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Opening a bank account in Germany

How to open a bank account in Germany? Get to know the application process and the documents required
Updated: 04.10.2021
Reading Time: 6 mins
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Opening a bank account in Germany: Guide and recommendations

Melanie, Martin and Vasile are three expats which moved to Germany to find new possibilities. Melanie found a job in Germany and are now moving her first steps in Munich, Martin is preparing his study abroad and Vasile plans to move from Rumania and does not dominate the difficult German language yet. Everyone coming to Germany to study, work or simply enjoy German beautiful forests for a longer period of time needs a bank account for life’s basics. In Germany you will need to open a bank account in order to get your salary, pay the rent and transfer and receive money from abroad. 

Would you like to open an international bank account completely online but you are now facing German paperwork and German speaking customer service?

Since we know that opening a bank account in Germany is one of the first obstacles for foreigners, workers and students coming to Germany, in this article we guide you through the entire application process and we will show you:

GIROMATCH is your independent credit platform. Our team guides you through German banking and financial products, writes reviews for foreigners living in Germany and provides you with important information to improve your financial situation in Germany.

Types of banks in Germany: We guide you through the German banking system

Germany is known for its decentralized banking system. This means that there are 2.247 banks in Germany where you can choose to open a bank account. Even if the number of banks is constantly sinking, Germany remains one of the countries with the highest number of credit institutions. In Germany you will find three types of banks: Mobile Banks, Online Banks and Traditional Banks

Mobile banks are banks which operate mainly through online banking or an App. They are usually modern banks such as N26, Vivid Money and bunq. The application process to open a bank account is usually quick and uncomplicated. If you are a digital native, they are a very good option for you! Besides, some of them offer a 24-hours customer service per Whatsapp or Live Chat. However, many mobile banks do not offer the entire spectrum of financial services as personal loans or mortgages. 

An Online bank (in German “Direktbank”) is a bank which operates online but offers the same financial products of traditional banks. You will be able to apply for personal loans and mortgages or to invest in funds. However, you can do it only online, since online banks do not have physical branches. ING, comdirect and DKB are some of the most known.

Traditional banks are brick and mortar banks which offer every kind of financial service online and offline. If you wish to go to the physical branch and have personal support to open your bank account, you can direct to Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, one of the Savings Banks (Sparkassen) or Cooperative Banks (“Volksbanken”). 

Types of bank accounts: Choose the right option for your needs

Once you have chosen a bank where to open your bank account, you will have to consider the type of bank account that you want to open. German banks offer two different types of bank accounts: current accounts and savings accounts.

Current or checking accounts are called “Girokonto”. These are bank accounts where you can receive your salary and pay your bills. A current account is suitable to transfer money and trigger payments. You can do every type of transaction with this type of account. 

Savings accounts (in German “Sparkonto”) are used to deposit money that you want to preserve from spending. You can have either instant access or restricted one. This type of bank account grants you with interest rates on your deposit and therefore is suitable when you want to invest your money in a safe way.

Offshore account

How to open an offshore account in Germany?

Offshore accounts are bank accounts for non-residents who spend a lot of time abroad and need to transfer money between countries. They usually offer different advantages and lower taxations, since the jurisdiction of the foreign bank is different from yours. Due to its stable economy, Germany is often seen as a good option. However, keep in mind that Germany implements foreign judgments. 


Are you looking for a bank account for students?

Martin

Martin is an international student and needs a bank account

Direction
ing-logo

ING offers a free bank account for students

Martin is an international student coming from the States to study Politics in Germany. He has a grasp of the German language and is now looking for a bank account in order to pay his rent and receive its scholarship's rate.

ING's bank account is our best option for international students coming to Germany. ING is an online bank from Frankfurt. With its nine millions clients, ING is Germany's third biggest bank. Through few and transparent offers and a quick customer service, ING is suitable for students who are looking for a uncomplicated and modern bank for their first steps in Germany. At ING you can apply online for a free bank account for students.

