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Until recently, in Germany, Visa/Mastercard Debit cards were almost nonexistent. Bank accounts came with a Girocard with the Maestro system, and some people would additional have a creditcard from Visa or Mastercard. In common speech, Kreditkarte is considered synonymous with Visa/Mastercard. With the end of Maestro, Girocards will cease (or have ceased) working outside Germany and banks are starting to issue Visa/Mastercard Debit Cards, which is new in Germany.

I've been wondering what this means for card acceptance, as many merchants say they accept only Girocard (some still call it EC-Karte) and not credit cards, due to the very high fees. Surprisingly, my Visa Debit card worked at the local bakery. At the optician the counterclerk initially didn't know what to do with it ("Is this a credit card?"), until a colleague came to tell her that Visa Debit is treated like a Girocard in their system.

Is this the norm? For stores that accept Girocard but not credit cards, can I expect that Visa Debit cards are accepted? Girocard is accepted wherever card payments are accepted but credit card acceptance is much lower. Where does Visa Debit fit in?

It seems many store clerks or managers are not aware of the (for Germany) new types of cards yet, so even if they say that the card is not accepted ("it says Visa so it's a credit card"), it actually might be.

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  • I guess the shops renew their card reader every once in a while and the shop assistants are not properly trained. Credit cards are often tied to the main bank account, so they function like debit cards. No idea if Mastercard handled them like debit cards in the past. Haven't seen an increased use of Mastercard debit cards in everyday use, myself. Maestro is expected to work all over Europe as long as cards that were issued until recently, expire in maybe 4 years. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 9:29
  • Debit cards are debit cards, even if branded as Visa or Mastercard (two separate competing companies, mind you). They are not credit cards, work differently, and merchant fees are charged differently. Yes, they should be handled like the defunct Girocard, which in turn replaced the defunct EC cards. Merchants will take time to adjust, as they usually do. It is most likely that you can already use these debit cards anywhere Girocard was accepted, the clerks just don't know what it is and didn't get the proper training. Maestro was a Mastercard-owned network.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 16:35
  • @littleadv I know they're debit cards, but are they technically the same as Girocard? I don't think Girocard is defunct at all; as I understand it, Girocard will rather stop working outside Germany when Maestro stops working, which is why some banks no longer issue Girocard by default.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 19:59
  • @gerrit "technically" in what sense? Yes, technically girocard is just an example of a debit card. However it works on a different network, will the new debit cards work on the same network? You should ask your bank, because it's up to them. It is unlikely that German-issued debit card won't be accepted in Germany, especially since some banks stopped issuing girocards altogether, so I must assume that they do work on the same networks.
    – littleadv
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 20:27
  • I have visited some shops that claim to only accept EC-card and used my Visa Debit card. I don't know whether this incurs an additional fee for the shop owner; to respect their wishes, I used cash after that, but it did work. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 0:56

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tl;dr: Most shops will accept girocard and debit cards, some only girocard (and some no card at all).


Surprisingly, my Visa Debit card worked at the local bakery. At the optician the counterclerk initially didn't know what to do with it ("Is this a credit card?"), until a colleague came to tell her that Visa Debit is treated like a Girocard in their system. Is this the norm?

Mostly yes.

For stores that accept Girocard but not credit cards, can I expect that Visa Debit cards are accepted?

Usually, but not always.

Girocard is accepted wherever card payments are accepted but credit card acceptance is much lower. Where does Visa Debit fit in?

Inbetween the two :-).

Basically, to accept payment cards, a merchant must make a contract with a payment service provider (Zahlungsdienstleister), who will handle the paperwork and details, such as providing the payment terminal. In exchange, the provider will charge fees, both flat fees per month and/or transaction, and percentages of transactions.

The transaction fees are often differen for different card types. The usual order (from cheapest to most expensive) is:

  1. girocard
  2. debit card (such as Visa Debit)
  3. Visa or Mastercard credit card
  4. other credit cards (Diners Club, American Express...)

What cards a merchant will accept depends on the contract and the merchant's choice.

Typically, if one type of card is accepted, all "cheaper" cards will be ok as well. So, practically everyone accepts girocard; if credit cards are accepted, debit cards are ok as well, but not vice versa, etc.

In addition to that, store employees may not understand all these details :-). So you can ask to try your card even if the employee is not sure it will work. The terminal will tell you.

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