How do I cancel German contracts?

Got a question about life in Germany? The first instalment of Ask The Local explores the frequently confusing ins and outs of German contracts.

How do I cancel German contracts?
Photo: DPA

I have too many bills and thought maybe I should go without a few luxuries in these tight times. So, how do I cancel my German cable and cellphone contracts? My cable TV contract says I have to give them 30 days notice “zum Monatsende,” while my mobile phone bill says I have to give them three months notice “zum Vertragsende.” What does all this mean? And can I just call them? Glenn Stark, Cologne.

Not only do Germans love contracts and their fine print, they also appreciate having a simple, clear-cut procedure when cancelling them – although it may not seem like it at first if you’re a new arrival. It’s vital you follow the German Way of ending legally binding contracts, otherwise you won’t just have another thing to add to your list of Teutonic annoyances, you’ll also have some substantial bills to pay as fees continue to pile up.

First, find your notice period – or Kündigungsfrist. Let’s take the cable contract. It says you have a 30-day notification period but that isn’t really true. What that zum Monatsende clause means is that your notice must have been sent 30 days before the end (or sometimes the start) of your final month. If you turned in your notice on November 15, for example, the contract wouldn’t end on December 15, but rather December 31.

A similar linguistic twist is applied to your mobile phone contract, which I’m assuming is a typical two-year agreement. You may only cancel that contract by giving them three months’ notice prior to the last day of the agreement. Sure, this is an astounding logical leap – cancelling a contract when it’s ending anyway – but in Germany it’s very important. Otherwise that contract automatically renews for either another year or possibly even another two years with the same three-month notification period.

So, if your contract is set to end December 31 and you want it to end then, be sure to give them your notice before the end of September, otherwise you’ll be stuck with your mobile provider.

Now stop shaking your head in disbelief, this is just the way contracts work here. However, this can often be to your advantage – like when someone wants to terminate a contract or lease with you.

If you get laid off on November 2 and have the normal three-month notice in your employment contract it would mean that you’d get paid for the next four months regardless whether or not your employer was expecting any work. Free money! Then again, your employer might expect you to slog it out to the bitter end too, but that at least gives you a quarter of a year to find a new job. Not bad, eh?

So how to kill a contract? Always do it in writing. You can usually email or fax a cancellation but if you want to be double sure, send it registered mail and get a confirmation of delivery. Since most companies automatically send you a confirmation when they get your notice, this can be overkill. But when dealing with an untrustworthy landlord or a tenacious mobile provider, it’s often the only way.

Write a quick letter that includes your name, the date and any customer number they’ve assigned you. A perfuntory Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren will suffice as a greeting, then write: Hiermit kundige ich meinen Vertrag zum nächst möglichen Termin.

As a closet passive-aggressive, this sentence always gives me a kick because it puts the ball back in the other person’s court. They have to know the exact date, not you!

You should also include another sentence about getting a written confirmation of the cancellation (Ich bitte um schriftliche Bestätigung) and then be sure to verify and keep that confirmation in your new Leitz folder for your German affairs – and you’re done! A company misinterpreting the date on which the contract is rare and you’re safe as long as you follow all of these guidelines.

Now go enjoy the simple life.

Do you have a question about the practicalities of living in Germany? Then drop us a line at [email protected]