How do I open a basic bank account?
Be it for paying the bills and rent or receiving your wages or financial support from the state – you need a bank account for your everyday life as large transactions occur via banks in Germany. A bank account allows you to keep your money at the bank, send and receive money and withdraw cash. With a bank account, you don't have to use cash to pay bills or rent; you can transfer money via bank.
In this chapter, you will learn how to open a basic account and what options you have when it comes to banking. A basic account is a current account that offers the essential functions of a bank account, for example, withdrawing and depositing cash, making transfers or paying without money.
What do I have to know?
To open a basic account in Germany, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are over 18 years old. Please note: Children aged 7 can also open their own basic account. However, they need the consent of their parents or guardians to do so.
- You have a valid identification document, for instance, a valid passport, residence permit, temporary stay permit ("Aufenthaltsgestattung"), or "Duldung". For opening an account, it is essential to prove your identity. A so-called "Fiktionsbescheinigung" is usually not sufficient.
- You can provide the bank with an address in Germany where the bank can send you letters. This does not have to be your home address – if you do not have a permanent residence in Germany, you can give the address of a friend or a counselling centre. What matters is that you should be able to receive the letters from the bank at the address.
You can open a basic account at any bank that accepts private customers. This can be a bank with a branch near your place of residence or a so-called "Direct bank". A Direct bank is a bank that does not have physical branches and often neither independent ATMs. You can only reach the employees of direct banks by email or telephone. In contrast, in a bank with branches, you can visit the place and speak to the employees personally. Please check the opening hours of the bank branch before visiting.
In both types of banks, i.e., banks with a branch network and direct banks, you can apply for a basic account by filling out a form. You can find the application form for opening an account (in German) on the website of the Consumer Support Centre. If you need help filling it out, you can seek help from a counselling centre. Check the "Where can I find advice and support?" section to find nearby counselling centres' addresses.
I want to open an account at a bank with a branch network:
You can usually open an account at a bank nearby without an appointment if you visit the bank branch. The staff will help you fill out the bank account application. Don't forget to take a valid ID with you, for instance, a valid passport, your residence permit, "Aufenthaltsgestattung" or "Duldung", because the employees must verify your identity.
I want to open an account with a direct bank:
You can apply for an account at a direct bank online by filling out an application on the bank's website. You can also send the application to the bank by post. After applying, you will usually receive a confirmation of receipt by post or email from the bank. After 10 days (at the latest), the bank must inform you whether they will accept your application. If accepted, you will usually receive your contract documents in the letter. For the bank to be able to verify your identity, it uses what is known as the Post-Ident procedure ("Post-Ident-Verfahren."). For the procedure, you need to go to a post office, which your bank will name in the letter during opening hours. You don't need an appointment. You should have a valid ID with you, for instance, a valid passport, your residence permit, "Aufenthaltsgestattung" or "Duldung". Deutsche Post employees at the post office will then verify your identity.
Many banks also allow you to confirm your identity over a video call instead of visiting the post office. This is known as the video identification procedure ("Video-Ident-Verfahren"), through which employees of an external company verify your identity. You will usually receive the date and link from your bank by email. During the call, you'll need to show your ID to the camera and answer questions about your ID, for instance, your place of birth. You will also receive an SMS with a confirmation code during the call. You must enter the code or give it to the staff to confirm that you are the person on the video call.
Important: If you only speak a little German, you can ask someone to translate for you – for instance, a friend, acquaintance or professional interpreter. The bank has to allow it, and they are not permitted to reject your application because you cannot speak German (well enough). This applies to banks with a branch network as well as direct banks.
Please note: The banks have 10 days to inform you whether they will accept your application for a basic account, regardless of the type of the bank (i.e., a bank with physical branches or a direct bank). If your bank is taking longer, contact them and inquire. If the bank rejects your application, you can log a complaint. To learn more, read the section "My application for a basic account was rejected/ the bank is demanding high fees. Where can I complain?".
After the bank has accepted your application, you will receive your so-called "giro card". You can use it to deposit cash into your account, withdraw money and make cashless purchases.
Yes, you have to pay for a basic account. Moreover, the cost differs from bank to bank, as the precise fees are not regulated by law. However, the costs of a basic bank account must not be higher than other accounts. And your bank is not allowed to charge much higher fees for a basic account compared to other banks. As a rule, a basic account costs between €50 and just over €150 per year. Account holders are charged for basic accounts because the bank charges a fee for managing the money. This fee is called an "account management fee" or "basic fee" ("Kontoführungsgebühr "or "Grundgebühr "). In addition, you sometimes have to pay for certain services you receive from your bank, for example, when you make a transfer at the bank or print out an account statement there. You can usually find detailed information about such fees in the so-called "Price List" ("Preisverzeichnis") and the General Terms and Conditions ("Geschäftsbedingungen" or AGB) of the bank. You will receive the General Terms and Conditions from the bank before you open an account.
