Open a German Bank account:
Expats and foreigners in Germany
A German current account (Girokonto) is usually required in order to receive your salary, transfer the rent or set up direct debits for mobile and internet contracts. Moreover, Germany is still a country where cash is king at most places. Hence, you usually need a local bank to enjoy free cash withdrawals. Therefore, getting a German bank account is almost compulsory.
The account opening process is easy and quick. Nevertheless, the offer can be quite overwhelming and hard to understand for both foreigners as well as nationals. The good news is that there is plenty of options satisfying everybody’s needs – and you don’t even need to spend a penny on monthly fees. This site shows you how banking works in Germany in order to find the right bank account.
Last updated: 30 December 2023
Table of Contents
- Do you require a German bank account as an expat or foreigner in Germany?
- What features do German banks and their accounts provide?
- What are the Top 10 banks in Germany?
- What are major retail banks in Germany?
- What are the best online banks in Germany?
- What are the best German banks for foreigners and expats?
- What are the best German banks for students?
- Opening Process: How do you open a German bank account?
- Changing Bank Account: Can you change the bank or open a secondary account?
1. Do you require a German bank account as an expat or foreigner in Germany?
If you plan to stay in Germany for a longer period of time, you will need a German bank account for seamless financial transactions – no matter whether you’re a student, professional, or expatriate. A local account provides access to essential services like:
- Salary deposits from your employer
- Bill payments / standing orders, e.g. for electricity or mobile phone plans
- Tax payments or refunds from authorities
- Money transfers (called SEPA), e.g. for rent
- Cash withdrawals at ATMs
- Card payments at stores and online
Thanks to the liberated financial European market and Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA), an account from another European country that does not charge fees (e.g. for withdrawals, payments or international transfers) might also serve your needs. Some pan-European providers like N26 (promotional link), bunq (promotional link), or Wise (promotional link) have even focused on the niche of European citizens. In return, this also means that a lot of German bank accounts are also well-equipped for living and travelling abroad.
2. What features do German banks and their accounts provide?
Complementary cash withdrawals
As cash is still the dominating means of payment at a lot of places in Germany, free cash withdrawals are an important feature.
All banks usually offer them domestically with certain restrictions. Some banks limit the number of free monthly withdrawals, others set a certain minimum withdrawal amount or restrict withdrawals to their group’s own ATM network. Even if handing out several cards, most banks allow free cash withdrawals with only one of them. Ignoring any of these restrictions can result in paying as much as €6 for one withdrawal. This may also be the case if you chose to withdraw in person with a clerk at a branch instead of using an ATM.
On the other hand, multiple banks have recently started to cooperate with retailers. This has made the option available to withdraw at the cashier of certain stores at no cost even without purchase. The same retailers (e.g. REWE, Penny, dm, Lidl, Aldi, Edeka) usually also offer this service to all their customers when spending at least €5-20 in shopping.
At a lot of banks customers even enjoy free withdrawals abroad. If so, Euro transactions are usually completely free of charge. For worldwide withdrawals some banks may charge a small currency conversion fee that is usually 1-2% per transaction. This one would then also be applicable for cashless payments in foreign currency.
Free cash deposits
Depositing cash mostly occurs on rare occasions. However, if you require to deposit frequently this might be an important aspect when choosing a bank. Usually only banks with an associated network of branches or ATMs (especially retail banks) offer unlimited free deposits. There is some online banks that cooperate with retailers so that clients can at least deposit smaller amounts without fees.
Generally, it does not matter which bank you are, there is always the option to perform deposit on your account at branches not belonging to your bank. Nevertheless, the depositing bank will charge a fee (usually between €7 and €20).
Girocards (also called “EC-Karte”) are debit cards and the most widely accepted cards for cashless payments in German stores. Even though the acceptance of Visa and MasterCard has been steadily increasing, especially smaller stores/ restaurants only accept Girocard. They usually come with a Maestro or V Pay functionality and can be used for cash withdrawals, too. These cards are not suitable for online or telephone payments. However, a lot of German do only own Girocards so that most online stores offer other means of payment (e.g. direct debit, money transfer, Paypal or payment after delivery).
