Skip to content

Finance and Banking in Germany

Expatrio 2024-02-15
finance and banking in germany


Want to learn all about banking in Germany? Look no further. 

This article will be your guide to banking and finance infrastructure in Germany, providing an overview of different types of bank accounts, which you can easily open even online, being an international in the country.

Find out more about opening a current account in Germany, including our top recommendations. 

A quick note on the history of banking in Germany

Germany has a long banking tradition, from the merchant bankers of the 16th century to 19th-century industrial financiers. Not known for flashy marketing or risky products, Germany's banks tend to be divided into savings banks, regional banks, cooperative banks, and multinational private banks.

The sector is proud of its sensible approach, and consumer-focused services, but which banks and financial institutions should new German residents choose? 


Banking System in Germany

Germany's banking system includes four major types of institutions, and there are some important distinctions between them

Firstly, there are private commercial banks. These banks control almost half of all German assets and finance most of Germany's international trade. And within that sector, Deutsche Bank reigns supreme, being the 8th biggest bank in Europe.

However, private banks don't dominate the retail banking sector. The three largest private banks control 15% of the retail sector, but they are rivaled by public sector and cooperative banks - not to mention so-called "free" banks.

The public banks are divided into Sparkassen (local savings banks, don’t confuse with the name of big German bank Sparkasse!) and Landesbanken (regional banks). Seven Landesbanks operate in German regions, while smaller Sparkassen tend to operate in particular cities or urban areas.

Also known as Raiffeisenbanken, cooperative institutions are the final major group, and there are around 1,000 across Germany.

Both coops and public banks tend to cater for local communities and aren't usually focused on international visitors. But they are seen as more reliable and less risky, and some are moving toward more outward-looking strategies.

How many banks are there in Germany?

According to national statistics, there are c. 1,400 banks in Germany. 
However, while bank numbers are high, they have been declining in recent years. The rise of mobile banking and the internet have accelerated branch closures, albeit from a much higher level.


Types of bank accounts in Germany

Banks in Germany offer a range of different accounts for expatriates, and there are numerous types of bank to choose from as well. We can't cover them all here, but it helps to provide a short introduction.

Most arrivals will want to create what is known as a Girokonto. This is essentially a checking account or current account, and can be provided by various forms of bank. There are big international banks that offer Girokonto, or current accounts, for foreign residents.

Applicants must be sure to check the Kontoführungsgebühren (account fees) when making a decision, as they can bump up the cost of banking quite a lot in some cases.

Can I have two bank accounts in Germany?

Germans aren't restricted to a single bank account. While it's advisable to set up a Girokonto to handle income and savings, this account often functions alongside a Sperrkonto (blocked account). That way, students can receive their monthly payments and add them to work income or payments from abroad.

Moving to Germany from a non-EU country? You'll likely need a blocked account as financial proof for your visa. 

Some people may want one account that offers advantages for international money transfers, as well as a current account that guarantees good ATM access anywhere in Germany. You won't always find an account with the features you need, and there's nothing wrong with shopping around. There's no limit to how many bank accounts you can use, so find a mix that works for you.

Expatrio Value Package

Simplify your move to Germany with Expatrio's Value Package! Get your mandatory Health Insurance, Blocked Account, free German Bank Account, plus other free benefits!

Get Value Package

How to open a German bank account

Opening a bank account in Germany isn't usually a difficult task

In fact, knowing the value of solid savings and a good credit rating, Germans have gone out of their way to make the process streamlined and efficient.

Before you can open a bank account in Germany, you'll need to satisfy certain requirements. In most traditional banks, individuals who come from outside the European Union must provide documentation such as proof of residency, or in some cases, a visa and proof of address is enough. 

What do I need to open a bank account in Germany?

These requirements mean that a little work will be involved when you start an account. However, the various stages aren't hard, and you should have most of the documents required. To set you on your way, here's a breakdown of things needed to open a bank account in Germany:

  • Your passport
  • A valid German visa
  • Any documents showing that you are enrolled on a university course or employed in Germany
  • Your Meldebescheinigung (documents confirming your German address). This can be obtained by making an appointment at your local Bürgeramt - which functions like a town or city hall.
  • Some banks may also request documentation showing a regular income, such as your last three pay slips.

Once you have these documents, you can head to a local bank branch and start filling out forms.

However, nowadays the best place to open a bank account is definitely online!

Popular mobile banks like N26* and Bunq* allow users to apply 100% online. Just download the app, submit a few personal details, and then add your ID information. Within a few minutes, you can be up and running, depositing euros as with any normal account.


Note for non-EU nationals

Non-EU nationals should note that they may need to be residents in Germany before using certain mobile apps. EU residents can create accounts from abroad before moving to Germany, but for Chinese, Indian, or US visitors be sure to check the individual requirements of each bank.


Mobile banking isn't the only option, of course. Many arrivals like to visit a nearby bank branch to meet the staff and discuss their accounts. These accounts often deliver more complex features like credit cards overdrafts, and may suit self-employed workers and families. We recommend Commerzbank* for people who prefer to visit a physical branch to do their banking.

