Best German bank accounts in 2021 for foreigners, including blocked accounts for visa applications

A review of the best German bank accounts in 2021 for expats. One of the first things you should do when moving to Germany is opening a checking account. You need it to pay pour rent and to receive salaries. We have a selection of the best checking accounts for foreigners in Germany. We discuss some paid and free checking accounts in this article.


This post was last updated on February 19, 2021
Close up of credit cards in various colors

What you need to know about payments in Germany

It is very hard to live in Germany without having a checking account a so called Girokonto. You need it to pay your rent, receive salaries, to get a mobile or an internet contract.

The most used payment method in shops and restaurants in Germany besides cash is the Girocard or Girokarte, sometimes also referred to as Debitkarte or EC-Karte. The Girocard is connected to your checking account. Most German banks offer online bank accounts either trough an app or trough online banking. Some banks are brick and mortar banks with branches and some are online banks only. Checking account fees vary between 0.- and up to 20.- Euros a month.

The Girocard is a German system but almost all banks offer cards which are compatible with the Mastercard/Maestro or Visa/V-Pay systems. This means you can use these cards in most parts of the world.

Lingo: A checking account in Germany comes with a Girocard and in most cases you can add a credit card. So we are talking about bank accounts in this article. Girocard, EC-card, Debit card are different words for the same type of card debiting from a checking account.

Payments are debited the same day or a couple of days afterwards. The banks usually offer you a bank overdraft which the Germans call Dispo if you have a regular income.

The Dispo might only work if you withdraw on ATMs issued by the bank itself and might not work at all if outside Germany.

Do not rely only on credit cards for payments as they are not always accepted. You probably want to have a Girocard as the main means of payment in Germany.

It often happens that smaller shops or restaurants ask you to pay cash. Most credit cards and Girocards offer contactless payments without entering your pin for smaller sums, usually below 40.- Euro. The banks charge fees depdending on which ATM you withdraw money but some banks do not charge withdrawal fees at all.

Credit cards in Germany are not used for deferring payments the same way than in the US or other countries. Germans use consumer credits (Verbraucherkredit) for deferring payments or the checking accounts' overdraft when ends don't meet at the end of the month. Generally it is frowned upon to buy smaller consumer goods like a TV on credit in Germany.

Blocked account for jobseeker visa and students

A blocked account or Sperrkonto is a special bank account which lets you withdraw only a limited amount of money per month. The money is blocked. The blocked account serves as a proof that you have enough money to provide for yourself in Germany and is used by foreign students and visa applicants. A blocked account is a requirement for many German visa.

Fintiba or Deutsche Bank offer blocked accounts.

We recommend Fintiba as the best blocked account in Germany for visa applications. It is reliable and cheaper than Deutsche Bank.

Free business bank account for freelancers

We recommend using a dedicated bank account for business. Some banks like Berliner Sparkasse might tolerate business related transactions on their cheaper personal bank accounts but there is no guarantee that the bank does not shut down the account.

Deutsche Bank offers a business account starting at 15,90 Euro per month. We recommend all freelancers and small business to have a look at the online business bank account from Kontist. They offer an app for managing business finances which comes with a free English business bank account.

Some banks like Berliner Sparkasse and N26 let freelancers use their private accounts for invoicing.

Best banks for expats in Germany

All of the banks listed below offer checking accounts with Girocards and most also credit cards.

Summary of the pro and cons of the banks in this review

Name Remote application* Service in English Fees Support Checking account Blocked account Free for students For freelancers
DKB + - + + + - + -
N26 + + +/- - + - + +
bunq + + - ? + - - + source
1822direkt ? - + ? + - - -
ING-DiBa + - + + + - + -
Comdirect + - + + + - - -
Deutsche Bank - - - + + + The checking account is free for students -
Berliner Sparkasse - - +/- + + Only some branches +/- +
Fintiba + + + + - + -

*Remote application from another country before you arrive in Germany is possible.

Our checking account recommendation for expats in Germany

I recommend starting with app based banks who have an easy application process like N26 or bunq for people who just moved to Germany. Download the bunq app here.

I see more and more people switching to brick and mortar banks like Sparkasse after they have been in Germany for a while because they want better or face to face support and more reliability. Please note that there is a Hamburger Sparkasse, a Berliner Sparkasse and many more but they are different organisations with different conditions.

DKB is a great option because of low fees for active clients and its credit card plan with free global withdrawals. Apply for the DKB-Cash account here.

Fintiba is a great option to open a blocked account. The registration form for the Fintiba blocked account is here.

Internet banks do not have branches or ATMs. Their fees are often cheaper. We selected a few for you which we think offer good value.

DKB

Pros:

  • Credit card can be used anywhere in the world without withdrawal fees
  • Lets you open an account from another EU country source
  • Reliability: I never had any issues with withdrawing money in EU countries or the US.
  • Customer service: they usually replied to my requests in a day. The answers were always helpful. They once switched my account from the free to the paid plan by mistake but corrected their error immediately after emailing them.

