Find out how to open a bank account in Germany, what documents are needed for residents and non-residents and if you can open a German bank account online.
Opening a German bank account is vital to getting started after moving to Germany. You need to set up utilities for your new home, arrange telephone and internet services, and get German insurance coverage as required by law—and they all rely on the money in the bank.
There are many different commercial banks in Germany offering a variety of banking fees and conditions, which makes it hard to know where to begin; this guide compares different types of banks, German bank accounts, costs and services to help you decide.
For expats, factors such as the cost of transferring money to your home country, the number of cash machines available for free, the possibility to overdraw your account, and credit cards add to the complexity. Our guide offers advice on choosing the right bank as an expat and can answer questions about overall banking in Germany:
- Opening a German bank account for non-residents or foreigners
- What documents you need to open a German bank account
- A comparison of German bank accounts and conditions
- Cost of withdrawals from German bank accounts: which are free?
- Credit cards in Germany
- Transfer money to a German bank account or abroad
- English banking services in Germany
While EU nationals will have no problem opening a simple bank account with a German bank, non-EU nationals have to prove their registration in Germany along with a German work permit. Banks are not obliged to open a bank account for you, and you may face difficulties if you are not able to show a financial history.
Many banks also request an employment contract, and it becomes more difficult if you want a bank account that allows overdraft. Other restrictions may be in place: one American with a regular monthly income was forced to keep a EUR 1,000 minimum bank balance as ‘collateral’, she was told, against leaving the country while still owing the bank money.
Another inconvenient restriction is that you must show up in person at most banks to prove your identity. There are a few banks that allow customers to open a German bank account from abroad, such as DKB Bank, Comdirect and N26. However, they generally limit this option to EU nationals only. It’s not guaranteed, however, and banks can decline your application without giving any reason.
It is also possible to open a German bank account online, but banks often require personal identification, especially German online banks that have no physical branches. You will need to go to a post office to prove your identity following the so-called post-ident procedure.
With online bank bunq you can open all your German bank accounts in just five minutes using nothing more than your mobile phone. You get real-time access to your account, instant payments, and dedicated customer support available in English, Dutch, German, Italian and Spanish.
Before you head to a bank to open up a Girokonto, or checking account, make sure that you bring the required documents:
- Passport with a valid visa, depending on your citizenship
- Documents proving you are a student, on a fellowship or an employee
- Proof of registration (Meldebescheinigung)
- Proof of income, such as your last three pay stubs, depending on the type of Girokonto you want and requirements of the bank.
If you are just starting a new job, a letter from your employer stating your salary should be enough. Some banks such as Sparda-Bank or Norisbank do not require a salary statement to open a bank account.
Germany, as one of the leading industrial (and post-industrial) economies of the world, is an attractive location for banks around the globe that aim to do international business, which is why you can find local branches of many international banks in Germany. However, opening a German bank account has its benefits.
The most popular German banks with private customers are by far the so-called Sparkassen, followed by Volksbanken/Raiffeisenbanken. Sparkassen, or savings banks, are generally held by public shareholders such as cities or communities; the Raiffeisenbanken’s shareholders are cooperatives. Together, they have a customer base of close to 50 million. The private bank with the largest customer base is the Deutsche Bank, which, along with its subsidiary Postbank, serves about 12 million clients. Commerzbank follows with around four million clients.
There are also direct banks, which don’t offer local branches but use the cash machines of other banks. As they save on those costs, they are able to offer often more financially attractive conditions. The most popular banks are ING-DiBa, DKB, Comdirect, Volkswagenbank, Mercedes-Benz Bank and Consorsbank.
Opting for one of the larger and more popular German banks may be the wiser choice, particularly for foreigners. These banks have more experience working with foreign customers as well as with foreign banks, and they are often more accessible, especially if you travel abroad.
For example, Commerzbank offers a free checking account provided you have a minimum monthly income of EUR 1,200 and use paperless banking; otherwise fees of EUR 9.90 per month apply, among other conditions.
