Setting up an Expat bank account in Germany

Tiffany Jansen
Posted: January 2nd, 2014
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Let’s face it, you’re not going to make it very far during your stay in Deutschland without a bank account. While setting up a bank account in Germany is pretty clear-cut, there are some things you’re going to need to know to make the process virtually hassle-free. Lucky for you, we’ve got the lowdown right here.

Money Matters

Like much of Europe, the currency in Germany is the Euro (€). One euro is comprised of 100 cents.

The Euro is a combination of notes and coinage that breaks down as follows:
- Notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500.
- Coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents; and 1 and 2 Euro.

There’s no shortage of ATMs (Geldautomat, in German), though you can expect a transaction fee of anywhere from € 3-10 should you use an ATM from a bank other than your own. The upside is that ATMs offer some of the best exchange rates and some even allow you to withdraw money using your credit card.

If you need to exchange money, a visit to a bank, post office, or bureau de change will get the job done.

Establishments in Germany are pretty good about taking Eurocheque cards, but credit cards can be tricky. Though credit cards are seeing more frequent use in Germany, not everyone accepts them. Those that do seem to favour Mastercard and Visa.

Reaching for your cheque book when it comes time to make a payment won’t get you very far: in Germany, cheques are all but extinct.

Preferred methods of payment in Germany are cash and debit.

Banks in Germany
There are countless banks in Germany, the major ones being Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Kfw Bankgruppe, and HypoVereinsbank.

A number of international banks also have branches in Germany, including Citibank, HSBC, Lloyds TSB, and the Royal Bank of Scotland.

A current (or checking) account in Germany is called a Girokonto and includes a debit card, called a Eurocard.

Other services can include savings accounts, student and securities accounts, phone and internet banking services, overdraft facilities, direct debit and standing orders, real estate and mortgage services, currency exchange, and investment management.

Typical banking hours are 8am to 4pm during the week, though some banks may extend their hours to 5:30 or 6:30 one or two days a week, and close at noon on Fridays. Smaller banks may also close for lunch.

Banks are normally closed weekends and holidays.

What You'll Need
Without a doubt, you’re going to need a passport or other valid photo ID, a residence permit, and proof of address in Germany (e.g. a lease agreement or recent utility bill).

You will also need to fill out an application form, which can be obtained at the bank itself or via its website.

Some other items you may want to bring along are:
- documentation proving your status as a student or employee,
- proof of income (your last three pay stubs should be sufficient).

Finally, some banks require an opening balance, which you will need to have on-hand to open your account. This amount can vary from bank to bank.

Good to Know

- For services in English, your best bet is one of Germany’s major banks (listed above).

- While overdraft facilities are an option at most banks, be aware that interest rates are extremely high - roughly 18% per year.

- Be prepared to pay extra for things like opening an account, covering administrative costs, obtaining a credit card, withdrawing money from other banks, and getting printouts of your bank statements.

It’s important to do your own research and shop around before deciding on a bank. Expat forums and the webpages of individual banks are great places to start. Once you’ve found a bank that meets your needs, you’ll be ready to start exploring your new home in Germany… without having to worry about your finances.

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