Right to a basic bank account
If you are legally resident in an EU country you are entitled to open a “basic payment account”. Banks cannot refuse your application for a basic payment account just because you don’t live in the country where the bank is established.
This right does not apply to other types of bank account, such as savings accounts.
You can be refused an account if you do not comply with EU rules on money laundering and terrorist financing
In some EU countries, you may be refused a basic bank account if you already have a similar account with another bank in the same country.
If you’re applying for a basic payment account outside the country where you live, banks in some EU countries may also want you to prove a genuine interest for doing so – for example if you live in one country but work in another.
A “basic payment account” is an account that covers standard transactions that you use in daily life, such as:
- making deposits
- withdrawing cash
- receiving and carrying out payments (for example direct debits and card purchases)
It should also include a payment card that you can use to withdraw cash and make purchases – both online and in shops.
Where available, the bank should include access to online banking services with your account. However, they do not always have to include an overdraft or credit facility.
In some EU countries, your bank might still charge you an annual fee for this basic payment account. This fee should remain reasonable.
You don’t need to live in an EU country to have an account there
Sándor started to work for a company based in Slovenia while continuing to live in Hungary. He decided he would like a bank account in Slovenia to use for day-to-day expenses, in addition to his Hungarian bank account.
He found a Slovenian bank near his work and asked to open a basic account. The bank let him open an account even though he was not living in Slovenia.
Banks cannot simply refuse you a basic account because you don’t live in the country.
Before you open your account, the bank should give you a document showing the most important services offered on the account and any related fees that you might have to pay. This is known as a “fee information document”. You can use it to compare the cost of accounts at different banks.
Your bank must also give you a statement explaining the fees incurred on your bank account at least once a year. This “statement of fees” document should also give information on the interest rates applied to your account.
You can switch your bank account to another bank account in the same EU country. Your new bank should help you with this.
If you want to switch to a new account in the same country, tell your new bank that you want to switch and transfer your recurring payments to the new account.
The new bank will then ensure that your old bank transfers data and cancels any standing orders. The new bank must also:
- inform third parties – such as your employer, social security provider and utilities providers – that you are changing your account
- set up your new standing orders
- accept relevant direct debits on the new account
You may still be charged a fee if you decide to close your old account.
If you incur costs during the switching procedure because the bank misses a deadline (to cancel a payment for example) or makes mistakes, they have to refund these costs. If you have any difficulties, you can take the issue to the out-of-court dispute resolution scheme.
Switching bank accounts doesn’t always go smoothly
When Suzanne moved from Toulouse to Paris, she decided to move her bank account to her local bank in Paris. She asked her new bank in Paris to transfer all her payments to the new account and close her old account in Toulouse.
The bank in Paris told the bank in Toulouse to cancel her standing orders and close Suzanne’s account. They then set up standing orders from her new account. However, they forgot to tell her mobile phone provider, and Suzanne was fined when the standing order for her mobile phone contract didn’t go through on time.
Suzanne complained to the bank in Paris. They agreed to refund her the cost of the fine and correct the standing order payment for the mobile phone contract.
EU rules ensure that the money in your bank account (savings account and/or and current account) is protected if the bank holding your account fails. Your money is protected up to a limit of EUR 100 000 or the equivalent in local currency. This limit applies per person and per bank, meaning that if you have several accounts at the same bank, the limit of EUR 100 000 applies to your aggregated accounts.
There are some exceptions to this rule. If you have a joint account with your partner, for example, the limit of EUR 100 000 applies to each of you, meaning up to a maximum of EUR 200 000 for your joint account. In addition, your money will also be protected above EUR 100 000 in certain other cases for a limited time, such as:
- money you receive from selling a private residential property
- money you receive linked to a particular event in your life such as marriage, divorce, retirement, dismissal, redundancy, invalidity or death of a family member
- money you receive from the payment of insurance benefits or compensation for criminal injuries or a wrongful conviction
In these cases, amounts over EUR 100 000 are protected for at least three months and no more than 12 months after the money has been credited, or from the moment when the money became legally transferable, depending on the conditions and thresholds set by each EU country.
What is the best German bank for you?
Why you need a bank account
When you move to Germany, you need a bank account to get paid, to pay your rent, and to buy things online. You don’t need a German bank account, but you need a bank that supports SEPA transfers.
There are good reasons to open a German bank account:
- IBAN discrimination
Sometimes, you need a German IBAN to pay for something. IBAN discrimination is illegal, but it happens1, 2. For example, people had problems when paying the vehicle tax at the Hauptzollamt.
This payment method only exists in Germany1. Some businesses only accept cash and Girocards, no credit or debit cards. This is not every important now. I don’t have a Girocard since 2016. The last places that required a Girocard were the Bürgeramt and Ausländerbehörde. They now accept cash and credit cards1, 2.
