Opening a Bank Account in Germany for Non-Residents and Foreigners

Byron Mühlberg, writer at Monito.com
Jul 28, 2021
Affiliate disclosure

World-famous for its Brandenburg Gates, beer culture, and bratwurst, Germany has long been regarded as an attractive destination to live and work. Not only does the country boast a high quality of life and a large and diverse economic sector, but it also attracts many with its blend of traditional and alternative lifestyles.

However — whether you're planning to move to Germany or whether you've just arrived in the country — opening a bank account is one of the first challenges non-residents face. The good news is that if you have an EU passport or have a residence permit lined up in Germany, the process should be straightforward, and you'll find many options at your disposal.

In this guide, we zoom out and take a look at everything you need to know about opening a bank account in Germany for foreigners, as well as what your best options are every step of the way.

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Here are our recommendations in short:

  • Without Anmeldung:  Wise Account, which gives you Belgian bank details (eligible in Germany) and a debit card to spend in multiple currencies, including Euros. You can even open an online account before arriving in Germany, although you'll need to verify your address before receiving your debit card.
  • With Anmeldung: N26, which gives you a fully-mobile bank account, and debit card. In our opinion, N26 is probably the best online bank in Europe.

Overview of Banking in Germany

As a country synonymous with banking, it should come as little surprise that the German banking sector is large and competitive, offering customers a lot of choice in managing their financial lives.

Broadly speaking, banking services in Germany fall into three major categories. The first is the big-name private and public sector banks, which typically charge the highest fees and have the most account registration requirements while offering the biggest range of services. Next, there are the direct banks, which are often (but not always) affiliated with one of the high-street banks. These banks offer fully-fledged banking services without any physical branches, and their costs and barriers to entry tend to be lower as a result. Finally, there are non-bank fintechs that offer easy-to-access flexible checking and spending services for very low costs.

Types of German Bank Accounts

When people talk about opening a bank account in Germany, they're generally referring to one (or both) of the following types of accounts:

  • Girokonto: Synonymous with standard checking accounts found in most English-speaking countries, these accounts are used to process cashless payments and are geared toward everyday use.
  • Sparkonto: A savings account that allows funds to be deposited while restricting withdrawals and (historically) accruing interest.

In addition to these, there are also more specialised types of bank accounts on offer at many German banks, although they're less frequently needed by the everyday customer:

  • Festgeldkonto: Also known as a fixed deposit account, a Festgeldkonto is a fixed-term investment account that historically offers higher interest rates than most other account types. However, funds cannot be withdrawn until the term has expired.
  • Tagesgeldkonto: Similar to money market accounts and overnight money accounts elsewhere, this account bears interest over a fixed-term period by paying interest rates from the money market.

As with many countries, opening a German bank account almost always comes with an associated bank card — either a debit card, credit card, or both. A typical debit card in Germany is known as a Girocard and can be used for cashless payments and ATM withdrawals. Credit cards (or Kreditkarten in German), on the other hand, can be used for online payments and come with a monthly credit limit. Most German bank cards carry a unique 16-digit card number.

Document's You'll Need To Open A German Bank Account

While the paperwork and requirements can differ slightly from bank to bank, the following documents are commonly requested in order to open a bank account in Germany:

  • A valid passport;
  • German residence visa;
  • The completed account application form;
  • An Anmeldung (proof of address);
  • Proof of employment or income.
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Some banks also require a minimum initial deposit to open an account.

1 — Big German Banks

Tan Kaninthanond on Unsplash

The first option to open a bank account in Germany is to use a traditional bank, specifically one of the four largest German private sector banks: Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank, or Postbank. Together, these banks make up the Cash Group, which means they mutually waive withdrawal fees for customers across more than seven thousand ATMs across Germany.

In addition, we've also included Sparkassen, Volksbanken, and Raiffeisenbanken in this category. Although they don't form part of the Cash Group, Sparkasse banks are a network of some 430 municipal and local public banks that can be found all across Germany, and Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken form a widespread banking cooperative, making them both widely accessible options.

Together, all of these banks have a long history and offer a broad scope of service, although they are generally the most expensive and tricky to set up an account with. For example, opening an everyday Girokonto with Sparkasse, Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken, or one of the four Cash Group banks will almost always require proof of residence.

