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April 18, 2018

Banking in Germany

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Opening a Bank Account in Germany


Banking in Germany

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 Americans 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 Americans, 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 and was told that they wouldn’t allow me to open an account because I’m American- 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 American- 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 my being American or a freelancer, and it was all done online with no complications. 

N26 is a purely online bank that has no monthly fees, offers a free credit card (Germans are not as keen on credit cards as Americans (and American banks) tend to be), offers a free debit card 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, but I also limit the amount of money I keep within that account because it is an online bank and, in the past, they did experience some hacking issues

Deutsche Bank also offers no monthly fees, credit and debit cards, free ATM withdrawals in Germany and abroad, allows for online creation of the account, but it doesn’t offer 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; I haven’t heard good or bad things from other ex pats 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 and you can do all your banking online. You also get a free debit card, 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.

The other bank I tried to get an account with, Postbank, charges from 1.90€ to 3.90€ a month in fees, offers credit cards on request and has a charge of 29 EUR a year in fees, offers a debit card, allows free ATM withdrawals as long as the ATM is within the cash group, doesn’t allow online account creation, doesn’t allow freelancers to get an account and doesn’t offer English customer service. Again, I can’t offer any reviews of this bank as I don’t use it and don’t know anyone who does.  

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 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 ex pats. 

Good luck!


About

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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