Open your german bank account

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 a bank account in Germany

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.


Price / month


Credit card

(Fees)


Debit card



ATM fees



Open account online



English support?



For freelancers too?


Overall rating

N26

0€ 


Yes

(0€)


Yes

Maestro


0 €

in Germany and abroad


Yes

in 8 minutes with webcam


Yes

+ french, spanish, italian


Yes


Best value

DKB

0€


Yes

(0€)


Yes

EC-Karte


0 €

in Germany and abroad


Yes

With webcam


No



No


POSTBANK

3,90€


On request

(29€ / year)


Yes

EC-Karte


0 €

in cash group ATMs only


No

in agency


No



No



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.
  • 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.

Pretty much how they looked at me at bank branch when trying to open an account there for the first time. None of that for online banks. A relief! 🙂

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

In Germany

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.

Abroad

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.

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! 🙂

 

 

127 Comments

  • Reply GAIJIN 18/04/2018 at 15:35

    Hi Bastien!!

    I have followed your blog since before arriving to Germany and it had helped me a lot. I would like if you make a Post or an extension to some of our existing post addressing or at least mentioning that German “Hell” known as POSTIDENT ;-). It may affect certain groups of new arrivals in Germany (such as myself) when trying to open certain Bank accounts or even trying to activate certain pre-paid SIM-Cards after purchasing them.

    I will try to describe it as well as sharing my experience: if you are trying to open an account ONLINE in Banks like Comdirect, ING Diba, DKB (or other “Direct Banks” as they are know) or even any major Bank that offers online account opening, you will receive a Coupon (per traditional Mail or per E-Mail) which you need to bring to the nearest Post office, along with the opening contract that you need to sign and your ID-documents (Passport for most foreigners) in order to be identified according to German Laws. The Post employee will register the Coupon and then scan your document to verify your identity, and finally will send the contract and related papers to the Bank per mail, mostly free of charge. This whole process is called POSTIDENT. The problem begins when you show your foreign passport to the employee. He/She will scan it and immediatly say that your passport was not recognized by their software-system. Depending on the employee´s friendliness and the ammount of people waiting after you in the post office, he/she might try to explain you the problem with foreign passports, as the system is optimized to work with the German ID-Card and the German Passport. Please be aware that many employees in the Post office speak only German and can be “rude” with you if you try to speak with them in English, depending of the city/town you are currently living in. No other foreign documents than the Passport will be accepted for POSTIDENT, even the German Residence Permit (Aufenthaltstitel) will be rejected. Your country of origin and your passport can be your bleesing… or your curse. The same story begins when you buy a SIM-Card in a supermarket, open the Card package at home and see a POSTIDENT-Coupon needed to verify you and activate the card…

    With further investigation, I have found that this situation is not the same in all German states. The German post service (Deutsche Post) is theoretically working “hard” in order to integrate in their systems the features of all foreign passports. Until when? nobody knows, not even them. Fellow foreigners that live in really big cities like Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg or Munich might have a better chance that their passports will be accepted by POSTIDENT, but if you landed in the “German Wildlands” (like me, who lives since last year in a town in northern Bavaria), then POSTIDENT is really a no-go zone unless you want to see it by yourself: really, my passport was rejected in all Post offices in all towns and even the capital city of my entire region 🙁 and sadly I have neither the time nor the money to further test it in a big, more cosmopolitan city.

    The same Banks and mobile providers might offer a similar video-based identification procedure, called ironically VIDEOIDENT. For this you need a reasonable Internet connection. For this one, you are in luck if your country is listed here (although it is a list for pre-paid cards, it applies to Banks as well):
    https://www.vodafone.de/hilfe/prepaid/online-ident.html#welche-dokumente-brauche-ich-fuer-online-ident-bei-callya
    The employees of WebID, the German company that provides VIDEOIDENT, usually speak English (and several other foreign languages).
    BUT If your country is not among the chosen ones (the list contains almost 60 countries whose passports are accepted for video-identification), then just like POSTIDENT: forget it! Don´t waste your time with VIDEOIDENT.

