Looking to open a bank account in Germany but do not speak the German language? No problem! In this article, you will find a comparison of English banking options in Germany. Besides, you will also find information about what is needed to open a bank account, how to select a bank, what are the different types of banks and bank accounts in Germany, and more.
The hassle of opening a bank account in Germany
You will definitely need a bank account when you live in Germany to receive your salary and make regular payments like rent, phone charges, utility bills, taxes, insurance payment, etc.
Opening a bank account was one of the first things I had to do after arriving in Germany. I was very shocked that when I went to different bank branches in Germany, I was not able to find anyone who spoke English!
I am from Hong Kong where nobody can work in a bank without speaking English. So, I almost took it for granted that it would be the same in Germany. In the end, someone from my university in Germany accompanied me to a bank and helped me with opening a bank account. There was so much bureaucracy and paperwork needed.
And the hassle didn’t stop there. Whenever I got a letter from the bank, it was a nightmare as I had no idea what was written there. I always needed help with translation for every letter. As a foreigner, I wouldn’t have made it without any support.
Fortunately, nowadays you have more options when opening a bank account in Germany. You can even open a bank account without any German knowledge, or have your bank account ready before you arrive in Germany.
There are many banks in Germany. In this article, I am going to focus only on those that are expat-friendly with English support.
Best way to transfer money internationally
Why do you need to transfer money internationally?
If you are moving to Germany, you will probably need to transfer money internationally. One example is that you may need to transfer money to your blocked bank account for visa application before you even arrive in Germany. Some other cases include paying a deposit or any other fees in Germany upfront when you are still in your home country.
Even after you move to Germany, you may still need to transfer money between your home bank account and your German account from time to time. For example, you may need to transfer money to your German bank account to support your living expenses in Germany. Or in my case, I need to transfer money from my German bank account (Euro) to my parents’ bank account (HKD) in Hong Kong to support their living.
My best way to transfer money internationally
Using a bank to make international transfers with different currencies is probably the worst thing you can do, especially if the transaction amount is high, e.g. buying a house or other business transactions.
I have learned a hard lesson on this. For the first few years after I moved to Germany, I used to transfer Euro to my parents’ HKD bank account by doing bank transfers until I heard about the services from CurrencyFair. I would have saved so much money if I knew it before!
I used to pay more than 30 Euro fee to make the international transfer. With CurrencyFair, the fee is only 3 Euro no matter how much I exchange. The exchange rate it uses is also much cheaper than the one used by the traditional banks. Besides, I can also set a higher exchange rate and the transfer will only take place once this rate is reached.
Currencyfair is also offering 3 free transfers to our readers now if you want to try it out for free.
Different types of banks in Germany
Below are the main types of banks in Germany.
Digital and mobile banks
These banks have no physical branches and they are also called direct banks. They usually team up with other traditional banks so that you can use their ATMs. Digital banks are usually cheaper and more convenient in terms of customer services.
Private commercial banks
These are the traditional banks in Germany. The biggest private banks in Germany are Commerzbank, Deutschebank, Postbank, and HypoVereinsbank. Together they form the Cash Group. The four banks in the Cash Group allow free cash withdrawals from one another’s ATMs. It means that you can use all of their ATMs to withdraw for free if you have a bank account from one of these banks. You will see a Cash Group logo at their ATMs.
Many traditional banks have branches all over Germany. However, their opening hours can be quite limited. For example, some branches may be closed one day during the week. And they usually have very short opening hours on Friday, until 1 or 2 p.m.
In many branches, you can find machines where you can do your deposits and withdrawals. In general, most traditional banks offer similar services. Besides the usual bank account opening, they also offer mortgage, insurance, borrowing, and investment options in Germany.
Savings banks (Sparkasse)
These are public savings banks that are held by public shareholders like cities. You will find Sparkasse in major German cities. They have large branch networks but they are very German. The staff in the branches probably won’t speak English with you. I would not recommend them to expats in Germany for that reason.
Comparison of English banking options in Germany
English banking options: Digital Banks
I would definitely recommend expats in Germany to use a digital bank. Most of the digital banks operate in English and it can save you a lot of trouble, especially if you do not speak German. Besides, for many of these banks, you do not need to have residency in Germany to open a bank account. So, you can already apply for an account before moving to Germany.
For the below banks, each account is protected up to the sum of 100,000 Euro by the deposit insurance fund. So, they are safe to use and your money is protected.