German banks for expats
If you are new in Germany, it’s harder to open a bank account. You have no registered address, no job, no residence permit and no credit history. Some banks don’t accept your foreign passport1.
An expat-friendly bank lets you open an account…
- …with a foreign passport
- …without a registered address in Germany
- …without a job
- …without any credit history
- …without speaking German
- bunq – They speak 7 languages1. They accept many passport types. They don’t need an Anmeldung. You get a German IBAN1. When you open an account, their app uses GPS to check if you are in Germany1. You can bypass this if you contact customer support.
- Commerzbank – They have basic online banking in English. The rest is in German. If you open an account in person, they accept most passport types1, 2. You must have a residence permit, and it must be valid for at least 6 months1.
- Deutsche Bank – Online banking, customer service and some documents are in English1. The rest is in German. If you open an account in person, they accept most passport types1, 2, 3. Deutsche Bank offers blocking accounts for foreign students.
- Monese – They speak 14 languages. They don’t ask for an Anmeldung. You get a Belgian IBAN.
- N26 – They speak 5 languages1. They accept many passport types, but they sometimes ask for a German residence permit1. They don’t ask for an Anmeldung. If you open an account from Germany, you get a German IBAN1. You need a German address to receive your bank card, but it doesn’t have to be a registered address.
- Revolut – They speak 24 languages1. They don’t ask for an Anmeldung.
- Wise – They speak 14 languages. They accept most passport types. They don’t ask for an Anmeldung.
If those banks do not support your passport, you can go in person at Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank. They are usually more flexible.
Banks that are not expat-friendly
- Berliner Sparkasse – They require a registered address.
- comdirect – If you don’t have a registered address, you must follow extra steps to open an account. They only speak German.
- DKB – Recent immigrants can rarely open an account1, 2, 3, 4, 5. They only speak German.
- ING – You must have German permanent residency to open an account1. They only speak German.
German banks with English support
Banks with full English support
- bunq – English and 6 other languages
- Monese – English and 13 other languages
- N26 – English and 4 other languages
- Revolut – English and 23 other languages
- Wise – English and 13 other languages
Banks with some English support
These banks let you do some things in English, but you will sometimes need to understand German.
- Berliner Sparkasse – Basic online banking in English. Everything else is in German.
- Deutsche Bank – Customer service and online banking in English. Some documents are only in German. They’re the best option if you want a blocking account or a bank with branches, but you don’t speak German.
- Commerzbank – Basic online banking in English. Everything else is in German.
If you go to your local branch, you can usually find someone who speaks English, but all the documents and contracts will be in German.
German banks with no monthly fees
Some banks charge monthly fees just to have a bank account. Other banks don’t have monthly fees.
Banks with no monthly fees
- DKB – No monthly fees1. They don’t let recent immigrants open an account.
- N26 – No monthly fees if your balance is below 50,000€1
Banks with no monthly fees if you deposit money every month
These banks remove the monthly fees if you deposit money in your account every month. In other words, if you receive your paycheck there, you don’t pay monthly fees.
- 1822direkt – 3.90€ monthly fee if you deposit less than 700€ per month1.
- comdirect – 4.90€ monthly fee if your deposit less than 700€ per month1. No fees if you use Google Pay or Apple Pay at least 3 times per month1.
- Commerzbank – 9.90€ monthly fee if your deposit less than 700€ per month1. A credit card costs 39.90€ per year.
- ING – 3.90€ monthly fee if you deposit less than 700€ per month1.
Banks with no monthly fee for students
- 1822direkt – No monthly fee for all people under 27 years old1, 2.
- Berliner Sparkasse – No monthly fee for students under 26 years old1. 8.50€ per year for a debit card. Some branches offer a Sperrkonto.
- comdirect – No monthly fee for students under 28 years old1.
- Commerzbank – No monthly fee for students under 27 years old (StartKonto)1. The credit card is free if you deposit over 300€ per month.
- Deutsche Bank – No monthly fee for EU students1. 6.90€ for non-EU students1. They offer a Sperrkonto for the German student visa.
- Volksbank – No monthly fee for students1.
Banks with monthly fees
- Berliner Sparkasse – 3€ monthly fee1, or 1€ + 0.30€ per debit card transaction2. 2.50€ per month for a credit card1.
- bunq – Minimum 3€ per month for the card. No other monthly fee.
- Deutsche Bank – 6.90€ monthly fee1.
- Volksbank: 6€ monthly fee + 0.50€ for debit card1.
Some banks charge a fee for their credit cards. For example, Commerzbank’s cheapest credit card is 39.90€ per year1.
German banks with no ATM fees
Some banks charge you to withdraw cash at an ATM. This can get really expensive. You should choose a bank with no ATM fees.
Banks with free ATM withdrawals
These banks let you withdraw money from any ATM without paying fees. This is very convenient.
- bunq – 4 to 5 free withdrawals per month1. You can only withdraw 250€ per day in the first 3 months, and 500€ per day after 3 months1.
