You may not be aware that most banks in Germany charge a monthly administration fee for the pleasure of you holding a current (US: checking) account, known as a Girokonto in German.
This article aims to save you time and money!
We’re going to take a look at 4 popular banks among the expat community in Germany which offer completely FREE accounts.
The aim is to help you decide which of these is the best German bank for the expat community. All of them have pros and cons depending on what you’re looking for.
I’ve personally held accounts with 2 out of the 4.
All of these banks are frequently recommended on various expat blogs and Facebook Groups, hence why we’ve focused on these 4 specifically:
Which is the best German bank account for expats?
Before we get to the list…
There are a number of accounts out there which claim to be free…but the small print can sometimes have nasty surprises.
The ones we compare below are all free for the following and do not have a monthly minimum pay-in requirement:
- Cash withdrawals from their own (if applicable) and partner organisation cash machines
- Transfers from your account to any other bank account as part of the SEPA-transfer protocol, made in Euro and inside the Eurozone
- Day-to-day transactions and management of the account
- Issuance of a debit card
- Monthly statements or balance requests, as long as you receive these online and you clear out your mailbox regularly
- Calling or chatting with customer service
An easy, minimum hassle alternative
Transferwise offers a great alternative for those who have recently moved to Germany but don’t yet have a permanent, registered address that most German banks will want evidence of.
Their multi-currency borderless account acts just like a bank account in many ways.
It enables you to receive your salary just like a German bank account (you get a German IBAN number so your employer will treat it the same). You can make bill payments and receive money in Germany, and you can also hold a balance in multiple currencies at the same time.
You’re also able to transfer money between different currencies at no commission or fee. No traditional bank in Germany offers this!
It works just like a bank account in for sending and receiving money but you can’t set up direct debits, standing orders or have an overdraft facility.
Ease of opening an account
N26 are the most lenient of the German banks in terms of their prerequisites. The application process is through the App or online and is very quick and user-friendly, completely in English. They claim in their advertising campaign that it takes just 8 minutes. Verification of ID is done via video chat function on your smartphone.
Apply for an account online through the comdirect website. The website is very user-friendly to use and the application form is fairly straightforward to complete quickly. However, their website and banking interface is all in German. Verification of ID is done via either via video chat function on your smartphone or through PostIdent at any Deutsche Post office.
Apply for an account online through their website. The website is very user-friendly to use and the application form is fairly straightforward to complete quickly. However, their website and banking interface is all in German. Verification of ID is done via either via video chat function on your smartphone or through PostIdent at any Deutsche Post office.
Apply for an account online through the DKB website. The website isn’t as user-friendly as ING-DiBa but the application form is straightforward and can be completed in a few minutes. However, their website and banking interface is also completely in German. Verification of ID is done via either via video chat function on your smartphone or through PostIdent at any Deutsche Post office.
Depending on a few different circumstances, you get either 3 or 5 free cash withdrawals per month from any ATM or network within Germany. Within other Eurozone countries you have unlimited cash withdrawals.
You can withdraw cash at popular stores, including REWE, Penny, Real, dm and Rossmann plus a few lesser known ones, using a barcode which you obtain through the online banking app on your smartphone.
Using your debit card you can withdraw cash for free at 9,000 ATMs in the CashLink network of Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank branches as well as all participating Shell petrol stations and up to 13,000 other independent partners.
Abroad, you can withdraw cash for free within the Eurozone using your debit card. Outside of the Eurozone, you can only withdraw cash free of charge if you have their Visa credit card.
You can withdraw cash using your debit card at popular stores, including dm, Netto, Aldi Süd, REWE, Penny and toom Baumarkt. ING-DiBa also has 1,200 cash machines throughout Germany, mainly at ARAL petrol stations and Saturn electrical retailers.
If you want to use other ATMs, you can only do this for free if you use their Visa credit card.
Similar to N26, you can withdraw cash at popular stores, including REWE, Penny, Real, dm and Rossmann plus a few lesser known ones, using a barcode which you obtain through the online banking app on your smartphone.
If you want to use ATMs, you can only do this for free if you use their Visa credit card. Why? Because unlike comdirect, DKB does not belong to a network of affiliated cash machines.
The big advantage of DKB is for frequent travellers. Their Visa credit card gives you free withdrawals from any ATM worldwide!
Contacting customer service
Only contactable via email or the chat function inside the App. There is no customer service hotline. Chat is available Monday to Friday from 08:00-21:00 and on Saturday from 08:00-20:00.
Offers a 24 hour customer service hotline, email support, as well as website and App-based chat. They also offer a neat function which allows you to screenshare your online banking screen with them if you need real time assistance. comdirect also has an active presence on Facebook and Twitter between 08:00-18:00 Monday to Friday.
Offers a 24 hour customer service hotline, email support, as well as a chatbot function for common questions.
Offers a 24-hour customer service hotline as well as email support.
Foreign currency transfers
Through their partnership with Transferwise, you can send international transfers in 19 currencies directly from the N26 App. This can mean fees up to 6 times lower than using traditional banks. Definitely something to consider if regularly making payments into your home country bank account or to friends, family or businesses back home.
Still operates as a traditional bank in this regard. You don’t get the Interbank rate offered by a peer-to-peer international transfer service such as Transferwise or CurrencyFair. I therefore recommend you use one of these as alternatives!
Same as comdirect
Same as comdirect
Cash can be deposited in exactly the same way as it is withdrawn i.e. from the chains of supermarkets and drugstores we’ve listed under “Withdrawals”. Depositing cash is free for the first €100 each month, then there’s a 1.5% charge on the total amount above that.
Thanks to comdirect’s affiliation with Commerzbank, customers can pay in cash using any Commerzbank self-service terminal, just as a Commerzbank customer would do. This is free for up to 3 times per year. Further deposits are subject to a €1.90 fee per transaction.
Currently the only option to pay in cash is at branches of ReiseBank, of which there are only 100. You’ll also need to show ID when doing this. So fine if you’re in a major urban area, not so great if you’re not. ING DiBa’s ATMs in Frankfurt, Hannover and Nürnberg also have a deposit function. This is also planned to be rolled out to more ATMs throughout 2019, according to their website.
Cash can be deposited in exactly the same way as it is withdrawn i.e. from the chains of supermarkets and drugstores we’ve listed under “Withdrawals”. DKB offers one of the best options for those who need to deposit cash frequently. It’s free for up to €999 per day. Larger sums can be deposited in branches of DKB, although that’s not much use if you don’t live close to their 15 branches which are all located in Eastern Germany.
Authorised overdraft 8.9% p.a.. Does not offer unauthorised overdraft.
Authorised overdraft 6.5% p.a.. Unauthorised overdraft 11.0% p.a..
Authorised overdraft 6.99% p.a.. Does not offer unauthorised overdraft.
Authorised overdraft 7.5% p.a.. Does not offer unauthorised overdraft.
All of them have smartphone apps for both iOS and Android.
User experience is always something which is to some extent based on personal taste.
However, N26 was developed as an app-based bank whereas the others were not. What this means is that their app does everything, whereas other apps are somewhat more limited.
DKB’s app in my opinion is the best of the rest.
Whether or not this is an inconvenience to you depends on how much you will rely on using the app versus normal internet banking.
Credit and Debit Cards
All accounts offer a free debit card / Girocard / EC card (whichever you want to call it!) as part of their package. N26 uses Maestro / Mastercard whereas the others all use Visa.
Mastercard debit i.e. it’s billed IMMEDIATELY! No option to pay a minimum balance, so not really what most expats from English speaking countries would understand as a “c