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Banking in Germany: How to open a bank account in Germany

Published February 3, 2022

Moving to a new country is an exciting step and it comes with some regulatory To Do’s such as setting up your bank account. Navigating the German banking system might seem overwhelming, but: we got you covered! In this guide, we’ll walk you through the process of opening a bank account in Germany. From understanding the banking options to mastering the account opening process.

Basics of the German banking options

Germany offers a diverse range of banking options. Not only in terms of banking provider, but also in terms of account types and card types. Whether you are an expat, student or long-term visitor, it is important to understand the basics of the German banking system.

Looking at the various account types, these are the most common ones:

  • Girokonto known as current or checking account: It provides a convenient account for depositing your salary and making payments and anything related to your day-to-day expenses.

  • Tagesgeldkonto known as savings account with instant access: It is designed for short-term savings offering higher interest rates compared to the current account and easy and instant access when needed. 

  • Depot known as securities account: It provides the option to invest in securities such as stocks, fonds, ETFs or bonds. In a depot you can manage and monitor your investments.

You’ll also need to understand the different types of cards when looking for a suitable banking provider. Here are the cards you’ll encounter in Germany:

  • Electronic Cash (EC) Card: This card - also known as Girocard - is a debit card which is linked to your account. You can use it for payments in physical stores, but not for online payments. You can also withdraw money with this card.

  • Debit Cards by Visa or Mastercard: This is a debit card which is linked to your account. You can only use it, when the linked account is covered. It can be used for all kinds of payments including online payment. You can also withdraw money with this card.

  • Credit Cards: This is a credit card with a credit limit which gets billed every month from your connected account.

You might have already heard of or seen some German banks. Usually they can be categories into one of the following three groups: 

  • Private banks: Those are nationwide banks with a huge branch network. You might have seen or heard of for example Deutsche Bank, ING or Commerzbank.

  • Public savings banks: Those are local banks with lots of physical branches. Even though the branding is the same nationwide, each regional bank operates as its own entity. When you see a red Sparkasse logo you are at a public savings bank.

  • Direct and mobile banks: Those banks also known as neobanks are online-only banks with no physical branches. They often offer lower fees, 100% online or mobile banking services and English customer support. Examples are Bunq or Tomorrow as a mobile banking provider.

Banks within these categories can have an additional, individual focus to differentiate each other from their competitors. One focus can for example be sustainability where banks’ investment strategy purely supports sustainable practices. One sustainable banking provider offering mobile banking is Tomorrow.

Before opening a bank account in Germany, you should make yourself familiar with these options. That way you can choose the account type which suits you best with the corresponding card you need at the bank which provides the unique services you are looking for.

In 3 steps to your German bank account

Step 1: Choose the bank and account type

Begin by selecting the bank that aligns with your financial preferences. Research and compare different banks’ offerings to find the perfect fit for you. Watch out for factors such as an English interface of the banking app and an English speaking support team, online and mobile banking capabilities and banking fees. Sustainable finance is becoming more and more important. If that is also true for you, you should check the investments of your chosen bank (Here's a great ranking of German banks in terms of sustainable practices). You might also want to check out features such as money withdrawals and the available of sub-accounts - a great feature to organize your money and save money with.

One of the most common and practical accounts most people in Germany have is the Girokonto. You’ll get an IBAN for money transfers and a physical card to withdraw cash. Also, usually neobanks with their mobile offering, easy account opening and English support suit best for expats and long term visitors in Germany. That’s why the following steps are referring to opening a Girokonto at a neobank.

Step 2: Gather your documents

To kickstart the account opening process, assemble all documents required to prove your identity and residency:

  • Valid identification such as passport or national identity card

  • Certificate of registration or any proof of an address in Germany (e.g. Meldebescheinigung)

  • If applicable: Visa or residence permit

You might also be asked for your tax ID number, credit score or an income statement if a minimum income is required. For the latter your payslip or employment contract should work.

Step 3: Open your bank account

Once you’ve decided for a banking option and have all needed documents in place, you are ready to actually open your account.  

For neobanks like Tomorrow the account opening process is offered 100% mobile without any paperwork. To open up a bank account at this type of bank you usually have to follow the following steps:

  1. Download the banking application and start the account opening

  2. Fill out the application form: During the account application you are asked to fill in your personal details such as email address, residential address and employment status

  3. Proof your identity: Next in the process is the ID verification. One common method to do so is the so-called ID Now procedure. During a video call, a bank representative will guide you through the process, verifying your documents and therewith verifying your identity. All you need is a stable internet connection.

After that you have successfully opened up your bank account. For some banks you will need to wait for your card to arrive to start banking. For others you can start right away with your virtual card. 

Another commonly used ID verification method is the so-called Postident procedure. It is a rather traditional method that requires an in-person visit to a designated location, often a local post office. Here you present your ID documents and a postal worker verifies your identity. 

With opening a German bank account you’ll get one step closer to settling in Germany. Just like finding a job. If you are still looking for a tech job in Germany, make sure to check out Nioomi - the go-to platform for international IT talents.

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