Postbank’s Giro direct account is EUR 1.90 per month, but free for students, trainees and others (though proof is required). Comdirect.de also offers a free banking account, with no minimum monthly deposits. HypoVereinsbank’s StartKonto is free of charge for students, apprentices and those under the age of 26.
Each bank offers at least one type of account for students, which varies greatly in the services that accompany it. The good news is that almost all student accounts are free. The bad news is that certain limitations on the type of services exist, as well as age restrictions, and be prepared to show proof (Studentenausweis).
Finally, some banks offer perks to encourage customers to sign up. Commerzbank offers EUR 50 with its free Girokonto, as does its German online bank subsidiary Comdirect.de—and if you are unsatisfied with the service, Comdirect.de pays you EUR 150.
Find more banks on our list of banks in Germany.
Getting an account is one thing; being able to use it effectively—and cheaply—is another. Banks will issue you a service card with which to withdraw money. In general, this will be an EC/Maestro card, which allows you to pay at stores and restaurants in lieu of cash on the international network.
Be sure of what you get when signing up for an account, as the cheapest account issued by the local Sparkasse only comes with a service card (SparkassenCard). However, it can be used at an extensive network of 25,000 ATMs of Sparkasse in Germany. And though five of the banks offer student accounts with an EC card (girocard-Maestro Card), Sparkassen only offer a service card.
Even though all cards work at all local ATMs, the ease with which you can withdraw cash for free varies by bank. Using ATMs at banks that don’t belong to your network can cost up to EUR 5 per withdrawal with an EC/Maestro card.
There are three large networks of banks that allow free withdrawals within their own network:
- Cash Group (approx. 9,000 ATMs plus at Shell gas stations)
- CashPool (approx. 2,900 ATMs)
- Sparkassen (approx. 24,000 ATMs)
Withdrawal of cash at no charge is also possible at supermarkets such as Rewe, Edeka, Penny, Netto, Toom and Aldi Süd. It is limited to EUR 200, and you will often need to purchase at least EUR 20 worth of goods.
Getting money from an ATM that does not belong to your bank institute is no problem, but it will cost usually approximately EUR 4–6 per withdrawal. Fees for withdrawals using a credit card are usually higher and often depend on the total withdrawal amount.
The local Sparkasse, for example, has the densest network in its respective city. While you can use any Sparkassen ATM throughout Germany, it is often difficult to identify them anywhere other than your new town as they all have different names and logos. Identifying partner banks outside Germany can be even harder if not impossible, as the Sparkassen are not set up internationally. Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank are part of the Cash Group network, and all these banks’ customers can withdraw money for free from any of the other banks ATMs—and that also includes Comdirect.de customers. Each of these banks also has alliances with banks outside of Germany. Approximately 9,000 ATMs in Germany (including cash service at no extra fee at 1,300 Shell gas stations) belong to the Cash Group (Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank).
HypoVereinsbank is part of UniCredit, which has over 10,000 ATMs in 17 other countries, and allows free withdrawals. Commerzbank customers, on the other hand, can withdraw from Deutsche Bank ATMs in Italy and Spain; Deutsche Bank customers can withdraw from Barclays Bank in the UK, BNP Paribas in France, Scotiabank in Canada and Bank of America in the US at no additional fee. Targobank customers can withdraw free of charge at 6,600 ATMs in France using Crédit Mutuel and CIC Bank.
CashPool comprises a mix of foreign-owned banks and smaller, local banks: BBBank eG, Degussa Bank GmbH, GE Money Bank, National-Bank, Santander Consumer Bank, SEB, Sparda-Banken, Südwestbank and Wüstenrot.
Credit cards may not be accepted as often in Germany as in the US; however, they are still widely accepted and are very common for online shopping. These days, most banks offer credit cards with bank accounts—these are Visa and Mastercards that act like debit cards and are processed either monthly on accounts or directly on a bank account within a few days (eg. Comdirect). American Express cards are often not accepted.
