As an expat in Germany, one of the first steps in setting up your life will be to open up a German bank account, to receive your salary, rent an apartment, transfer money abroad, or take out health insurance.
Banks in Germany
Before you open your bank account, you might want to do some research on which bank best suits your needs. In a country that has more banks per head than anywhere in the developed world, you have plenty of choice.
While you are deciding where to do your banking in Germany, it is wise to take into account that most banks in Germany charge their account holders a yearly fee; many banks will also charge you for withdrawing cash from an ATM belonging to a different bank.
Biggest banks in Germany
Banks in Germany fall into three main categories:
Private banks are nationwide banks with branch networks. Although they offer everyday banking services, they also have a stronger focus on wealth management, real estate and investment banking.
Direct & Mobile banks
Plenty of online-only banks are now arriving in Germany, offering lower fees and telephone-based customer service. It is sometimes more difficult to withdraw cash if you are with an online-only bank unless they have an arrangement with a high street bank.
Be sure to check all the details of the accounts offered to make sure they suit your needs and requirements. Although the situation is gradually improving, few German banks (with the exception of Deutsche Bank, Penta and N26) will provide detailed information in English.
Public savings banks and cooperative banking associations
These are local banks with a strong focus on small and medium-sized businesses and local investment. Although the branding for these banks is the same nationwide, each regional bank operates as its own separate entity. They usually have the most number of physical branches, especially in more rural areas.
How to open a German bank account
To open a private current account (Girokonto) in Germany you will need to make an appointment online or visit your local branch with all of your paperwork. It is also becoming increasingly popular to open your German bank account entirely online, by filling out the relevant form on the bank’s website and then confirming your identity either by video chat or Postident.
Documents for a German bank account
Whether you choose to open your account online or in branch, you will need to provide the following documents:
- Valid identification such as a passport or identity card (not a driving licence)
- Certificate of registration
- Visa or residence permit (if applicable)
Once your identity has been confirmed and all the details have been processed, you just need to wait until your account is set up and your new debit card (Girocard) and PIN are sent to you in the post.
Opening a blocked bank account in Germany
If you are from outside the EU and you have no source of income in Germany, you might need to prove your financial subsistence with a blocked bank account, a special type of account that limits your monthly withdrawals. The process for opening a blocked bank account (Sperrkonto) in Germany is slightly different to opening a regular bank account.
Online banking in Germany
Most banks in Germany can be expected to provide some sort of internet banking for you to conduct your financial affairs online. Be aware that sometimes you will have to specially request online banking (Online-Banking) when opening your account. Your login details will usually be posted separately to your home address.
Most banks offer internet services only in German. If you are unsure, you can always ask for a tutorial from the bank staff member when you open your account. (Or you can brush up on your German!)
What is a TAN (Transaction Authentication Number)?
In order to make internet banking more secure, many German banks also use TANs (transaction authentication numbers). These single-use passwords are required to log in to online banking or authorise online transactions. Traditionally, German banks used to print these out 50 at a time for customers, but it is becoming increasingly common to have a TAN sent as an SMS to your mobile phone or generated by a Smartphone App.
What is Giropay / Paydirekt?
Giropay and Paydirekt are two schemes offered by German banks that allow you to pay online using your debit card. Once registered, you can use a username and password or PIN to securely pay for goods.
Banking for businesses in Germany
If you are planning to start up your own business in Germany you might also need to open a German business bank account (Geschäftskonto). Bunq, Penta and various other banks in Germany offer accounts specifically designed for entrepreneurs.
The process for opening a business account is very similar to opening a private account. As well as documents confirming your identity and address, you will also need all of the details concerning your business, such as your Handelsregisternummer and a record of your turnover. Most banks will be able to offer different types of business accounts, depending on the size of your company. If you are a freelancer, you may not need to open a business account.
What is the SEPA?
SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) is an initiative of the European Union that came into effect on February 1, 2014. It affects bank transfers of euros, seeking to improve the efficiency of cross-border payments. Using your IBAN, you can make or receive payments to any account located in the SEPA.
What is my IBAN?
IBAN stands for International Bank Account Number. It is a unique number that identifies your country, bank and account number in a way that can be understood by financial institutions worldwide. Your IBAN will be included on any correspondence you receive from your German bank, and also sometimes on the front of your debit card.
Can I open an offshore account with a German bank?
Offshore banking is usually only offered by the major German banks, such as Commerzbank or Deutsche Bank.