ING
Your free bank account
Result
4.0
12/2021
  • Two free credit cards: VISA debit card and girocard
  • Free cash withdrawals throughout Europe with your VISA card
  • Contactless payments with Apple Pay and Google Pay
  • Easy account change in 10 minutes with the digital account switching service


How to open a bank account in Germany?

Opening a bank account may be difficult, if you do not familiarize yourself with the German banking system. Here we guide you step for step through the application process to open a bank account in Germany. Find out what to think about when choosing your future bank, how to open a bank account in Germany and where you should pay attention to in the next section. 

1. Choose your future bank

Choosing your bank in Germany may not be easy. Here you can find our guide through Germany’s bank banks and their main features. According to your need, you may prioritize different elements. However, we recommend you to look for:

  • bank account’s features (SEPA transferences, standing orders, direct debit and included debit or credit cards are services you may want to have in your bank)
  • an English speaking customer service 
  • bank account’s fees and interest rates on overdrafts
  • account management style (face-to-face, online or mobile banking)

How can I transfer my bank account?

If you already have a bank account in a bank operating in Germany, you can simply ask to transfer your bank account to a German bank branch. In Germany, there are more than 500 foreign credit institutions. If you are not sure whether your bank operates in Germany, you can ask at your local branch. Transferring a bank account may be easier than opening a new one.

2. Go to a bank branch or open a bank account online

You have two options to open a bank account in Germany. If you need a personal touch and would like to have financial advice, you can open a bank account by going to the nearest bank branch of your choice. There you will get a personal financial advisor who will guide you through the application process. If instead you are a digital native and need a bank account urgently, you can choose to open a bank account online.

Here you can find some differences between opening a bank account in a bank branch and applying to it online.

ExperiencePersonal application at a bank branchOnline application process
Quick application processRed XTick
Instant access to your bank accountRed XTick
Application process in EnglishRed XTick
Financial adviceTickRed X

The documents required and the application process is very similar, both if you choose to open your bank account personally or online. The key difference between going to a bank branch or open a bank account online is the time needed and the personal support you can get. During a personal meeting with your banker you will be able to ask for additional products or features and you will be advised according to your financial situation. In turn, you will have to wait up to 10 days to have a complete banking experience: your girocard, personal PIN and access to online and mobile banking are sent by post in different days.

If speed and comfort are what you expect from your bank, opening a bank account online can be the solution. Usually the application process does not take more than 30 minutes. Upon completing it you will be granted instant access to your bank account and virtual credit cards. However, un uncomplicated application process may distract you from reading and understanding important terms and conditions and does not allow you to apply for additional features.

The advantages of a traditional German bank

Melanie
Melanie
Direction
Traditional Banks
Classic bank

Melanie is 35 years old, she comes from Texas and is moving to Munich to work for a famous car retailer. She plans to build a family in Germany and buy a house for her future children. Melanie would like to have a power user bank account and a trustful banker to receive advice on mortgages and personal loans. If you share her same needs, opening a bank account at a bank branch is the best option for you!

Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank are by far the most known branch-based banks in Germany. There you can open a bank account with all the features you want, including credit cards and personal loans. Have a look at our banks' guide to find the perfect bank for you.

3. Store your bank account documents in a save place

Once you have opened your account you will receive a copy of your application form, the bank’s general terms and conditions, terms and conditions of your bank account and credit cards and the privacy policy. According to your bank you may receive a separate sheet with information on fees and deposits and your application form to access online and telephone banking. Remember to store these documents in a safe place and to pay attention to future changes. Banks are obliged to communicate changes on fee models or products’ features. If you notice extraordinary debits or you are considering changing your bank account, it may be necessary to look for the terms and conditions you’ve signed when applying for your account.

4. Start to use your bank account

According to the way you applied for your bank account, you will be able to use it immediately or after some days. Usually when applying in a brick and mortar branch, you will need to wait until you receive your EC-card and its PIN. Besides, you will usually get your credentials to access your online and telephone banking. It may take up to 10 days to use your bank account integrally. 

However, when applying for a bank account online, you are usually able to use your account instantly. Some banks such as Vivid Money, grant you a virtual credit card that you can use immediately upon opening your account. 

