We’ve been receiving lots of requests lately for help opening a bank account in Germany. Opening a bank account is one of the first things to do when getting established.
You might ask why you need to go to the hassle of opening yet another account when you probably have at least one working account in your home country. If you are drawing a monthly salary, billing local clients, paying rent or utility bills (these are usually paid by direct debit or Lastschrift from an Inland or local account only) or just want to withdraw money without being hit by transaction fees every single time, a local account is a good idea.
Choosing a bank
First you need to decide what’s important to you. In addition to the usual things to consider when opening a bank account, perhaps you’d prefer a bank which has online banking and telephone support available in English such as the Sparkassse, Deutsche Bank, Berliner Bank and Commerzbank. Given that many banks charge to use other banks’ ATMs (Geldautomaten), you might decide that a bank with lots of their own ATMs (eg: the Sparkasse or one of the CashGroup banks) is best for you since cash is king in Germany.
The usual type of account is a checking account, known as a Privatkunden Girokonto or just Girokonto. This will give you a debit card (called an EC-Karte) and the ability to access your money online or from ATMs. Credit cards are not used often for day-to-day transactions. It’s very rare to be able to pay by credit card at a restaurant or even a large whitegoods or furniture store!
If you’re going to be travelling a lot within Germany or within Europe, check the fees on foreign withdrawals and transactions. Some banks offer a companion card (often a Visa or Mastercard) as a Reisepaket or Premiumkonto. The only catch here is that credit cards aren’t handed out as easily as in some other countries – you usually need at least 6 months banking history with your new German bank and a positive SCHUFA rating before applying for a credit card / overdraft.
Online-only banks are also available, although most don’t offer banking in English at the moment. Some recent new online-only players like Number26 are aimed at expats, offering all services in English. Settle in Berlin provides a terrific comparison of different account types in English.
Opening an account
Once you’ve completed your Anmeldung (proof of residency), you can open a German bank account, either online or in person. You’ll need your passport, Anmeldebestätigung and any other documentation requested in the application, whichever way you decide to proceed.
Many banks have online sections for a Privatekunden Girokonto or Kontoeröffnung. Your online application then needs to be printed out and signed and your identity verified at your nearest post office using Postident. The application is then posted and reviewed. You’ll receive a letter several days later (times may vary!) advising whether your application was successful or not. Deutsche Post has also recently introduced verification via video chat or smartphone – and their portal is also in English! https://www.deutschepost.de/en/p/postident.html.
To open an account in person, some banks need an appointment, some do not. From personal experience, opening an account takes about an hour.
You can use Red Tape Translation’s Telephone Time for help filling out online bank application and the Postident forms, wherever you are in Germany. Of course, any remaining time can be kept in reserve for future help over the phone!
You can also book an interpreter to help you open an account in person. If you book an interpreter for this appointment, we can call ahead for you to see whether an appointment is needed for your bank of choice and make this on your behalf.
Then let the Euros roll in!