Expats living, studying or working in Germany must get familiar with the German banking system from anytime they move in - no matter whether they need to open a bank account to receive their salary or simply want to transfer money to and from abroad.
One of the initial steps you should do as soon as you move into Germany is to open your bank account. In the modern world, you need a bank account for almost anything; like receiving your salary, paying your rent, etc.
You’ll see several banks in Germany when you start researching about it. From the ones that were found 100 years ago to the new generation online only banks like N26.
One of the key facts to think about while choosing the right one for you is that most banks in Germany have an annual fee for maintaining your account. Also, almost every bank would charge you for withdrawing money from an ATM owned by a non partner bank.
The new generation banking system in Germany
Like any other countries in the world, Germany also has some great and strong new generation banks. N26, Wise, and Vivid are the front liners in the row. They also offer lower fees and telephone-based customer service.
N26 is a digital bank that operates entirely online and provides its customers with a range of financial services, including bank accounts, debit cards, and insurance. The company was founded in 2013 and is headquartered in Berlin, Germany. N26 aims to offer a more streamlined and convenient banking experience through its mobile app, which allows users to manage their finances, make payments, and track their expenses in real-time.
N26 also emphasizes security, with features such as biometric authentication and the ability to lock and unlock your card through the app. The company has grown rapidly in recent years and now serves millions of customers across Europe and the United States.
Wise - formally TransferWise
In 2011, Wise launched with the goal of making international money transfers cheap, fair, and simple. Globally, millions of people and businesses use their multi-currency account to manage their money.
Wise offers a multi-currency bank account which you can use as your everyday bank account to receive salary, pay rent, make online shopping, etc.
With a Wise account, you get a physical debit card for free as well as unlimited virtual debit cards that you can use to pay online and use them as virtual debit cards in Apple Wallet and Google Pay, or even withdraw money at an ATM with NFC capabilities.
It is possible to add money to your account in 19 currencies. These include AUD, BGN, CAD, CHF, CZK, DKK, EUR, GBP, HRK, HUF, JPY, NOK, NZD, PLN, RON, SEK, SGD, TRY and USD.
The real exchange rate is always used when you convert money between any of the 50+ currencies in your account.
You can also receive money in 11 currencies using your account details. A plus is that there are no fees associated with opening or maintaining an account.
Just like Wise, Revolut too won’t ask you to visit a branch or bury you in paperwork. Opening an account in Revolut takes just less than a few minutes, and you can do everything straight from your phone.
With Revolut, you can send and receive money in 30+ currencies with no hidden fees. Plus, transfers are almost always instant and free between Revolut friends anywhere in the world!
Additionally, Revolut offers to fix you up with discounts and cashback offers from your favourite brands, so you can save when you spend. You just need to use your Revolut card when you shop.
Revolut also offers splitting of bills with anyone, even if they’re not on Revolut. You just need to enter the numbers and Revolut will do the math. You can split bills from restaurant to rent.
PS : All of the above new generation banks offer English support and their apps are available in English as well. Account opening and processes are also rather simple compared to the traditional banks.
However, when it comes to loans and other services, the traditional banks still standout!
Make sure you check the details of the services offered that suit your requirements before fixing one.
Traditional German Banking system in Germany
Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Postbank, and Targobank are one of the major and oldest private banks in Germany. They operate nationally with their wide and vast branches. By opening an account with them, you can also avail their non-banking services like real estate and investment banking too.
PS : While the banks are still developing, most of them are still running the old style banking and English support cannot be expected always. Especially when it comes to customer care and product detailing.
Banks like Sparkasse and Volksbank are local banks focused on local investments and small and medium-sized businesses. Their advertisements and branding might give you an image that they are a single organization. However, each regional bank operates as a separate entity. One of the major benefits for you would be the availability of branches even in the rural areas!
Opening the bank account (traditional)
In general, the process of opening a private current account / Girokonto in any of these banks is similar.
You start with getting an appointment either online or by calling the branch nearest to you. You then visit the branch and meet your point of contact. They’ll then help you fill out the forms and get your signature and other supporting documents (check below). You should get a notification by mail or post in the next couple of days.
Many of the traditional banks now offer the options to fill the application form online. Once done, you’ll get a form which you have to take out to your nearest post office / DHL center along with the supporting documents to verify your identity (Postident). Once done, you’ll get a notification by mail or post in the next couple of days.
Nowadays, you also get the possibility of confirming your identity either by a video chat.
Opening the bank account (new gen)
Simply head over to the Appstore or Playstore. Download the app of the bank of your choice. Sign up or create a new account. Enter the details and upload your ID card. mostly, the your ID verification will be done during the sign up process by a video call or a software algorithm.
Thats it! you have your German bank account ready!
While different banks ask you to provide different documents, some of the common ones are
Passport or photo identity card (not a driving license)
Certificate of registration
Visa or residence permit
Some banks require you to maintain a minimum balance. Therefore, you might have to submit your pay slips or an employment contract.
If your bank has a minimum income requirement you may also have to provide proof of income with pay slips or an employment contract.
While most of the banks offer online banking by default and share the required details as soon as your account is created, you might need to contact their customer care in some rare cases.
As you might have read already above, most traditional banks do not offer internet banking services in English. Be sure to check this information on the bank's website or ask the staff when you visit the branch for account opening.
Few terms to help you with banking in Germany.
Giropay is an Internet payment System in Germany, based on online banking. This payment method allows customers to buy securely on the Internet using direct online transfers from their bank account.
Girocard is an interbank network and debit card service connecting virtually all German ATMs and banks. It is based on standards and agreements developed by the German Banking Industry Committee
SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) is an initiative of the European Union. It exists to check and improve the bank transfers of euros of cross-border payments. Using your IBAN, you can pay or receive money to any account located in the SEPA.
International Bank Account Number - IBAN is a unique number that identifies your country and bank and account number in a way that can be understood by financial institutions worldwide. Your IBAN will be included on any correspondence you receive from your German bank. You can also find it in your bank card.