ATM machine on a city street

© Srdjan/Fotolia #193227719

Why Do I Need a German Bank Account?

Opening a bank account in Berlin is one of the first things everyone needs to do upon moving. Without a German bank account, you won’t be able to rent certain apartments, get a cell phone or Internet contract. In addition, your employer won’t be able to send you your salary. In other words opening a German bank account is very important! For people new to Berlin and Germany in general this may be a daunting task. However, don’t despair. We have provided a variety of options for you to look, in order to find out what the best option is for you.

 

How to Open a German Bank Account

The process for opening a bank account will vary bank to bank, but in general, you will need the following to open up a bank account in Germany:

  • Passport or ID Card
  • Registration Document (Meldebescheinigung)
  • Tax Id Number (Sometimes needed)
  • Monthly Income (Sometimes needed)

 

You will soon notice that many German Banks only operate in German, so the process of opening an account can be a little tricky if you have little German. Below, we will compare some brick and mortar and online banks so you can determine which bank are suitable for you.

 

Brick and Mortar Banks

The traditional route to opening a bank account is to actually go into the bank and open it in person. Like many countries worldwide, there are not many different banks operating in Germany. The following are the main ones:

 

The first three operate in a so-called ‘cash group’. This means you can use your card to withdraw money from any of the ATM’s without charge. If you use another bank you will be charged around 5€ (or more!). For the other banks you simply have to use their ATM’s or face a transaction charge.

If you prefer to go with the traditional route,  it is advisable to go with a bank that is close to where you live. It may also be worth noting that many employees don’t want/aren’t allowed to speak English. So you’ll have to either bring an interpretor or struggle you way through.

Note that due to brick and mortar banks having to pay for the storefront and their tellers, they often charge higher banking fees. Even so, they do provide a traditional sense of security and if/when issues arise you can always go an talk to your bank in person.

Below we will list a few of the brick and mortar banks that could be used:

 

Postbank

How many branches in the central Berlin area: Around 22

Post Bank Giro Plus

  • Debit Card included
  • Can opt in for a free visa credit card (the first year is free of charge: this increases to 29€ or 59€ p/y after the 2nd year))
  • 3,90€ account fee per month
  • Free cash withdrawals at Deutsche post, Shell gas stations and at approximately 12,000 ATMS around Germany, so you have a lot of options instead of getting charged by using a non-Postbank affiliated ATM.
  • Online banking possible

 

Sparkasse

How many Branches in the central Berlin area: Around 50

Inklusivkonto

  • Around 25.000 ATM’s in Germany
  • 8,50€ account fee per month
  • Credit Card – 35€ per year
  • Debit Card included
  • Online banking possible

 

Note: Sparkasse has by far the most individual ATM’s in Germany. So no matter where you are you can usually find one..

However, Sparkasse banks operate regionally. This means if you open an account in Berlin, but then move to Munich, you will not be able to go into the bank there and use their services (you can still use the ATM’s for free). You would have to open an account with the Munich branch, then transfer your money from your Berlin account. This is really annoying if you are not sure how long you will stay in one city, or plan on moving in the future.

 

Deutsche Bank

How many Branches in the central Berlin area: Around 25

AktivKonto

  • 5,90€ account fee per month
  • Credit Card – 39€ per year
  • Debit Card included
  • Online banking possible
  • Around 9,000 ATM’s available to use and also the possibility to use Shell Gas stations to withdraw money

 

These options are a brief overview of what the ‘traditional’ banks in Germany offer. There are many varieties and depending on your circumstances, some are more suitable than others. Before opening a bank account in Berlin with one of these, it is perhaps also wise to check out the alternatives.

 

Online Banks – The Alternative

Online banks are becoming increasingly popular. They allow you to access your account, make transactions and simply bank ‘on the go’. They are convenient, offer better rates than traditional banks, and are generally easy to use for transferring money.

What must be noted is they have no physical counter to visit and no face-to-face customer service. For some people is this ok, however others do value having a relationship with the person looking after their money.

Below we will show you a few of the most popular online banks:

 

N26

Standard Free Card

  • Completely Online and English sign up process (as well as other languages)
  • You can sign up from abroad
  • 5 Free cash withdrawals within Germany at any ATM
  • MasterCard Credit card included, 0€ per month
  • Withdraw cash for free at 7000 retail stores
  • No exchange rate mark up with TransferWise

Things to Note

  • 3% charge to deposit cash into your account
  • Foreign currency ATM withdrawals charge 1.7%

 

N26 also offers two other cards, N26 Black and N26 Metal, which have monthly fees of €5.90 and €14.90 respectively but offer more services like free foreign currency withdrawals, insurance and more.

N26 is a convenient option for expats. Firstly, the whole process can be done in English, and secondly there are no upfront fees.  Transferring money to and from abroad is also relatively easy and doesn’t cost as much as traditional banks.

 

DKB- Deutsche Kreditbank AG

Cash Card

  • No Annual fees
  • Free Debit Card and Visa Card
  • Free International Cash Withdrawals
  • Free ATM Withdrawals
  • Emergency package when traveling

Things to Note

  • You can sign up online, however, everything is in German
  • 24 hour emergency number that provides you with customer support should you lose your card, or if you have any other issues
  • You may have to prove your income and have at least €1000 euros coming in monthly, or at least that you have a stable salary coming in

 

Comdirect

Debit Card

  • No Annual Fees
  • Free cash withdrawal from Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank, Postbank, and their subsidiaries
  • 24 Hour Customer Service
  • Open your account online, however it is in German

Things to Note

  • Comdirect also offers a Visa card that allows you to take out money in countries with different currencies for €9.90.
  • Purchases made outside of Europe are subject to a 1.75% conversion fee

 

As you can see, there are very similar offers across the market. However, N26 is the only bank with English in the sign-up. This could then be very helpful if it’s the only language you speak. Overall we recommend looking and comparing a few accounts to see what suits you best. Every situation is different and something that is suitable for one person may not be for another.

 

What About Transferring Money?

How do you transfer money to your new account? The best and most affordable way is with Transferwise. If you go with N26, they are partnered with Transferwise so you can make transfers for free or for less than you would using an international money transfer company.

Sometimes it can be more affordable to take out money from an ATM using your home country card (depending on your bank) and then depositing it into your new German bank account.

Traditional German banks can charge up to 5% for such a service, so if you are transferring a large amount, this can add up to a lot.

 

Banking Words You Should Know

Here are some German words that we have translated to English in order to help you on your way when dealing with the tricky steps of opening and using your bank.
Abhebung – Withdrawal

Bargeld – Cash

Einzahlung – Deposit

Geldautomat  – ATM

Girokonto – Chequing Account

Kontostand – Bank Balance

Münzen – Coins

Sparkonto – Savings Account

Überweisung – Money transfer

Unterschrift – Signature (Important for singing the contract!)

Zinsen – Interest rates

 

Are there any more words you have found out about? Let us know during your journey of opening a bank account here in Berlin (or Germany)!!!