Optional Visa / MasterCard debit and credit Card
Having a Visa or MasterCard is especially important for online shopping as well as international travel. Some banks (i.e. N26) only offer debit cards with limited functionalities compared to credit cards. Debit cards are usually enough for day-to-day transactions. However, these cards are usually not suitable as a guarantee for rental cars or hotel bookings. Neither do they offer free credit if you run out of funds at the end of the month. In return requirements in terms of credit-worthiness are less strict.
Easy digital or physical service and accessibility
Nowadays all banks offer online, mobile and telephone banking. However, there are differences in regards to user-friendliness that will depend largely on your personal taste. Especially some online banks offer advanced applications that are capable of showing transactions in real-time. For traditional retail banks it may take some days to see your updated statement. In contrast, they provide their own network of branches and therefore additional face-to-face service.
Multi-language support and foreign residence
Especially when you have just arrived to the country, you might not have a German residence or extensive knowledge of the language. Most banks offer their website, online/ mobile banking interface and customer service exclusively in German. However, some provide services additionally in English. If you opt for a traditional retail bank, the language skills will depend highly on the local staff. Moreover, most banks require a German residence. If you do not have it yet, you can choose one of the accounts that allow registering with a foreign address – sometimes even from abroad (see also our article on best banks for international expats, students and non-residents).
Free accounts and premium options
Retail banks tend to charge a monthly fee, whereas most online accounts are free. Sometimes there are also some premium options available (e.g. insurances or golden credit cards). For normal use, there is usually no need to choose a paid account.
Moreover, some accounts come with a welcome bonus when you sign up – in some cases bonuses can reach up to €200. Even though it is not relevant in the long run, it may be something to consider if you are undecided.
Private and business accounts
Usual current accounts are dedicated to consumers (i.e. (un)employed people, students or pensioners). Traditionally, freelancers or self-employed people require a special (more expensive) business account. Nevertheless, most banks also allow freelancers or self-employed to open a current account for private use. Through a second account, they can therefore benefit from the more advantageous conditions for consumers like free credit cards or unlimited transactions.
Wide portfolio of financial services
Most banks’ business comprises more than just current accounts. Traditional retail banks have the largest service portfolio (i.e. credits, mortgages, saving accounts, investment banking). However, their conditions are not always the best so that it might make sense to search the best provider for each service individually.
3. What are the Top 10 banks in Germany?
Thanks to a national deposit guarantee, your funds of up to €100,000 are secured at any German bank for the case it goes bust. So customers are always on the safe side. In general, one can differentiate between retail and online banks. Traditional retail banks offer personal service and a dense network of branches but (except of some) they charge monthly fees. Online banks miss their own branches but usually offer free accounts with the best performance-ratio. All banks nowadays have extensive phone/ online service that is accessible from around the world. On top there are different criteria for defining the Top 10 banks in Germany, e.g.:
- Total assets is the most common criterion to define the size of a financial institution. In these terms Deutsche Bank (€ 1,324 billion), DZ Bank (€ 627 billion) and KfW (€ 551 billion) are the biggest banks. You can find the full statistics on Statista. However, a lot of these institutions are specialized on investments or large business customers and do not serve private consumers. Hence, this criterion is not the most suitable when selecting a personal current account.
- Market share for current accounts is another statistics to take into consideration. 44.8% of citizens in Germany have an account with Sparkasse Group, 23.5% have a primary or secondary account with Volksbank-Raiffeisenbank Group. The rest of the top 10 is completed by ING (10.6%), Commerzbank (10.2%), Postbank (8.7%), comdirect (7.4%), Deutsche Bank (7.1%), DKB (4.9%), HypoVereinsbank by Unicredit (2.4%) and Santander (2%). Find this one and further statistics here.
- Customer satisfaction can also be a criterion to rate the quality of a bank. In 2023, the banks with the best customer ratings were awarded in a study accompanied by German TV channel n-tv (find the full ranking and all categories here):
- Personal preferences and requirements may be the final decision factor for choosing a German bank account. In the end it comes up to your lifestyle. If you prefer English-language customer service and no fees while travelling abroad, you might opt for a digital bank like N26. In case you are keen on investing and trading you will probably open an account with Consorsbank or comdirect. Luckily, the offer and competition in the German banking market are quite large. Therefore, customers enjoy lots of benefits for no or low fees and on top receive high sign-up bonuses. You can easily take advantage and chose one of the free accounts that come without any monthly cost and offer all the perks you require (see our list of comparison for free accounts).
