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LIVING IN GERMANY

What are the best banks for foreigners in Germany?

It can be tricky to find a good bank in Germany especially if you're not from here. So we asked The Local readers to share their recommendations for the best places to stash your cash.

A woman takes money out of a cash machine in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
A woman takes money out of a cash machine in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

Moving to another country and setting up a bank account should be a fairly simple process. But often it’s tricky – and there are lots of things to consider such as the type of account, if you are eligible to join and what fits your situation best. 

In Germany there’s the added issue of navigating bank charges. Plus Americans face a further obstacle with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA for short. This legislation, which obliges foreign banks to report back to the US tax office on any assets held in these accounts by US taxpayers, has resulted in some German banks closing accounts or turning away customers with an American passport. 

READ ALSO: Why are Americans being turned away from German banks?

So if you’re thinking about moving banks – or just want to know what else is out there – here’s what The Local readers give the thumbs up and the thumbs down. 

Which German bank came out on top?

The bank that got the most votes in our survey was N26. The appeal of this Berlin-based bank is that everything is online, and they offer services in different languages. 

Blessan, 34, in Berlin said: “They have a nice mobile app in English. You can do instant transactions among other N26 users for free. Most of my expat friends use it. so it gets easier to borrow money.”

The bank offers a selection of services from the free ‘Standard’ account to the pricier ‘Metal’ account.

“It’s so easy to open an account with N26,” said Christine Mae Sarito, 33, in Bonn, who says the Premium account works well. 

READ ALSO: Why bank customers in Germany are facing higher fees

“Everything is online so it is also easy to reach out to customer support in case of problems,” Sarito said. “I especially like N26 instalments where I can pay for eligible purchases from €50 in instalments of up to six months with very low interest rates.” 

J.Rosenbaum in Gauting said N26 offered a “fully online, remote account opening, service in English”.

Melvin Chelli, 29, in Saarbrücken added: “Free account, and easy verification through video ID using residence permit.”

J.M. in Potsdam said N26 was “digital, easy, in English” and offered “global withdrawals and transfers”.

N26 was recommended by lots of people in our survey.
N26 was recommended by lots of people in our survey. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

Dorka, 27, in Baden-Württemberg, said: “This was the only one that actually fits my lifestyle and needs.”

“This bank encouraged me to be its customer with superb customer focus, clear terms and conditions, well chosen areas to invest their efforts in, direct charges on logical extras. It’s simply 21st century no-bullsh*t handling of things.”

What other banks do readers recommend?

Commerzbank was given the thumbs up by a few readers. 

Gondal, 37, in Böblingen said Commerzbank is a good option because they have lots of branches and ATMs plus “no account maintenance fee with at least €700”.

Gondal also said TransferWise was a good option for foreigners to use if sending money home: “It also has the highest conversion rate and low remittance fee.”

Mohamed Abouseif, 25, who’s in Munich, said Stadtsparkasse allows “everyone to open an account with them and the account maintenance fees are minimal”.

Alison, 29, in Hamburg, said ING is a good option for a checking (Giro) account, and savings account

She said both have “low fees, convenient mobile-first design and accept foreigners – even US citizens who are affected by FATCA, no fees for ATM withdrawals above €50 at many different ATMs, including those of Sparkasse”.

Sunil Kulkarni, 33, in Reutlingen said ING has “by far the best online service and stable mobile banking app. One drawback would be the telephone banking, which is unfortunately only in German and app is also in German.”

Blessan, who recommended N26, also says that Deutsche Bank is a good option to to get an EC (giro) card, which is needed for some services in Germany. 

Another reader recommended Deutsche Bank because it is “free for students and has an English language online banking portal and customer care reply email in English”.

A person paying for shopping with a card.
A person paying for shopping with a card. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Consors Bank is the bank of choice for Maciek, 41, in Frankfurt. “I am a national of a EU country and US living in Germany.  So far (knock on wood) Consors has not limit its offered services due to my US citizenship,” said Maciek. 

Here are a few other banks that were recommended:

  • Hamburger Sparkasse 
  • Nuri.com
  • DKB (DKB Cash account)
  • Berliner Sparkasse
  • Sparda Bank Hessen
  • Revolut

Which banks should perhaps be avoided?

As is often the case, the experience that people have can depend on the customer service they receive.

Although N26 came out on top in our survey, some readers said they would not recommend it. 

“Terrible customer service, they just blocked and terminated my account without notice,” said one reader. 

“N26 is fully English but some of my friends mentioned the customer support is bad (can’t verify it personally),” said another reader. “They require some nationalities to hold a residence permit in Germany before being able to open an account so it’s not good for newcomers.”

Meanwhile, others said they would avoid the bigger banks “which have many hidden charges and high usage fees”.

Another reader said: “I was refused an account at DKB despite having secure employment and an excellent SCHUFA. They refused to name a specific reason despite repeated requests on my part. I suspect it may be because I’m a foreigner? Also avoid Deutsche Bank because of their involvement in major world financial scandals and Sparkasse for the high fees.”

Others said people in Germany should steer clear of Postbank due to “bad service”.

Another reader in Berlin said he couldn’t get an account with Commerzbank or Deutsche Bank “because I didn’t have a job at the time”.

Berliner Sparkasse was the only one cool with that,” the reader said.

***

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them. Stay tuned for our story on how readers feel banking in Germany should be improved.

Member comments

  1. I use N26 as a kinda travel/second bank and BB Bank as my main. Simply because I got BB Bank many years ago where I worked. The EC card thing though, that can matter here. I still find some random small petrol stations and shops that will only accept EC and cash. And I do not like to carry cash.

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LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. German is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, comes with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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