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Opening a bank account is one of the essential steps you have to go through to fully (and comfortably) settle in Germany. Although moving to a new country might seem challenging at first, everything will become easier with time. Germany’s banking sector, which might initially seem complex, is pretty comprehensive and efficient. So, opening a bank account in Germany will not be a problem if you provide the necessary set of documents.

In this article, you will learn how to open bank account in Germany and understand how banking works here. This way, we hope you will find it easier to make choices relating to financial institutions in Germany.

Do I Need a Bank Account in Germany?

If you are moving to Germany, you need to have a bank account that can be used to send and receive payments, meaning pay your rent, get a salary, or pay utility bills and insurance. This does not necessarily mean you have to open a German bank account. It means that you can also use an international bank account or an online or mobile bank. If none of these is an option for you, then you do need to open a German bank account once you arrive in Germany.

Although German banks offer different types of accounts to their customers, there are two main types of bank accounts in Germany you should know of:

The current account (Girokonto), which is used to receive an income or pay bills. It is basically the standard and most common type of bank account in Germany through which most financial transactions are completed.

The savings account (Sparkonto), which is used to save money and earn interest, and it can be opened by German residents and non-residents.

Can I Use My Bank Account From Back Home?

Right now, we’re talking about what is known as International Banks in Germany. So, since international banks exist, this means you can actually use your bank account from back home. The only cases you can do this, however, is if your existing bank is present in Germany. What you will be required to do is simply take care of the paperwork in your home country and transfer your account to the German branch before you head towards Germany. Using an international bank in Germany is particularly convenient if you’re still going to be using the services offered by the bank from back home. Alternatively, you may also opt for the choice of opening an account with a German bank.

One of the options we always recommend when it comes to convenient and comprehensive bank accounts for expats is the TransferWise Borderless Account. This is a banking alternative which is available to you no matter where you reside. One of the many advantages that come with using TransferWise is affordability. Basically, your money will always be converted in the mid-market exchange rate (in case you manage more than one currency) at a cost which is eight times cheaper than traditional banks. Oh, and you can create a free account online within minutes! Transferring and managing money remotely has never been simpler. More on TransferWise below!

What German Bank Should I Open an Account With?

Banking in Germany, just like in most countries, might be difficult to grasp entirely, especially to someone who has just been introduced to it. If you want to open a bank account in Germany, it is important you get the basic information about the types of banks in Germany and their services before you decide to submit your application to any of them.

In Germany, you can find a variety of bank options including private banks, savings banks, cooperative banks, international banks, as well as online/mobile banks. Since we understand that this set of information is insufficient to help you make your choice, let’s go through a bit of detail regarding each of your options.

Private Banks in Germany

There are around 200 private banks operating in Germany, with Deutsche Bank being one of the leading financial institutions in this category. Private banks are the 1st tier of banks operating in Germany, out of a banking system that is made of 3 tiers. If you want to choose a bank which is experienced when it comes to working with foreigners, you should look for those that are more popular, since they tend to be accessible even if you travel abroad and are more likely to provide you with their services.

The major private banks in Germany, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, and Hypovereinsbank operate as the Cash Group. What this means is that their ATM withdrawals are free if you have an account with one of these banks. Basically, they allow free withdrawals from one another’s ATMs. This would prove to be fairly convenient if you were to open an account with one of these banks since there are banks that charge up to 5€ for withdrawals.

Savings Banks in Germany (Sparkassen)

Savings banks are the 2nd tier and they are held by public shareholders (cities/communities). Around 400+ publicly-owned savings banks operate in Germany, and they are quite popular with Germans. Some of the Sparkassen you might have heard of include BerlinerSparkasse, Stadtsparkasse Munich and Frankfurter Sparkasse. However, to open an account with one of these banks you need to be a German resident.

Cooperative Banks in Germany (Volksbanken/Raiffeisenbanken)

Cooperative banks, or member-owned credit unions, are the 3rd (and last) tier. There are more than 1,100 cooperative banks operating in Germany and many of them operate under Volksbanken und Raiffeisenbanken. The general idea of these banks is for both depositors and borrowers to have a say in the bank’s running, meaning they were created for the people. However, you will be required to have a German residence to open an account with one of these banks.

International Banks in Germany

If you would rather go with the option of international banks in Germany, then the option is available to you. There are numerous international banks that have branches in Germany as well, so if you find that your home bank is also available in Germany, you can transfer your account here. Some of these banks include Citibank, ING Bank, BNP Paribas, as well as Barclays Bank.