    You may found extra info in English if you google something like “postident foreigners” or also hard complains googling “postident ausländer” or even “videoident ausländer” in German. The info may be a little old, but sadly the problems still persist well in 2018. I have experienced them in my own flesh and they almost gave me anxiety problems during my first months in Germany. I just don´t want that other foreigners in Germany experience the same bad situation, specially when it is their first time here. Before 2014 or earlier the employees of the Post office could make the identity verification with any passport manually just like in any other EU country, but today is not the same at least in Germany.

    As a personal advice to my fellow foreigners, it is better to buy and activate a pre-paid SIM-Card directly in the stores of the providers, namely Vodafone, Telekom, O2 or all the others mentioned here in Bastien´s blog. The identification is carried on in the same stores and there is no need of POSTIDENT, as all passports should be accepted. For Banks you can try for example the PostBank (I think it offers one of the cheapest Bank accounts in Germany) if you cannot open an online (and completely free) account at N26 or other online Banks that requiere POST- or VIDEOIDENT. If you are an employee, you may ask your employeer to help you with the Bank account and thus save you a lot of headaches. Of course later you may want to change to a Bank that offers better conditions. I hope that in the near future the situation with POST- and VIDEOIDENT changes for good.

    Anyway most of the info in your blog was really helpful for me, Bastien (specially the posts about the SCHUFA and the Tax Returns). Thanks!!!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/04/2018 at 20:24

      You sir/madam are being crowned with the title of “most thorough and longest comment on this blog to date”. Thanks a lot for taking the time to share the experience. 🙂

    • Reply Vladimir 25/04/2018 at 21:45

      Hi GAIJIN,

      Thanks for your post about POSTIDENT/VIDEOIDENT. I purchased Aldi Talk pre-paid card and based on your post, it seems that I will need to open a bank account in order to receive the Coupon, that I will present in the post office (along with my passport and bank contract). Is that correct? Is there any solution for the situation that you described, regarding not recognizing the passport in post office?

      Thanks in advance!

      • Reply GAIJIN 15/05/2018 at 11:20

        Oh hi there,
        please forgive me for the delayed Answer. I was busy moving from the tiny town to a bigger town in order to be near to my workplace and reduce some transportation costs. Finding a new home wasn’t easy at all, as explained by Bastien.
        Well, Vladimir, you may already figured out on your own, but for Prepaid Cards a bank account is not needed, unless you want to charge your SIM-card with the Online services of your Bank and you are planning to stay longer than 3 Months (that was also stated here by Bastien). With Aldi Talk you can try POSTIDENT or VIDEOIDENT if you have an EU-Passport or a Passport from most First-World Countries (although I have heard that even Greek or Swiss Passports sometimes have problems with POSTIDENT). Anyway if your Aldi Talk-Card was successfully activated with either POSTIDENT or VIDEOIDENT without big problems then Congratulations!!! If not, you can try a Prepaid Card from Telekom or O2 or Vodafone (it seems that Vodafone is the indirect provider for Aldi Talk and many other Prepaid Cards that you can find in supermarkets). Lycamobile, also mentioned by Bastien, will also work if you plan to stay for a short time in Germany or while you wait for your Bank account. It is easy to setup and also relative cheap. Identification is carried on the store itself, no need of messy Forms.
        Thanks again Bastien for all your amazing info!!! Soon I will celebrate my first year in Germany and I still haven’t visited Berlin 🙁
        If you have the time, Bastien, you could make a Post about the new European Data Protection Laws (GDPR or DSGVO auf Deutsch) and how this may affect us foreigners.

        • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/05/2018 at 21:48

          Mmm, GPDR do affect all of us as internet users, foreigner or not foreigner, regardless of where we are in the world. What was the idea behind this suggestion? I’m interested…

          • GAIJIN 16/05/2018 at 00:17

            Well, you could begin explaining our rights and obligations as Internet users in Germany, in terms as simple as possible. You may emphatize, for example, how freelancers or enterpreneurs from abroad should comply specially if they are making business with German or EU customers. Something like that. Right now I am also trying to better understand how it works, but hey, even in my mother tonge this law is somehow hard to digest. Like all laws, it has hidden meanings and interpretations.
            No pressure in doing that post, ok?? Maybe my suggestion is just crap and you (or another blog readers) have a better idea XD.
            Cheers and Bis bald!!!

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