Do you need to open a bank account in Germany? If you are not sure whether you really need it, here is some information to help you decide.
From a purely legal point of view, the answer is no, you are not obliged to open a bank account in Germany.
Realistically, however, it’s not that easy to manage daily life without a bank account in German society.
There are several reasons why you should consider opening one. Foreign bank accounts, especially in currencies other than the Euro, often charge high exchange rates and transaction fees. Also, your bank and credit cards from home may not be accepted everywhere.
Finally, a German bank account is the easiest and most accepted option if you don’t need to spend money but to receive money.
Salary payments are only made in non-cash form these days. Your health insurance, car insurance, and your landlord will also ask for your German bank account. Anyone who wants to transfer money or shop online needs a bank account as well.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult to open a bank account in Germany. Below you will find everything you need to know about the process.
What Do I Need to Open a Bank Account In Germany?
In principle, each bank decides individually what requirements are in place when opening a bank account. Each bank has its own specific regulations, which you can find in the General Terms and Conditions ().
In order to successfully open a bank account in Germany, you must have full legal capacity, or be of age (in Germany, that’s 18 years). To open a bank account for a minor, on the other hand, you need the written consent of a parent or guardian.
In addition, you must have current proof of residence, as well as a national ID card or a passport to verify your identity. Beware that a driver’s license or a social security card won’t do – German banks will require official national identification. If you come from a non-EU country, you also need a work permit or visa.
Any additional documents (for example birth certificates, business documents, permits, etc.) must be legally recognized in Germany. Documents issued abroad must be therefore authenticated either by apostille or legalization, depending on the country of issue.
Direct banks are often much more accommodating when it comes to the requirements. If you open your checking account at a direct bank, you also save yourself a trip to the bank and a lot of time. Here, you simply fill out the application online.
There are two ways of identifying yourself when opening a bank account with a direct bank:
- Post-Ident: Identification takes place at a post office branch, where you present your ID to a clerk, who confirms your identity.
- Video-Ident: Identification via the Internet or via the bank app, where you can quickly, conveniently and securely legitimize yourself via video chat using facial recognition software.
Depending on the target group, most banks offer checking accounts to private customers and business accounts to freelancers and self-employed persons. This helps separate business transactions from private ones and minimizes the risk of losing track of your finances. In this way, the bookkeeping should be easier and more accurate vis-à-vis the tax authorities, too.
For foreign citizens without residence, opening a business bank account in Germany is sometimes very difficult, possible only in rare cases, and with restricted funcionality.
A blocked account is a special bank account that allows you to withdraw only a certain amount per month. This type of account is required for visa applicants, job seekers, and students and serves as proof that you have enough money to support yourself in Germany. The most popular German banks that offer blocked accounts are:
Opening a Bank Account in Germany (Step-by-Step)
- Research and choose the bank you want to open an account with
- Make an appointment with them at the branch (unless it’s an online bank)
- You must be legally capable or of full legal age (18 years)
- Bring proof of identity (ID card or passport)
- Present a current registration certificate (from the )
- Sign the contract, thus accepting the bank terms and conditions
- Make an initial deposit (amount depends on the bank)
- The bank conducts a financial check (SCHUFA query, see below)
- If the check is positive and all your documents are in order, your bank will issue your account documents.
When choosing your bank,consider factors such as availability of ATMs, account management fees, free online banking, affordable debit and credit cards, modern communication channels such as live chats, and so on.
SCHUFA is the largest provider of information on the creditworthiness of private individuals in Germany. Almost every person living in Germany has a SCHUFA record. Banks and companies can request a Schufa report to assess whether you can reliably meet their payment requests in the future.
You can request the form for your SCHUFA information either online or by telephone, and submit it back online or by mail. Within a few days, you will receive the completed SCHUFA report by mail.
If you want a credit card or an overdraft facility in addition to your checking account, you should ideally also bring proof of income, for example:
- Monthly proof of income
- Employment contract with proof of salary
- Bank statements with cash receipts
Remember to also bring all the necessary apostilles and certified copies of your documents, if you are not a resident of the EU.