Note: The below table can be moved sideways depending on your screen.
|bunq travel card||bunq premium|
|Monthly fees||0||0||7.99 EUR||0|
|No German residency required||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Free credit or debit card||1 free debit Visa card||1 credit Mastercard, 9.99 EUR one-time payment||Free: a combination of Maestro, debit Mastercard and credit Mastercard||1 free debit Mastercard|
|Domestic ATM fees||3 times free, then 2 EUR each||0.99 EUR per withdrawal||10 times free, then 0.99 EUR each||5 times free, then 2 EUR each|
|Foreign ATM fees||1.50%||1.70%|
|Easy account opening within minutes with video verification||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Free sub-accounts to manage saving goals||2||Χ||25||2|
|Automatically categorize your transactions||✔||Χ||✔||✔|
|Real-time notifications for account activities||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Lock/ unlock your card in the app||✔||✔||✔||✔|
|Open an account with Tomorrow!||Get your bunq travel card!||Get your bunq premium card!||Open an account with N26!|
Note that even though German residency may not be required for some banks, you would have to be a resident in a country where the banking services are supported (mostly in EU countries). Every bank supports different countries and you will have to check the country lists on their websites for more details.
Tomorrow provides a modern banking experience together with a possibility to enable positive social and environmental change. It is a social business project from Hamburg that supports different social projects like renewable energies and organic farming, etc. With every payment of your Tomorrow card, you can actively protect the climate. The focus of Tomorrow is on environmental protection, which differentiates it from other banks.
Some other features of the free Tomorrow card:
- Free transaction worldwide
- No SCHUFA information is required
Bunq has an official banking license from the Dutch Central Bank (DNB). They also offer a free debit card. But its features are very basic compared to the other digital banks here. However, if you do not mind the monthly fee, you can go for their premium card which provides lots of cool features.
Some other features for both the travel card and premium card:
- Save 3% when spending abroad (partnership with TransferWise)
- Keep track of who paid what with “Slice group” which is great for group expenses
Extra features that are only offered by the premium card:
- Sending payments with real exchange rate
- Never need to wait for your money again with instant payments
- Easy payment by scanning invoices in the Bunq app
- Switch service that helps you to switch to Bunq with zero effort
- Add your partner to a joint account with a tab
- Share your savings goal to save money together
- Choose how your money is invested
N26 is a fast-growing company that offers banking services with a banking app.
Here are some other features of their free debit card:
- Free payment worldwide in any currency
- Contactless payment with NFC
- Send money to friends via text message or email
- Withdraw and deposit money in 6000 shops in Germany
English banking options: Traditional banks
Most private commercial banks in Germany operate only in German. If you want to open your bank account with these traditional banks in Germany, I would recommend using the below two banks due to their English online banking services.
Note: The below table can be moved sideways depending on your screen.
|No German residency required||✔||✔|
|Easy account opening with video verification||✔||✔|
|Free debit card||✔||✔|
|Free withdrawals at Cash Group ATMs||✔||✔|
|Online banking in English||✔||✔|
|Mobile banking app||✔||✔|
|Free account switch service that automatically informs your payment partners||✔||✔|
|Other notes||50 EUR starting bonus, and 100 EUR bonus if you refer a friend||Only available for students under 30|
|Open an account with Commerzbank!||Open an account with Deutschebank!|
Commerzbank is one of the biggest traditional banks in Germany that offers comprehensive financial services. It provides services in over 50 countries and has lots of branch offices throughout Germany. Commerzbank is part of the Cash Group and offers around 9,000 ATMs for free withdrawal in Germany. Part of their website is in English and you can usually find an English speaking staff at their branches.
Some other features of their free current account:
- Receive 50 Euro as a starting bonus
- Get a 100 Euro bonus when you refer someone to open a free account
- No minimum deposit requirement
- You can apply for a free Mastercard (credit card) after you open your free current account
Similar to Commerzbank, Deutschebank is also part of the Cash Group and is a traditional bank with many branch offices throughout Germany. Part of their website is in English and you can usually find someone who speaks English in their branch offices.
Deutschebank is well-known internationally and provides a wide range of solutions for different financial needs. Bank of America has a partnership with Deutschebank. So, you may be able to transfer your account to Germany if you are a customer from Bank of America.