Cons:

  • Website and service in German only
  • Restrictive, they might reject your application if you don't have a steady income
  • The bank came under denial of service attacks in 2020. As a result DKB Customers couldn't access their accounts for several hours source. However no money was lost
  • Free Girocard withdrawals at selected ATMs only
  • No branches, online service only

Fees:

  • No monthly fees if you have a monthly cash flow of at least 700.- Euro source
  • Free Girocard if you have a monthly cash flow of at least 700.- Euro
  • Free credit card if you have a monthly cash flow of at least 700.- Euro
  • Free credit card withdrawals globally. DKB often also pays the fee from the bank which owns the ATM
  • Girocard withdrawals at other ATMs cost 1,00 % of the amount but at least 10.- Euro
  • Checking account overdraft fees are 6,74% p.a.

Opinion:

  • I use the DKB as a second free banking account because in my opinion they offer the best credit card plan with free global withdrawals. The only reason I don't use it as my main account are the limited free withdrawals options for their Girocard.
  • Open a DKB account here

N26

Pros:

  • Website and service 100% availaible in German and English
  • Lets you open an account from another EU country source
  • Lets you open an account without an official German address
  • Very quick and easy application process with a webcam in minutes
  • Less restrictive when approving applications
  • Verification of ID is done via video chat function on your smartphone
  • A partnership with Transferwise lets you send internation transfers in 19 currencies directly from the N26 app for lower fees than when using traditional banks
  • N26 is developed as app based bank so their app includes all the services whereas other bank apps are often more limited

Cons:

  • Reliability and customer service: a coworker of mine had unauthorized withdrawals from his N26 account and it took the bank some time until the money was back. There are reports that N26 bank accounts got hacked and that customers couldn't access their money for weeks and that the N26 customer support stopped communicating altogether. In some cases the money on N26 accounts was lost source
  • Free Girocard withdrawals very limited
  • No branches, online service only

Fees:

  • No monthly fees
  • 5 free withdrawals per month from any ATM. After that you pay 2 Euro per withdrawal
  • Overdraft fees are 8.9% p.a.

1822direkt

Pros:

  • 25000 ATM machines

Cons:

  • Service in German only

Fees:

  • No monthly fees if you deposit money in your account at least once a month or if you are under 27 years old, otherwise 3.90 Euro source
  • 0 to 0.30 Euro per withdrawal from Sparkasse ATMs. Fee of 6 Euro or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs

bunq

Pros:

  • Website and service available in English
  • Lets you open an account from another EU country source
  • Lets you open an account without an official German address
  • Very quick and easy application process
  • Less restrictive when approving applications
  • Verification of ID is done via video chat function on your smartphone, accepts many forms of ID verification
  • A partnership with Transferwise lets you send internation transfers in 19 currencies directly from the app for lower fees than when using traditional banks
  • Download the bunq app here

Cons:

  • No phone support
  • No branches, online service only
  • Higher fees than other banks

Fees:

  • Monthly fees starting at 7.99 Euro per month which can include three cards, Maestro, Mastercard debit and Mastercard credit source. No discounts for students
  • 10 free withdrawals per month from any ATM in the EU for free

A banner promoting the bunq app

ING-DiBa

Pros:

  • Lets you open an account without an official German address

Cons:

  • Website and service in German only
  • PostIdent only for ID verification
  • No branches, online service only

Fees:

  • No monthly fees
  • Free Girocard
  • Free credit card
  • Free Girocard withdrawals at any ATM
  • Overdraft fees are 6.99% p.a

Comdirect

Pros:

  • Overdraft fees are 6.5% p.a which is on the lower end of the banks in this review
  • Lets you open an account from another EU country source
  • Lets you open an account without an official German address
  • Verification of ID can be done via video chat function on your smartphone.

Cons:

  • Website and banking interface in German only
  • No branches, online service only

Fees:

  • No monthly fees source
  • Free Girocard
  • Free credit card
  • Free Girocard withdrawals from any ATM in countries which use the Euro as currency source. The bank who owns the ATM might charge a fee however
  • Free Visa card withdrawals in all countries source

Brick and mortar banks

All the banks listed below offer online banking and have large networks of ATMs and branches. Cash withdrawal is often only free at ATMs owned by the bank.

Deutsche Bank

Pros:

  • Online banking and service available in English but not all correspondence is in English
  • Lets you open an account without an official German address
  • Many branches all over Germany

Cons:

  • Website and most of the service in German only
  • Free withdrawals only at 2900 Cash Group ATMs in Germany source

Fees:

  • 5.90 Euro monthly fee. No monthly fee for students source
  • Free withdrawals from Cash Group ATMs. Fee of 6€ or 1% of withdrawal amount for other ATMs.

Banks in Berlin

We have a recommendation for all those who want to move to Berlin.

Berliner Sparkasse

Pros:

  • Large network of ATMs
  • Many branches in Berlin
  • Reliable

Cons:

  • Website and service in German only

Fees:

  • 3.- Euro monthly fee. No monthly fee for students up to the age of 25 source
  • 8.50 Euro fee per year for the Girocard source
  • 0 to 0.30 Euro per withdrawal from Sparkasse ATMs depending on account type. 4.95 Euro per withdrawal from other ATMs source

Opinion:

  • I use the Berliner Sparkasse as a my main checkings account. They have branches all over Berlin, many ATMs and I never experienced any issues when using their services.

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