Once you have opened your checking account, usually a few days will pass, regardless of whether you opened your account at a branch or a direct bank. Within a week or so, you will receive three to five separate letters from your bank, including:
- Basic account information (account number, scope of services)
- numbers or another identification procedure ( or )
- Bank card(s)
- Credit card(s), if applicable
- PIN for the cards
Once you have received your bank account documents, you will still have to activate some of them. This is especially true if you receive a credit card.
How Much Does It Cost to Have a Bank Account in Germany?
Account fees vary greatly among banks in Germany, with anything from 0€ to 10€ a month, particularly depending on the amount you regularly deposit to your account. Students and young people will often pay no monthly fees until they reach a certain age (usually 25 or 27 years). Make sure to ask for special conditions that may apply to you, and what additional documents you need.
As for subsequent fees, at least the following services should be free of charge:
- online banking
- money transaction
- cashless payments with your debit card
- cash withdrawals at the bank’s own ATMs
Credit card fees are regulated separately.
Some banks charge fees for withdrawing cash from a third-party ATM, which can be very expensive. Always pay attention to the screen, because banks must always inform you about possible fees before you confirm your withdrawal.
Do Banks Speak English in Germany?
Some classic German banks offer at least basic online banking in English, but everything else is in German, including customer documents.
If you go to your local branch, you will usually find someone who speaks English and can advise you. Customer service online or on the phone is sometimes available in English, but don’t rely on it.
Don’t despair if this is the case, just try to bring a trusted German-speaking friend with you next time.
Which German Banks Are Best for Expats?
Obviously, online banks are the best choice here, because they are modern and flexible, usually have websites in English and other languages, and handle all customer transactions online and via apps.
One disadvantage, of course, is that they do not have offices or their own ATMs, so it is not possible to deposit cash into your account at a counter.
Some of the most well-known and widely used German banks for ex-pats are:
With N26 you can manage your bank account, spend money or put it aside – in real-time. Everything is 100% mobile and in one app. It only takes a few minutes to open your account and you start immediately start making mobile payments.
bunq operates throughout the EU and you can get a bank account in just 5 minutes for as little as €2.99 per month. All plans are also available for business accounts. bunq offers 24/7 online support and places a high emphasis on sustainability – you can choose what projects your money is invested in.
Revolut lets you open a free bank account right from your phone in minutes and start transferring money right away. You can track your money in one place with smart budgeting and monitor your daily spending. Payments are hassle-free in over 30 countries, and you can also split and settle bills in seconds.
With Monese’s fast, secure and hassle-free sign-up process, opening an account is instant and easy. Another benefit is that there is no need for additional documents such as utility bills, credit checks, or proof of address that traditional banks require – you only need personal identification.
Finally, Wise (previously TransferWise) advertises itself as the 4x cheaper international account. You can send money and use your Wise card abroad in over 200 countries, at the real exchange rate, and with no hidden fees. Digital services include spending with Apple and Google Pay, and receiving payments in 10 currencies on separate accounts with a UK account number, Euro IBAN, US bank code, and more.
If these online banks do not support your passport, it’s best to go in person to Berliner Sparkasse, Commerzbank, and Deutsche Bank, as they are usually more flexible.
Germany can be a bureaucratic hell, no doubt about it. However, opening a bank account in Germany can also be easy as pie, especially with the digitalization and internationalization of banking services nowadays.
Funnily enough, despite their strong financial system, Germans have a strange distrust of electronic means of payment. This means that on most occasions you have to carry cash to pay for something.
Bars, restaurants, many stores, or doctors’ offices often expect you to pay in cash.
For this reason, there are numerous ATMs throughout the city from various banking institutions, and the fees for withdrawing cash are generally low.
Wherever you can pay by card, this is indicated by a symbol that says EC – for Electronic Cash – which is why your debit card is also called an “EC card”. Maestro, Visa, and Mastercard cards are often accepted in the same places where EC payments are possible.