Opening a bank account in Germany is essential and helpful. First, Germany is a cash-heavy country, and you want to save money on transaction fees when withdrawing. Second, it will make it much easier to receive your German salary or even set up direct debits to pay for the mandatory health insurance or for your mobile plan.
So, let’s look at how you open a German bank account as an expat moving to Germany. We’ll help you figure out the basics of banking in Germany and keep it simple by listing the most expat friendly options for your situation as a student or expat.
For most expats who're planning to stay in Germany for a year or more, having a German bank account can make some of the processes of moving to and living in Germany a lot easier. If you're here for a few months only, then it might be worthwhile keeping your foreign bank account or using one of the multi-currency travel cards. But considering Germany is reliant on cash, it's highly recommended to open a local account.
Despite being one of the largest and important economies in the EU and the world, Germany is behind in the adoption of modern payment methods. Cash has been king in Germany for a long time.
While bank transfers are used for larger transactions, you still need cash for daily transactions. For instance, trying to do your shopping at the grocery store or buying your drinks at the bar could run you the risk of being unable to pay. You can use a card only if your amount is above a minimum threshold (e.g. €10 or more). So, the ability to withdraw cash from an ATM with little to no cost is a very important perk!
German banks generally offer 2 types of bank accounts: a standard account (Girokonto) for normal bank transfers and card usage and a savings account (Sparkonto).
Germany has 3 different types of banks: Banken, Volksbanken und Sparkasse. The difference between these 3 are basically the "owner":
The accounts at these local banks are often reserved for either German citizens or people with a German address. But I’m an expat, what do I do?! No worries, you essentially have 2 options.
If you’re in Germany for a longer period of time, having a bank account at a local German bank is the best option. Especially when you need some of the more advanced banking services, such as a mortgage or loan.
Cost. Some (online) banks have free accounts. Others charge a monthly fee, so make sure you know what you’re getting into. That said, some paid accounts might offer features or insurances you might want to make use of.
Fees. As an expat, free international transfers, currency exchange rates and fees (or lack thereof) for ATM withdrawals can make a world of difference.
Services. Does the bank offer English language customer service? Also, regular banks often offer useful services such as health, vehicle or home insurance.
So, which German banks are the most friendly towards expats like you?
If you want to get a head start before you arrive in the country, an international bank is probably your best option. You open an account at your local branch and then have it transferred to the German branch of the bank.
4 well known international banks that offer these kinds of services are:
If you opt to open a bank account at a local German bank, you’ll need to provide a number of documents for them to consider your application. It’s best to have these documents ready to go, to show that you’re well prepared. Why? Well, German banks can very easily reject your application if they feel something is fishy or they’re not confident that you meet their standards.
If you know you’re only going to stay for a few months or up to a year, an online bank account might be the best option for you.
These digital banks don’t have an actual physical location, but will send you a bank card (usually Mastercard) that you can use at almost any ATM in Germany. They also enable contactless payments and allow you to send or receive regular bank transfers. This makes it an ideal option for newly-arrived expats, international students and interns who are unable or do not want to set up a local account before arriving in Germany.
We’ve selected 2 of the easiest online banks for you to consider!
N26 started as a German startup from Berlin! Now they’re one of the most popular online banks.
Things to consider:
Bunq is a Dutch online bank that has been active in Germany since 2017.
Things to consider:
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