- comdirect – 3 free withdrawals per month. Free withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs (15% of ATMs). 9.90€ per withdrawal outside the Eurozone.
- DKB – Free withdrawals from any ATM1.
- ING – Free withdrawals from any ATM1.
- N26 – 3 free withdrawals per month. After that, you pay 2€ per withdrawal.
Bank with free withdrawals on their ATM network
Some banks let you withdraw money for free, but only if you use their cash machines. I don’t recommend those banks. You sometimes need to walk an extra 10 minutes to find a free ATM. This is why I closed my Commerzbank account.
- 1822direkt – 4 free withdrawals per month from Sparkasse ATMs1 (45% of ATMs)1. Otherwise, 2€ per withdrawal1.
- Berliner Sparkasse – Free withdrawals from Sparkasse ATMs (45% of ATMs)1. Fee of 2% (minimum 7.50€) per withdrawal from other ATMs1.
- Commerzbank – Free withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs (15% of ATMs). Fee of 1.95% (minimum 5.98€) of withdrawal amount for other ATMs1.
- Deutsche Bank – Free withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs (15% of ATMs)1. Fee of 6€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs.
- Volksbank – Free withdrawals from BVR ATMs (32% of ATMs)1. Fee of 7.50€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs1.
German banks for students
Go to German banks with no monthly fees
Blocked account (Sperrkonto) for the student visa
If you want to apply for a student visa, you usually need a blocked account (Sperrkonto)1, 2 as a proof of financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis). If you need a blocked account, Deutsche Bank is often the only option1, 2, but a few Sparkasse branches also have blocked accounts1, 2. Some lesser known banks such as Fintiba and X-patrio also offer this service.
A blocked account is not always required for a student visa. A scholarship, a proof of parental income or a guarantee can also work. If you need help with your student visa, ask your German embassy or consulate, or a relocation consultant.
Banks in other EU countries
These banks are based in other EU countries. They let you open an account from Germany.
- bunq – Licenced in Belgium. Accounts can have a German IBANs.
- Monese – Licenced in Belgium. Accounts have Belgian IBANs.
- Revolut – Licenced in Belgium. Accounts have Belgian IBANs.
- Wise – Licenced in Belgium. Accounts have Belgian IBANs.
There are a few problems with non-German banks:
- Your money is insured differently
When your money is in a German bank, it’s insured up to 100,000€ by the German government1. You will get that money back even if the bank goes bankrupt. The rules can be different in other EU countries.
- You might get a non-German IBAN
This is rarely a big problem, but sometimes, you need a German IBAN. IBAN discrimination is illegal, but it happens1, 2. For example, people had problems when paying the vehicle tax at the Hauptzollamt.
- You can’t get a Girocard
This type of debit card only exists in Germany1. You almost never need a Girocard. I don’t have one since 2016. The last places that required a Girocard were the Bürgeramt and Ausländerbehörde. They now accept cash and credit cards1, 2.
How to open a bank account in Germany
The requirements to open a bank account are the same for most banks:
- A proof of German residency (your Meldebescheinigung). Some banks let you open an account without one.
- A proof of identity (your passport or national ID, and sometimes a residence permit)
Some banks require a minimum income or financial history in Germany. Other banks require permanent residency in Germany. For example, DKB often rejects foreigners1. Some online banks only support certain passports1, or ask for a residence permit.
Open a bank account online
Some banks like bunq, Comdirect, DKB, ING, Monese, N26, Revolut and Wise let you open an account with their app. You can do it at home. They start a video call, and they ask you to show both sides of your ID or passport. This only works with passports from certain countries1. If they don’t accept your passport, you must use Postident to verify your documents. This takes longer, and it doesn’t always work.
With online banks, you can sometimes open your account from another country, before you arrive in Germany. They still need to send your bank card to a German address. Some people sent the bank card to their office, or to a friend’s address.
Open a bank account in person
These banks are often more flexible. They accept most passport types, and they let you open a bank account without a residence permit or a registered address.
Transfer money from another country
After you open a German bank account, use Wise or XE.com to transfer money from another country. They have better exchange rates and lower fees than banks. I used Wise when I moved to Germany. I still use it when I need to send money abroad. You can use Wise directly in the N26 app.
Which bank should I pick?
I recommend you to choose:
- A bank that speaks your language
- A bank with no monthly fees
- A bank with no ATM fees
- A bank with a free Visa or MasterCard
This is why I’m happy with N26. It’s my main bank since 2016. You can read my review of N26. If you speak German, DKB and ING are also really good options.
If you come from another country, some banks won’t accept your passport. If that’s a problem, Deutsche Bank is a good option. You can also use one of the EU online banks: bunq, Monese, Revolut and Wise. They usually accept more passport types.
If you need a blocking account (Sperrkonto), then Deutsche Bank is the only good option.
If you want to trade stocks, I recommend Degiro. This is the online broker I use.