February brings some changes for people living in Germany as a result of new or amended laws and regulations. Some of these changes have an impact on the pockets of consumers. Here is an overview of the important changes from 1 February 2020, by Sola Jolaoso
Cheaper BahnCard 25 and 50
As part of its “Klimapaket” (climate-protection package of policies), the German government reduced the VAT rate on long-distance train tickets from 19 to 7 per cent beginning from 1 January.
From 1 February, BahnCards, discount subscription programmes offered by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway company, are also now 10 per cent cheaper.
- BahnCard 25 for 2nd Class Cabin now costs €55.70 (instead of €62)
- BahnCard 50 for 2nd Class Cabin now costs €229 (instead of €255)
- Trial BahnCard 25 for 2nd Class Cabin now costs €17.90 (instead of €19.90)
Customers who have already purchased a BahnCard 25 or 50 with validity beginning on 1 February 2020 or later at the old VAT rate will receive a credit voucher for the difference.
Online Subscription Traps
Numerous companies offer paid subscriptions for their services on the Internet. For smartphone users in particular, just a tap on the screen is enough to have an unwanted subscription to a third-party provider and land you in a trap.
In the past, such subscription providers have cooperated with network providers such as Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone or Telefónica. These companies bill the costs for the third-party providers via the customer’s mobile phone contract.
Particularly annoying: Many consumers were only aware of the fact that they had accidentally taken out a subscription after they received the monthly mobile phone bill.
From 1 February, consumers are now better protected from such subscription traps: Mobile operators must introduce a so-called redirect procedure (“to redirect”, in German “redirect”) for third-party providers. This means: If a smartphone user is about to sign up for a subscription on the smartphone that is not offered by their own mobile operator, they will be redirected to a payment page on which they must confirm the purchase.
Brexit – Great Britain no longer in the EU
Great Britain is no longer a member of the EU from 1 February. A Transition Period sets in until the end of 2020 to allow both sides to negotiate their future relationship.
Nothing changes for citizens in the transition phase. Free movement of people and goods continues, the British are still part of the EU internal market and the EU customs union. European law continues to apply to the UK. That means freedom of movement which allows EU citizens the right to live and work in the UK and gives UK citizens the right to do the same in EU countries will continue during this Transition Period.
During the Transition Period, both sides will negotiate a final separation agreement and decide what the new relationship between the EU and UK will look like.
Changes in Schengen Visa Code
As from 2 February, new rules governing the issuance of Schengen Visa go into force. The visa allows its holders to travel to 26 European countries, 22 of which are member states of the EU.
The main changes to the Schengen Visa Code are:
- Higher visa fees: Increase in the visa fee from €60 to €80. While children and other categories persons that are granted the benefit of paying lower fees will now pay €40 instead of €35. Children aged 0 to 6 remain exempted from the visa fees.
- Extended application submission periods prior to travel: Application can be lodged six months in advance of a trip. It was formerly three months. The latest an application can be submitted, however, remains 15 calendar days before an intended trip to the Schengen Area.
- Electronic application process: Application forms can now be signed and submitted electronically.
- Lengthier multiple-entry Visa validity: Frequent visitors to the Schengen Area who have a positive visa history – meaning they have lawfully used their previous visas, have a good economic situation in their country of origin and a genuine intention to leave the territory of the Member States before the expiry of the visa for which they have applied – will be granted the benefit of a multiple-entry visa valid for up to five years.
- 2020 is a leap year. This means that it contains a leap day or month and has 366 instead of 365 days. In the Gregorian calendar that we use, this means that February has 29 instead of 28 days.
- Carnival and Lent. February is also the ‘month of fools and fasting’. From Weiberfastnacht, 20 February to Ash Wednesday, 26 February, the ‘feast of the fools’ is celebrated in the carnival strongholds. This is followed by the 40-day Lent, which lasts until 11 April and ends with Easter.