4. What are major retail banks in Germany?
Sparkasse (Savings Bank)
Volksbank / Raiffeisenbank / Sparda-Bank (Cooperative Bank)
Volksbank, Raiffeisenbank and Sparda-Bank are also organized in regional entities with varying offers depending on your residence. The group has the second highest density of branches and allows free cash witdrawals nationwide at other branches. As with Sparkasse, there are usually monthly fees and the service is mainly targeted towards local customers. However, there have also an online branch called VR Perfekt.
Deutsche Bank is Germany’s largest private bank. Thanks to its activities abroad, it is also the most famous one internationally. Deutsche Bank Group also owns the independent Postbank. Both banks have a dense network of branches all around Germany. Customers of their mostly chargeable current accounts can perform free cash withdrawals at all Cashgroup ATMs (Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank). Thanks to their international presence, Deutsche Bank offers services abroad and English online banking.
Germany’s second largest private bank. It is also the only one of Germany’s big traditional retail banks offering free bank accounts. For free cash withdrawals, clients can choose a Cashgroup ATM (Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank). Commerzbank has an English interface for their online banking. The bank has also its own direct bank comdirect.
HypoVereinsbank by UniCredit
Since the merger HypoVereinsbank is part of Italy’s largest private bank. It is nonetheless supervised by the German authorities and funds are insured under German law. It has more than 400 branches throughout the country. However, the density of the network varies regionally so depending on your location the next branch may be far. HypoVereinsbank offers an account that comes without monthly fees during the first 2 years. Afterwards, it may continue to be free if you meet certain requirements. For free cash withdrawals you can take advantage of any Cashgroup ATM (Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank). The mobile banking app is also available in English and Italian.
Banco Santander is Spain’s largest bank. Santanter’s activities are performed by an independent subsidiary under the German deposit guarantee. It has about 200 branches throughout Germany. Depending on your place of residence, it may be hard to access depending on your location. However, free cash withdrawals with Girocard are also possible at associated banks (CashPool). If you have a credit card with Santander, you can use any ATM. Santander also offers a free current account with a complimentary credit card and a mobile app in German and English.
TARGOBANK by Crédit Mutuel
5. What are the best online banks in Germany?
German online bank accounts have been booming in recent years. Therefore, some classic traditional retail banks have moved to a more hybrid model in past years. They have combined their traditional banking experience with advanced digital services and free account options. Hence, besides the upcoming list, some additional options to consider are:
DKB is one of the most established online banks in Germany as it is backed by the state bank of Bavaria. Its free current account is very popular as it is free worldwide cash withdrawals and can be opened from abroad. However, service is only available in English.
norisbank by Deutsche Bank
norisbank is the online banking branch of Deutsche Bank. It offers a free account with a complimentary credit card. You can also withdraw cash at any Deutsche Bank ATM without charges. The mobile banking app is also available in English. The customer service and website are however only in German.
comdirect by Commerzbank
comdirect is a subsidiary of Commerzbank and one of the most popular German online banks. The account is free and you can also perform a certain amount of monthly free cash withdrawals in Germany and abroad. Service is exclusively in German.
ING is Germany’s most popular online bank in terms of customer numbers. The Netherlands‘ largest bank offers digital banking services but does not maintain any branches in Germany. They offer a free account and free cash withdrawals are possible at any ATM unter certain conditions. All service is exclusively in German.
Consorsbank by BNP Paribas
Since the takeover, Consorsbank belongs to the largest bank of France BNP Paribas. All activities are nonetheless performed under German regulation and deposit guarantee. The activities are online and in German language only. Free cash withdrawals are possible at any ATM (see our overview of bank accounts).
N26 is Europe’s leading mobile bank. You can open an account using online identification if you live in the EU, EFTA or US. You’ll get a free virtual debit card (physical card is available for a low one-time fee) and enjoy complementary cash withdrawals worldwide. This bank is also the multi-language king as website, app and customer support are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish. Check out our full N26 review or directly explore their website to open an account here (promotional link).
There are many independent (online) banks that enjoy high customer satisfaction and offer some of the best current accounts on the market. Especially for international residents they may be the first choice. This category includes VR Perfekt, 1822direkt, Volkswagen Bank, Vivid Money, Kontist, FYRST, Finom and much more.
