Banking in Germany

Opening a Bank Account in Germany

Banking in Germany
Last Update: October 2021

Bank Accounts Comparison in Germany

Let’s talk banks! Opening a bank account is necessary for obtaining a visa in Germany, but it can be complicated to accomplish.

I honestly believed that opening an account would be simple because I had cash to deposit, a passport, and job offers; sadly I learned pretty quickly that this wasn’t a simple task. There are many banks in Germany to choose from, but I will only cover the few that I attempted to get an account with and the one I was finally able to open an account with. 

The issues I faced varied with the different banks, but mostly it boiled down to the fact that many foreign banks don’t want US citizens as customers due to the strict tax laws the US government has instituted in the last few years.

The US government requires all foreign banks to report every account owned by Americans abroad, which is a lot of work for the banks to do every year, so many banks have decided to stop allowing Americans to have bank accounts with them and just remove the headache of mandatory reporting. 

The second issue I faced when it came to getting an account with a local German bank is that I am a freelancer here in Berlin, and there are a few banks that don’t give accounts to freelancers; I am not sure why this is true but it happens, so be prepared.

Bank Accounts

First you have to consider what you are looking for in a bank- do you want a checking or a savings account? Do you want a no fee account, or an account that charges a monthly fee? Do you want a credit card or a debit card? Free ATM withdrawals, English customer service, online accounting-what you want to have with your bank is up to you and everyone has different requirements. 

"I wanted an account that met the visa requirements, accepted US citizens, and didn’t charge me to access my own money every month."

I decided to try the Postbank and went to the closest one, only to learn that they won’t give accounts to freelancers-that was the first strike.  

Then I went to the nearest Sparkasse bank (charges from 3€ to 7€ a month in fees) and was told that they wouldn’t allow me to open an account because I’m a US citizen- second strike. 

I decided the next option for me to try was with Deutsche Bank; I went to the closest branch and was declined again because I’m a US citizen- some people said that it depends on the branch you go into, but I wasn’t about to go wandering all over Berlin to find the one branch that would allow me an account. 

The final bank I tried, N26, worked out and didn’t have an issue with me being a US citizen or a freelancer, and it was all done online with no complications. Also, no Anmeldung is required!
N26 (Standard) is a purely online bank account that has no monthly fees, offers a free Mastercard debit (Germans are not as keen on credit cards as Americans [and American banks] tend to be) and free ATM withdrawals in Germany and abroad (3 to 5 withdrawals a month). 

You can open the N26 bank account online within 8-10 minutes (you need a computer with a webcam or a smartphone with a camera). Also, it has English customer service support and allows freelancers to get an account. After striking out three times with the three different banks I mentioned, N26 was too easy and simple to pass up. I can deposit cash at local stores and banks around town, also I can access ATMs of any bank to get cash, and if I need assistance I can easily send a message or an email to the support desk. I’ve used them for close to a year now and I really like them!

Deutsche Bank offers a free debit card (Girocard), free ATM withdrawals in Germany and abroad, allows for online creation of the account, but it doesn’t offer a free account (monthly fees: 6.90€), English customer support and doesn’t allow freelancers to get an account. If you aren’t American and you aren’t a freelancer you might choose to bank with Deutsche Bank; Also, you have to pay a yearly fee to get a credit card. I haven’t heard good or bad things from other expats regarding this bank so I can’t offer any reviews.

I don't use it but have heard a lot of good things about DKB (Deutsche Kreditbank). They offer a free bank account (as long as you deposit each month a minimum of 700 euros in it) and you can do all your banking online. You also get a free debit card (Girocard), a free VISA card and have free cash withdrawals worldwide. The DKB-Cash account is 100% free, but it doesn’t offer English customer support and doesn’t allow freelancers to get an account unless you can prove you have a steady income.

The other bank I tried to get an account with, Postbank, charges from 1.90€ to 5.90€ a month in fees (free for students & trainees), offers a VISA credit card on request (free for the first year; then 29€ a year), offers a free debit card (Girocard), allows free ATM withdrawals as long as the ATM is within the cash group, but usually doesn’t allow freelancers to get an account and doesn’t offer English customer service. This bank account can be opened online in 10 minutes via video chat (no Anmeldung required; just your ID/ passport).

Commerzbank, on the other hand, offers a totally free bank account as long as you deposit each month a minimum of 700 euros in it (if not, it costs 9.90€/month). This bank currently offers a 50€ starting credit! Other features available: Free unlimited cash withdrawals at over 9,000 ATMs (as long as the ATM is within the cash group), debit card (Girocard), online banking and free unlimited cash deposits at Commerzbank ATMs. Unfortunately, you have to pay a yearly fee (39.90€) to get a credit card.

Kontist is probably a viable business bank account option for freelancers. With their bank-tax app at your fingertips, banking and bookkeeping in one solution you’re off to worry-free freelancing in Germany. Tax advisors are available on-demand too. The downside: their account is not free. Kontist charges from 39€ to 79€ a month in fees.

Bonus: In 2021, Comdirect was elected the best bank in Germany by (33 banks were tested). If you are a student, trainee or intern under 28 years of age, or make a deposit of 700 euros each month, you can open a free Comdirect bank account online within a few minutes with no monthly fees, free Visa debit card and free debit card (Girocard). Free cash withdrawals are also available as long as the ATM is within the cash group. You can also do online payments at any time through their app. Unfortunately, they do not offer any English-language support.

Whichever bank you choose, you have a few different options and need to do some research to decide which works best for you. This is a required step in getting a visa here so do your research and get a bank sorted within the first few weeks of arrival. 

Money Transfer

As a side note, if you need to do money transfers between your country of origin and Germany, I’ve found that TransferWise (now called Wise) is the best option and I use it almost monthly. They have a free app, have the lowest transfer fees and work quickly and efficiently.

Transferring via PayPal costs a minimum of 4.5% when transferring money across borders. If you send €1,000 abroad PayPal charges €45. With TransferWise you are only charged a maximum of 1% (€10). 

Banking can be a headache in a foreign country, but if you can find a bank that offers English customer support (until you master the German language of course), doesn’t charge ridiculous ATM fees or fees just to have a basic account, then many of the headaches can be removed. 

I hope this article is helpful in giving you some basic information regarding a few main banks in Germany for expats. 

Here is an extra tip for you if you are a freelancer and do not know how to file your taxes in Germany. Using this website you can file your yearly tax & VAT return online and in English. You can also register as a freelancer for free here.

Good luck!

Tres C is an American who’s lived and worked all over the world and who has traveled extensively. She moved to Berlin in July 2017 with her dogs; she’s excited to share her hard-earned knowledge about relocating to Berlin through her writing on this blog.



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