Their fees vary from zero, such as a Barclaycard, to EUR 100 and up annually. Usually, the free cards come from the more expensive accounts. For example, Postbank offers a free credit card with its Giro plus account free for one year.
Some accounts offer the possibility of upgrading to a Gold card for an additional fee that comes with extra perks such as car insurance on car rentals. The Giro accounts with higher monthly fees do, in some cases, even offer the Gold card free. Deutsche Bank, for example, offers via the BestKonto a free MasterCard Gold card. HypoVereinsbank offers a free MasterCard if EUR 6,000 is spent on the card annually.
Not all student accounts offer a credit card. If this is something important to you, check out Comdirect.de, which offers a free Visa card, or Targobank and Postbank, whose student accounts provide credit cards.
Students who aren’t eligible for credit cards in Germany may look to Giropay, an online payment service in which customers can use their Giro account number to make payments. Most Postbank branches and the Stadtsparkasse are members. You can check if your branch or banking institution has become a member on the German Giropay website.
If your bank does not offer the right credit card solution, you may also apply for a credit card directly online at credit card issuers such as Barclaycard, American Express or companies that offer loyalty programs such as Lufthansa Miles & More Visa Card.
Another important factor you may want to consider is how much you can overdraw your account. If you have a regular monthly income, most banks give you an overdraft of two to three times your monthly pay. This is also possible on the student accounts if there is a regular stipend or even a regular monthly allowance from your parents, but this should be verified.
It is generally not recommended to make use of overdrafts, however. Recent reports have shown that interest rates for overdrafts usually range between 4–12 percent p.a., but banks in Germany are under increasing pressure to help customers avoid these fees.
Savings and earnings in Germany
If an additional interest-earning savings account doesn’t automatically come with a checking account, you can sign up for one—and there are many options. Generally, interest rates directly correlate to the base rate that is set by the European Central Bank (ECB). The current base rate is 0 percent, which gives banks the leeway to create attractive offers—though all are subject to frequent change. If you want to make more out of your money, each bank also offers various investment options—this, however, is a topic in its own right. When choosing your bank for a savings account in Germany, it is important that you feel comfortable with the representative you are dealing with and trust their advice.
Once you have set up a bank account in Germany, you still may need to transfer money to an account abroad. The rates at your bank may be more reasonable than using an external service. Transferring funds to EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein—if the receiving bank has an IBAN number—is free. Outside of Europe, the fees depend on the amount transferred and to where.
The rates assume that you, the sender, cover all costs; however, splitting transfer costs is also possible at most banks. Most banks have either a flat fee or use specific percentage rates to calculate the fee after a certain amount. Furthermore, the amounts do not include charges for currency conversion or additional fees the receiving bank may apply.
To transfer money overseas, opening a Transferwise or PayPal account might be an option to reduce fees, but there are also many specialised services. View our guide on cheaper options for money transfers and currency exchange here.
It is not always easy to deal with financial transactions in a foreign language, and some expats may simply feel more comfortable speaking English when discussing their finances. Major banks in Germany such as Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank often have English-speaking representatives in the bank, but smaller banks may not. Telephone hotlines, regardless of the bank’s size, are often not automatically offered in English; you can request that a representative speak English after being connected, but it depends on the representative you receive.
There may be brochures or other general information about the bank’s products and services in English, but contractual information is generally only provided in German language. Bank officers often require that a translator be present during the appointment since they want to ensure legal information is properly understood. If personal contact is important for you, it is recommended that you visit the branch of the bank you choose to make sure there is a representative with strong English skills.
Online banking in Germany is growing, but it is not widely available in English. Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, N26, some Sparkassen, and Targobank provide online banking services in English.
Beware of discrepancies in the information that you may receive from a bank representative or a bank’s hotline—you may find during your research that you will receive different answers from different people at the same institution regarding one particular question.
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CEO of The Red Relocators. Kerstin supports The Red Relocators GmbH with her entrepreneurial expertise and financial background. She handles organisational and administrative matters and makes sure The Red Relocators perform up to their promise of highest quality service.Let us help you with your finances!