German Banks

GERMAN BANKS: #1 Guide for Expats in Germany (2020)

German Banks

One of the most important things you need to do when you move to Germany is open a German bank account! But first, you should understand the German banking system. This guide has all the information expats and foreigners in Germany need on German banks.

german banks

Table of Contents:

  1. How many banks are in Germany?
  2. Trends and Developments
  3. Types of German Banks
  4. What to Consider When Choosing a German Bank
  5. What’s the BEST German bank for expats?
  6. List of German Banks
  7. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  8. Transfer Money Abroad

1. How many banks are in Germany?

The number of banks in Germany is decreasing. Germany went from having 2,401 banks in 2004 to 2,080 banks in 2011. In the following six years the number dropped even further. In 2018, Germany had only 1,823 banks. Today, about 200 of the banks in Germany are private banks, 400 are publicly-owned banks, and 1,100 are member-owned credit unions.


The biggest banks in Germany (e.g. Deutsche Bank, HypoVereinsbank, Postbank) used to set the standards for financial banking institutions. More recently, however, specialized banking providers have tailored themselves to the market with specialized services. The most obvious trend for German banks is the growth in online banking. The digital age has woven its way into the German banking sector. As a result, customers gravitate towards banks that offer online services.


3. Types of German Banks

Types of German banks
Types of German Banks

Branch banks are known as “Filialbanken” in German. Branch banks are traditional banks. They have a physical location you can go to for service. To open a German bank account with a branch bank you usually need to do it in-person at one of the branches.

Online banks, as the name suggests, function through online platforms. As a result, online banks normally don’t have physical branches. To open a German bank account with an online bank you need to do it on your computer or mobile device.

A type of online bank is a neobank. Neobanks at the surface are really similar to your average online bank. However, there are a few small differences. Many branch banks own online banks. For example, Commerzbank, one of the largest German branch banks, owns the online bank comdirect. To the contrary, Neobanks are not owned by a branch bank. Neobanks adapt to the digital age. They usually offer their services on a mobile app and in more than one language. This makes banking more accessible to a broader population of expats in Germany. An example of a German neobank is N26.


4. What to Consider When Choosing a German Bank

German banks are some of the best in the world. Not all German banks, however, are the best for expats in Germany. In order to choose the right German bank for yourself, you need to be aware of the services the bank offers. This includes:

Customer Support

The level of customer support that German banks offer ranges greatly. The easiest way to break it up is to look at the differences between branch banks and online banks. Branch banks are unique in that they offer face-to-face customer support. To the contrary, online banks offer customer support via your computer/mobile phone.

With branch banks, unless you’re close to one of the banks’ branches, it can be difficult to access customer support. Furthermore, most branch banks are open for limited hours Monday-Friday. For instance, Deutsche Bank, one of the largest German banks, is open Monday-Friday from 9:30 to 17:00. On the other hand, you can access online banks’ customer support “after hours”. Many online banks have support services in place to help their clients at any time, any day of the week. For example, Deutsche Kreditbank AG has 24/7 customer support.

Language

Language is one of the most important things to pay attention to when you compare German Banks! This is especially true if you don’t speak fluent German. Many branch banks in Germany do not offer their services in languages other than German. Even more so, depending on the bank, it can be difficult to get customer support in your language at a branch bank. Therefore, ask your bank what languages it guarantees to offer services in.

Online banks offer their services in both English and German more often than branch banks. However, there is no guarantee, so it is still important to ask what languages your bank supports. For instance, Deutsche Kreditbank AG does not have a website nor customer support in English.

Mobile Banking: Safety & Convenience

Banking apps make banking more convenient and safer. For starters, a banking app makes banking safer because you can link your account to your phone. You can then receive notifications anytime a transaction is made with your debit card. If you did not complete the transaction, you can go on your app and place a hold on your card.

For instance, if you receive a notification that someone used your card at an ATM, you can lock your card from your app. As a result, until you unlock your card, it can’t be used again. You can also choose the option of verifying transactions that occur from unfamiliar locations.

A banking app makes banking more convenient. You can manage your account, complete transfers and get help from customer service all from the app.

Fees

Many German banks charge fees. Therefore, you should ask what kind of fees your bank charges. There are three fees that German banks charge that you should be aware of:

(1) General fees

Branch banks normally charge more fees than online banks. Because branch banks have to keep up with branches that you can go to in-person, they have more employees and overhead expenses. Therefore, they have more fees. If you choose to open a German bank account with a branch bank then make sure you’re aware of all the fees beforehand.

