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Girocard, debit and credit cards – what should you bring with you on holiday?

Kathleen Altmann

If you don’t want to have problems making payments abroad, you need to read this article.

If you are about to go on holiday abroad, you need to think about which payment cards you will take with you. To do that, you need to know the difference between different types of cards. 

What can each card do? 

Before we get started, it’s important to realise that regardless of whether you have a debit card (the most popular debit card in Germany is a girocard) or a credit card, both will allow you to make cashless payments and withdraw money from ATMs while abroad. 

However, both cards work in different ways. A debit card withdraws money directly from your bank account. The advantage is that you can always keep an eye on how much you are spending, since all transactions can be viewed in your account within a few days.

The ‘classic’ German credit card, the charge card, works differently: in this case, individual payments are collected in your credit card account and then the entire amount is withdrawn at once from your current account at a set point in time. The credit feature is the advantage of this type of card. The credit granted by the bank can help in an emergency: just imagine that you have to pay for damages to a rental car or are faced with other unexpected costs. 

Credit cards are also frequently used for shopping, booking travel over the internet, reserving hotel rooms or to pay a deposit when renting a car for your holiday. 

Very similar to the standard German charge card are Visa or Mastercard debit cards, which banks are issuing with increasing frequency. However, unlike a charge card, these debit cards – just like a girocard – work by withdrawing the money directly from your current account. If you are using one of these cards, you have to make sure that there is always enough money in your account to cover your costs. Of course, because the money is charged directly to your current account, these cards also allow you to keep a better eye on your spending.

Reserving hotel rooms or renting a vehicle

It is technically possible to rent a car or reserve a hotel room using a debit card on holiday. However, not every debit card can be used to pay a deposit in the same way a classic charge card can. It all depends on whether or not the vendor accepts the card in question. If you want to be sure your card will be accepted, it’s best to ask in advance or keep a credit card with you just in case. 

One important thing to remember is that if a vendor accepts your debit card for a reservation, you will be unable to access the money reserved for the car or the hotel  until you have paid the final invoice. So it’s important to ensure that there is enough money in your account to prevent unpleasant surprises during your holiday. 

In general, the best thing to do is to bring both cards with you on holiday. However, if you only want to take one card, your credit card is the one to choose. It’s also not a bad idea to have a little bit of cash with you for the first day, so you can start your holiday without any additional stress! 

Check that you can use your card while abroad

One last tip: While planning your trip abroad, you should take the time to ask your bank whether your card is approved for use in the country you will be travelling to. Some banks set the limit for card use abroad to 0 for security reasons, even within some EU countries. You can request approval for use abroad via your online banking portal or by visiting your branch office. 

By the way, it’s Maestro, an additional card function, that helps your girocard to work abroad. The feature, provided by Mastercard, allows you to withdraw money and pay for things with your card when you are on holiday. And even though Mastercard will not be providing the Maestro function for girocards that are issued in or after summer 2023, you will be able to use your current card as usual until it expires. Afterwards, your bank will issue a new card in cooperation with a different partner that will allow you to use the card abroad as before.

Kathleen Altmann
Kathleen AltmannSpecialist