3.3 Opening a bank account

There are several banks in Germany. To decide which one to choose, you should consider the following aspects:

  • In General: Gather the full set of information about the available banking services beforehand.
  • How good is your German? Check if there is a customer support in English or in your language.
  • What are the maintenance and withdrawal fees? Since some ATMs can charge as much as 5€, you should also check this in advance.
  • How good is the network of branches and ATMs? In Germany, it is not yet possible to pay for all expenses by card. Therefore, it is important to ensure easy access to cash as well.
  • Which banking services are (also) offered online?

Types of German banks[]

Sparkassen & Volksbanken are local banks that focus primarily on smaller businesses and long-term customers. Aiming towards regional economic development, these banks have large branch networks which can be found into city suburbs as well as rural areas.

The major banks belonging to this category are Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsBank, and Postbank. What these banks have in common is that they are all part of the Cash Group, meaning ATM withdrawals are free if you bank with them and use their ATMs. Basically, these major banks cooperate as the Cash Group and allow free withdrawals from one another’s ATMs. Other ATMs may charge you as much as 5€ per withdrawal.

Online and mobile banks are also becoming pretty common in Germany by the day. They include the likes of DKB Cash, 1822direkt, N26, O2 Banking, and Santander, among others.

The good thing about online banking is that they are usually cheaper than traditional banks, and more convenient with terms of customer service. In order to withdraw cash from these types of banks, the online bank usually teams up with a traditional bank, so customers can use their cash machines.

Additionally, some online banks issue MasterCard or Visa, which in turn allow individuals to use any cash machine that has the MasterCard or Visa logo.

Types of German bank accounts[]

The two main types of bank accounts in Germany are:

This is a current account, which is the standard type of bank account in Germany, used to receive pay-checks as well as pay bills. German banks tend to offer both, general current accounts as well as specialized accounts (for students and youth).

This is a savings account, which can be opened at the same time you open a Girokonto, and you can use it to save money and earn interest. This type of account can be opened by both, German residents as well as non-residents.

Documents required for opening a bank account[]

  • correctly filled in application form (normally you get or can download this from the bank)
  • your valid passport and current German residence permit
  • proof of registration/address
  • initial deposit (the minimum depends on the bank of your choice)
  • proof of income/employment (some, not all, banks require it)
  • proof that you are a student (if you’re opening a student account)
  • optional (depending on the chosen bank): SCHUFA credit rating

Money transfer procedures in Germany[]

Periodical payment transfers in Germany are usually fulfilled in one of the following three ways (often, but not always, you have a free choice):

This is the recommended option for monthly payments. You accept that the organisations can automatically debit monthly payments from your bank account. In the case of wrong transfers, you have the option to cancel it.

A direct debit can only be made if there is enough money on your bank account!

If you live in a dorm run by the Studentenwerk, this is the only accepted payment procedure.

With a standing order, the other party does not "pull" the money as with a direct debit, but the money is automatically transferred from your own account. For this purpose, a periodic date is set on which the standing order is to be executed.

Also in this case, make sure you have enough money in your account!

A standing order can be cancelled at any time.

Of course, a transaction can also be carried out manually. This is the common way when bills are to be cleared with one-off payments or varying amounts.

However, this type is not recommended for regular payments. You can easily forget to transfer money and may have to pay overdue fines.