How to open a bank account in Germany the easy way
Open a German bank account without any paperwork or bureaucracy, and without even needing to speak German. Perfect for expats, foreigners and non-residents from abroad.
6 min read
Opening a German bank account can be tedious and stressful, and it’s even harder if you’re an expat who doesn’t speak the language. Traditionally there’s slow bureaucracy, folders of paperwork, unfamiliar terms and the uneasy feeling that you don’t know exactly what you’re getting. We’ve all been there before. We’ve also asked ourselves why it takes a week to open an account, why a PIN has to be sent by paper mail and why some representatives speak English, but aren’t allowed to speak to you in English. We’re confident that there’s a better way, so let’s go over everything you need to know, point by point.
What to look for in a German bank account
First, you have to know what you’re looking for. German banks offer the following types of accounts:
- Girokonto — otherwise known as a current account or checking account, depending on where you’re from
- Tagesgeldkonto — instant access savings account
- Sparkonto — limited access savings account
- Depot — securities account
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that you’re looking for a Girokonto. That means you can get an International Bank Account Number (IBAN), you can transfer money in and out, and you can get a bank card to make purchases and withdraw cash from ATMs.
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There are also several types of cards, which can be confusing:
- Electronic Cash (EC) Card / Girocard — a debit card that’s linked to your account that you can use for direct payments and ATM withdrawals, but doesn’t have a 16-digit number for other payments like online shopping.
- “Kreditkarte” Visa or Mastercard — a debit card that’s linked to your account that does have a 16-digit number that you can use for all payments and withdrawals.
- “Kreditkarte” Credit Card — an actual credit card with a credit limit that usually gets billed automatically from your account once a month by SEPA direct debit (SEPA-Lastschrift), so your entire balance gets paid. Some German banks also allow you to carry debt from one month to another, but it’s uncommon.
- Maestro Card — a debit card like Visa or Mastercard that’s linked to your account that does have a 16-digit number that you can use for all payments and withdrawals.
Now that you know which account and card you want, it’s time to find the right bank that offers them in an affordable and convenient way. There are generally three different kinds of banks in Germany:
Cash Group — a network of the four biggest national banks with brick-and-mortar locations that allow you to withdraw cash for free at any of their bank ATMs.
- Deutsche Bank
Sparkassen — local or municipal banks with brick-and-mortar locations that allow you to withdraw cash for free at any Sparkasse bank ATM across the country.
- Berliner Sparkasse
- Frankfurter Sparkasse
- Hamburger Sparkasse
- Stadtsparkasse München
- And so on…
Direct Banks — any bank that doesn’t have a physical location, so you can do everything you need through online banking and make withdrawals from any ATMs, though sometimes with fees.
There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to every bank, but most of them share a signup process that requires a working knowledge of German and a great deal of patience.
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What the bank account opening process typically looks like
Depending on your choice of bank, you can complete an online application or walk into a branch location to speak with a representative.
- Find the Girokonto registration form on the bank website
- Print it out and fill in your information
- Take the form to your local Deutsche Post location along with the “PostIdent” form, your passport or national ID card, and a copy of your German address registration, or Meldebescheinigung, to verify your identity
- Send the signed ID verification and application form to your chosen bank
- Wait until they send you a confirmation by paper mail
If you have questions about step 3, you’re not alone. This method isn’t possible if you’re a non-resident, a temporary student resident or a foreigner trying to create an account from abroad. You already need a registered German address, which is a big step all on its own.
Applying at a bank branch
- Make an appointment in advance or walk in and stand in line
- Ask to open a Girokonto and complete the application form
- Verify your ID with your passport or national ID card, and a copy of your German address registration (Meldebescheinigung)
- Wait until they send you a confirmation by paper mail
If you want to open an overdraft (Dispokredit), the bank will have to check your Schufa score or a similar external credit bureau score, an assessment of your creditworthiness, so you won’t be able to get one right away because you won’t have a pre-existing financial history in Germany. By the way, all of the above will most likely happen in German. We know anecdotally, at least, that banks rarely offer the required level of English customer service, and contracts are often only available in German because of the sensitive nature of financial services. You’ll also not be able to use your bank account right away — on the same day — after either process described above.
What the bank account opening process could look like
By now you may be thinking this whole thing is unnecessarily difficult, and we agree. That’s why we’ve made it possible to open a bank account in Germany without any paperwork or bureaucracy, or speaking any German.
N26 offers a free Bank Account and Mastercard debit card in Germany, along with an optional Maestro card for worldwide card acceptance. It’s completely mobile, so you can create your account and do all of your banking directly from the N26 mobile app.
First, you need the following documents:
- Your passport or national ID
Here’s everything you have to do to open a bank account in Germany with N26:
- Download the N26 app in the App Store or Play Store
- Enter your email address so we can send you a confirmation message
- Enter some basic personal details
- Verify your ID instantly over video call using your passport or national ID
- Pair your account to your smartphone
At the end of this 10 minute process, you’ll have an IBAN so you can use your account immediately. You can do this from abroad if you have an address in Germany, and if you need to transfer money from your foreign account outside the Euro zone, you can make an international transfer using our partner service TransferWise, which is built directly into the app. All you have to do is select Transfer from the + menu and select your currencies. Card delivery time is just 3–5 business days, so you can make withdrawals and card purchases within the week.
The basic N26 bank account it’s as safe as an account from any major German bank because it’s protected by the same Compensation Scheme of German Banks (Entschädigungseinrichtung deutscher Banken) for up to €100.000 by law.
Here’s our favorite part: you can make instant transfers to any other N26 user with just your confirmation PIN, so you’ll never have to deal with transaction authentication number (TAN) lists like at other banks. You’ll get a push notification after every transaction so you’re up to date at all times.
The N26 bank account may be one of the easiest accounts to open, and one of the most powerful too. We took out all the stress of paperwork, bureaucracy and not knowing the language so you can finally have an enjoyable personal banking experience.
If you found this article helpful, check out our other expat how-to guides for moving to Germany, where we explain how to do your Anmeldung, how to get your residence permit, and more.
At N26, we’ve taken the red tape out of opening a bank account in Germany. Open an online account in just 8 minutes—all you’ll need is your smartphone, a valid address in Germany, and a valid photo ID. You’ll get an official German IBAN, so you can pay and be paid like a local. Plus, there are no hidden fees and you’ll always have access to English-speaking customer service, so you can focus on settling in to your new home.
The Mobile Bank
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