Take a look at the offerings of these banks below:

Deutsche Bank

A large international bank with 27 million customers around the globe, Deutsche Bank offers the following three types of bank account services to customers in Germany:

  • AktivKonto: A standard checking account including a Girocard debit card and online and mobile banking capabilities. The account costs €6.90 per month.
  • Das Junge Konto: A standard checking account option aimed at students. The account has no monthly fees, although registrants must be students from the EU under 30 years of age to qualify.
  • BestKonto: A premium account option with a dedicated credit card and travel insurance. The account costs €13.90 per month.

Commerzbank

Serving around 19 million customers, Commerzbank is the second-largest private bank in Germany. It offers customers the following three account packages for everyday use:

  • Girokonto "Basic": A standard checking account that includes a debit card. The account levies no monthly fee so long as less than €700.00 is deposited into it per month (otherwise, the fee is €9.90 per month). The account also comes with a €50.00 starting balance after the first three months of active use.
  • Konto-Extra "Klassik": A standard Girokonto option with added features, such as transfers, direct debits, and checks. The account costs €6.90 per month.
  • Konto-Extra "Premium": Geared toward travellers, this premium account costs €12.90 and includes two credit cards, free withdrawals and deposits, family health insurance, and airport lounge access.

HypoVereinsbank

HypoVereinsbank, known as "HVB", is the fifth-largest German bank with around 8.5 million customers. It offers the following standard set of banking packages for everyday use, with each package including the perks of the previous while including additional benefits:

  • HVB AktivKonto: An everyday Girokonto including access to online and mobile banking and an optional debit card and credit card. The account costs €4.90 per month after the first year, and an additional €5.00 per year per debit card and €15.00 per year per credit card.
  • HVB PlusKonto: A standard checking account that includes a debit and a credit card built into the price, which is €9.90 per month after the first five years. The account also processes free money transfers.
  • HVB ExklusivKonto: A premium account option offering free credit card ATM withdrawals and travel insurance. The account costs €14.90 per month after the first year.

Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken

Volksbanken and Raiffeisenbanken are a broad collection of credit unions and cooperative banks offering services across Germany operating under a shared brand. They offer a myriad of everyday financial solutions — including Girokonten, debit cards, and online and mobile banking — and could be the ideal banking partner for people who are oriented toward cooperative banking.

Sparkassen

Sparkasse banks are a good bet in terms of their widespread availability and range of services. They offer diverse banking packages and individual options that can vary significantly from Sparkasse to Sparkasse. However, they usually include a Girokonto, Girocard debit card, and online and mobile banking options.

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Recommendation

High-street German banks are well-suited for the following types of customers:

  • New arrivals who already have proof of residence or plan to get one soon;
  • Those looking for fully-fledged financial services (e.g. overdraft, investments, credit card, etc.) and don't mind paying more in fees for them;
  • For new arrivals who don't speak German, we recommend Deutsche Bank, as most of its everyday services are available in English.

2 — German Direct Banks

Scott Graham on Unsplash

Direct banks (or Direktbanken in German) are fully-fledged banks offering all or most of the usual banking services. The main difference is that they don't operate out of branches, and banking services are online instead.

There are two broad categories of direct banks in Germany: fintechs (local and foreign) and bank subsidiaries. Fintechs include N26, Bunq, and Monese and often offer a slightly narrower range of financial services while being cheaper. Subsidiaries, on the other hand — while still offering free checking accounts — tend to offer a wider range of services while being slightly more costly for some services. These banks include DKB, Comdirect, and ING-DiBa.

Let's take a look at some of the major direct bank offerings:

N26

Arguably Germany's best-known mobile-only bank, N26 is a widely-used and much-loved challenger bank with 7 million customers not only in Germany but across the Eurozone, the US, and Brazil. Moreover, N26 is also partnered with transfer service Wise, allowing in-app international money transfers at some of the best exchange rates on the market.

N26 requires an EU proof of residence (not necessarily a German one) to open an account. It offers customers the following three types of accounts in Germany:

  • N26 Standard: A checking account available online and in the N26 app which allows mobile payments and includes a see-through debit card for a €10.00 delivery fee. The account costs €0.00 per month.
  • N26 Smart: The upgraded checking accounts allow one extra debit card, spending statistics, and phone support. The account costs €4.90 per month.
  • N26 Metal: A premium tier account option that includes travel and lifestyle insurances, bespoke rewards, and unlimited free ATM withdrawals. The account costs €16.90 per month.

