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. This post is based on real-life experience and an honest review of the different banks presented here.
Table of contents
- 1 A quick overview of the best bank accounts in Germany
- 2 Opening your German bank account : your choice will make a difference
- 3 The best option for most people for a German bank account: N26
- 4 An solid alternative for an online German bank account: DKB
- 5 An alternative as a second bank account for travelers: Revolut
- 6 An alternative if you are looking for physical branches: Postbank
- 7 German bank account for freelancers and self-employed
- 8 How can i transfer some of my savings to my new account (e.g: for visas, deposits)?
- 9 About ATM fees
- 10 Common banking fees across German banks
- 11 Other kinds of bank accounts in Germany & key terms :
A quick overview of the best bank accounts in Germany
For people that want info fast, this table sums this post up and compare features nicely. There is more information waiting under the table too.
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Opening your German bank account : your choice will make a difference
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.
However, opening a bank account in Germany with one of the traditional 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.
The best option for most people for a German bank account: N26
I’ve been using N26 for a few years and it has always served me well in Germany or abroad. 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. You can read my full N26 review here.
Although it might be a less established brand, 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.
- Free credit card.
- Free withdrawals worldwide.
- Free online banking and free international money transfer.
Ease of use
- Interface and customer support available in English.
- You can open the account online in a few minutes with a webcam.
- No need to be a German resident (for most cases).
- No need to have a registered address in Germany (Meldebescheinigung) to open a bank account.
- Everything is manageable from your phone and online, starting with opening the account.
- No hidden fees, easy to close the account.
Although it’s an all digital bank, it also offers the same guarantees as traditional ones. The funds deposited in your account are insured against theft, or hacking in case that happens.
This is how you open your N26 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.
It is a younger bank, so it sometimes dealing with scaling/growing issues. It is so popular and growing very fast, so sometimes, customer service might be lackluster. Still, most people are happy with it.
An solid alternative 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 N26 and the same easy process to open the account online. However, they do not not support English as a communication language and it can be tricky to open an account for newcomers. However, it’s the only free bank account that provides a true free credit card. You can read a full-length review of DKB’s Cash account here.
DKB has been rated consistently as one of the top online banks in Germany for many years. If German is not an issue, it is also a very strong option to open a German bank account online.
An alternative as a second bank account for travelers: Revolut
Revolut can probably not be recommended for a main account as it still lacks some features to be truely frictionless in the day-to-day in Germany. However, it’s still a great free option for people who move money between borders or travel themselves a lot. This is because it can offer exchange rates at market price, with no fees on top.
You can find a full review on Revolut here.
An alternative if you are looking for physical branches: Postbank
Like in many countries, there are only a brick & mortar banks splitting the market between them. The most common you can find in 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.
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.
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 if 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.
How can i 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 like Wise (formerly 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
Traditional 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€. That would not be a problem for all digital banks like N26. 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. N26 also uses this to let its customers withdraw money for free, as many times as they want.
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.
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 :
Although this post is about the standard Girokonto, which most people need when they first arrive in Germany, there are of course other types of account. Here is a quick overview with other key terms:
- Sparbuchkonto : Savings accounts. This is money you lock away for a long time in exchange for interesting rates.
- Sperrkonto : Blocked account for Germany. Typically used to allow foreigners to acquire visas, mostly for students visa. This is to prove they have sufficient means to stay in Germany. Follow the link for a detailed overview and comparison of providers as well.
- 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
I hope this overview helped your decision making process. Don’t hesitate to leave your questions, comments or suggestions in the comment! 🙂