Banking in Germany

Opening a bank account online

One of the first questions new arrivals often ask is "how do I open a bank account in Germany?".

Well, now with online banking the answer couldn't be any easier. Many banks offer the possibility to open current accounts (Girokonto), Instant access savings accounts (Tagesgeldkonto), limited access savings accounts (Sparbuch), securities accounts (depot) etc. without even going into the branch (although you will have to go to the Post office for an ID check). Most banks offer accounts with differing levels of service and a differing monthly charge ranging from €0 per month (Comdirect, Commerzbank, Postbank, Hypovereinsbank, DKB) to about €8. Accounts without a monthly fee will include free internet banking EC-cards but will charge for any transactions made in the branch. EC-cards (Debits card) are issued as part of the package. Some banks offer Visa Debit cards as well for free. Most banks charge extra for Credit cards. The most widely accepted are MasterCard and Visa. American Express is not so popular in Germany but still has its advantages. Overdrafts are usually only granted after a 6-month history with the bank (or another German bank) and a positive SCHUFA rating. They will usually grant you between 2 and 3 times your usual net salary.

The advantage of filling out the forms online is that you don't have deal with grumpy bank staff. The disadvantage is that you may not be able to navigate the websites and find the type of account that best suits you if your German is limited.

Choosing the right bank

The only question you really have to answer is "which bank?"

The answer to this depends entirely on your situation and needs. If you require simple online banking and access to cash machines (Geldautomaten) then you have a wide choice. Cash machines in Germany are grouped into two large networks than allow free withdrawls within their own network. Some smaller banks and foreign owned banks also offer free withdrawles from any cash machine. Your location might play an important role. Customers in smaller towns and villages will tend to be limited to their local Sparkasse. Some banks offer services which many ex-pats find interesting (e.g. Targobank and Commerzbank offer online banking in English)

Some banks ( Comdirect and Deutsche Kredit Bank DKB are some) offer free access to all cash machines worldwide through a Visa card as an alternative to Cashpool/Cashgroup mentioned below. Remember to read the terms and conditions for each account to find out how the costs of this card are hidden or if it truly is free.

Cashgroup.

Cashgroup comprises of the big national banks and their subsidiaries along with Deutsche Post's Post bank. Cash machines are widely available in all larger towns and cities throughout the country. Cash machines in smaller towns and villages are often limited to Post Bank and Hypovereinsbank (predominantly Bavaria).

Cashpool.

Cashpool comprises a mix of foreign owned banks and smaller, local banks.

Sparkassen

Each city, town and/or local municipality has a state-owned bank called a "Sparkasse". These banks are the bank of choice for those who enjoy a more personal relationship with their bank. The banks usually have strong relationships with local businesses and offer more branches, especially in smaller towns and villages. However, many people find these banks to be far too beaurocratic and inflexible, especially when it comes to international transactions. Every local Sparkasse is a member of the Sparkassenverbund, so customers can withdraw money without charge in any Sparkasse cash machine in the country.

Step By Step Guide on opening a bank account online

The process of opening a bank account "online" is roughly the same at all banks. Detailed instruction to fill the forms (English translation of forms) for particular banks is provided below in the recommendation section.

Step 1: Go the relevant website of the bank and find the appropriate form for a Privatekunden Girokonto.

Step 2:Fill out the form. You will able to select from a few options. If you wish to use this account for your wages/salary and would like an overdraft, you have to select this option. (Overdrafts are normally given after 6-months credit history and with a positive SCHUFA rating and you usually get 2 to 3 times your usual monthly salary) The options for Visa-card with PIN, securities deposit account and instant access savings accounts are already selected. If you do not wish to have one of these, you have to de-select the option.

Step 3: Check the completed form and print it off.

Step 4:Follow the instructions and take the application forms together with the "Postident" form and take them along with your passport or identity card (as a new arrival it may be necessary to also provide a copy of your residential registration, "Anmeldebescheinigung") to any post office (Deutsche Post). Deutsche Post will confirm your identity (necessary to comply to EU laws on money laundering) and sent this confirmation along with your account application to the bank in question. You will then be informed a few days later whether you application has been succesful.

Opening a bank account in person

If you prefer the personal touch and perhaps require some advice before opening an account you can drop into any branch, though some banks require you to make an appointment first, so it is best to check at the branch first.

Banks (and branches) vary in the paperwork they require from you but as you can see from the online application, the minimum is your identity card or passport and "Anmeldebescheinigung". Some banks also require you to provide proof of earnings, so it isn't a bad idea to bring along your employment contract stating your earnings. Some banks even require a rental contract to proove your address, though this is seldom. If you wish for an overdraft and credit cards you have to prove a credit history in Germany, so as a new arrival, this may not be possible for the first 6 months. It is probably a good idea to maintain your account and credit cards in your home country at least for the first 6 months (or you entire stay if you plan on returning)

Recommendations for Online Banks

DKB : Highly recommended in the forum. Free bank account with free VISA card and free worldwide withdrawals. English instructions

COMDIRECT : Free Bank account with a free VISA card. Also gives €150 as joining bonus (up to 11.Nov.14). English instructions

Recommendations for Banks with Brick-and-mortar Branches

COMMERZBANK : Free account for monthly deposit of €1200. Currently (till 2 Oct 2014), when opening an account online during the weekends, you can get a joining bonus of €100 + 8,500 Miles and More points for opening a bank account. English instructions

POSTBANK : Free account for monthly deposit of € 1000. Keep a lookout for HappyHour offers. Currently (up to 12 Nov 2014), you can get a Nokia Lumina 630 as a joining bonus for opening a bank account. English instructions

Bank Comparisons Websites

Banks-Germany.com provides English information about different banks in Germany with instruction on how to open a bank account.

Aspekt-online offers comparison of bank and insurance products in German.

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