In both cases, you will receive your personal International Bank Account Number (IBAN) which you need to communicate in order to receive money on your account.

GIROMATCH explains
GIROMATCH explains

What this an international bank account number?

The International Bank Account Number (IBAN) is a 34 alphanumeric code expressed in groups of 4 which identifies your bank account according to the international standard ISO 13616:2020. It comprises:

  • a country code
  • two check digits
  • the domestic bank account number with
  • the branch identifier

Here you have a sample of Germany’s international bank number: 

DE91 1000 0000 0123 4567 89

Documents required to open a bank account in Germany

Both in a bank branch or online, you will need some basic documents in order to be able to open a bank account in Germany:

  • application form (provided by the bank)
  • your passport or identity card, if you come from a European country
  • proof of residence in Germany (“Anmeldung” or “Meldebescheinigung” in German)
  • proof of income or 
  • proof of your student status

Besides, according to the type of bank, you may need

  • an initial deposit, whose amount is determined by the bank
  • your SCHUFA entry (which is automatically checked by the bank once you agreed the SCHUFA clause)

Do you want to open a bank account in Germany without living there? 

Vasile

Vasile doesn't have a German address

Direction
n26 logo

N26 doesn't require a proof of residence for its free bank account

Vasile is planning to move to Germany to look for a better job. He is currently in Rumania, his home country. He needs a basic bank account in Germany to start paying his health insurance and receive his first salary. If, as Vasile, you are a native digital who wishes a quick and easy application process. Online banks can help you avoiding German paperwork!

The Berlin-based mobile bank N26 is a suitable option for your needs. Here you can open a free bank account without living in Germany which grants you with a free Mastercard debit card.

N26-Standard
Your Mobile Bank
Result
3.6
12/2021
  • Open mobile current account in 8 minutes
  • Mastercard Debit credit card and Google Pay, Apple Pay
  • Use Cash26 network and withdraw money at 11,500 partner stores
  • Mobile banking: set savings goals, sort income and expenses, manage money better

Why is a proof of residence required to open a bank account in Germany?

In Germany, when opening a bank account, credit institutions carry out a legitimation test, pursuant to Section 154 of the German Fiscal Code. This is intended to prevent third parties from opening an account in another name or taking out loans in the name of a non-existent person, for example, in order to obtain money illegally or to carry out transactions that violate the Money Laundering Act.

The Money Laundering Act regulates which information must be collected in order to determine your identity, this includes:

  • Surname and first name
  • Date and place of birth
  • Address
  • Nationality
  • Identity card’s details

As a foreigner living in Germany, your identification document may not contain your current German address, that is why you are required to show proof of your German residence (“Meldebescheinigung”). The majority of German traditional branch-based banks (in German “Filialbanken”) offer a personal application service in order to open a bank account. Your identification is therefore carried out personally by checking your documents. 

However, if you still do not live in Germany and you want to open a bank account from another country, you can have a look at online or mobile banks. Some of these banks enable you to open a bank account online and identify yourself per video-call. In this case you will only need your identity document and a mobile phone number in order to pass the legitimation test. We’ve recollected a list of mobile banks where you can open a bank account without having a German residence. Try to have a look at bunq, N26, Tomorrow Bank and Vivid Money!


What you should consider when opening a bank account in Germany

Sometimes you may be in a hurry to open your bank account because you need it quickly. However, it is worth taking your time to analyze different options. A complete bank account with different features may spare you money and efforts looking for additional options somewhere else. Besides, knowing the possibilities of your bank account will turn you into a power user. Here we list some of the most important features you should consider when applying for a bank account in Germany:

