Setting up a bank account in Germany is a straightforward affair – once you know what you are looking for. And like any task in Germany, if you have the paperwork in order.
Grab your papers and a stash of cash
You will need a passport or a personal ID, and confirmation of registration (Meldebescheinigung) from the Bürgeramt to open a bank account in Germany. In most cases you’ll be opening a checking account, or a Girokonto.
You will likely be charged a monthly fee for this bank account unless you are a student, in which case bring along your student ID. Many banks, like Sparkasse, offer a free student account or waive monthly fees.
It is often mandatory to make an initial deposit once the account is opened, but the amount varies across institutions.
ATMS and EC cards
When you open a Girokonto, you normally receive a debit card, or as the Germans call them, an EC-, Giro- or Maestro card.
Banks commonly charge fees if you withdraw cash from an ATM in a different banking network. For example, if I have a Sparkasse account and withdraw money from a Deutsche Bank ATM, I am charged between three and five euros.
However: Many internet banks, like N26, Ing Biba or DKB, offer free EC cards, and allow withdrawal from any ATM without fees.
Pro tip: If you opted for a legacy bank and are unable to locate an ATM in your bank’s network, head to a grocery store, like Rewe. There you can withdraw cash for free.
IBAN and BIC: together forever, like bratwurst and sauerkraut
I was unfamiliar with IBAN and BIC numbers when I first came to Germany. To my surprise, purchases that I would use a debit card for, like gym memberships, flight or train tickets, prefer withdrawing money directly from your account. Cue IBAN and BIC, your two banking buddies.
The IBAN, or International Bank Account Number, might seem like a nonsensical series of numbers but these numbers identify the country the account belongs to, the account holder’s bank and the actual account number.
IBAN numbers are common across all EU member states and a few other countries, like Norway, Switzerland, Hungary and Liechtenstein.
An IBAN number in Germany will start out with DE (because, well, Germany) and is then followed by no more than 34 characters.
The BIC, or Bank Identifier Code, also known as a SWIFT code, is a unique series of numbers and letters that identifies a particular bank and is necessary for sending money internationally.
Keep these numbers handy. Even if you are not sending money internationally, you are often asked to provide both numbers.
What are your banking options?
There are quite a few, but Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, Postbank and Sparkasse are brick-and-mortar banks commonly found throughout all of Germany. Plus, there are various online banking options. An important decision you will need to make on your oh-so-exciting banking journey is whether you want an online bank or a traditional brick-and-mortar institution.
The application processes vary slightly, but ultimately the documentation you need to move forward is the same.
If you struggle with German, you can easily open an internet bank account without leaving your home. Popular online banks, like DKB, N26 and Comdirect, offer instructions in English. For more details check out ToyTownGermany’s Wiki: “Banking in Germany.”
Questions to consider when choosing a bank
- Is the service you receive coming for a fair price? Is an EC card included?
- Is the bank easily accessible for in-person deposits or problems?
If you choose to trust your money to a brick-and-mortar bank know that these institutions rarely implement changes without a signature, either in-person or via mail.
For example, I once forgot my password for logging onto the online banking portal. I called up my bank and despite verifying my identity with private information, like birth date, passport number and place of birth, they would not reset the password until I signed and mailed back a document giving them approval. Cumbersome, yes, but I was still able to log into my account the next day. They sent the form out immediately.
- Does the bank charge you for ATM withdrawals? Do they have a large ATM network for convenient withdrawals?
- Do you pay for online account access?
- Are you charged if you over withdraw?
- Will you need a loan? If so, what are the bank’s loan rates?
- What does a wire transfer cost?
International wire transfer charges are nearly unavoidable and incredibly pricey. Many internationals swear by TransferWise, claiming it offers the lowest price. I have not tried it personally.