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Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt

A new law comes into force on January 1st that means bakeries, hairdressers, restaurants and other retailers in Germany will have to issue receipts to customers. Here's why and what people think about it.

Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt
Do you need a receipt with every purchase? Photo: DPA

When you buy something at the supermarket you're probably asked if you want a receipt with your purchase. But usually at smaller shops, hairdressers, cafes or bakeries it's often the norm to not get a receipt (unless you specifically ask for one).

That's all set to change in Germany.

The “Law on the Protection against Manipulation of Digital Records” (Kassengesetz) , which was passed back in 2016, means from next year German retailers will have a “receipt obligation” (Bon-Zwang or Bon-Pflicht) and must issue a record of the item or service they have sold to customers.

The move is intended to make tax evasion more difficult – but as it means more bureaucracy and paper waste, some people are not happy about it, as German media reported this week. 

Who does the law apply to?

Anyone who sells products of services in exchange for money has to comply with the Kassengesetz.

If the seller doesn't have an electronic cash register they still have to manually record each transaction and make sure the tax office has a way to trace it. 

The receipt when it's given to the customer has to include information such as an invoice number, the serial number of the cash register, the name and address of the seller and the date.

Do I have to keep the receipt?

No. The obligation is on the retailer to issue the receipt and the make it available immediately. There is no legal requirement for customers to take the receipt with them and file it.

READ ALSO: The complete German supermarket survival guide

Photo: DPA

Is there really a point in retailers printing a receipt? Doesn't the cash register log it?

The obligation to issue receipts serves to increase transparency in the fight against tax fraud, as additional data will have to be printed on the receipt compared to the current requirements, authorities say.

In a cash register review or a tax audit it is apparently easier to check whether the business transaction was individually recorded and stored. For example, a comparison of the receipt with the records of the software can reveal any manipulation of the system.

Is everyone okay about this?

No. In fact, there's been a few high profile outspoken critics of the plan.

Federal Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, of the centre-right Christian Democrats, told broadcaster ZDF television's “Morgenmagazin” on Monday: “When I buy a roll, I don't look on the receipt to see if there's any fraud.”

Criticism of the new law also came from the environmental organization BUND. “The till receipt obligation primarily produces mountains of rubbish from non-recyclable and problematic thermal paper till receipts,” said BUND waste expert Rolf Buschmann.

According to German daily Welt, the amount of receipts printed out each year could fill 43 football fields. And if they were laid one behind the other, they would be 2.2 million kilometers long, enough to wrap receipts around the equator 50 times.

“We talk about environmental protection and discuss the reduction of coffee-to-go cups, but then create mountains of waste made of coated paper,” Daniel Schneider of the Central Association of the German Bakery Trade told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”.

Experts consider sales receipts to be particularly bad for the environment due to them being coated in harmful chemicals.

However, retailers are moving towards using more environmentally friendly sales slip paper.

The Finance Ministry justifies the mandatory issue of receipts with the fact that it will make the work of local tax investigators easier.

Can receipts be sent electronically?

Yes. Receipts can also be issued as e-mails or sent to mobile phones. But it doesn't seem likely that your local baker or small shops will go for this option (at least at first).

Germany is also notorious for being slow on moving forward in the digital world (cash is still king in Deutschland) and places importance on data privacy so many people might feel uncomfortable about handing over their email addresses to retailers.

Can anyone get out of this?

An exception to the rule is possible in rare cases when it's “reasonable” – for example when goods are sold to a large number of people in cash.

Bars or kiosks, for example, which have several walk-in customers, may be exempt from the obligation to record the receipt. To do this, an application must be submitted to the relevant tax office, which can be approved, but also revoked at any time.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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