Which German bank should you choose for your first account?

Which German bank should you choose for your first account?

An in-depth comparison of Germany's most popular banks for expats and foreigners.

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Opening your first German bank account can be a daunting task. You have to consider the various fees, the ATM network the bank is part of, the quality of the support and more. To complicate things, most bank reviews are sponsored and biased towards whoever paid for the article.

Here is all the information you need to pick the best bank for your needs.

German banks with English support

When you let someone play with your money, you want them to speak your language.

Among all German banks, only two officially offer English support: N26 and Deutsche Bank.

Commerzbank also offers online banking in English, but their contracts, correspondence and documentation are still in German, and not every branch has English-speaking advisors. Other banks operate strictly in German, but you will find English-speaking advisors in most branches.

Are online banks worth it?

A few German banks strictly have an online presence; they do not have any physical branches. The most famous online banks are N26, DKB, ING DiBa and comdirect.

Why online banks are nice:

  • No monthly fees
  • No withdrawal fees. Traditional banks charge 5-7€ for withdrawal from ATMs outside their network.
  • Free credit card
  • Everything is done online. You never need to go to a local branch to sign documents.

Why online banks are not nice:

  • No physical branches
    • Depositing cash and especially coins can be tricky
    • No access to a financial advisor
  • No Girokarte (N26). It's the only payment method in some government offices. 

Student-friendly banks

Some banks offer special low fees for students and begin charging fees after they graduate. Most online banks are already free, so it's hardly impressive.

  • Sparkasse reduces the monthly fee to 1€ per month for students
  • Deutsche Bank waives the monthly fee entirely for students

German bank account requirements

The requirements to open a bank account are the same for most banks:

  • A proof of German residency (your Meldebescheinigung). You can open an N26 account without one, and some traditional banks will be more flexible if you are new in Germany. I opened a Commerzbank account right after landing in Berlin, without a Meldebescheinigung.
  • A proof of identity (your passport)

Some banks require a minimum income or some financial history in Germany, and will sometimes refuse business to foreigners and candidates with bad credit.

How to open a bank account

N26, DKB and comdirect let you register online using their app and your cellphone's camera. The process only takes a few minutes.

Opening an account through the app is only possible if you have an ID from one of the supported countries. If they don't accept your passport, you must use Postident to validate your document, but the list of documents supported by Postident is even shorter.

Traditional banks usually require you to visit a local branch to open an account. This process takes a few minutes, and may sometimes require an appointment. However, traditional banks are far more flexible with the identification documents they accept.

So which bank should I pick?

N26 is by far the most recommended bank among English-speaking foreigners. Although it's far from perfect, it's a good bank to get started with. Deutsche Bank is the most recommended English-speaking traditional bank. ING DiBa and DKB are highly rated, but only operate in German. DKB allegedly refuses customers with no credit history.

Personally, I do my day to day banking with N26 - which I have reviewed in details - and use Commerzbank for investments. While Commerzbank has great customer service, it charges outrageous fees for just about everything. I recently moved my investments to Degiro and will close my Commerzbank account in the next few months.

If English is not a must, DKB and ING DiBa came highly recommended by many colleagues, friends and online users.

Below is a hand-compiled comparison chart of Germany's major banks. Pick one that suits your personal needs.

NameEnglish websiteEnglish supportOnline onlyWithdrawal feesMonthly feesFree credit cardEC Karte
N26YesYesYes5 free withdrawals per month from any ATMNoYesYes****
Deutsche BankYesYesNoFree with Cash Group ATMs, which are harder to find5€***NoYes
CommerzbankYes*Yes**NoFree with Cash Group ATMs, which are harder to find10€***NoYes
DKBNoNoYesFree withdrawals from any ATM worldwideNoYesYes
SparkasseNoYes**NoFree with Sparkasse ATMs, which are everywhere3€ (1€ for students)NoYes

* The main parts of the website are available in English, including online banking. Some content is only available in German.
** Some branches have English-speaking staff. Your mileage may vary.
*** Monthly fees are waived if the account balance is above a certain amount.
**** MaestroCard. This is an EC-Karte, but not a Girokarte. On rare occasions, only Girokarten are accepted.

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