In Germany opening a bank account is a simple process. Besides your national identification document you often need to show some proof of a German address.
Therefore it is recommended before trying to open an account to register at the Einwohnermeldeamt. For further information see our section on residence registration.
Current Accounts (Girokonto)
In Germany the most common form of account is a Girokonto (checking or current account). The most financial transactions such as receiving wages or paying rent, are completed using this type of account. In general a current account allows you to:
- withdraw money from your bank using an EC-card. This is normally free of charge at your own bank’s ATMs, but a fee of several EUR may be charged for withdrawing money from other banks’ ATMs;
- transfer money to pay bills using transfer forms;
- set up regular fixed amount payments (e.g. your rent) paid by standing order;
- set up regular payments (even of variable amounts, e.g. telephone bills and health insurance contributions) to be paid by direct debit.
You can choose between several current accounts with various facilities (e.g. online banking, interest, credit card at no charge, etc.), but the fees also differ. A student can apply for discharge from the usual account charges (Kontoführungsgebühren).
Make sure that you can answer the following questions, before choosing a bank:
- Can I immediately draw money from the ATM, once I opened the account?
- Where can I withdraw money free of charge (note that many banks have agreements with other banks which allow you to withdraw cash free of charge within the whole network)?
- Can I set up standing orders and issue direct debit notices?
- Will I receive an EC card immediately?
- Will I be able to get a credit card? When can I apply for the card and how long will it take to process?
- What are the fees on my bank account?
- Will I get an overdraft facility and what are the fees for this service?
If you want to embellish your account up to a certain limit set by the bank, only a overdraft facility (Dispositionskredit) allows you to get that realized. Normally the amount of this credit is related to your monthly income. The amounts of overdraft interest are anything but low. So the advices in that case to only use them for emergencies.
The bank will watch your account over the first few months to check whether money is being regularly credited to it, before offering some services. Traditionally note that German banks have been quite conservative when it comes to handing out credit and credit cards. At a local branch of an American institution like Citibank or MBNA you might get faster access to credit.
Savings accounts (Sparbuch)
To get a better rate of interest you can set up a savings account, if you want to put money aside. You will receive a “passbook” (Sparbuch) that you use to pay money in with, when opening a savings account. With a normal passbook (with a withdrawal notice period of three months) you can withdraw €2000 in a calendar month without prior notice.
Take a look at the savings account offered by the Postbank, if you plan to travel. You will be able to withdraw money in most European countries and currencies with no extra charges, with a Postsparbuch.
If you need services like direct debits and standing orders as these generally are not available with savings accounts. A savings account cannot substitute for checking account.