Note that their free current account is only for students who are under 30 years old. Otherwise, it will cost 5.9 Euros per month. Here are some other features of their free student account:
- Pay with your Android smartphone at the cashier terminal using the banking app
- Free withdrawal in over 60 countries
- 24-hour customer services over the phone
- Customer service on Facebook
- Finance planner that can categorize your income and expenses automatically
- “SmartÜberweisung”: easy payment transfer service where you can take a picture of your invoice and the invoice data will be automatically entered into the transfer
English banking options: TransferWise
TransferWise is a good alternative to a bank account in Germany. It offers a free multi-currency account so that you can
- Keep your money in more than 50 currencies
- Get your personal account numbers and bank details in different currencies (EUR, USD, GBP, AUD, NZD, SGD)
- Have a Euro bank account number already before coming to Germany and receive money for free from around the world (get paid like a local)
- Use this same account to send money around the world with very low cost (8 times cheaper than traditional banks on average)
- Convert your currencies with the real exchange rate (the one you see on google)
- See the fee amount before the conversion so that there will be no surprise
You can create a free account online in minutes. There are no high fees or unfair exchange rates. You can use their price checker to see the currency conversion fees upfront. TransferWise is a cheap and convenient banking alternative that is available to you no matter where you live.
How to open a bank account in Germany?
Opening a bank account with a digital bank in Germany
It is usually much easier and simpler if you open an account with a digital bank in Germany like Tomorrow, Bunq, etc. Digital banks usually require fewer documents, and you can apply online, verify your identity with video, and get your account in a few minutes.
Opening a bank account with a traditional bank in Germany
Normally, it may take a few working days to open an account in Germany depending on the bank. And each bank may require different documents. In general, most of the traditional banks in Germany require the following:
- A completed application form with your personal information
- Your passport with your German residence permit
- Proof of address registration (Meldebescheinigung)
- Proof of your employment or income like payslips
- Proof of your student status (for opening a student account)
- An initial deposit may be needed
- A SCHUFA credit rating may be needed (a credit agency that checks your credit score and history)
Many traditional banks in Germany require you to show up in their branches or use PostIdent to verify your identity, though some others like Commerzbank and Deutschebank may accept video identification.
PostIdent means that you have to visit a post branch where your identity will be verified. You will then sign a paper which will be mailed to your bank afterward. The process is free of charge and your identity should be verified in a few days.
Some traditional banks may allow you to get your identity verified by a lawyer or notary abroad, in case you are not in Germany yet. But I am not sure why someone would want to do that, especially when it is so much easier to open a bank account with a digital bank if you don’t have a German address yet. Besides, you may have trouble with the lawyer or notary abroad as your bank probably needs your document in German.
Cost of opening a bank account in Germany
If you want to open a bank account with a traditional bank in Germany, you may not always get it for free. Unless if you are a student or have a regular deposit into your bank account, you may need to pay a few Euros monthly fees. The Commerzbank free current account is an exception as it doesn’t require any regular deposit or student status.
Opening a bank account in Germany with a digital bank is usually cheaper. Many of them offer free accounts and are easy to apply. You can see the examples I mentioned before for Tomorrow, Bunq, and N26.
How to select a bank in Germany?
Most German banks offer similar services. You should consider the below factors when selecting a bank account:
If you travel a lot, you may want to have a bank account that allows free worldwide ATM withdrawal and cheap international money transfer.
You should compare different banks for their account monthly fee and ATM withdrawal fee. Using digital banks may be a cheaper option especially if you need to do international money transfer frequently.
Number of branches and ATMs
If you use a traditional bank, you should consider if it has an extensive branch network and if the branch location is convenient for you. The same applies to its ATM. For example, you can easily find a free ATM to use in Germany if your bank is from the Cash Group.
This is especially important if you do not speak German. Choose a bank that supports English language so that you don’t have to stress out when you receive a bank letter or when you need to talk with their customer services. In this case, a digital bank will be a good choice for you.
If you want to talk with someone face to face, you will need to use a traditional bank. However, digital banks may have longer service hours on the phone.
Does the bank provide online banking or a banking app? What kind of services you can have online? In general, digital banks provide very comprehensive services with their banking app.
Convenience and safety
It is more convenient to use a digital bank in Germany as it is easier and faster to open an account. Besides, many of them offer real-time push notification of your account activities. It is also safer as you can usually lock your card immediately with your banking app.
Availability to non-resident
To apply for a bank account in a traditional bank, you will need to have a German address. If you want to open your bank account already before coming to Germany, you can choose to get one from a digital bank.
