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If you’re going to live in Berlin, one of the first things you’ll need is a German bank account. We’ll explain how you get it.

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After a few days in Germany you realize that quite a few shops refuses to accept your Visa or American Express card. Sure, you can carry around a big pile of cash, but there is an alternative. As soon as you open a German bank account you’ll get a Girocard. This is the card that German shops like.

You’ll also need a German bank account to receive salary, and to pay your bills. A common practice in Germany is Lastschriftzahlung. This means, for example, that your phone company withdraws money for your monthly bill directly from your bank account.

Online banks

Which bank you should choose is up to you. Some of them charges a monthly fee to hold your account while others offers their services for free. Most of the online banks have free accounts. Comdirect is a popular bank where you’ll get both a Girocard and a Visa card for free. They also have an iPhone app where you can check your balance and transfer money. A newcomer is Number26, a completely mobile and digital bank.

Most banks require that you have registered with the authorities before you can open an account with them, but there are exceptions. One of them is DKB, Deutsche Kreditbank. They offer a service similar to Comdirect, with the important difference that you can sign up without a permanent address in Germany, you just use your address in your home country. You can even sign up prior to moving to Berlin, and have your cards and passwords sent to you by mail.

Traditional banks

If walking in to a bank in person is your thing, then you’ll have to choose a traditional bank. You will of course get an online bank as well … and you probably have to pay fee every month. There are a lot of banks to pick from, and some of the more popular include Berliner Sparkasse, Postbank, and Berliner Volksbank. When you choose it’s important to check that there is an office close to where you live or work, and where you can withdraw cash from ATMs (read more below).

Don’t forget…

When you’ve got your account and girocard you might think you’re good to go. But think twice before you withdraw money from an ATM. If the particular ATM is not affiliated with your bank, you might get charged a fee of up to 8 euros for a single withdrawal. That can be some expensive 20 euros… Check with your bank where you can get your cash safely.

A few German banks have their own iPhone apps, but if your bank’s not among them you can probably use the free app OutBank. There is a lite and a pro version, but if you just have one or two accounts you’re fine with the lite version.

This post has also been published with permission on Finanz.nu.


The original version of this article was first published on 2012-02-16.