FeaturesWhat you should consider
Monthly feeIs the fee you will pay balanced with the additional features of the bank account? 
Does the account’s monthly fee aggravate your monthly budget for your stay in Germany? 
Did you consider the advantages granted by more expensive accounts such as sustainable banking? 
If you are applying for a free bank account: do you need a minimum monthly income or a specific status (e.g. student)?
Cash withdrawalsHow much do cash withdrawals cost abroad?
Is there a monthly limit for cash withdrawals?
At which ATMs can you withdraw your money in Germany and abroad?
Is there an additional fee to withdraw money in different currencies?
Credit cardsAre credit cards included in the bank account?
What type of credit card are you granted? 
Does your credit card grant you a credit line or is it a debit card which you can only pay by direct debit with?
Personal loansDoes your bank offer personal loans? 
Do you have the possibility to apply for a charge credit card or a revolving credit card? 
Does your bank account have an overdraft facility in case of economic hardship? And which additional costs does it imply?
Additional featuresDoes your bank have a sustainability focus?
Do you have an English speaking customer service at your disposal?
Do you want a stocks and crypto trading account?
How can you contact your bank: face-to-face, online or by telephone?
Are there any offers such as cashback and bonus?

Glossary of terms: GIROMATCH guides you through German banking

GermanEnglish
BankkontoBank account
KontoinhaberAccount holder
KontostandAccount's balance
GirokontoChecking account
SparkontoSavings account
BankrateBank rate
BankauszugBank statement
KreditkartenabrechnungCredit card invoice
AbrechnungsperiodeBilling period
SollDebit
ÜberweisungBank transference
GuthabenBalance (money you dispose of)
BargeldCash
StudentenausweisStudent card, Immatrikulation letter
EC-KarteBank card
AuszahlungPayment
EinzahlungDeposit
GeldautomatATM (cash dispenser)

FAQs about opening a bank account in Germany

Can a bank reject opening a bank account?

From 2016, everyone in Germany has the right to own a basic bank account which enables money transfers and cashless payments. Therefore every bank has the duty to offer this possibility. However there are some cases where your application may be rejected:

  • you already have a functioning basic bank account
  • you have been convicted of an intentional criminal offense to the detriment of the institute, its employees or customers within the last three years
  • you owned a basic account with the institution and
  • you used it for unlawful purposes or you did not pay the account management fee, which leads to the termination of the account
  • the institution cannot fullfill its due diligence obligations under the Money Laundering Act or the German Banking Act.

Can a bank reject my application due to bad credit?

According to German law, you cannot be rejected to open a basic bank account because of bad credit. Since everyone has the right to open a bank account in Germany, banks have the duty to grant you with a basic bank account. However, some banks may reject you in case of bad creditworthiness, if you are applying for a bank account with an overdraft facility. In that case, banks will check your creditworthiness to determine whether to grant an overdraft and its amount.

Can I open a bank account in Germany without living there?

The majority of German traditional banks such as Deutsche Bank or Commerzbank will ask you to provide proof of residence in Germany in order to open a bank account. However, you could have a look at N26, Tomorrow Bank, bunq and Vivid Money, since these mobile banks do not require you to live in Germany to open a basic account.

Can I transfer money to an international bank account?

Once you open a bank account, you may want to transfer your money to someone else. In this case, you can either use your online banking, your telephone banking or go directly to a bank branch with the money you want to transfer. In order to do a correct transfer, you will need: the name of the bank account holder, the IBAN of the bank account where you want to transfer money to, its BIC (Bank Identifier Code), the amount of the transfer, its payment reference and your credentials.

How can I close my bank account?

As a bank account holder, you can close your account at any time without additional fees. You can use this template (in German) for your closing letter. You should send it as a certified letter to your bank.If you open a bank account remotely, you have the right to withdraw it in 14 days upon opening.

How can I open a bank account for someone else?

In Germany, you cannot open a bank account for someone else. Only in case you are the health care proxy of the person who needs a bank account, you can ask the bank a form which grants you power of attorney in order to open a bank account.

Can a minor open a bank account in Germany?

Minors of the age between 7 and 17 can open a bank account with the presence of their parents. It means that when applying for a bank account, the bank will require identity documents of both the minor and of his or her parents. If you want to open a bank account for a minor who still does not have an identity document, you will need his or her birth certificate.

How can I open a bank account in another country?

If you have a bank account in a bank which operates abroad, you can ask your bank to transfer your account to an international branch. Otherwise, you could check these mobile banks, which do not require proof of German residency: N26, Tomorrow Bank, bunq and Vivid Money.

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