Many banks in Germany charge a monthly administration fee for the pleasure of you holding an account (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 offering FREE accounts.
The aim is to help you decide which is the best German bank for expats. All have pros and cons, depending on what you’re looking for.
We chose these 4 banks because they’re frequently recommended on various expat blogs and Facebook Groups:
Which is the best German bank account for expats?
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.
Their multi-currency borderless account acts just like a bank account in many ways.
It enables you to receive your salary (you get a German IBAN number).
You can make bill payments and receive money in Germany, and 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.
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
|Through the app and completely in English.||Apply via the website. Only in German.||Apply via the website. Only in German.||Apply via the website. Only in German.|
|The whole thing can be done in just a few minutes.||Website is user friendly. Application form is longer.||Website not so user friendly but the application form is incredibly simple and can be completed in just a few minutes.||Website is user friendly. Application form is longer.|
|Verification of ID through a video chat on your phone||Verification of ID through a video chat on your phone, or through PostIdent.||Verification of ID through a video chat on your phone, or through PostIdent.||Verification of ID through a video chat on your phone, or through PostIdent.|
Contacting customer service
|Only contactable via email or the chat function inside the App. There is no customer service hotline. Chat is available 7 days a week from 07:00 – 23:00.||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 screen share your online banking screen for real time assistance. Also support via Facebook and Twitter between 08:00-18:00 Monday to Friday.||Offers a customer service hotline, available Mon – Fri from 08:00 – 19:00. Email support, as well as a chatbot function for common questions.||24-hour customer service hotline and email support.|
Does my salary need to be paid in?
|5 withdrawals per month for the first 3 months, then 3 free withdrawals thereafter. Subsequent withdrawals cost €2 per withdrawal. You can use any ATM.||Free using your debit card at any of the 9,000 ATMs from Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank, as well as Shell petrol stations.||Free using your Visa credit card globally if you’re an “active customer” (see rules regarding monthly deposits).||
Free using your girocard at any of the 1,200 ING DiBa ATMs.
Free at 97% of German ATMs using your VISA credit card for withdrawals €50 and above.
|Free using the CASH26 network of partner merchants (supermarkets and stores)||Free using the network of partner merchants (supermarkets and stores) for purchases above €5.||No option to withdraw cash from partner merchants.||Free using the network of partner merchants (supermarkets and stores) for purchases above €5.|
|For withdrawals in currencies other than the euro an exchange rate of 1.7% applies.||
Free at ANY ATM throughout the Eurozone.
Free at any ATM globally if you use your Visa credit card.
|Free at ATMs in the eurozone which display the Visa sign, with no conditions attached.||Free at ATMs in the eurozone which display the Visa sign.|
|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”.||Comdirect is owned by Commerzbank, so customers can pay in cash at any Commerzbank self-service terminal.||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”.||Cash can be deposited in any of the 10,000 branches of ReiseBank as well as the small network of ING DiBa cash deposit machines.|
|Depositing cash is charged at 1.5% on the total amount.||This is free for up to 3 times per year. Further deposits are subject to a €1.90 fee per transaction.||Free for up to €999 per day. Larger sums can be deposited in branches of DKB, but they only have 15 branches (which are all located in Eastern Germany).||ReiseBank branches free but only amounts from €1,000 – €25,000. ING DiBa machines free.|
Credit and Debit Cards
|Free debit card issued as standard||Free debit card issued as standard||Free debit card issued as standard||Free debit card issued as standard|
|If you frequently rent cars from airports, you’ll need an actual credit card.||
Credit card has no annual fee.
Also offers fee-free withdrawals from ATMs globally which display the Visa sign.
|Credit card has no annual fee. Also offers fee-free withdrawals above €50 from ATMs globally which display the Visa sign.||Credit card has no annual fee.|
Foreign currency transfers
N26, through their partnership with Transferwise, enables you to send international transfers in 19 currencies directly from the 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.
comdirect, ING Diba and DKB don’t offer a comparable service, so you’re likely going to need either the services of Transferwise or their competitor CurrencyFair to save money on international transfers.
What to do if they don’t accept my application?
There is no guarantee that your account application will be accepted.
Banks are often conservative, risk averse institutions. If you have recently arrived, don’t have a job yet and have no credit history within Germany, there is definitely a possibility that they will not approve your application. So, the best German bank account for natives may not necessarily be an available option for newbie expats!
N26 are considerably more laid back around who they accept. If your circumstances mean you are not the typical average applicant, perhaps this is your best course of action, at least for the first few months until you have established yourself.
Sparkasse and Deutsche Bank also tend to be less fussy – but their accounts are not free. If you’re happy to pay a monthly account fee and if access to in-branch service is important for you, one of these could be a better option.
Banks are definitely not allowed to do is to discriminate based on nationality. However, they are perfectly entitled to ask your immigration / residency status (and reject you if you do not have a valid residence permit).
DKB is an account that’s often recommended by expat bloggers. It has the advantage if you want to conveniently pay in larger amounts of cash at local shops instead of traipsing to a bank branch.
Biggest selling point: definitely their commission-free withdrawals from any ATM abroad. Biggest downside: everything is in German and they may not accept you as a newbie.
ING-DiBa has won awards in the German financial press. Whether they’re a good choice as an expat though depends on your confidence level of doing everything in German.
If you want to have English-language banking as a newcomer, you have 2 options:
Use the borderless account from Transferwise as both an international money transfer solution and a viable alternative to a bank account for sending and receiving money (including your salary), as well as a debit card for everyday payments.
Or use app-based German bank N26.
I have accounts with N26 and comdirect and I have been happy with the service from them both. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, which is why I use both of them in tandem.
Bank branches in Germany are closed when people who actually have a daytime office job need to use them, so I don’t really see the point of going with a more traditional German bank that has a network of branches.
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