To open a German bank account can quickly become overwhelming, especially if you need some service fast. I took time to explore the options when signing up for my first account, here are my findings. 🙂
- A quick overview of the best bank accounts in Germany
- Open your German bank account : your choice will make a difference
- The most relevant option for your German bank account : N26
- Transferring some of my savings to my new account (e.g: for visas, deposits)?
- About ATM fees
- German bank account for freelancers and self-employed
- Common banking fees across German banks
- Other kinds of bank accounts in Germany & key terms :
A quick overview of the best bank accounts in Germany
For people that are in a hurry, this table sums it up and compare features nicely. There is more information waiting under the table too.
Open your German bank account : your choice will make a difference
Like in many countries, there are only few banks splitting the market between them. The most common brick & mortar banks you can find in Berlin and in the rest of Germany are:
The 3 lasts are organized into what is called the “cash group“. Any customer of a cash group bank with a German bank account can withdraw money at any ATM within the group for free. Otherwise, there is a 5€ to 8€ fee to withdraw in any other bank’s ATM.
All in all, they are banks and they more or less offer the same services within similar price range.
However, opening a bank account in Germany with one of those big banks usually requires to go in an agency and talk to a reluctant employee because they don’t want to/are not allowed to speak English. It is stressful and sometimes, you just don’t have time when you need to figure out accommodation or a job at the same time.
Sooner or later, you need to pay your rent and put your wage money somewhere (Ka-ching!), so you have to make a choice. What you need is a “Girokonto”, a transactional account where your expenses and earnings go into. That’s the standard account.
The most relevant option for your German bank account : N26
Although it is lesser known than the ones above, my recommendation for your German bank account would be to apply for one at N26 for the following reasons :
- It offers the Girokonto with no fees attached which not all banks do. Not with N26: that is free.
- Interface and customer support available in English and you don’t need to be a German resident.
- No need to have a Meldebescheinigung to open a bank account.
- You can withdraw money for free everywhere in the world with the free Mastercard they offer. Not all banks give credit cards for free.
- It also comes with free online banking and free international money transfer which is not the case for all banks.
- Everything is manageable from your phone and online, starting with opening the account. You don’t need to go talk to someone in an agency, which is a relief when you don’t speak so much German. No pressure to sign a document if you are not sure either.
- You can open the account online in a few minutes with a webcam.
- No hidden fees, easy to close the account.
This is how you open your bank account in Germany online
- Click here, and then click on “Open bank account”.
- Enter your email adress
- You just need your passport and a smartphone
- Go through the ID check with the customer support (Alternatively, you can also simply visit a post office for the ID check.)
- Receive your cards within 2-3 days
You can even your identity online with a webcam directly with them. That’s faster.
I’ve personally been very satisfied with their services so far and i think a few of my expats friends would agree with me. I also read on forums and Facebook groups that it’s a very recommended choice as far German bank account for expats goes.
An alternative choice for an online German bank account: DKB
If for some reason you are looking for another online bank option, a great runner-up is DKB. It offers the same advantages as DKB and the same easy process to open the account online. However, they do not not support English as a communication language. More info this way.
An alternative if you are looking for more service and physical branches: Postbank
Not everyone is looking for the same things when looking for a banking service. For some, it’s about paying just a little bit more to obtain more service and more flexibility in return. If this sounds more suitable to you and you speak a little bit of German, Postbank is a good choice for the following reasons:
- The bank has agencies everywhere in Germany, even in the smallest cities, which can become handy in case you need services on holidays or if you move outside of Berlin.
- Their Girokonto plus is for free if you are still student, otherwise it costs 3,90€ per month, which stay relatively cheap.
- Visa cards comes for free the first year, then 29€ per year.
Transferring some of my savings to my new account (e.g: for visas, deposits)?
We all have been there; we sometimes need to pay something big like a deposit on a flat or your simply need to prove you have the means to stay in Germany to obtain your visa. Since there isn’t much money yet on the new bank account, you might want to transfer some of your savings there to pay for those things. Depending on your bank at home, they might charge you up to 5% of the said amount to make that transfer from another currency. So e.g, on a $3000 transfer, you might pay up to $150 just to move money around!
If that’s true for you, you might want to use services TransferWise which thanks to its unique system, allows you to transfer money in other currencies with a very reduced fee. It has no hidden fees like most of banks have!
About ATM fees
Banks in Germany are not really playing fair between them and won’t let customers from others banks withdraw cash without a fee. This fee can be anywhere between 3€ to 5€. Sparkasse is usually considered to have the best network of ATMs that are well distributed through out Germany’s cities. The other network is called the cash-group, as mentioned in the beginning of this article. Opening a bank account a Germany will also let you use smaller “independent” ATMs outside of bank branches. These are placed where banks are not good at placing cash points. Fees can reach 8€ euros however, so beware. Owning a credit card can solve that trouble for you, especially if you go with online banks, which have agreements to waive the fee.
A lesser know cash point solution too: supermarkets. Some supermarkets like Penny or Rewe will also let you withdraw money for free on top of your normal groceries’ bill.
German banks are usually reasonable on fees when withdrawing money abroad but they might charge a high conversion rate to compensate. Staying in the E.U zone also limits fees. Banks like DKB or N26 don’t charge anything at all when using credit cards at cash points.
German bank account for freelancers and self-employed
If you are currently self-employed and you are looking for a separate bank account to manage all your business related expenses and income, you might be surprised by how costly it is to manage and extra bank account for this. Some banks make you pay a premium or will bill you depending on the movements on the said account. Some banks are also simply refusing to open another account for you because your income is too low, or your SCHUFA score doesn’t fit. N26 steps in here nicely again and offers a business German bank account for self-employed people. You might want to check it out.
Common banking fees across German banks
Comparing banking fees are a good way to make a decision beyond the simple flagship offer they might display everywhere. Banking fees are usually called “Kontoführungsgebühren” (Account management fee) and look like this for most banks:
- Grundpreis – basic fee: Monthly fee for having a bank account in the first place. Yes, this still exists in a fully automated 21st century bank.
- Dispokredit – Overdraft: that’s when you withdraw more money than you have, up to certain contractual limit. It’s usually costing 7% to 11%.
- Uberziehung – also overdraft but not limited by any conditions.
Here is a quick table to for a quick overview.
- Bareinzahlung – cash deposit: that’s when you want to deposit cash into your account.
- Kontoauszüge: German banks are legally required to send you a monthly account statement, giving you an overview of movements on the account. Also it’s mostly free if you decide to receive in a digital format, most banks will bill you the luxury of receiving by post.
Other kinds of bank accounts in Germany & key terms :
- Sparbuchkonto : Savings accounts. This is money you lock away for a long time in exchange for interesting rates.
- Sperrkonto : Locked account. Typically used to allow foreigners to acquire visas. This is to prove they have sufficient means to stay in Germany.
- Mietkautionskonto – Mietkaution Sparkonto: Deposit for your apartment. In case you can’t give your landlord the full amount, the bank provides deposit money that you repay with an interest. It can be relevant for international students.
- Disposition Kredit (DispoKredit) : The overdraft limit you are allowed. As with any banks, this comes at a cost, generally depending on your monthly earnings.
- Zinsen : Interest rates
- Überweisung : Money transfer
- Bargeld : cash
Don’t hesitate to leave your questions in the comment! 🙂