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.

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.

In this article, we compare the following banks: comdirectCommerzbankDeutsche BankDKBING DiBaN26Sparkasse and Volksbank.

German banks with English support

Only one German bank officially offers a 100% English experience: N26Deutsche Bank offers online banking and most of its documents in English, but still sends some of its correspondence in German. Commerzbank also offers online banking in English. Other banks only offer their services in German.

👎comdirect: Service in German only.

👍CommerzbankCommerzbank also offers online banking and parts of its website in English, but their contracts, correspondence and documentation are still in German. I can personally confirm that you need to understand German to be a Commerzbank customer.

👍Deutsche BankWhile the Deutsche Bank website is only available in German, users have confirmed that online banking and documents are available in English. However, not all correspondence is in English, so you may sometimes need to understand German.

👎DKB: Service in German only.

👎ING DiBa: Service in German only.

👍N26The N26 website, documentation, correspondence and customer service are all available in English. I can personally confirm that N26 can be used 100% in English without problems.

👎Sparkasse: Service in German only. Some filial employees may speak English.

👎Volksbank: Service in German only. Some filial employees may speak English.

German banks with no monthly fees

Some German banks charge you a monthly fee for having an account with them. This fee is usually waived if you make a certain amount of money per year, or if you keep a minimum balance in your account.

👍comdirect: No monthly fees for the BasisKonto, which does not include a Visa card. 4.90€ monthly fee for the GiroKonto if your income is below 1250€ per month, free otherwise1.

👎Commerzbank: 9.90€ monthly fee if account balance is below 1200€, free otherwise1.

👎Deutsche Bank: 4.99€ monthly fee1.

👍DKB: No monthly fees1.

👍ING DiBaNo monthly fees.

👍N26No monthly fees.

👎Sparkasse: 3€ monthly fee1, or 1€ + 0.30€ per debit card transaction2. 8.50€ per year for the debit card1.

👎Volksbank: 3.95€ monthly fee + 0.50€ for debit card1.

German banks with no ATM fees

Withdrawal fees are the most annoying problem with German banks. Most banks charge 5 to 7 euros to withdraw money from an ATM that's not part of their network. These fees will become a nuisance really fast, so I recommend to pick a bank that does not charge ATM fees.

👎comdirect: Free withdrawals from any ATM12. Fee of 10€ for ATMs outside the Eurozone. You are not allowed to withdraw less than 50€ from ATMs1.

👎Commerzbank: Free withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs (only 15% of ATMs)1. Fee of 6€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs1.

👎Deutsche BankFree withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs (only 15% of ATMs)1. Fee of 6€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs.

👍DKB: Free withdrawals from any ATM1.

👍ING DiBa: Free withdrawals from any ATM1.

👍N26: 5 free withdrawals per month from any ATM. After that, you pay 2€ per withdrawal.

👍Sparkasse: 0€ to 0.30€ per withdrawal from Sparkasse ATMs (45% of ATMs)1 depending on account type. 4.95€ per withdrawal from other ATMs1.

👎Volksbank: Free withdrawals from BVR ATMs (32% of ATMs)1. Fee of 7.50€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs1.

German banks for students

Some banks offer special low fees for students and begin charging fees after they graduate. Most online banks are already free, so it's not such an impressive deal, especially when you consider ATM withdrawal fees.

👎comdirect: 4.90€ monthly fee if income is below 1250€ per month, free otherwise1.

👍Commerzbank: No monthly fee for students under 30 years old (StartKonto)1.

👍Deutsche Bank: No monthly fee for students (Das Junge Konto)1. Offers a Sperrkonto.

👍DKB: No monthly fee for anyone1.

👍ING DiBa: No monthly fee for anyone.

👍N26: No monthly fee for anyone.

👍Sparkasse: No monthly fee for students up to 25 years old1. 8.50€ per year for a debit card. Some branches offer a Sperrkonto.

👎Volksbank: No rebate for students.

Blocked account (Sperrkonto) for the student visa

If you want to apply for a student visa, you usually need a blocked account (Sperrkonto)1, 2 as a proof of financial resources (Finanzierungsnachweis). If you need a blocked account, Deutsche Bank is often the only option1, 2, but a few Sparkasse branches also have blocked accounts1, 2. Some lesser known banks such as Fintiba and X-patrio also offer this service.

A blocked account is not necessarily required as proof of financial resources. A scholarship, proof of parental income or a guarantee could also be sufficient. If you need help with your student visa, ask your German embassy or consulate, or ask one of our relocation consultants.

How to open a bank account in Germany

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 also require a minimum income or some financial history in Germany, and will sometimes refuse business to foreigners and candidates with bad credit. For example, DKB does not accept people without credit history.

Some banks let you register online using their app and your cellphone's camera. The process only takes a few minutes1. 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. This is an issue we mention in our review of N26.

Other banks usually require you to go in person to one of their branches to open an account. This process takes a few minutes, but it may sometimes require an appointment. However, traditional banks are far more flexible with the identification documents they accept, so you can create an account before you have an address in Germany. This is the best way to open a bank account before your Anmeldung.

So which bank should I pick?

Your best pick is a bank with no monthly free, free withdrawals and a free credit card.

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, but they charge more fees than N26, ING DiBa or DKB. If you are a student, you don't have to pay monthly fees, so Deutsche Bank can be an attractive option.

If you speak German, ING DiBa and DKB are also free and highly rated. However, you must have some credit history to open an account with DKB.

Personally, I do my day to day banking with N26 - which I have reviewed in detail. I closed my Commerzbank account after 3 years due to the excessive fees, but their customer service was fine. I also use Degiro to manage my stock portfolio, again due to low fees. However, I would not recommend it.

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