When making the big decision about moving to Berlin you need to consider important questions such as where you will live and how you will make money.

Of course, making money also means getting paid.

And it may be necessary to open a German bank account in Berlin in order to receive compensation from your employer.

Similarly, if you are planning on living in Berlin for several years, it only makes sense to open a local bank account to make day to day life in Germany easy for you.

If you are an expat or foreign resident it is slightly more complicated to open a bank account in Berlin compared to how the process works for German citizens.

We will explain the pros and cons of opening a bank account in Berlin and walk you through the process step by step.

What is banking like in Germany?

If you have never lived in Germany before you may be wondering how their banking system differs from your home country’s banks.

In Germany, there are three types of traditional banks:

  1. Co-operative banks;
  2. Private commercial banks;
  3. And public savings banks.

Of course, there are also plenty of German digital banks as well as international banks with a strong presence in Germany.

Whether you have a traditional German bank account with a large public savings bank or an offshore account, it’s easy to access your funds in Germany.

Commerzbank, Deutsche Bank, and HypoVereinsbank, Germany’s three largest banks, operate ATMs within a larger body called the Cash Group in addition to their branches’ ATMs.

If you have an account at any of these three banks you can use a Cash Group ATM for free.

Otherwise, you may have to pay a fee of €5–10 for these transactions.

However, some banks will reimburse these fees.

Overall, do you need a bank account in Germany?

Berlin bank account

Depending on how long you plan to stay in Berlin and what type of work you will do, you may not need a German bank account.

If you are planning to relocate to Germany permanently, you may find it easier to manage your finances by consolidating all of your bank accounts into one or two accounts at a German bank.

Another approach is to open an international offshore account with the funds currently in your local bank account.

This has a similar advantage of consolidating your holdings and making it easy for you to send and receive payments while in Germany.

Offshore accounts are especially suitable for digital nomads who may live in two or even three countries over the course of the same year.

Having an offshore account is particularly helpful for anyone who works abroad, spends a lot of time in more than one country, or frequently transfers money between countries.

Before deciding whether or not to open a German bank account, consider whether there are any major obstacles to living in Berlin without a local bank account.

For example, if you need to pay rent to your German landlord by writing a check, then you will have to have an account at a German or offshore bank.

However, if you are paying rent to a larger landlord or a company like Blueground that offers flexible apartment rentals in Berlin, you can probably use the account you already have and take advantage of no- or low-fee digital money transfers to meet this basic expense.

Blueground offers fully-furnished, equipped and serviced apartments in some of the world's most sought after cities.

 

Top 5 types of German bank accounts to consider when opening an account

There are several types of German bank accounts with various advantages and disadvantages. Depending on your circumstances, you will want to consider one or two of the main varieties of accounts.

1. Current account (Girokonto)

In terms of day to day transactions, a current account, also called a Girokonto, is the most practical option for many expats and digital nomads.

A current account lets you deposit checks and receive direct deposits, and you can also write checks, and set up one-time or recurring transfers to pay your rent or other bills.

Current accounts also let you withdraw money from a bank branch or ATM using an EC card.

2. Non-resident account

It is also possible to get a non-resident account at a German bank. This may be necessary for expats and digital nomads if they do not have a Schufa, a German credit score.

The only way to obtain a Schufa is to either live in Germany or open a German bank account. There are several banks that are known for their excellent non-resident accounts, including N26 and ING.

A non-resident account at a German or international bank will still allow you to send and receive money and even write checks, and all without a Schufa.

3. Savings account (Sparkonto)

The third type of German bank account to consider is a savings account, which is called Sparkonto.

All in all, unlike a current account, a savings account will earn interest. It is common to open both a Girokonto and a Sparktonto at the same bank.

You should only open a savings account with a German bank if you are planning to reside in Germany for several years or longer. The low-interest accounts available to the public are not necessarily a better deal than your savings account in your home country.

4. Digital & Mobile account

There are also digital banks, which allow you to have a mobile account rather than needing to go to a branch in Germany to open your account.

So unlike the other types of German bank accounts, digital accounts are available in multiple countries.

