If you’re planning to study or work in Germany, or even just spend some time travelling there, a bank account can be very useful. It isn’t essential, but you’ll soon find that life is much easier with a German girokonto (current account).
Opening a bank account in Germany used to be quite complicated for many newcomers, but thankfully that’s not the case anymore. With just a few documents, you can open an account and start sending and receiving payments.
So, whether you’re planning to live, work, travel or study in Germany, here’s how to go about opening an account.
One of the most important documents you’ll need to open a German bank account is your passport, or another form of valid photo ID. You’ll also need¹:
- A valid visa or residence permit
- Proof of your address
- Your completed application form
- Proof of your student status, if you’re applying for a student account.
Some banks may also ask for proof of income or employment, just like some UK banks do when you apply for a current account. They may also ask for your SCHUFA credit rating.
Lastly, you may need proof of registration, also known as an Anmeldebestätigung or a Meldebescheinigung document. We’ll look at what this is in the next section.
Proof of registration used to be one of the most complicated parts of opening a bank account in Germany. Expats and students moving to Germany found that they needed a bank account to rent an apartment, but they needed an address in order to get a Anmeldung registration document – which they needed to open the bank account in the first place².
For clarity, the Anmeldung document is a registration certificate which proves you live at a certain address. A Meldebescheinigung is a different document, which proves you still live at the same address. You only get the Anmeldung once, whereas you can request a new Meldebescheinigung any time.
You can get the documentation you need by applying at your local Bürgeramt (citizen’s office)³.
The good news is that there are now some banks that will let you open a bank account without this registration document.
To avoid getting stuck in the Catch-22 of Anmeldung documents, addresses and bank accounts, look for a bank that has accounts available for non-residents.
Many banks in Germany let you open an account without a proof of registration document. These include N26⁴ and some other mobile banks, which let you sign up without a German address⁵ (although this may change now that the UK has left the EU).
Other banks such as Comdirect, ING and Deutsche Bank⁶ (through its student account) also offer accounts for non-residents without the need for an Anmeldung.
If you don’t have a proof of registration yet and you need a bank account urgently, check out the Borderless account by TransferWise.
Open a free multi-currency account and you can start sending and receiving money internationally. You’ll only pay tiny fees and always get the real exchange rate on every transaction.
Better still, there’s absolutely no need for a proof of registration document. This means you get to skip all the bureaucracy, form-filling and waiting around, as with a simple ID verification your TransferWise account can be open and ready to use.
The process for opening a bank account if you’re studying in Germany is much the same as for travellers and expats.
Ideally, you should look for banks which offer dedicated student accounts⁷ – for example, Deutsche Bank’s Young Account or HypoVereinsbank’s starter account for students, apprentices and young people. These will often offer fee-free banking, along with other student-friendly perks and features.
To apply for one of these student accounts, you’ll need valid ID and proof of your student status.
The banking sector in Germany is known for being well-organised and efficient, so you should find the process of opening an account relatively quick and easy.
But watch out for banks that aren’t too hot on providing services, support and information for non-German speakers, as this can make applying and everyday banking difficult.
The different types of bank accounts available include Girokonto (current accounts), Sparkonto (savings account), non-resident accounts and digital or mobile-only accounts.
There are many banks to choose from but the most popular ones are:
One of the biggest international banks in the world, and one of Germany’s most famous, Deutsche Bank offers a choice of Girokonto. These include its standard Active Account and BestKonto premium account, which comes with a MasterCard Gold credit card among other perks. There’s also the Young Account for students.
Deutsche Bank offers a huge range of services and accounts for corporate customers, along with great mobile, online and app banking tools. One major drawback though is that its website is in German, which could make everyday banking tricky.
Commerzbank has a choice of current accounts to suit all kinds of customers. These include its popular free, basic current account, along with an extra ‘Klassik’ account for more flexibility (but a few more fees). There’s also a Premium account and a StartKonto for students and young people aged between 18 and 30.
Commerzbank is a great choice for non-German speakers, as it has a dedicated English website.
