™ll probably need a vehicle to haul away all your goodies.
Aldi and Lidl are the main discount grocery store chains in Germany and other parts of Europe. In Austria, Aldi uses the name “Hofer.”
More on The German Way
Shopping Hours in Germany
Germany, Austria and Switzerland have the most limited shopping hours in Europe.
More grocery store differences:
- Credit cards (Kreditkarten) Very few German grocery stores (or any stores for that matter) accept credit card payment, and then only in tourist areas or at larger stores. Most will accept the EC bank card (which requires a German bank account), but your best bet is plain old cash. Thereâ€™s usually an ATM (Geldautomat) in the store.
- Shopping carts: Youâ€™ll need a one-euro coin for the shopping cart deposit. (The smaller plastic baskets donâ€™t require any deposit.) Just insert the coin into the slot to unlock the cart. When you return the cart, you get your coin back.
- Weighing veggies/fruit: Many grocery stores require you to weigh and bag fruits and vegetables on a scale in that department before you go to the checkout stand. Some stores have scales at the registers, but you still usually need to put your items in a plastic bag.
- Organic/natural foods: Germans are big on â€śBioâ€ť (natural/organic), and you will find a good selection of organically grown food in German supermarkets and BiolĂ¤den.
- Bottle return (Leergut) Most of the beverage glass and plastic bottles you get in Germany/Europe have a deposit value that you can get back by returning them to any market (not necessarily the one where you bought them). Kaiserâ€™s and some other grocery chains have automated machines that scan each bottle and determine the deposit value. You get a ticket (Bon) with the total amount, which you give to the cashier at checkout to get your cash.
- Real orange juice (direkt gepresst): Most Germans drink the normal bottled orange stuff they call orange juice (Orangensaft) â€“ but really isnâ€™t and tastes like crap. If you want the real thing, you have to make your own or go to the refrigerated section and look for cartons labeled â€śdirekt gepresstâ€ť (directly squeezed, sometimes found in a special glass-door fridge). Other juices are also available direkt gepresst as well.
See Grocery Shopping in Germany for more on this topic.
When it comes to shopping for clothing and shoes, Europeans, Americans and the British use very different systems for sizes. Not only is there the difference in metric versus English measurements, but there are different philosophies in some areas, especially in children’s sizes.
For children’s clothing, Europeans go by height rather than age. For instance, a child’s size 116 in Europe is for a child 114-116cm (45-46in) tall. That equals the US/UK “age 6” size, but not all six-year-olds are the same height. When converting children’s sizes, you should keep that difference in mind. See the conversion charts below for more.
Clothing and Shoe Sizes
Metric (German) versus English
Ladies’ Sizes – Dresses, Suits
Men’s Sizes – Jackets, Suits
Kragenweite – Neck Size
|DAMENSCHUHE (LADIES’ SHOES)|
|HERRENSCHUHE (MEN’S SHOES)|
|KINDERBEKLEIDUNG (Children’s Clothing)
Children’s Sizes – Ages 1-12
|Note: The two systems use very different criteria (age vs height).|
Next | Shopping Hours in Germany
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Shopping Hours in Germany
- Expat “How To” Guides for Germany – Tips for living and working in Germany
- Business in the German-speaking world
- Banks and Money in German-speaking Europe
- The Euro is used in Austria and Germany, but not Switzerland.
- The Post Office in Germany – Deutsche Post AG
ON THE WEB
- Aldi (Wikipedia) – One of the best-known discount supermarket chains in Germany. Aldi also has stores in Europe, Australia, the UK and parts of the US. Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi.
- Aldi.com – The official Aldi website.
- How to go Grocery Shopping in Germany in 25 Easy Steps – Ger-sey Girl blog
- Kaiserâ€™s – Tengelmann – A large German grocery store chain
- Kaufland – Large German warehouse retailer that also runs Lidl; also has a department store division (SB-WarenhĂ¤user)
- Lidl – Aldiâ€™s main competitor
- Metro – “GroĂź im Handel, klein im Preis” – 5 locations in Berlin alone, plus locations in most larger German cities; similar to Costco in the US (membership required)
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