We all know how it feels to arrive in a new country and to feel completely baffled by the slightly different ways things work. From supermarkets to public transport, even simple things such as sending a letter can be a challenge.
To try and solve this problem, we have put together a guide to the German postal system so you know all of the options you have the next time there is something you need to send.
Sending a letter inside Germany
Deutsche Post was privatized in 1995, but remains the most widely used service for sending letters throughout Germany. If you want to send a letter you can either head to the post office or buy stamps from kiosks (which often have a Deutsche Post or DHL sticker or flag in the window). You can also buy stamps online, print them off and then pop your letter in the postbox. You can search for your nearest postbox or post office here.
It costs €0.45 to send a postcard, €0.70 for a standard letter (max 20g, and dimensions 23.5 x 12.5 x 0.5) and then prices depend on the size and weight of a letter (the maximum weight is one kilogram).
If you are just sending a postcard or a standard letter you can also use your mobile phone; you send a text and then receive a code to write on your envelope. This is more expensive (€0.85 for a postcard and €1.15 for a standard letter), but can be good if you are on the go.
Remember to write the address in the standard German format (name, street and street number, ZIP code, town); sometimes post can be delayed if this is not done properly.
It should be written in the bottom right of a letter and the stamp placed top right. Sorting is often done by machines, so make your writing as legible as possible and don’t write right up to the edge of the envelope.
A worker sorts large letters in the postal sorting office in Leipzig, 2016. Photo: DPA
Sending a Parcel inside Germany
DHL is the parcel sending service of the Deutsche Post and probably the easiest service to use to send parcels in Germany. They have various options for sending a package:
If you go to the Deutsche Post post office or to a DHL Paketshop you can buy packaging materials and send off your parcel. You can find out where they are located online (often inside other shops or kiosks). Sending a package varies in cost depending on size and weight, but ranges from €3.79 for a small package, to €16.49 for a large 31.5 kilogram package.
One thing to bear in mind is that it is often slightly cheaper to buy your postage online and then drop it off at a Paketshop or a Packstation. Packstations are automated lockers where you can both buy postage and drop off your parcels for shipping. The bonus of these is that you can go anytime, even on Sundays!
You can even arrange for DHL to collect a parcel from your house by simply placing an order online, selecting ‘Abholung’ (or pick up) and then choosing a collection time slot (the cost of collection varies from three to six euros depending on the time that you select).
There are also options for express shipping (obviously more expensive), insurance, tracking, and weekend delivery.
A DHL worker delivers parcels in North Rhine-Westphalia, 2015. Photo: DPA
Sending Post internationally
To send letters internationally you have pretty much the same options as you do when sending them within Germany, it is just more expensive. Deutsche Post allows you to calculate the cost online and then you can either buy stamps online and print them off, or head to the post office.
You can search for the destination of your mail here in order to see how long it will take to arrive and what additional services (such as signed-for delivery) are available.
Sending packages internationally can be done at the post office. You can also buy the postage online and then have your parcel collected or drop it off at a Paketshop or Paketstation, but you can’t buy postage at these outlets.
Sometimes smaller post offices won’t offer all services, such as express shipping so it can be better to go to the main post office when you want to send mail internationally.
A postman delivers post in Stuttgart, 2014. Photo: DPA
Mail from the Deutsche Post is delivered daily from Monday to Saturday. If it doesn’t fit in your postbox, the postman or woman will ring your doorbell and if you aren’t in they might leave post with a neighbour. Sometimes you might need to pick up a package at the nearest post office – remember to take ID with your name on it.
Packages are delivered separately to letters and as Deutsche Post is not the only mail carrier in Germany, some post might arrive at different times in the day.
Another important thing to remember if you live in an apartment is that as German apartments rarely have numbers, the name on the letter and the name on your postbox/doorbell must be the same otherwise your post might get lost. Make sure that people write your name clearly when sending you mail, or if your name is not on your postbox ask them to write ‘care of’, 'c/o' or the German equivalent of 'bei'.