On the other hand, online banks have fewer fees. These type of German banks are more cost-efficient. You can get a German online bank account with no monthly service fees.

(2) Card fees

Almost all banks will give you a debit card for free when you open a bank account. Credit cards, however, aren’t always free. It depends on what bank you have, but credit cards usually have a fee that ranges between €30 and €100 per year. For example, Commerzbank’s Classic Credit Card is €39.99 per year and a Gold Credit Card is €99.00 per year. With Deutsche Bank, you can get a standard MasterCard credit card for €39.99 per year.

(3) ATM fees

All German banks have different ATM fees, so make sure you ask your bank about its ATM fees. Some German banks have agreements between one another to waive ATM fees for their customers that use any ATMs that belong to other banks that are a part of the agreement. For instance, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank and Postbank have an agreement to waive ATM fees for their customers. Therefore, if you have an account with Commerzbank then you can withdraw money fee-free from Deutsche Bank, Postbank and HypoVereinsbank ATMs.

One of the most popular German banks amongst expats in Germany is N26. One reason for this is because N26 offers a bank account that has 5 free ATM withdrawals per month. It’s important to note, however, that these withdrawals are only free if the currency being withdrawn is in euros. This also comes with a free MasterCard debit card.

Our article, “Best GERMAN BANK ACCOUNT For Expats,” has more information on N26!


5. What’s the BEST German bank for expats?

You should choose an online bank with an English website and English-speaking customer support. N26 is the BEST bank for expats in Germany. Below you will find a comparison of the 3 most popular online banks in Germany!

White5x4
  • Monthly Fees
  • Free Credit/Debit Card
  • ATM Fees
  • English Website
  • English Speaking Customer Support
  • German Residency Required
  • Banking For Selfemployed/Freelancers
  • Works With Apple Pay/Google Pay
BEST

N26

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  • 0€
  • 0€
  • NO

6. List of German Banks

Sparkasse

Sparkasse is a branch bank. You have to book an appointment to apply online or at a branch. All Sparkasse accounts have monthly fees but come with a free debit card. 

Postbank

Postbank is a branch bank that also offers a few online services. If you are a student in Germany then you can get a student account with zero monthly fees. If not, a Postbank current account costs €1.90 per month. With a Postbank account, you receive a free debit card. Additionally, you have access to fee-free ATM withdrawals at about 9,000 locations in Germany. 

Netbank

Netbank is an online bank that only offers services in German. Netbank is not free; it has monthly service fees. With a Netbank Mastercard Debit, you can withdraw cash for free once per month. With a Netbank Mastercard Premium, you can withdraw cash for free three times per month.

N26

N26 is a very modern online bank. Their current account offers zero monthly fees, a free debit card and five free ATM cash withdrawals per month. You do not have to be a German resident to open the account. N26 offers all of its services in English, including a website, customer support, and a mobile app. N26 also has banking options for freelancers. Furthermore, N26 has a partnership with Transferwise. As a result, you can make Transferwise transfers in 19 different currencies directly on the N26 app. N26 is headquartered in Berlin.

ING-DiBa

ING-DiBa is an online bank. This bank has zero monthly fees. ING-DiBa accounts come with a free debit and credit card. You can get free cash withdrawals with the VISA card ING-DiBa issues to you. This bank does not have English-speaking customer support, nor does have a website in English. 

HypoVereinsbank

HypoVereinsbank is a branch bank that offers 4 different types of current accounts. It offers a free account to students and anyone less than 26 years old. Its other 3 accounts have monthly fees. The HypoVereinsbank website is only available in German. 

DKB

Deutsche Kredit Bank (DKB) is an online bank that offers a free current account, zero ATM fees and a free credit card and debit card. DKB does not have an English website, and it does not have customer support in English. To open an account with DKB, you have to show proof that you live in Germany with your certificate of registration (Anmeldebestätigung/Meldebescheinigung). In other words, non-residents of Germany cannot open an account with DKB. DKB works with Apple Pay/Google Pay. 

Deutsche Bank

Deutsche Bank is a branch bank that offers some online services, including a banking app for mobile phones. Deutsche Bank has 4 different current accounts. If you are a student in Germany and less than 30 years old then you can open a free student/young current account. The other Deutsche Bank current accounts charge monthly fees, from €5.90 to €11.90.

