How to open a bank account in Germany

If you’re an expat in Germany - or even if you’re getting organised before moving there - you may be wondering how to open a local German bank account. Getting a euro account set up can make life easier - and cheaper - but for new arrivals and non-residents, opening a bank account in Germany can be tricky. 

This guide walks through the options for a German bank account as a foreigner or non-resident, or if you’re planning your relocation to Germany. Read on for more about the documents you need, the options available and the likely costs. We’ll also compare the options available from traditional banks against some modern alternatives like Wise or Revolut. Let’s dive right in. 

What documents do I need?

To open an account with a traditional bank in Germany you’ll need to provide a set of documents for verification checks. The exact documents you need may vary based on the specific bank and account type, but you’ll often be asked for the following:

  • A completed application form 

  • Your passport which must show your legal right to reside in Germany

  • Your Anmeldung - registration papers showing your residence

  • Some accounts require proof of income or employment

  • Some accounts need a local credit check

  • A minimum deposit to open your account

In many cases, to open an account in Germany with a major bank, you’ll need to already be a resident in Germany. That will make it harder to get your account up and running if you’re a non-resident or new arrival in Germany. 

In this case you might be better off with a specialist provider which has flexible services for expats, non-residents and digital nomads. Specialists like Wise and Revolut offer cross border services which means you may be able to open a EUR denominated account before you arrive in Germany. More on that, next.

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

German banks usually ask customers to provide proof of their legal residence in Germany, with their Anmeldung. You’ll be able to apply for your Anmeldung once you’re settled in Germany - but you can’t get it before you arrive there. That makes it all but impossible to open an account with many German banks ahead of your arrival in the country.

The good news is that while German banks usually require customers to provide address details showing their German residence, some specialist services, like Wise or Revolut, can accept an international proof of address. You’ll still be able to set up a EUR balance, to pay and get paid in euros, by submitting a proof of address from your country of residence. That means you can get your account set up before you even move, to hit the ground running once you arrive in Germany.

Verification with services like Wise and Revolut is typically done online by uploading images of your paperwork. This is quick, convenient, and can be done from home whenever you have time. 

How to open a bank account in Germany

Non-residents or foreigners newly arrived in Germany may find opening a bank account with a major bank tricky. That’s because most major banks need to see your Anmeldung - registration - before they’ll let you open your account. And you can only apply for your Anmeldung once you arrive in Germany and register your local residence.

You’ll be able to apply for your Anmeldung immediately once you arrive in Germany as long as you have a residential address. In fact, it’s a legal requirement to get registered in the first 7 - 14 days of arrival depending on where you are. Once you have this document in hand you shouldn’t have any problem getting your account set up with a traditional German bank.

In many cases you’ll be able to get started online - but some banks will ask you to visit a branch to present your original paperwork and pay your opening deposit amount. It’s also worth noting that most banks offer service in German only, and almost all terms and conditions, and other legal documents connected to your account, must be provided in German to comply with local legislation.

Can I open a bank account in Germany before arrival?

Usually you can’t open a bank account with a brick and mortar bank in Germany prior to arriving in the country. That’s because most traditional banks need you to show your German residence permit and Anmeldung, which can only be provided once you’re resident in Germany.

If you want to get your euro account set up before you arrive you’ll probably be better off with a specialist service like Wise or Revolut. More on that coming up in a moment.

Which account is best in Germany for foreigners? 

If you’re planning your move to Germany and want to open an account to hold, send and receive euro payments, you’ll probably not be able to use a major German bank. That’s because you need your registered German address before you can open most mainstream bank accounts. 

Instead, you might want to look at specialist services. These include financial technology companies which are not banks but which are regulated in a similar way to banks - which means that for the services they offer they’re just as safe. 

Once you’re in Germany and can provide a German proof of address it’ll be far easier to get a local German bank account. Let’s take a look at a few options from major banks and specialist services:

Service

Wise

Revolut

Deutsche Bank

Commerzbank

Currencies covered

54 currencies including EUR, USD and GBP

30 currencies

EUR

EUR

Open before you arrive in Germany

Yes

Yes

No

No

Open online

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Opening fee

Free

Free

Free

Free

Fall below fee

Free

Free

Free

9.90 EUR/month for the free Basic account

Maintenance fee

Free

Up to 13.99 EUR/month

6.90 EUR - 13.90 EUR/month

Varies by account type

International transfers

Low fee, varies by currency

SEPA payments are free


For other transfers, fee varies by account tier, currency and payment value

Online SEPA payments are free


Online international transfers elsewhere: 1.5% (minimum 10 EUR) + 1.55 EUR postage/SWIFT fee + 25 EUR third party fee

Online SEPA payments are free


Online international transfers elsewhere: 1.5% (minimum 10-12.50 EUR) + 2.50 EUR settlement fee + up to 1.5% third party fee

Non-residents in Germany will find it difficult to open a euro account with a major brick and mortar bank, but specialist providers may be able to help. Once you’ve arrived in Germany and registered your legal residence, the process of opening a regular account will be easier, although a traditional bank account may still be pricey compared to a specialist alternative. 

Go To Wise
Go To Revolut

Wise

Wise isn’t a bank, but as a financial technology company with 11 million+ customers around the world, Wise can offer free and flexible multi-currency accounts for non-residents and new arrivals in Germany.