DKB

Owned by the Bayerische Landesbank, Deutsche Kreditbank (DKB) is the second-largest German direct bank, boasting around 4.5 million customers in the country. Available not only to residents of Germany but also neighbouring Switzerland and Austria, DKB offers the following main account package:

  • DKB-Cash: A checking account with online and mobile capabilities with a Visa credit card and offers free or low-cost ATM withdrawals worldwide. The account does not have a monthly fee.

DKB also offers separate versions of the DKB-Cash account with special features for couples (DKB-Cash: Gemeinschaftskonto), students (DKB-Cash für Studierende), and minors (DKB-Cash u18).

Comdirect

A subsidiary of Commerzbank, Comdirect Bank is the third-largest German direct bank with some 2.7 million customers across the country and offering the following banking options:

  • Das kostenlose Girokonto: A checking account with two debit cards (one a Visa debit and the other a Girocard) and online and mobile banking capabilities. The account carries no monthly fee for people under 28 (otherwise, the fee is €4.90 per month).
  • Das Girokonto Plus: An upgraded account with free ATM withdrawals (subject to some limits), a credit card, priority access to customer support, and travel insurance. The account costs €14.90 per month.

Bunq

Amsterdam-based Bunq is a rapidly expanding European challenger bank that has become a popular alternative to high-street and traditional German direct banks in recent years. The bank is well-known for its slick user interface and flexible features geared toward young people, travellers, and others frequently on the move.

Like N26, all of Bunq's bank accounts are integrated with Wise, making international money transfers very cheap. The bank offers the following three current account options to customers across the EU:

  • Easy Bank: A low-cost current account with a German IBAN that comes with a debit Mastercard and money transfer capabilities. The account costs €2.99 per month.
  • Easy Money: An account with added features and functionalities, including spending statistics, four free ATM withdrawals per month, budgeting features, unique deals, a metal debit card, and bookkeeping software. The account costs €8.99 per month.
  • Easy Green: A premium tier, Easy Green's unique feature allows users to track the progress of the reforestation initiative already linked to other tiers (i.e. a tree planted for every €100.00 spent). Costing €17.99 per month, we've found in our Bunq review that this initiative is not worth it for most users.

ING-DiBa

Germany's largest direct bank in terms of customer numbers, ING-DiBa, a subsidiary of the Dutch banking giant ING, offers a full set of banking services to over 9.6 million German customers. Its major checking account option is the following:

  • Kostenloses Gehaltskonto: An online Girokonto that comes with two debit cards — one a Visa debit and the other a Girocard. The account costs €0.00 per month so long as customers are under 28 years old and at least €700.00 is deposited into the account per month (otherwise, the fee is €4.90 per month).
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Recommendation

Due to their flexibility and lower costs, direct banks are best for the following customers:

  • Those who only require the standard range of banking services (e.g. current account, card, etc.);
  • Those who're looking to save money;
  • For those without proof of residence in Germany, we recommend N26, Monese, or Bunq, which don't require it for registration.

Option 3 — Wise Multi-Currency Account

Wise

Another option for opening a bank account in Germany as a non-resident is Wise's Multi-Currency Account. Alongside its accompanying debit Mastercard, Wise allows users to pay and be paid like a local in Germany and across the Eurozone.

Fortunately, after opening your account online, you'll only be required to verify your identity through their interface and you won't need to show proof of residence in Germany to signup and access to service (although you will need to show proof of residence in the EU/EEA, US, Singapore, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand to sign up). Here's what Wise has to say about opening an account without proof of residence in the UK, although the same applies in Germany: "You can then choose to either supply proof of address from a standard list of documents, or to send in a selfie, in which you’re holding your proof of ID. This can be a great alternative if you’re still waiting to move to the UK or haven’t yet got bills and other paperwork registered in your name."

Once you're signed up and your card has arrived (which takes up to 2 weeks in Europe), you'll be able to take advantage of the following unique features with the Wise Multi-Currency Account:

  • Local bank details in the US, Eurozone, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Canada, Hungary, and Turkey;
  • Hold, exchange, and top-up up to 56 currencies;
  • A multi-currency Mastercard debit card that's handy for paying in foreign currencies without the hidden fees;
  • Access to Wise's powerful international money transfer service right from your account balance.