There's nothing to stop people using both mobile banks and conventional banks. In fact, that's a very common option for expatriates as they navigate Germany's financial system.


Bank transfer

Transferring money from abroad and between German banks could be a headache for expatriates, but it doesn't have to be

German banks know that easy transfers are a major selling point and way to serve their customers, so they tend to make the process relatively hassle-free.

How do I transfer money to a German bank account?

Making a domestic transfer (Überweisung) between German bank accounts isn't complex at all. To do so, use your bank's online banking portal, via your banking app, or visit a local branch. You will need the account details of the receiving account. So, if you are paying your monthly rent, be sure to request these details from your landlord.

Even better, you can set up a standing order (Dauerauftrag) which transfers a set amount of money at regular intervals. For variable transfers such as phone bills, you can also set up direct debits called Einzugsermächtigung.



Services like PayPal are widely used in Germany as well, and can be the easiest way to shift money between accounts or manage self-employment income.


How long do bank transfers take in Germany?

Depending on your bank and the bank you are transferring to, transfers may be immediate, or can take a couple days. Online banks like N26 offer you functions like 'Moneybeam' which sends money instantly to other N26*, users. Revolut, Bunq*, and Monese all offer similar functions. 

However, most bank transfers to a recipient with a different bank won't be instantaneous. If you need to make a payment by a certain date, be sure to leave a couple of days leeway. Transfers will typically take 2-4 working days.

What is the cheapest way to transfer money internationally?

If you are transferring money from an EU-based bank with an IBAN code to another EU-based bank, transfers are normally free and easy. For non-EU nationals, fees and delays could be involved, but specialist transfer services exist to make the process simpler.

TransferWise is probably the cheapest and most popular method. This mobile-based service can be connected to online banking services like PayPal, and will convert foreign currencies into Euros, before depositing them into your German account. When you sign up, you'll need to provide some basic personal details, including your full German bank details. Beyond that, all that's involved is a swipe of the smartphone screen.

Our International Money Transfer page presents you more providers to transfer money internationally.


Recommended Banks in Germany

Germany's banking landscape is changing fast, and here are some of the current leading operators for international residents to consider:

Which bank is recommended for students in Germany?

Our top recommendation? N26*! 
Here's why:

  • N26 is a fully licensed German bank meaning you’ll have a German IBAN, simplifying your life in Germany.
  • No long waiting times, no hidden fees, and a fully online application that can be completed in few minutes.
  • With N26, you get a free bank account, a virtual card, and 24/7 English support. Use their mobile or web app to handle transfers, track spending, and enjoy fee-free foreign transactions.

Open your N26* current account for free now!

Some other top recomendations include: 

  • Commerzbank* , a leading international commercial bank in Germany.Commerzbank Girokonto is an excellent fit for those aged under 30 who want to open a current bank account in a traditional bank. Their Girokonto has no account fees and you are able to get both a Visa credit card and a Girocard, which you can use in several stores within Germany. 
  • Postbankis a retail banking branch of Deutsche Bank and is a leading provider in Germany. With physical branches as well as mobile banking, it is a great choice for those who are living in Germany.

For an in-depth comparison, check out our article all about choosing a current account.

Open your bank account now

Does our top pick sound good to you? Check out Commerzbank* today!

Open Commerzbank*

*These are affiliate links with advertising intent. We might earn a small commission if you see value in the products and decide to buy them.

This might also be of interest to you

Costs of living in Germany

Costs of Living in Germany

Anyone planning on moving to or studying in Germany needs to know exactly how much it is going to cost to live there. Part of planning this exciting...

A calendar showing german months

German Months

Fundamental to learning any language is becoming familiar with how to talk about days, weeks, months, and years. Mastering how to communicate about...

Schloss Neuschwanstein im Winter

15 Best Places To Visit In Germany [Guide]

Germany is a fascinating country with an abundance of attractions that draw tourists from all over the world. From the vibrant city life of Berlin to...

A german passport

Visa for Germany

A visa is necessary for many individuals moving to Germany to live, work, or study. There are several different types of visa in Germany, and it’s...

A church in front of a forest in Germany

Tourism in Germany

Germany Tourism: Why Germany is one of the top tourist attractions in the world Visiting Germany's most famous cities is a top priority for many. But...

Insurances in Germany

Insurances in Germany

“Germans have insurance for everything” - that might sound superficial but it is true. German insurance system offers a wide choice of ways to ensure...

finance and banking in germany

Finance and Banking in Germany

Want to learn all about banking in Germany? Look no further.

A group of people walking in a german walking street

10 Tips for Living in Germany

Moving to Germany means getting the chance to live in one of the most organized and progressive countries on Earth, where you can enjoy a high...

About Germany facts

About Germany

Germany, or the Federal Republic of Germany as it is known officially, is a central European country attracting thousands of international students...