Opening a German bank account is one of the first things you need to do when you move to Germany. You’ll need a German bank account for many things, such as receiving your salary, renting a flat/home, and setting up utilities. However, there are a lot of different banks in Germany, so how do you choose the best one?
Sections in this article:
- Choosing the right bank
- Types of bank accounts
- Can I open a German bank account from abroad?
- What documents do I need to open a bank account in Germany?
- How to open a German bank account
- Types of banks in Germany
- Which bank account should I choose?
Choosing the right bank
As a foreigner, there are a variety of things you should consider when you’re looking for a good German bank account. First, you should take a look at the bank’s fees/expenses. For example, some banks will give you a Girocard (a German debit card) for free when you open an account. In contrast, other banks will charge you a fee for a Girocard.
A second factor you should take into consideration is convenience. For example, you should find out whether or not the bank offers customer service in your language. This is really important, especially for foreigners in Germany. There is no denying that German is a hard language. Therefore, look banks that offer services in your language.
Lastly, you should take a look at whether or not the bank offers online/mobile banking. This is important for many reasons. For example, banks with apps usually offer safety features such as locking or canceling your card. In addition, you can oftentimes get notifications sent to your phone if your debit card has been used at an unfamiliar location.
Types of bank accounts
German banks offer different types of bank accounts. The types of bank accounts most relevant to foreigners in Germany are current accounts and savings accounts.
As a foreigner in Germany, a current account is probably the account you’ll need and use the most.
You will need a current account for many situations. For example, your employer will usually pay you by depositing your salary into your current account. You might also use your current account to pay bills, such as your water bill. As a foreigner, you’ll also need a current account if you have to transfer money from your bank account in your home country to your new bank account in Germany.
In German, a current account is called a Girokonto. When you open a current account, you should receive a Girocard. As mentioned before, a Girocard is a German debit card. Look for a bank that offers you a free Girocard when you open your bank account.
There are two types of savings accounts in Germany: immediate access and fixed deposit. With an immediate access savings account, you can put money from your current account into your savings account. This account lets you save for personal reasons, and you can withdraw money whenever you’d like to. A fixed deposit savings account also lets you separate your money between your current account and savings account. The main difference is that you usually need to have a minimum deposit for a fixed deposit savings account. In addition, your money usually has to remain in the account for a specified length of time. In other words, you cannot withdraw money anytime.
Can I open a German bank account from abroad?
Some German banks offer services that include opening a bank account from abroad via your computer or mobile phone. This is helpful if you’d like to have your German bank account set up before you move to Germany.
To open an account online, most banks will require you to verify your identity by submitting a selfie of yourself with your ID documents or through a video chat.
Another benefit of opening a German bank account online is that you have a good chance at finding a bank that offers customer service, contracts and online banking in your language. If you go to a bank in-person, there is no guarantee you’ll be able to speak with someone in a language other than German. In contrast, most online banks offer services in both German and English.
What documents do I need to open a German bank account?
The documents you need to open a German bank account vary depending on the bank. In general, you will need to provide the following documents:
- Your passport
- Registration document showing your address in Germany (This is called the Meldebescheinigung. You receive it when you register your address at the local Residents‘ Registration Office, called the Einwohnermeldeamt.)
- Proof of income/employment (This could be in the form of a paystub or tax documents.)
- Proof that you’re a student, if you’re opening a student account
A few online banks, such as N26, will let you open a German bank account with just your passport and ID. For example, UK, USA and Canadian citizens can open a German N26 bank account with just their passport. Citizens from some countries, however, have to provide a residency permit and a passport. For N26, the documents you need to provide depend on the country you’re from.
How to open a German bank account
Opening an account with a bank that offers ID verification online makes things pretty easy and straightforward. All you need to do is send in your application form and verify your identity. To verify your identity you will most likely have to submit a photo of yourself with your ID documents or do a video call. After your identity has been verified, you will get your debit card in the mail.
Some banks don’t allow online ID verification. If the bank you choose doesn’t allow online verification, you will have to get your documents verified in-person. You will either need to go to the nearest branch with your documents, or take your documents to a Deutsche Post branch and use the Postident identification process.
Some application processes are more difficult than others, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into! Oftentimes choosing an online bank is the most convenient option, especially if you just need to open a basic bank account.
Types of banks in Germany
There are three different types of banks you should be aware of as a foreigner in Germany: branch banks (Filialbanks), online banks (Direktbanks) and neobanks. It’s important to know the difference between these three types of banks because they function differently.
Branch banks are traditional banks that have a physical location you can go to when you want to open an account. To the contrary, online banks, as the name suggests, are accessible online.
Neobanks are new & innovate banks that aim to be more efficient than traditional banks. Online banks and neobanks seem very similar, but there are important differences. Neobanks are entirely digital and independent from traditional banks. Online banks are usually owned by traditional banks. For example, one of the biggest branch banks in Germany, Commerzbank, owns the online bank comdirect. In contrast, N26, the largest neobank in Germany, is not owned by a traditional bank.
The advantage of having an account with a branch bank is that you have access to face-to-face customer service. The downside, however, is that you have limited customer service hours. There is no around-the-clock access like there is with online banks and neobanks.
The disadvantage of having an account with a branch bank is that there is no guarantee that you will find an employee at the branch that speaks your language. Some online banks offer a few of their services in at least English and German. Neobanks in Germany, however, almost always offer all of their services in English and German. For example, the neobank N26 has their website, applications, costumer service and smartphone app available in English. In fact, the N26 app comes in five different languages: English, German, Spanish, French and Italian!