Also, signing up for a digital bank account in Germany is a little more straightforward than signing up for a traditional bank account.

Instead of a whole sheaf of documents, you will likely only need your passport or driver’s license and proof of income to get started. Bunq, N26, and Revolut are some of the most popular digital bank accounts to use in Germany.

5. Offshore accounts

Similar to digital banks, offshore accounts allow you to freely send and receive money without being tied to one bank branch or even country.

By default, offshore banks are located outside the account holder’s country and are designed for ultimate flexibility.

Because there are no physical bank branches at offshore banks, they usually reimburse ATM fees and offer cross-border services to their customers.

If you are looking for a German bank that offers offshore accounts, try Commerzbank or Deutsche Bank.

And what you should consider when choosing a bank account in Germany

There are a number of factors that will influence how to manage your money when living in Berlin.

If you are trying to decide between one of the main types of German bank accounts, you will need to do a fair amount of research to decide what is ultimately your best option.

Here are the questions you need to ask before opening a bank account in Germany.

Berlin bank printout

1. What are the fees?

As with banks anywhere in the world, most German banks charge annual or monthly account maintenance fees, though you can often avoid these fees by keeping your bank balance above a certain amount.

Be sure to also research how much international money transfers cost, and whether the bank takes a percentage back on currency conversion.

You may also be able to avoid bank fees by opening two accounts at once, for example, a current account and a savings account.

2. English-language services

Unless your German is flawless, you will want to choose a bank that has an English language portal as well as English-speaking customer support.

Banks that offer these services to expats and digital nomads will advertise on their websites, so be sure to check that a potential bank can offer service in English before you proceed to open an account.

3. Range of products and services

Think about what you will need to use your bank account in Germany for.

If you are only going to need to receive your direct deposit from an employer and use a card to withdraw cash at ATMs, it may not matter to you that the bank offers investment options.

Similarly, if you plan to use your bank account to accept wire transfers from your clients across the world, be sure to confirm that your bank offers this service to accountholders.

4. Non-resident account availability

Not all banks offer non-resident accounts.

This could be a problem if you do not have a Schufa, for example, so be sure to confirm that each bank you are considering will allow you to open an account.

If you are still not sure based on the bank’s website, this is an instance where a phone call can quickly put your mind at ease.

5. Ease of access

Another important consideration for opening a bank account in Germany is how easy it will be to access your money.

Make sure that you research each bank’s mobile offerings as well as their policies for accountholders.

Most banks allow you to access your funds online through your web browser or have proprietary apps to give you total access to your account, night or day.

6. Customer support

All banks offer customer support, but the quality and availability of support agents vary widely from bank to bank.

Above all, don’t just rely on your impression of the staff of the bank branch nearest you, be sure to read online reviews.

Focus especially on reviews where the customer mentions relevant issues like the ease of opening an account or the bank’s handling of errors.

Make sure you also research whether the bank’s customer support is available during non-business hours and via its website or app.

7. Bank branches and ATMs

Another important consideration for opening a bank account in Germany is the availability of bank branches and ATMs.

You will want to be sure that there is a bank branch with convenient hours near your residence in Berlin.

Make sure that the bank you prefer also has a robust network of ATMs not just in Berlin, but in other cities that you want to travel to.

If your bank doesn’t have many ATMs outside of major cities you could be stuck paying high transaction fees every time you withdraw cash from an ATM.

8. Online services variety

Finally, consider what online services the banks you are researching offer.

Do you want to be able to take a picture of a check and have the funds deposited into your account?

This is certainly more convenient than needing to deposit a check at a branch or through an ATM.

Do you want to be able to contact customer service through your bank’s app?

Everyone has different needs, so think about the online services you use most at your current bank before you choose a German bank.

banking in Berlin

So how to open a bank account in Germany as a foreigner?

If you are looking to open a German bank account as a non-resident, the process is slightly more involved.

We will walk you through the documents you need and the differences between opening an account in person in Berlin or another German city compared to completing the entire process online.

What documents will you need to open an account?