Important: There are a lot of banking transactions you can do online. You save money this way because, with online banking, many such services are free. Before opening a bank account, ask whether online banking is possible for basic accounts.
The bank can only reject your application for a basic account if:
- You have an account with another bank in Germany and can use it.
- You had a basic account at this bank and did not pay your fees.
- You had a basic account with this bank and used it to commit a crime, such as money laundering.
- Opening an account for you will be against the law.
Important: If the bank rejects your application, you can take action against their decision. You can find out more in the section "My application for a basic account was rejected/the bank is demanding high fees. Where can I complain?".
If a bank rejects your application for a basic account, you can contact the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority ("Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht" or Bafin). To do so, you need to fill out the online application (in German) for the implementation of an administrative procedure ("den Antrag auf Durchführung eines Verwaltungsverfahrens"). By doing so, you request Bafin to review the rejection of your application. Seek help from a counselling centre if you need assistance completing the application. To find the counselling centres nearby, check out the section "Where can I find advice and support?".
You can also contact Bafin if your banking fees are too high. To do so, you must fill out the complaint form (in German), print it out, and send it to the Bafin address. You can find the address in the form on the penultimate page at the bottom. The Bafin then checks whether the fees are too high. If that is the case, Bafin can demand your bank lower the prices.
You can also change your bank. To read more about your options, check out the section "How can I change my bank?".
You can get cash at an ATM using your giro card and personal identification number (PIN). You will receive the giro card and your PIN from your bank after opening an account. You are the only one who knows your PIN, so memorise the PIN well. And make sure no one else knows or sees your PIN. You can ask your bank for a new one if you forget your PIN.
You can set the language to English on most ATMs – some machines also offer additional languages. To withdraw cash, insert your giro card into the machine and select "Geld auszahlen" from the menu. Enter the amount you wish to withdraw and your PIN and press "Bestätigen". A small compartment will open below the screen where you can get your money.
Important: Always withdraw money from your own bank's ATM. To withdraw money from another bank's ATM, you will have to pay a fee of up to €6. Before you are charged for withdrawing money, you will be shown a notice when you insert your card.
In Germany, the Sparkasse, the Volksbanks and Raiffeisenbanks have the most ATMs compared to other banks. To ensure the customers of other banks have enough ATMs to withdraw money, they can use the ATMs of certain banks free of charge. As a customer of Commerzbank, Postbank, Deutsche Bank and HypoVereinsbank, for instance, you can use the ATMs of any of these banks to withdraw money free of charge. You can find an ATM nearby at www.cashgroup.de. If you are a customer of another bank, you can check www.cashpool.de to see whether your bank is part of the "Cashpool" association. If so, you can withdraw money free of charge from all ATMs listed there.
You can also withdraw cash from some supermarket checkouts. But you have to shop for a certain amount in the supermarket.
You should regularly check how much money is in your account to keep track of your income and expenses.
- If you use online banking, you can check your account balance anytime. Your bank will also regularly send your bank statement to your online mailbox. A bank statement is an up-to-date overview of when and by whom money was withdrawn from or transferred to your account.
- If you don't have online banking, you can get a bank statement at the bank. At the bank entrances, there are machines where you can print out your account statement or access an overview of transactions. To do so, you need your giro card and possibly your PIN.
Please note: If you have online banking, some banks charge fees when you print your bank statements at a branch. Printing out your current account statements must be free if you don't have online banking.
Important: Contact your bank immediately if there are bookings on your account that you have not authorised.
If you can no longer find your giro card, you should have the card blocked immediately to prevent others from stealing your money. You can have your card blocked around the clock by calling +49 116 166. The call is free, and the employees speak German and English. You can reach most banks under the same number. You can check sperr-notruf.de to see the list of the banks. Alternatively, you can call your bank directly.
The bank can try to reverse the transactions done by the thief. Also, write down the IBAN (International Bank Account Number) of the person who has stolen your card and the name of their bank. You can also report the theft to their bank.
If your giro card is stolen or someone has stolen money from your account, you can directly file a police report in addition to blocking the card or account.
Please note: If you can no longer find your giro card, or it has been stolen, you will receive a new card and PIN from your bank. The bank must do so free of charge.
With a wire transfer, you instruct your bank to transfer money from your account to another account. Within Germany, this often happens on the same day. Transferring money within Europe usually takes between 1 or 2 days. Transfers to other countries may take longer. You can read more about international transfers in the section "I want to transfer money to a bank account outside Europe. What do I have to consider?".
Transfers are not free at every bank. With some banks, only a certain number of transfers are free; you pay per transfer with others. You will find the exact conditions and fees in the "Price List" ("Preisverzeichnis") or in the "General Terms and Conditions" ("Allgemeinen Geschäftsbedingungen") of the bank. You can also ask the bank employees about it.