The Wise multi-currency account can be managed online or in the Wise app, and allows customers to hold euros plus another 50+ currencies. Receive payments for free from 30 countries, and exchange between currencies in your account using the mid-market exchange rate with no markup. You can also send payments to 80+ countries and spend using your Wise international debit card all over the world.

Account types: Wise personal multi-currency accounts are free to open, with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay.

Eligibility: Available to residents and new arrivals in Germany. Not all services and features are available in all locations - full details by location available on the Wise website.

Is it safe? Wise is authorised to operate in Germany and the EU, through the National Bank of Belgium. It is also overseen by global bodies around the world.

Go To Wise

Revolut

Revolut was only launched back in 2015, but has grown fast and already has some 18 million customers in the regions it serves.

Revolut offers a broad range of account services including multi-currency functionality for 30 fiat currencies, cash back on spending, budgeting and saving tools, and Junior accounts for children. 

Choose between several different account types from a free standard plan to a fee paid account which unlocks more features including travel perks. Even the free standard accounts come with some great features like a linked debit card and some fee free currency exchange which uses the mid-market exchange rate. 

Account types: Personal and business accounts available. Standard plans are free or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to 13.99 EUR/month as a personal customer.

Eligibility: Available to new UK arrivals and non-UK residents with addresses in the EEA, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and the US[9].

Is it safe? Yes. Revolut holds a European banking licence for the EU, registered in the Republic of Lithuania.

Go To Revolut

Deutsche Bank

Deutsche Bank has a range of accounts including popular current accounts like AktivKonto and BestKonto. Accounts are held in euros, and intended for day to day use. Monthly maintenance fees apply, as do transaction fees for services you use. One good thing about Deutsche Bank is that they have an ATM network along with the other 3 biggest banks in Germany - known as the Cash Group - which allows free withdrawals at ATMs operated by any of the participating providers.

Deutsche Bank operates mainly in German as you might expect. To apply online you’ll need all the required documents, and the application is available in German only. However, there’s an English language customer service line you can call if you need support and haven’t yet learned enough German to get by.

Account types: Full range of current and savings accounts.

Eligibility: For regular accounts you’ll need a full set of paperwork including proof of your legal residence in Germany.

Is it safe? Deutsche Bank is one of the largest banks in Germany and a major global brand, fully regulated in Germany and around the world.

Commerzbank

Another one of Germany’s Big 4 banks, Commerzbank also has a good range of account options for people who are already resident in Germany. Assuming you have all the right paperwork to hand, and you’re a German tax resident, you’ll be able to open an account online and get your identity verified digitally, via the post office’s verification service, or in a Commerzbank branch.

There’s a free current account option available which has no monthly fees as long as you make a minimum monthly deposit, as well as a range of other current accounts, savings options and cards. ATM withdrawals are free from any Cash Group ATM in Germany.

Account types: Full range of current and savings accounts.

Eligibility: For regular accounts you’ll need a full set of paperwork including proof of your legal residence in Germany.

Is it safe? Another of the largest banks in Germany, Commerzbank is fully regulated in Germany and around the world.

What are the costs?

Accounts from specialist services which let you hold and spend euros can often be opened for free online or via an app. Traditional banks don’t usually charge an opening fee, but may require you to deposit your salary to get your account up and running. 

Transaction fees will apply for the services you use, as well as fixed costs like maintenance fees - which can include:

  • Monthly maintenance fees - or fall below fees

  • Card fees if you choose to add a debit or credit card to your account

  • International payment fees

  • Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card

  • Overdraft fees 

  • Credit card costs including cash advances and interest 

Tips for transferring money

The fees for sending a payment overseas with your regular bank can be complex, and include several different costs to process the transfer. Instead, you could choose a specialist service which is less hassle, and often faster and cheaper, too.  Here are a few costs to watch out for when you send money overseas with your regular bank:

  • Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market exchange rate to see if a markup is being used

  • Check the fees for different transfer types - arranging your transfer online is usually cheaper than doing so in a bank branch

  • Check the minimum fees - often charges are a percentage of the transfer value, with a minimum fee, but no maximum cap on costs

  • Don’t forget to check for settlement and third party charges which can push up the overall costs significantly

Bank fees for sending money abroad can be complex and expensive. Wise on the other hand uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markup, no third party charges, and low, transparent transfer fees. This can work out 6x cheaper than using a regular bank for your international payment. 

Conclusion

Until you’re physically in Germany and have registered your address with the local authorities, you’ll probably struggle to open a current account with a traditional German bank.  Even once you’re settled in, regular bank accounts can usually only hold and transact in euros, and may come with monthly fees - which can be expensive and inflexible if you travel a lot.

For many customers, choosing a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut will mean you get an account that’s easier to open and which offers a better overall deal, including lower fees and better exchange rates.

FAQ

Can a foreigner open an account in Germany?

Foreigners can open a bank account as long as they’re legally allowed to be in the country, and have a registered address there. Non-residents will find it hard to open an account with a traditional bank in Germany, and may find it easier to get set up with a specialist online provider.

How much do I need to open a bank account in Germany?

Banks in Germany may have monthly charges or fall below fees, and might ask for a minimum deposit amount to start with. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

Can I open a German bank account online?

Yes. However, you’ll need to have a registered German address to do so. If you don’t have this, you may be better off with a specialist online provider.

Can I open a bank account in Germany before landing?

If you’re not in Germany yet you might find it hard to open a traditional bank account. However, you can get a smart and flexible euro account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revout instead.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated 1 April 2022