6. What are the best German banks for foreigners and expats?
Navigating banking as a foreigner in Germany is easier with institutions catering to international residents. Depending on your knowledge of German, you may want to opt for banks offering services in English. Foreigner-friendly banks also facilitate straightforward account opening processes, minimizing documentation challenges such as a proof of residence in Germany. Some banks even often refuse passports from certain countries. Furthermore, you may want to choose a bank that understands your unique requirements such as international transaction solutions. Whether you’re a student, expat, or visitor, your needs may vary.
The most demanded bank services by foreigners are English language support and the possibility of an address / residence abroad. In these terms, the following banks are most suitable for foreigners and expats:
- N26: This digital bank is probably the most obvious choice. They support 5 languages and accounts can be opened using an address in most European countries. Hence, you can even open an account prior to your arrival in Germany.
- Commerzbank, Santander, Targobank and Deutsche Bank: The online banking, mobile app and / or customer service are available in English, the rest is in German. A residence in Germany is required.
- comdirect, Consorsbank and DKB: They let you open a bank account with an international residence. However, the process can be a bit cumbersome and customer service is exclusively available in German.
However, everybody has different needs. This is why we have developed a comparison tool so that you can find the best account according to your needs. Check out our comparison of free online bank accounts in Germany:
7. What are the best German banks for students?
Applying for a Visa: What is a Blocked Account for Students?
If you come to Germany for studying and are not a EU citizen, you may be asked to open a blocked account (“Sperrkonto”) in order to proof your financial independence. It is required before applying for a Visa and after being admitted to a German university.
The blocked account shall have a minimum balance of €11,208 to cover the estimated expenses for one year. When starting their studies, students are then entitiled to withdraw a maximum of €934 per month. It may be more if your initial balance exceeds the legally obliged minimum amount.
Keep in mind that a blocked account is not a current account. Upon your arrival in Germany, you need to open a traditional German bank account to withdraw money, perform cashless online/ store payments and set up direct debits or standing orders (e.g. for rent or a mobile phone plan). Each month, you can then transfer money from your blocked account to your personal current account.
There are only few banks that offer blocked accounts like Fintiba (promotional link) as they need to be officially recognized by the German immigration office. Read more about this topic our dedicated article on blocked accounts.
8. Opening Process: How do you open a German bank account?
The opening process for getting a German bank account is always quite similar and it is usually done online. For retail banks you can also open the account directly in the branch. Nevertheless, from our own experience, you may get worse conditions if you do not fill out the online form before. For example, once ourselves we ended up paying extra for a credit card and received a lower sign-up bonus just because we did everything at the branch. Usually, the entire process of online application and identification takes about 15-20 minutes.
The Opening Steps
- Use our comparison tool to get an overview of all the accounts and select the one that fits your requirements best.
- Fill out your application on the website (incl. name, address, age, nationality). Sometimes you will be asked for profession and income. Based on these data, the bank may also decline your opening request – especially if you just moved to the country and do not have stable income or credit history (called “SCHUFA”). In case this happens, just opt for another bank as some seem to be more restricitive (i.e. DKB) than others (e.g. N26). You may still open another account a few months later once you are properly settled.
- In case you are accepted, you are asked to identify yourself. For this, you usually only need your passport (depending on the bank and your country of origin, an EU-ID card can be sufficient). Few banks may also ask for a proof of address (usually the registration confirmation “Anmeldung” from the townhall). This process can be done online either with a webcam or a smartphone. Alternatively, you may print out an identification form that you will receive by e-mail. With this form and above mentioned documents the identification can be completed at a post office or, if your bank is a retail bank, in one of their branches.
Some banks may additionally ask you to post the printed opening documents with your original signature. If you do the identification process in a branch or at the post office, you may leave it there.
Congratulations! Finally, your account information, bank cards and pin will be send to your home.
9. Changing Bank Account: Can you change the bank or open a secondary account?
Of course you can open several accounts. It may especially make sense if you want to have a separate shared account with your partner or for business expenditures. If you are unhappy with your choice, some banks even offer automated services to move your direct debits/ standing orders. Therefore, you should first open a new account before closing the old one.