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Sunday 2 May 2010

Expressly Forbidden

Things I wish I had known before coming to Germany #1: Do not take American Express Travelers' Cheques to Germany.

20 years ago, AmEx TCs were absolutely the way to go in Europe. Better than cash, and we always got great exchange rates at local AmEx travel offices.

No more.

Cheques are anathema to German businesses. Commerce here is done via cash, debit cards or direct bank transfer. Nobody wants to touch a cheque, and it doesn't matter that Travelers' Cheques are supposed to be just like cash. Germany's largest bank, one of the 50 largest corporations in the world, will not take them. That should tell you something. AmEx closed all their offices in Germany a few years ago. That should tell you something too.

It took us several days to find an institution that would both accept our travelers' cheques and give us a good rate. Apparently this was a strange request for them, because the cashier followed a Xeroxed protocol that took over two hours and involved discussions with management, phone calls, and generally handling our cheques with the sort of care usually reserved for volatile organic chemicals.

Don't come to Germany expecting to put everything on your credit card, either. This was another great strategy years ago, but fees are a lot higher now. Haven't you heard there was a financial meltdown? Lenders are making up their losses any way they can.

Long story short, if you are coming to Germany for a short time and need a few hundred dollars every once in a while, bring an ATM card. Not a debit card, not a check-card, a plain-vanilla ATM card from your bank. If you need a few thousand dollars, use a wire transfer.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Blogging is passe

Wouldn't you know, within minutes of starting this blog, I discovered that every single one of my friends is using Facebook.