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Banking for Expats in Germany

Author: Gavin Adie
Submitted: February 2014

Germany is home to a huge number of banks, both domestic and international, but the banking options available to foreigners before they locate to German can be limited to simple savings accounts.

Most expats choose to open an account with Germany's larger banks as many have dedicated teams to help expatriates during the account creation process. The largest local banks in Germany are Deutsche Bank, Postbank (owned by Deutsche Bank), Commerzbank and its subsidiary Dresdner Bank, Westdeutsche Landesbank, and Bayerische Vereinsbank. A number of international banks also have operations in Germany, albeit sometimes with branches in just one city, including:

However, banking can be expensive in Germany with many banks requiring that you pay in a minimum amount of income each month, as well as an initial cash deposit. Many accounts will require that you pay a monthly or annual fee. Those that offer free banking may charge fees for certain transactions. Withdrawals from ATMs (Geldautomat) operated by banks other than your own will incur a fee, typically around EUR5. Some banks do however offer one-off bonuses for new account holders.

As fees on accounts vary significantly from bank to bank, it is well worth shopping around to a find a package that suits your needs. Several German banks have entered into agreements with foreign banks, for instance - such as Deutsche Bank with Bank of America - to offer special perks, such as free international withdrawals or free money transfers between participating banks.

Sparkasse, a public savings bank, is favored among expats as it offers banking with few fees and has an expansive network of ATMs throughout the country. The bank also has less onerous requirements to set up an account, but also offers a limited number of banking services. Comdirect.de, which likewise offers low-fee banking, operates exclusively online and is also popular.

Banking with a member of the Cash Group (comprising  Deustche Bank, Commerzbank, HypoVereinsbank, and Postbank) will open up access to around 10,000 ATMs free of fees nationwide.

Depending on your situation, setting up a bank account in Germany may not always be the best option due to Germany's membership of the Eurozone. If you will not receive a German income, or plan to be in Germany only temporarily, some international credit cards providers do not charge for transactions in German shops. That being said, credit cards are less widely accepted by German retailers than in other countries.

There are two main accounts offered in Germany. Girokonto, Germany's checking account, can be used to pay for bills through transfers (Überweisung), standing orders (Dauerauftrag) or direct debit (Lastschrift). Almost all Girokonto accounts will come with a debit card for use in shops and online and, depending on your credit rating, you may also be offered a credit card and/or an overdraft. To open a Girokonto account most banks will require that you prove that you are resident in Germany with a physical address by providing a registration certificate (Meldebescheinigung). You will also be required to pass additional identification, income, and potentially employment checks.

You may be prevented from setting up a Girokonto account if you are not a permanent resident or if you are not resident in Germany. It can therefore be simpler to attempt to set up an account after relocating.

Instant-access savings accounts (Tagesgeldkonto), on the other hand, are offered to both residents and non-residents. You may do this both from Germany or online from abroad. To apply online, you will typically be asked to complete an online application form, and confirm your identity by providing a notarized copy of your passport or national ID card. You may also be able to have your local bank verify your identity and credit history. Some banks will require that you have a phone interview to discuss the reasons for starting an account. Depending on the terms of the account, you may also be required to prove your income, and you will be required to pay in an initial deposit if your application is successful.

You can speed the process of setting up an account by doing it in person as you will be able to pay the minimum deposit in cash, typically EUR50. Otherwise transferring funds from abroad to your new German account can delay the process.

German banks are generally open during standard business hours, from 9am to 6pm on Monday to Friday. Some banks also open on Saturdays.



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