Part of one of the leading banking groups in Europe, HypoVereinsbank offers a range of girokonto accounts. These include HVB StartKonto, a free account for under 26s, the online-only HVB AktivKonto (with 1 year free of charge for new customers) and HVB PlusKonto with credit card and other benefits. There’s also a premium HVB Exclusive Account and a choice of options for businesses and corporate customers.
Like Deutsche Bank though, HypoVereinsbank’s website is in German, which isn’t ideal.
Postbank has a low-fee online-only current account, along with Postbank Giro Plus and Extra Plus accounts offering an increasing level of features and benefits. If you’re under 22, you can open a Postbank Das junge Konto account for free – this is a good option for undergraduate students.
Unfortunately though, Postbank’s website is in German only.
We’ve already mentioned N26 as a good mobile bank for non-German residents, but you should also check out other alternatives such as TransferWise, which offers free and simple signup, so you can get going right away.
You could also see if your existing bank here in the UK has branches in Germany.
Many bank accounts in Germany charge a monthly service fee, which can range from just €1.90⁸ (for Postbank’s online-only account) to around €14.90⁹ a month for a premium account (such as HVB’s Exclusive Account).
But unless you need lots of bells and whistles – or you’re having trouble getting accepted without an Anmeldung document - there’s no real need to pay for a bank account.
There are lots of free basic accounts out there, including mobile-only banks which let you manage your money on the move. If you only need a simple account to receive your monthly salary and pay a few bills, one of these accounts should fit the bill.
However, you’ll need to watch out for additional fees and hidden charges with free bank accounts. These can apply to certain types of transactions. For example, for ATM withdrawals – which we’ll look at in the next section.
International transactions can be particularly expensive. This means that if you want to send money from your bank account to a friend in another country, you could be charged a percentage of the amount or a hefty flat fee.
It’s always worth checking the small print on international payments if you often need to send money abroad, as this can cost you a small fortune over time. Through your bank is almost certainly not the cheapest way to do it.
You may also be charged a fee for a debit or credit card. This is quite different to the UK, where a card is usually issued free of charge with the bank account. Credit cards in particular can cost around €30 a year for a basic card or up to €90 for a premium one¹⁰.
If you open an account with one of the ‘big four’ banks in Germany, you can use one of their 9,000+ ATMs (or Geldautomat) free of charge¹¹.
These banks are Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank and HypoVereinsbank, as these are all part of what is known as the Cash Group in Germany. Look for the Cash Group logo on the ATM to check it’s one of the free ones.
If you use another ATM though, you could be charged eye-watering fees to withdraw cash. Around €4¹² is the standard fee for using private ATMs in Germany, but it can sometimes be higher.
One important thing to watch out when using foreign ATMs is the exchange rate. If your main bank account is back in the UK and you’re withdrawing cash from an ATM in Germany, you should always choose to perform the transaction in the local currency. In this example, EUR instead of GBP.
Do it the other way round and the ATM makes up an exchange rate for you. This is not likely to be anywhere near the real, mid-market exchange rate, so the withdrawal will inevitably cost you more.
Even though opening a bank account in Germany as a non-resident is much easier than it used to be, it can still sometimes be a headache.
But there is an easier way to get set up to send and receive money before you even touch down in Germany.
Open a free TransferWise Borderless account and you can start getting paid for freelance work, sending money back home and even running your business right away. You don’t need to have a German address, only a valid ID. And the TransferWise website is all in English, with a friendly English-speaking support team on hand if you need them.
With TransferWise, you can send and receive money internationally with low, fair and transparent fees. You’re always guaranteed the mid-market exchange rate, without expensive mark-ups stacked on top.
Each transaction is as secure and quick (in fact, often even quicker) than using your bank, and it’s all completely trackable online or via the TransferWise app.
Better still, you can also get a debit card to spend, shop and withdraw like a local during your time in Germany.
So, that’s pretty much it – banking in Germany covered. You should now have a better idea of how the process of applying for a bank account works for non-German residents, and the documentation you’ll need.
Check out the banks we’ve mentioned, particularly the ones offering free and student accounts. And remember that TransferWise is a fuss-free, low-cost option for sending and receiving money internationally, or to keep you going until you get sorted with your new German bank account.
Sources checked on 9-December 2020
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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