Comdirect

Comdirect is an online bank owned by Commerzbank. Comdirect is only in German. Its website, customer support and all other services are, at this time, not available in English. Comdirect offers a free current account that you can open online. This account comes with a free girocard (debit card) and Visa credit card. You have access with this debit card to fee-free withdrawals at 9,000 ATMs in Germany. For international withdrawals, Comdirect does not charge fees for withdrawing money from ATMs that have the Euro as the official currency. Comdirect also has a mobile app.

Commerzbank

Commerzbank is a branch bank. To have a free current account, you must deposit at least €1,200 per month into the account. If the incoming amount is less than €1,200 then you have to pay a fee of €9.90 per month. Commerzbank has around 9,000 ATM locations where you can withdraw money without fees and a website in English. You can find out more about Commerzbank in our article, “Commerzbank in Germany: Everything You Need to Know.”

What Is N26 Spaces?

A great component of N26 is something called Spaces. Spaces helps you set and achieve financial goals. How so? Well, on the N26 app you can move money from your current account to Spaces. Furthermore, you can customize Spaces to create saving goals for different categories. For instance, if you want to save for a holiday, then you can make a Space for trips. If you have any unexpected expenses, however, you can move money back to your current account to use at anytime.

7. Still have questions? Read our FAQ!

What Should I know before opening a german bank account?

Before you open a bank account in Germany, you need to know at least 5 things about the bank. Not all German banks offer their services in languages apart from German. Make sure your bank supports your language. Ask your bank about their customer service (i.e. what hours it’s available, if you can get help online, what language the customer service employees speak). You should also ask if your bank offers mobile banking, if it’s safe and convenient, and what fees your bank charges.

What is the best bank for expats in germany?

Out of all the German banks, the best bank for expats is N26. N26 is free, online and offers all of its services in English. Furthermore, their basic current account is completely fee-free! A great benefit for expats is that you don’t need multiple documents to open an N26 account. Usually all you need is your passport. Therefore, if you don’t have German residency yet or proof of income/employment then a great German bank for you is N26.

Documents you need

The documents you need to provide to open a German bank account depend on which bank you choose. For instance, with the online bank N26, in most cases you only need to provide your passport. As an example: people from the UK, USA and Canada only need to show their passport to open an N26 bank account.

For branch banks, you usually need to have the following documents to open a German bank account:

– Passport
– German address registration document (In Germany this is known as the Meldebescheinigung. After registering your address at your local Residents’ Registration Office, the Einwohnermeldeamt, you’ll get this document.)
– Proof of income/employment (e.g. a paystub or tax papers)
– Proof you’re a student, if you’re opening a student account

Types of German Banks

One way to compare German banks is by comparing branch banks vs. online banks (as mentioned above).

The German banking system can also be divided into three pillars (i.e. categories):

Savings banks: Public banks, owned by federal, state or local municipalities.
Commercial banks: Private banks, owned by shareholders.
Cooperative banks: Private banks, owned by members of the cooperative.

Banks must abide by the laws established in The German Banking Act Kreditwesengesetz (KWG), which literally translates to the law of thebanking system. The KWG secures the functionality of banks and protects creditors from investment capital loss. Banks are also subject to government supervision.

What’s the best bank in Germany for a student?

N26 is one of the best banks in Germany for students. First, N26 has no monthly maintenance fees. Secondly, you don’t have to show proof of income to open an N26 bank account. This is a big perk for students that don’t have a work contract! 

Transfer Money Abroad

One of the many advantages of having an N26 German bank account is really fast and cheap international money transfers. Fees to transfer money through normal banks are horrible, but Transferwise gives you a fair price. For instance, €1,000 transfer only costs around €6.00 in fees through Transferwise.

Transferwise is one of the easiest, fastest, and cheapest ways to transfer money! They don’t charge any hidden fees for your transfer. It’s quick too – transfers are usually done within 1-2 business days.

To read more about Transferwise, you can read our article, “TRANSFERWISE EXPLAINED: 6 Things You Should Know.”

To learn more about international money transfers, we’ve explained it in our article, “International Money Transfers: Sending & Receiving Money Abroad.”


More Info for Expats…

Apart from getting a German bank account, one of the most important thing you need to do when you move to Germany is get German HEALTH INSURANCE! Click here to read our article about public and private health insurance in Germany.

Lastly, make sure you have PRIVATE LIABILITY INSURANCE! It is one of the most important types of insurance in Germany. Almost all Germans have it. Click here to learn more about German private liability insurance.

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