How to Open a German Bank Account

German bank account

As you start settling into Berlin life, opening a German bank account will probably be at the top of your to-do-list.  There are many brick-and-mortar and online options to choose from, and each comes with its own set of pros and cons. In Berlin, ATMs (Bankomaten) can be quite scarce in some neighbourhoods, so it is very important to choose a bank that offers free cash withdrawal or one that offers its own branded ATMs on your daily route.

At Archer Relocation, we have a plethora of experience opening up Berlin bank accounts for our clients, and we have compiled our knowledge on the industry to make this process easier on you.  

German Bank Account

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Traditional German Bank Accounts

Traditional German banks can be broken down into three categories:  Sparkassen, Volksbanken or Private.

The most popular German banks are by far the Sparkassen, followed by Volksbanken/Raiffeisenbanken. Sparkassen, or public savings banks, are generally held by public shareholders such as cities or communities, while the Raiffeisenbanken’s shareholders are cooperatives. The private bank collective with the largest customer base is the Cash Group, which consists of Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank.

If you open an account with a traditional German bank, you will receive a Girocard/EC-Karte.  This card can be used in virtually any ATM/Bankomat in Germany. However, you will want to seek your bank’s branded ATM (or one of the four banks in the Cash Group) to avoid hefty withdrawal charges.  You can also use these cards as a debit card to pay in any restaurant or shop that accepts cards. This transaction will be controlled by the same pin you use when you are withdrawing cash from an ATM. 

What documents will you need to open up a traditional German bank account?
  • Valid passport
  • Proof of purpose documents – statement that you are a student, employee or participating in a fellowship
  • Proof of registration of your address (Meldebescheinigung)
  • Proof of income, such as your last three pay stubs, an employment contract or a statement from your employer stating the salary expected
Online German Banks

The rub against traditional German banks is the excessive paperwork and in-person requirement to initiate the account.  There is good news for those of you seeking the easy route — online banks are here in Germany. Some, like N26, even have support in English and some offer fee-free ATM withdrawals.

The value of online banks is truly the ease of registration.  Blogger and remote-working community, Nomad Gate, highlights in detail the verification requirements of online bank, N26, here.  

German Bank Account

Photo Courtesy of n26.com

The Best German Bank Accounts for Berlin Expats (In Our Opinion)

N26 This online bank, based in Berlin, has made opening a German bank account simple and cheap.  

Advantages:

  • Free MasterCard with each account
  • Customer support in English
  • In-app international money transfers using the N26 partner, TransferWise
  • No foreign transaction fees when using the MasterCard worldwide
  • 8-minute registration process
  • 5 free ATM withdrawals per month from any ATM in Germany
  • Free Eurozone ATM withdrawals outside of Germany
  • Business account available to freelancers
  • ApplePay compatible

Disadvantages:

  • Not every sales outlet will take MasterCard, and the N26 card is not an EC Karte (or debit card)

Deutsche BankWhile there is an in-person registration requirement when you open a Deutsche Bank account, you can call the main customer service number and request a meeting for an English-speaking representative at your local branch.  

Advantages:

  • 30 years and under no-fee bank account offered to students and federal volunteers from all EU Member States
  • Free ATM withdrawals at any of the Cash Group banks (DB-branded plus Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank)
  • ApplePay-compatible accounts
  • Free ATM withdrawals outside of Germany
  • Banking app and online banking site offers an English option

Disadvantages:

  • Availability of Cash Group ATMs in Berlin is quite limited, especially in former East Berlin

Sparkasse

Advantages:

  • For clients between the ages of 18 and 25 that are current students or apprentices, Sparkasse has a fee-free account option
  • Flexible account options: digital, use-based or full-service  
  • The online-only banking option (digital) is similar to N26 and costs only 3 Euros per month
  • Children’s account (under 12 years old) that earns 3% up to 1,000 Euros

Disadvantages:

  • Website provides limited options in English, but there is an English version of the banking app

DKB

Advantages:

  • Free VISA credit card  and V PAY card ( Visa- powered cash card) that can be used in Germany and worldwide
  • Free ATM withdrawals in Germany and worldwide
  • Google Pay-enabled accounts
  • Online registration process is straightforward

Disadvantages:

  • DKB is known to have a more stringent credit check process since they are issuing a Visa credit card

 

While it may feel a bit intimidating to navigate the German banking system, it is really quite approachable if you understand your banking needs.  There are enough options that you are sure to find a bank that fulfils your requirements. And, as always, if you get stuck somewhere in the process, Archer Relocation is always here to help you get settled. Book a consultation here.  

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Archer Relocation has been providing relocation services to families, individuals and companies in Berlin since early 2015.  Managing Director, Emily Archer, founded the company desiring to use her first-hand experience as an expat to make the relocation process as smooth as possible for others moving to Berlin.  Read other useful information about moving to and living in Berlin, such as ‘How to Find a Berlin Apartment’, on our Berlin Blog.  

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