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. 🙂
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 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 client 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 another 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 / not allowed to speak German. 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/current account where your expenses and earnings go into. That’s the standard account.
A reasonable choice for your german bank account : DKB
Although it is lesser known than the ones above, my recommendation for your german bank account would be to apply for one at DKB for the following reasons :
- You can withdraw money for free everywhere in the world with the free visa card they offer. Not all banks give credit cards for free.
- It offers the GiroKonto without fees which not all banks do. Some banks require at least 1000€ credit on the account to manage it for free. Not with the DKB.
- No hidden fees, easy to close the account.
- It also comes with free online banking AND free international money transfer which is not the case for all banks.
- Everything is manageable 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.
- They were rated best online GiroKonto by consumer tests in 2015.
Click here, and then click on “Jetzt online eröffnen” (open online now). Once you filled out the form to open a german bank account online, they send you documents by post or by email to confirm your identity. What this means is that you get a unique ID “tag” that you need to verify by going in a Deutsche Post office. Simply bring a copy your Anmeldungbescheinigung and your passport. The whole procedure is a breeze as the Deutsche Post employees are used to it.
You can even bypass this by confirming your identity online with a webcam directly with them. That’s fast.
If you are unsure about opening the account, you can still sign-up online to receive the documents. They come with all the conditions and contracts so you can have a look at all of it at home, with no pressure. As long as don’t you send anything back, you are not committed to anything.
I’ve personally been very satisfied with their services so far and i think a few of my expats friends would agree with me.
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 appartement. In case you can’t give your landord 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
What if i want to transfer 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!
Tip 1: If you are staying for a short period of time, it might not be necessary to open a German bank account, especially if you live within the E.U. It might be less of an hassle to subscribe to an international service package at your domestic bank. It might be enough if you pay your rent in cash and you don’t have to pay withdrawal fees at ATMs for example.
Tip 1: You will most likely get an EC Karte, which is a debit card. At the moment of opening your account, it’s sometimes not possible to get a visa credit card. The reason for that is that your schufa record at the time of opening is non existant if you have just arrived. More information about the schufa here. But it was not a problem for me with the DKB.