Are you paying fees for your bank account? Fees for money withdrawal on foreign ATMs? Fee for a credit card? Here I’ll give you an overview of free online bank accounts and how to open a bank account in Germany – no matter if you are a German or a foreigner.
Often when I am out with friends, one of them needs to get more cash. So they start asking “Where’s the nearest Sparkasse ATM”, or “Where the next Cash group?” and then they look around, asking people as they pass by, or check Google Maps. Later, they will tell me how tedious it was to open a bank account, because of all the paperwork they needed to show – and now they are even paying a monthly fee of 5, 6 or even 7 EUR. “Oh, and a credit card is coming, for an additional 10 EUR per year!”
When I hear this, I am just like “Why? Why?! WHY?!”
It really doesn’t make any sense to have these bank accounts. In Germany, you can get much better deals. Complete with free accounts, free money withdrawals at any bank machine and even a free credit card.
In this article, I will describe them in detail. Every offer gets its own section – or even its own article. At the end, you’ll find an overview table.
Update January 2017: As the market changed a bit, here’s a new comparison table – for the moment only in German. Find the English table at the end of the article. Note that all links are affiliate links: I receive some money if you open an account via them.
1. N26: English support, fancy mobile app
Almost a year ago, I wrote a first version of this article. N26* wasn’t there yet – and now it’s the one I recommend most to you. This is because it has English support! None of the others have it.
Besides, it is heavily focused on its mobile phone app. When your account receives a payment, you immediately receive a push notification. Also their registration process is pretty fast. They let you identify yourself via video chat, so you can stay home, you just need to have your ID and a webcam / smartphone ready. It also comes with a free MasterCard debit card.
I think N26 fits the BerlinCheap! audience so well, I dedicated its own article to it. If you just quickly want a nice free bank account, stop reading here and take N26.
Update December 2017: After 2 years of using this account myself, I wrote a long-term review on N26.
2. DKB Cash: Free money withdrawal worldwide
The DKB Cash account* is the one I’m using myself for my main account. I’ve been a happy customer for 6 years now, still enjoying it and I’ve never been disappointed.
Their best feature however is: free money withdrawal at ATMs, worldwide. With DKB, I never have to worry about picking the right ATM to avoid charges, I simply can go to the next one available.
Also, the account-keeping is free, you get a free Visa credit card, plus a girocard (very often used in Germany for cashless payments). Oh, and if you want to do some stock trading, you can open an additional securities account for free.
3. Santander 123: Not only online + bonuses
The main difference of Santander* compared to DKB and N26: They are not only an online bank but have also actual branches where you can walk in – 18 alone in Berlin. So if you feel better talking to your bank in person, then Santander might be a good pick.
Their 123 Girokonto is also one of the few accounts that will regularly pay you bonuses:
- 1 EUR per month if your account receives more than 600 EUR incoming payments.
- 2 EUR per month if you had at least 3 direct debit payments.
So this can make up to 36 EUR bonuses per year. Additionally, you receive an interest rate of 0.10% for keeping money on the account.
Besides, it comes with a maestro card, allowing you to withdraw money for free at Santander branches and CashPool ATMs.
So, at first glance less “ATM freedom” than with N26 and DKB – but: Besides your 123 Giro account, you can also order an extra Visa 1plus card for free – it’s a prepaid Visa card where you need to put money on before paying with it. With that card, you can withdraw money worldwide and also do payments worldwide, without a fee.
A Comdirect account* is also free, and comes with a credit card, that lets you maintain the account online and offer free money withdrawals worldwide.
But, within Germany, the money withdrawal is restricted to CashGroup ATMs.
CashGroup is a networks of banks, sharing their bank machines. It means you can withdraw money at ATMs in your network for free – if you only find an ATM of another bank, you pay a fee. So with this accounts, you have to know that you will be limited when you need cash.
5-6. 1822direkt, Norisbank
The last two offers in my list are also free, but per default they come without a credit card:
- 1822direkt* only gives you a free VISA card if you have at least 2000 € turnover per year on your account.
- Norisbank* gives you a free Mastercard if at least 1000 EUR flow into your account per month (you can spend it of course, but that’s how they want to see your account is actually used)
Also regarding withdrawals, you are limited to Cash group machines (Norisbank) or Sparkasse ATMs (1822direkt).
How to create an account
First, check on the overview table, to determine which country you need to be a resident of, (Anmeldung), i.e. a registered address for where you live. If you already have one in Germany, you are fine. Some banks even allow one in Austria or Switzerland, just check the first line of the table.
As we know, all these accounts are online accounts. So the first step is easy: Just click on one of the Open an account links, fill out the forms with your data, and click submit.
By law, they are also required to check your identity. So how do they do it? There are 2 ways: Identification per video chat or per Postident.
The easiest way to legitimize your information is via video chat. You make a video call with your computer and a webcam, or with your smartphone, and have a conversation with an employee. For this conversation, you need to show your ID or passport to the camera, and they take a photo of it. N26 and (as far as I know) DKB offer this.
If you don’t have the equipment for a video chat or the bank does not offer it, there is Postident. After registering online, you print out some of the PDFs they send you and go to the next Deutsche Post office. There, the clerk will check your papers and confirm you are you.
All of the banks here offer Postident. You can also find your closest Deutsche Post office here. (On the form, where it says “with special service”, select “Postident”.)
After opening your account, you can contact the bank online or by phone: They have service hotlines, usually with a German landline number, so don’t worry about extra fees.
From my experience as a DKB customer, the service on the phone is pretty good, until now I always spoke to well informed clerks who could give me answers quickly and straight to the point. The service was much better than I was used to having at the branch banks, where I was a customer years before. Again, with N26 you even get the service in English.
Too much information? Let’s see it more condensed:
|you need residence in||DE, AT||DE, AT, CH||DE||anywhere||DE||EEA|
|2nd free card||maestro||giro||maestro||giro||Sparkassen-|
|free withdrawal Germany||✓||✓||CashPool / ✓||CashGr||Sparkasse||CashGr|
|free withdrawal abroad||€||✓||✓||✓||€||✓|
|ID: Video chat||✓||✓||–||–||–||–|
|Open an account||*||*||*||*||*||*|
That’s it! I hope you could find out something that works for you. If you know if better free bank accounts, please let me know in the comments!
* Affiliate links.