Different types of bank accounts in Germany
Current account (Girokonto)
This is the account you will need in Germany. When you open a current bank account in Germany, you will get a debit card called Girocard. You can use your current account to receive your salary, pay bills, transfer money, and withdraw money from ATMs. Most traditional banks charge a monthly fee now for a current account, unless you are a student or you use your account to receive your salary.
Savings account (Sparkonto)
A savings account keeps money separate from your current account. It helps you to save money and earn interest, though the interest rate is very low now.
If you have an instant access savings account (Tagesgeldkonto), you can access your money all the time. On the other hand, a fixed deposit (Festgeldkonto) gives you a higher interest rate but you need to put a minimum deposit in there for a fixed period.
Blocked account (Sperrkonto)
International students may need this account to apply for their study visa. To apply for the visa, you may need to transfer a whole year’s living expenses to the blocked account. This is to show that you have sufficient money to live in Germany. The blocked account will only allow you to withdraw a certain amount per month, and the rest of your money will be frozen until your next withdrawal in the following month.
Apartment deposit account (Mietkautionskonto)
If you rent an apartment in Germany, you will need to pay a deposit to your landlord upfront. This deposit amounts to two or three months of your rent in most cases. Some banks offer an apartment deposit account in case you don’t have the money for your landlord. The bank pays the deposit for you and you can slowly repay it with an interest.
Securities account (Depot)
This is where your financial instruments like funds and stocks are deposited. You can open a securities account with a bank or other discount brokers if you want to invest in Germany. You can also open a free demo account for stock trading if you want to try and play around first.
Read also: Buying a House in Germany – As a Foreigner
The cash culture in Germany
When I first came to Germany, I was surprised by how much they still rely on cash. Even though a lot of big shops and supermarkets accept card payment, you will still see many German people paying with cash. And if you go to a small local shop or bistro, they may not accept card payment. Or they may accept only debit cards, but not credit cards.
Note that some supermarkets in Germany accept only card payments at the moment as part of their hygiene measures against the Coronavirus. So, this cash culture may slowly change in the future. However, you should still have some cash with you just in case.
Read also: Tax Return in Germany – Guide for Expats
ATMs in Germany
You can find ATMs (Geldautomat) at places like the banks, train stations, supermarkets, etc. In most cases, you can choose to use English at the ATMs.
Be careful not to withdraw money from an ATM that is not from your bank as the ATM fee can be very high. I did one mistake when I first came to Germany by withdrawing 20 Euros from an ATM of a different bank. Later on, I saw on my bank statement that a 6 Euros fee was charged for that one withdrawal!
If you are using one of the four major banks from the cash group, you can withdraw money for free at any cash group ATMs. Another good thing to know is that many banks let you withdraw cash for free from the cashiers in major supermarkets. This is very convenient as you don’t need to search for the ATMs and the big supermarkets are everywhere in Germany.
If you are withdrawing from a foreign ATM, you need to be careful as many banks use a very unfavorable exchange rate. Besides, you should always choose to withdraw money in local currency in a foreign country to avoid the high fee charged by the foreign bank.
Card payment in Germany
Be aware that credit card payment is not accepted everywhere in Germany. Credit card payment is actually much less common than other places like the U.S. or in Hong Kong. Fortunately, debit cards like Maestro, V Pay, and Girocard are accepted in most of the big shops and restaurants.
Money transfer in Germany
Every bank account in Germany now has an IBAN (International Bank Account Number). To do money transfer (Überweisung) online, you would need to enter the recipient’s name and also his IBAN.
When I first came to Germany in 2010, I had to enter a security code called “TAN code” for every bank transfer. These TAN codes were sent to me by mails and I had to keep the paper to do the transfer. Can you believe that? I was so shocked that the technology in Germany was so behind!
Fortunately, you don’t need those papers now anymore. There are more other ways to enter your security code now including getting your code by SMS or simply scanning a code with your banking app.
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Please be aware that this article is for information only for those who are looking to open a bank account in Germany. We will try to keep the information in this article updated regularly. In case you see any outdated information, please let us know and we will update it accordingly. Our blog accepts no liability in any case. If you need any more details or the latest information, please refer to the banks’ websites directly.
Which bank do you use in Germany? Do you have an account in a digital bank or a traditional bank? Leave a comment below and share your banking experience in Germany!