If you’re really set on opening an account with a branch bank because you want face-to-face customer service, you should ask someone that speaks fluent German to come with you.
App for your smartphone
It’s important to open an account with a bank that has an app available for your smartphone. Many online banks and all neobanks offer banking from an app. This makes banking more convenient. From the bank’s app, you should be able to manage your account, make transfers and verify transactions. You should also be able to pair it with your phone to get notifications that tell you if your debit card has been used at an unfamiliar location.
What type of bank has the lowest fees?
Be prepared to pay more fees with a branch bank. The branch network, the salaries of the employees, and maintaining a physical location you can go to costs money. To keep up with these expenses, branch banks charge their customers fees. For example, you might have to pay for a monthly service fee, even if you don’t use all the services the bank provides you. If you choose a branch bank, ask to see the bank’s fees so you know what you’ll be paying for ahead of time.
To the contrary, online banks and neobanks are more efficient and cost-effective. Therefore, they don’t need to charge customers as many fees as branch banks. For example, with an online bank or neobank you can get an account without any monthly service fees. Online banks and neobanks are almost always the cheaper option.
Most German banks will give you a free debit card when you open your bank account. If you want a credit card, however, you might have to pay an extra fee. The amount you have to pay for a credit card varies from bank to bank. In general, you can expect to pay between €30 and €100 per year for a German credit card. For example, one of Germany’s largest branch banks, Commerzbank, offers a Classic Credit Card for an annual fee of €39.99 and a Gold Credit Card for an annual fee of €99.00. Another German branch bank, Deutsche Bank, offers a standard MasterCard credit card for €39.00 per year.
ATM fees and regulations differ greatly between banks. Therefore, you should definitely know a bank’s ATM policies before you open an account.
Many German banks have partnerships with one another to offer their customers ATM withdrawals without extra fees. The Cash Group in Germany is an example of this. The four largest private banks in Germany (Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank) partnered together in 1998 to create what is called the Cash Group. These four banks have an agreement together to waive ATM fees for their customers that withdraw money from any of the Cash Group’s ATMs. This means that if you had an account with Postbank, you could withdraw money from a Deutsche Bank ATM fee-free.
Another German bank, N26, offers a basic bank account that includes 5 free withdrawals in euros per month at any ATM. N26 is a great option for foreigners because they give you a free MasterCard debit card. If you have an N26 You account, an N26 Business You account or an N26 Metal account you can withdraw money at ATMs in other currencies for free. If you have an N26 Business account or current account, and make a withdrawal not in euros, they only take 1.7% of amount drawn. This is the best account for foreigners that travel!
Which bank account should I choose?
If you speak fluent German and have German residency then one option for you could be opening an account with one of the Cash Group branch banks (Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank). They are some of the largest banks in Germany and offer a wide array of types of bank accounts you can choose from. They also have ATMs all around Germany. For premium online services, however, you should look at opening an account with online bank or neobank.
If you’re a foreigner, do not speak fluent German or do not yet have German residency then your best option is to open an account with a neobank. You have a much better chance at having all banking services in your language with a neobank. N26 is the leading neobank in Germany.
The online banks DKB (Deutsche Kreditbank AG) and ING are also good banks if you speak fluent German and have German residency. Similarly to N26, they offer bank accounts with zero monthly fees, a free debit card, and zero ATM fees.
- Monthly Fees
- German Residency Required
- Free Credit Card / Debit Card
- ATM Fees
- English Website
- English Customer Support
- Apple Pay / Google Pay
- Pay Cashless (Euro)
- Pay Cashless (Foreign Currency)
- Debit Interest For Overdraft Facility
- Extraordinary Services
- Services/Support/App available in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian
Best Choice For Expats!
The best bank for foreigners in Germany
The best German bank for foreigners is N26. We ourselves have used it now for over 2 years and are very happy with it. The benefits of opening an account with N26 include:
- No monthly fees: A standard N26 account has zero monthly fees.
- Free to open an account: There are no extra fees or costs to open an account.
- Open an account online: You can open your account from your computer or smartphone.
- It’s in English: The N26 website, application, and app can be accessed in English.
- Costumer support: You have access to live costumer support (in English!) directly from the N26 app.
- No foreign transaction fees: You can make purchases from anywhere in the world, online or in stores, with no extra costs.
- Mobile banking: The N26 app is free and makes banking simple.
- Push notifications: You can pair your phone to the app to get push notification anytime your card is used. This is beneficial for two reasons. First, if you’re traveling abroad, say to the UK, the push notification will tell you how much you paid in EUR. Second, you’re able to immediately see any transactions your card makes. If your card was stolen you can instantly lock your card from the app so it’s not used fraudulently again.
- Apple Pay and Google Pay: N26 also works with Apple Pay and Google Pay.
- You don’t need German residency: Almost no one needs German residency to open an N26 account. That means you can open your account before you move to Germany, online, from anywhere in the world! For instance, citizens from the UK, USA and Canada are able to open a German N26 bank account with only a passport. Only a very small number of people have to provide a residency permit and a passport. The documents you need to open an N26 account depend on the country you’re a citizen of.
Send money abroad using N26 & TransferWise
Another perk of using N26 is that they have a partnership with Transferwise, the leading money transfer service. It’s the cheapest and easiest way to transfer money abroad. If you need to transfer money to another account, you can do it directly from the N26 app. You can transfer euros into 19 currencies from your N26 app. The best part is that N26 will give you the true exchange rate and won’t charge you any hidden fees. Transfer through the app take 1-2 business days.
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