That depends on whether you do your banking online or in your bank branch.
To transfer money at a bank branch:
You can make a bank transfer using a form in your bank branch. The form is called "Überweisungsträger"; you can get it free at your bank branch. It is usually in the entrance area off the banks. Make sure that the bank employees can easily read your details.
In the appropriate boxes on the transfer slip, you need to enter the following information:
- The recipient's full name
- The international bank account number (IBAN) of the recipients.
- The BIC of the recipient's bank
- The amount you wish to transfer.
- The reference of the payment, for instance, your invoice number or customer number for the bill. If you are paying your rent, the reference usually should be your name and the word "Miete".
- Your IBAN. You can find it on your giro card.
- The date on which you are filling out the payment slip.
- Your signature
You should submit the transfer slip to your bank branch. Most banks have their own mailbox for transfer slips at the entrance area. You can also hand in the transfer at the counter.
Important: If you are a customer of Sparkasse, Volksbank or Raiffeisenbank, you can only submit your transfer slip at your branch. That means, for instance, that you cannot make a transfer at a branch in Cologne if your bank is in Dresden.
How to transfer money via online banking:
In online banking, you have to fill out a digital transfer form. You can usually find it in the menu under the term "Überweisung". Click on it and fill out each field. You need to enter the following information:
- The recipient's full name
- The international bank account number (IBAN) of the recipients.
- The amount you wish to transfer.
- A reference for the payment. You can enter your invoice or customer numbers if you are paying a bill. You usually need to enter your name and the word "Miete" if you are paying rent. For transfers within the SEPA area, the BIC is automatically filled in when you enter the IBAN of the recipient. You can find out which countries are in the SEPA area on the Sparkasse website.
To be on the safe side, you have to enter a so-called transaction number (TAN). A TAN is a uniquely generated code for every online transfer. It functions as your digital signature and lets your bank make sure you commissioned the transfer yourself.
Most banks offer different TAN procedures:
- smsTAN: You will receive the TAN as an SMS on your cell phone.
- PushTAN or AppTAN: You receive the TAN in your bank's app.
- eTAN or ChipTAN or PhotoTAN or QR-TAN: You create the TAN yourself with a TAN generator. A TAN generator is a small device on which you generate a TAN with your giro card. You can buy a TAN generator online or at electronics stores.
Please note: The Federal Ministry for Information Security recommends using a TAN generator for the TAN procedure. An app can also offer reasonable protection. Many banks have abolished the smsTAN procedure since it is less secure than the other two methods.
You can automate the procedure if you have to pay the same amount of money regularly. To do so, you have two options: a "standing order" or a "SEPA direct debit".
If you need to transfer the same amount regularly, you can set up a so-called "Dauerauftrag" or "standing order" for it. The bank will then automatically debit the amount from your account at the specified time, for instance, every month or once or twice a year. To ensure you don't forget reoccurring payments like your rent, you can set up a standing order in your online banking or at your bank branch at the counter.
To set up a standing order, you need the following information:
- Name of recipients
- The IBAN of the recipients
- The amount you wish to transfer.
- The time of the transfer, that is, the day, month and year and the time interval. You could choose to transfer money daily, monthly, weekly or annually.
- When transferring money to an account in another European country, you need the BIC or bank code of the recipient's bank.
You can change or delete a standing order at any time directly in your bank or using your online banking.
Important: Be sure to ask your bank whether you have to pay for a standing order. Banks with a branch network often charge you for this service. In online banking, on the other hand, standing orders are usually cost-free.
SEPA Direct Debit:
Another way to make regular payments is the SEPA direct debit procedure, by which you allow a person or company to withdraw a specific amount of money from your account. This can be, for example, your sports club or mobile phone provider. For a SEPA direct debit procedure, you will usually receive a form from the person or company you need to pay. The form is known as "SEPA Direct Debit Mandate" or "SEPA-Lastschriftmandat". Before the money is debited, the recipient must inform you and your bank when the amount will be debited and how much the amount is.
Important: You can withdraw your permission for a SEPA direct debit mandate within 8 weeks. Your bank will then return the money transferred after that point to your account. The bank has to do so free of charge. Even if you find out that an incorrect debit was made, the bank can reverse the debit. You have 13 weeks to report such an issue to your bank.
You can cancel a SEPA direct debit mandate at any time in writing. Send the person or company a letter stating that you are cancelling the SEPA direct debit mandate. You do not have to provide any reason for cancellation. Be sure to note your customer or contract number, so the person or company can identify you. Sign the letter and send it to the appropriate address by registered mail with confirmation of receipt so that you will receive confirmation from Deutsche Post when your letter is received. Please note: By terminating the SEPA direct debit mandate, you have only cancelled the automatic debit, but not your contract with the person or company.