If you want to open a bank account in Germany, there are certain documents you will want to have handy beforehand.

First, you will require photo identification, which can be a passport or student ID card, or a Meldebescheinigung for potential long-term German residents.

Also, foreigners will need to present their residence permits or visa.

If you will be working, you also need to have your work permit ready.

What is the timeline for the process?

Depending on the type of bank account you will be opening in Germany, the process can take anywhere from a few days to a month or longer.

In general, offshore accounts are the quickest to open, as you only need to fill out an online form and wait for the bank to perform all necessary checks on their end.

On the other hand, opening a new account in person at a regional German bank could take some more time.

Why?

Simply because the bank will need to confirm all of the details you provide and may even require a reference from a local contact.

How to open a bank account in Germany from abroad?

If you want to open your bank account from outside Germany, you may need to limit the banks you consider.

Many German banks will not allow foreigners to open new accounts from outside the country.

Several German banks, including bunq, ComDirect, DKB, and N26, will allow EU residents to open accounts from outside the country by submitting their documentation online.

Generally speaking it is easier to open your bank account once you have a permanent address in Germany, as this information is required for the account.

How to open a digital or mobile bank account in Germany?

Opening a digital bank account is a little simpler than a traditional bank account, which is why these types of accounts are so popular with expats and digital nomads.

Once you have a visa and permanent address in Germany you can simply follow the sign up process through your bank of choice’s website or mobile app.

You do not even need to wait until you are actually living in Germany.

So long as someone is available to receive any documents that might be sent to your permanent address before your arrival.

How to open a bank account in Germany for your children?

If you want to open a bank account in Germany for one or more of your dependent children, it is best to first establish your own account, whether it is at a traditional bank or an online or offshore account.

Most banks will only open an account for a minor if one of their parents is already a customer.

Not all banks allow accounts for minor children, so this may be an additional factor to research when you are determining which bank in Germany is best for you.

To open a bank account in Germany for a minor you will need the child’s passport or photo ID in addition to your own.

How can you manage your bank account in Germany?

There are a number of different ways you can access the funds in your German bank account or receive guidance from bank personnel when you have a question or problem.

Berlin bank form

1. Face-to-face support

So long as you are not using an offshore or online bank, you should be able to get reliable customer service by visiting a local branch of your bank.

The customer support staff at your bank can help you with common account problems like lost passwords, missing checks, or deposits that were keyed in incorrectly at an ATM.

2. Online banking

Most German banks offer some sort of online banking interface through the internet. Once you have set up your new account you should be able to log in with a username and a password to view all of your account details.

Most online interfaces are also set up to allow you to pay bills, review your archived bank statements, order new checks, and more.

3. Mobile banking

Many banks in Germany offer mobile banking in addition to their robust networks of branches and ATMs. As with online banking, you can use your smartphone to check your balance, review account activity, and pay bills.

Some apps will even allow you to take a photo of a check in order to deposit it into your account.

How to close your bank account in Germany?

Closing a German bank account is simpler than opening one.

But you will want to be sure to follow the correct procedure so that you do not end up accruing extra fees.

Before you close out your account, be sure you have a new account ready to receive a deposit of your German bank account balance. You will need a routing number so that the staff at your former bank can wire your money to your new account.

In addition, you will need to fill out an account closing order. It’s easiest to do this in person at a branch location of your bank, though if you are using an online or offshore bank you can ignore this advice.

Before you close your account, check to see if there are any penalties associated with early termination. It may be cheaper to leave a small amount of money in your German bank account until you have met your contract terms and can close the account with no additional fee.

Blueground offers fully-furnished, equipped and serviced apartments in some of the world's most sought after cities.

Conclusion

We have covered all of the big issues that anyone wondering how to open a bank account in Berlin, Germany needs to research.

Just remember that putting in the time up front to explore all of your options will make everything easier once you are living overseas.

Opening a bank account in Berlin is just one of the steps that expats and digital nomads can take to feel completely at home in this amazing city.

Although there can be some hassle upfront, having a local bank account makes it easier than ever to integrate into German life.

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