Online and Mobile Banks in Germany

There is also the option of mobile banks in Germany, which do not have physical branches but rather operate online. Their services are friendly and comprehensive and they are often more affordable than other banking options. A famous mobile bank you might have heard of is N26, which charges no fee to open an account and requires no registration certificate.

An online alternative would also be the London-based company, TransferWise, where you can open your bank account within minutes and use that account wherever you are.

How To Open a Bank Account in Germany?

Opening a bank account in Germany means you have to gather the necessary documents and head towards the nearest branch of your chosen bank. You can set up an appointment beforehand, just so you make sure you won’t get stuck in queues.

Here are the documents you need to open a bank account in Germany:

  • The application form (completed with full accuracy).
  • Valid passport, current German residence permit or visa.
  • Proof of registration/proof of address (Meldebescheinigung).
  • Proof of status (whether you’re employed or a student).
  • Initial deposit (depending on the bank’s required minimum)
  • SCHUFA credit rating (optional depending on the chosen bank).

You have probably heard of the term “PostIdent” or identity verification. Well, you will not need to verify your identity when you apply in a branch. However, if you apply online, or for an online bank account, you will be required to go through the process of verifying your identity.

Although there are various ways through which you can verify your identity, e.g through a video call or photo; many online banks have partnerships with post-branches for the purpose of verification. You will be required to visit a post-branch in Germany and the postal worker will check your identity card and complete a PostIdent coupon which you will be required to sign. This coupon is afterwards sent to the bank by post, and your identity will be verified in a matter of 1 or 2 days. This procedure is free of charge.

Can I Open a German Bank Account Online?

The possibility of opening your bank account online (without showing up at the branch office) is available in some banks, however, there are disadvantages. If you want to open your German bank account from overseas and have it set once you arrive in Germany, you can submit the details online and verify your identity through a video call or photo. However, the accounts which are available to be opened online might not offer the complete set of services you might find necessary. Therefore, this option is not generally advised, so it would be better to wait until you’re settled in Germany since some of the required documents (mentioned above) can only be obtained once you are in Germany.

If you’re already in Germany and do not want to go through the hassle of setting up an appointment and showing up at the branch office, we understand the process might seem tiring. However, although there might be online application options in some banks, it is still better to make the application in a branch to avoid particular issues or misunderstandings that might arise through an online application (e.g: language, account type, services).

This is where TransferWise comes to the rescue…

As an expat in Germany, you also have the possibility of opening a TransferWise Borderless Account and benefit from its affordable banking services. So, if you want to open an account online while you’re at home and use it when you get to Germany, you can do so with TransferWise. Opening a TransferWise account means you can transfer and manage your money in multiple currencies, and the exchange rate is always in line with the mid-market rate. TransferWise exchanges currencies around 8 times cheaper than traditional banks.

You also have the possibility of applying for a debit Mastercard which is linked to your multicurrency borderless account (TransferWise). Through this card, you can spend money anywhere in the world at the real exchange rate (the one you see in Google). This card can also be used to make ATM withdrawals in the currency of your choice, which is free up to £200 (229€) a month. Generally, you can use this card wherever Mastercard is accepted. So, keep an eye for the Mastercard logo.

How Do Banking Fees in Germany Work?

Maintaining a bank account in Germany might not always be free, so it is important to ask the bank of your choice for the full set of information when it comes to fees and costs before you open an account with them. However, current accounts in Germany can range from none to 5€ per month. Although debit cards are typically free, credit cards can go up to 100€ per year.

The cost of using ATMs depends on the bank your account belongs to. Typically, using an ATM is free, however, if you use the ATM of a different bank, you may be charged up to 10€. Some banks have agreements for free usage of ATMs, for example, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and HypoVereinsbank operate as the Cash Group and provide free withdrawals from each other’s ATMs. They are not the only banks who have agreements, so it is important to check with your bank and see if there is anything you must know with regards to ATM fees.

Student Bank Account Fees

Banks in Germany usually exempt students from paying fees, that is if the student provides proof of student status. Different banks have different criteria when it comes to who qualifies as a student, by setting an age limit. Typically student accounts are not available for students under 18 or above 28. The age limit, however, depends on the bank entirely, so make sure you provide proof of being a student when you visit the branch to submit your documents.