To transfer money to an account outside Europe, you have to pay a fee at most banks. Such a transaction can often be expensive. Therefore, it is best to ask your bank about the exact costs in advance. Transferring money to an account outside Europe usually takes several days, so you need to plan accordingly.
For a transfer to an account outside Europe, you need to provide the following information:
- The amount and currency in which you want to transfer the money.
- The name of the recipient
- The IBAN of the recipient
- The BIC of the recipient's bank
You may also need a SWIFT code, i.e. the international routing number issued by the organisation "Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication" (SWIFT).
Please note: If you want to transfer or receive more than €12,500, you must report to the Deutsche Bundesbank. Otherwise, you risk a fine. You can notify the Bundesbank about the exact amount by telephone. The number is: +49 800 1234 111 and can be reached from Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The call is cost-free. Most of the employees only speak German.
As a rule, you are the only person who can access your bank account. Your bank cannot tell anyone about your account balance or the amount of money transferred to your account or withdrawn from it without your permission. According to the law, the so-called "banking secrecy" ("Bankgeheimnis") is your right
If you would like someone else to have access to your account, you must give them a "Power of Attorney" ("Vollmacht"). With a power of attorney, you allow the person in question to see your account balance and withdraw money from your account.
You can change your bank at any time. By law, your old and new banks are obliged to work together to enable you to switch banks. This cooperation is called "account switching help" ("Kontowechselhilfe"). However, this law only applies to banks inside Germany. The account switching assistance is usually free of charge.
If you want to switch banks, open an account at your chosen bank first. Then, you can apply for account switching assistance from your new bank by filling out a form. The application form is often available on the bank's website. Important: Although there is no legal notice period ("Kündigungsfrist ") for closing a bank account, the banks can set a notice period themselves. You can check your bank's general terms and conditions (GTCs) to determine whether your bank has a notice period.
Please note: To ensure you can access your money when you switch accounts, keep in mind only to cancel your old account once your new account has been fully set up. The best is to cancel your old account after about 2 months. This way, you can check whether money is still being transferred to or from your old account.
You can find a sample letter on how to cancel your bank account in German on the Consumer Protection Centre website. Send back your bank cards along with your cancellation letter. Make sure you cut up the cards before putting them in the envelope.
Unlike the giro card, you can use a credit card to pay and withdraw money anywhere in the world. Furthermore, sometimes you need a credit card to shop online. Most banks charge a fee for credit cards. Therefore, ask your bank how expensive a credit card is before applying for one.
Please note: Often, having a basic account is insufficient for acquiring a credit card. It is best to ask your bank what type of account you need to get a credit card.
There are different types of credit cards:
- With a so-called "Credit Card" or "Revolving Card", your credit card provider only debits a fixed sum from your account at the end of the month. However, it does not debit the total amount that you have spent. If you spend more money than the specified amount on your credit card or revolving card within a month, you will have to pay an (often high) interest on the difference.
- With a so-called "Charge Card", you do not need such interests. Your provider debits all of your expenses for one month from your account.
- There is also no interest if you use the "Debit Card". Here, the provider debits your expenses individually and directly from your account.
- This also applies to the "prepaid credit card". With it, you can only spend as much money as you have in your account. Here, too, the provider debits the amount immediately.
In addition to banks, other providers, such as airlines, also offer credit cards. However, the conditions are often different from those at banks. Therefore, find out exactly what type of credit card is offered and check out the interest rate and fees carefully.
Important: There are many fake credit cards out there – they can cost you a lot. Seek advice before signing a credit card agreement. You can find out more in the section "Where can I find advice and support?".
If you have a basic account, you usually cannot spend more money than you have. You can only do so if you have agreed with your bank in advance – only then the bank gives you a so-called overdraft facility, which allows you to spend more money than is in your account. Your bank determines the exact limit; it is usually based on how much money comes into your account each month.
Please note: An overdraft facility is a very costly loan. Because you usually have to pay high fees to pay it back to the bank.
If you're having trouble paying off your debt, you can seek help. Check out the "Where can I find advice and support?" section to find out more.
You can seek advice (in German) from the Consumer Protection Centre if you don't know where to open an account or have difficulties with a bank. Their employees are well acquainted with the topics of banking and contracts.
If you need help filling out applications and forms or are struggling with debts, you can contact the Migration Advice Centres or the Youth Migration Service. Their employees speak different languages. The Youth Migration Service is for people up to the age of 27, and the Migration Advice Centres offer help to people over 18.
If a bank or its employees have discriminated against you, contact the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency and seek help. You can reach them Mondays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at +49 30 - 18555 1855. You can also email email@example.com. The staff speak German, English and Arabic.
At verbraucherzentrale-brandenburg.de, you will find two checklists with essential information about opening and managing a bank account in Arabic, English, Russian and Persian/Dari.