To get a sense of just how useful Wise can be for expats, let's say that you've just moved from the UK to Germany and you'd like to spend in Euros before you've gotten your Anmeldung sorted out. With the Wise Multi-Currency Account, you'll be able to:

  1. Send British pounds from your bank account to your Wise Euro account;
  2. Convert to Euros at a low fee (e.g. if you convert £1,000.00 to Euros, the total fee will be around 0.37% or £3.69);
  3. Pay with your Wise debit card, make or receive SEPA (and SWIFT) payments, and set up direct debits.

You'll also have a dedicated set of Belgian bank details to share with an employer. Belgian IBANs are fully eligible in Germany and across the Eurozone, and rejecting the payout or receipt of funds based on the origin of an IBAN is illegal. Note that this account does not offer an overdraft, and you won’t earn interest on any in-credit balances.

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Recommendation

Speedy and versatile, we recommend Wise's Multi-Currency Account for the following types of users:

  • New arrivals in Germany looking to spend and withdraw cash without a local bank card;
  • Those looking to make low-cost money transfers to the Euro from foreign currencies abroad;
  • Those looking for a dedicated European IBAN without having to show proof of residence.

Option 4 — Basic Accounts

Mauro Sbicego on Unsplash

The final option for opening a bank account in Germany as a non-resident is to open a basic payment account (known as a Basiskonto in German). These bank accounts offer basic banking services for free or at a low cost and are available so long as the applicant is an EU resident. This means that both EU nationals and holders of EU visas (including those with refugee status) are eligible to open one.

Basic payment accounts are offered by all major German banks and typically include the following day-to-day financial services:

  • Deposit processing: Top-up money into your bank account.
  • Withdrawals: Withdraw cash at ATMs.
  • Direct debits: Set up recurring payments where funds are automatically dedicated from your bank account.
  • Payment card: Use a bank card to make cashless payments and withdraw money.

Following EU law, basic payment accounts are also insured of up to €100,000.00 in deposits for individual accounts and €200,000.00 in deposits for joint accounts, making them a very secure option. Banks in the EU cannot refuse EU residents from opening an account in another country solely based on not living there.

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Recommendation

A very accessible option, we recommend opening a basic payment account in Germany to the following types of customers:

  • Cross-border commuters working in Germany but living in another EU country;
  • Those otherwise living in the EU outside Germany looking to open a bank account there.

How To Send Money to a German Bank Account

Once you've opened a bank account in Germany, you'll need to consider how to move your funds across, a process that can be especially costly if you're depositing money from a currency other than Euros. To deposit money into your new German Euro account from your home currency before you move, you'll need to go to your online banking and choose between one of two options:

  • Sending a wire transfer through your bank directly;
  • Sending a bank transfer via a money transfer specialist.

In general, we don't recommend using your bank to transfer money internationally, as the fees can be exorbitant and the waiting times can be lengthy. This is mainly because banks wire funds over the SWIFT network, which adds many timely and expensive steps to the money transfer process.

Instead, if the amount you'd like to send to Germany is in the order of several hundred or thousand Euros or equivalent, then we recommend you use a money transfer specialist service (Wise is one among many.) To compare which services are cheapest for your transfer amount and home country to Germany, run a search on Monito's real-time comparison engine below.

On the other hand, if you're moving large amounts of money from your home currency to your new bank account in Germany, (i.e. anything upwards of €30,000 or equivalent), then services such as Wise may not be your cheapest bet. Instead, we recommend exploring your options among the foreign exchange brokers that support transfers from your country to Germany. These services specialise in negotiating favourable exchange rates on your behalf and are the most cost-effective option for transferring large sums of money (such as life savings or liquid investments) across borders.

By analysing tens of thousands of searches on Monito's comparison engine over the course of 2021, we found that, on average, WiseSkill, Instarem, and CurrencyFair tend to offer the cheapest transfers to Germany for small- and medium-sized transfer amounts. For large transfers (defined here as €42,000 or above), the forex brokers Halo Financial and Currencies Direct tend to be the three most cost-effective services of all.

To find out which service will offer you the best deal in real-time, run a search on our comparison engine below:

Send Money Cheaply to Germany

Frequently Asked Questions About German Banking

Non-Resident Bank Accounts in Germany vs Other Countries

Many countries allow non-residents to open a bank account within their legal jurisdictions, but exactly what kind of requirements non-residents face can differ drastically from country to country and even bank to bank. See the list below to get a better idea of this:

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