In my overview of free German bank accounts, two of them are my favourites: N26 and DKB. If you cannot decide between them, read here a side-by-side comparison of the two and my conclusion at the end.
|History & basics|
|Launched||1990||2015 (own banking license: 2016)|
|Receiving & sending EUR transfers||free||free|
|Language support||German||German, English, French, Italian and Spanish|
|Mobile app||Android, iPhone*||Android, iPhone* (incl. push notifications immediately after transaction)|
|(Credit) Cards||Visa (actual credit card),|
|Mastercard (debit card),|
|Cash withdrawal fees …|
|… at ATMs in EUR||free||free up to 3x per month|
|… at ATMs in other currencies (worldwide)||active customer: free (very few exceptions)|
standard customer: 1.75%
|… at shops (Cash im Shop / Cash26)||free||free|
|Cash withdrawal limits …|
|… at ATMs in EUR||minimum: 50 EUR||no minimum|
|… at ATMs in other currencies||minimum: 50 EUR (converted)||no minimum|
|… at shops (Cash im Shop / Cash26)||min. 50 EUR, max. 300 EUR within 24 hours||no minimum, max. 300 EUR per transaction, max. 900 EUR within 24 hours|
|Fees for paying with credit/debit card …|
|… in EUR||none||none|
|… in other currencies||active customer: none|
|Deposit cash …|
|… via Cash im Shop / Cash26||1.5% (min. 50, max. 999.99 EUR)||1.5% (min. 50 EUR, max. 999 within 24 hours)|
|… at a special cash machine||free||–|
|Go to the bank||DKB*||N26*|
History & Basics ↑
Both offer a standard German bank account without any basic fee, and with a German IBAN, so they work perfectly for receiving salary, paying rent etc, also as standing orders (Dauerauftrag).
Both are online banks, so they have no branches to walk in – instead all the account opening and communication is done online.
Language support ↑
Here’s the first difference: DKB (until now) operates only in German, so for the whole account opening process and later questions and inquiries, you will need to speak or read & write in German.
By contrast, N26 offers support in five languages: German, English, French, Italian and Spanish. So both their phone support and their website & mobile app can be used in all of these languages.
Mobile app ↑
Speaking of the mobile app: Both offer apps for Android and iPhone/iOS. However the N26 app seems much more modern and adapted to mobile phones, while the DKB one is rather the website wrapped in an app.
And what is great about the N26 app: It sends you immediate push notifications after any transaction. For instance, when I buy a coffee in Prague for Czech crowns, two seconds later I get a notification about the payment, showing me the price in Euro.
(Credit) Cards ↑
With DKB, you get an actual Visa credit card. You can pay with it on credit from you credit account and then later, once per month, you pay it back from you giro account.
With N26, you get a Mastercard debit card. Every payment is deducted directly from your giro account. So you can’t spend money that you don’t have already.
DKB: Active and standard customers
Before going on, we have to know that DKB actually makes a difference between two customer types:
- Active customer: You have at least 700 EUR coming into your account every month. This can be anything: salary, scholarships, support from parents etc, it doesn’t matter. Only the sum has to be above 700 EUR.
- Standard customer: All other customers.
With the status of an active customer, you have much better conditions on cash withdrawal and credit card payments.
Cash withdrawal ↑
ATMs in Germany
Withdrawing cash at German ATMs is basically free both with DKB and N26. And contrary to many other bank accounts, you can use nearly every ATM in Germany. So no need for searching the one of “your bank”, as you can use one of 58,000 ATMs with a Visa or Mastercard logo in the country.
- DKB requires you to withdraw a minimum of 50 EUR per transaction.
- N26 allows you to withdraw cash only 3 times per month.
Don’t like these limits? Then read on…
Cash withdrawal at shops in Germany
This is a very new way of cash withdrawal: Instead using an ATM / bank machine, you can go to a regular shop!
The system is called Cash im Shop (DKB) or Cash26 (N26):
- Before you go there, you use the mobile app of DKB or N26 and generate a barcode in it.
- Then in the shop, you show this barcode at the checkout to the clerk,
- they scan it
- and give you cash,
- and the amount is deducted from your account, as if you would have paid in the shop.
Both Cash im Shop (DKB) and Cash26 cost no fees.
Outside Germany but within the Eurozone, the same rules apply as in Germany.
Outside the Eurozone,
- N26 always requires a fee of 1.7% of the amount you are withdrawing.
- DKB makes a distinction between active and standard customers:
- active customers can usually withdraw for free. (Few exceptions can happen if the operators of the ATM requires their own fees, as it e.g. the case in Thailand. But such a fee is usually shown to you on the ATM while withdrawing.)
- standard customers pay a fee of 1.75%
Payments with the credit/debit card ↑
Within Germany and the Eurozone, both banks apply no fees to payments with their Visa or Mastercard.
Outside, DKB makes a difference between again between active and standard customers:
- active customers can pay for free
- standard customers pay a fee of 1.75%
Paying with N26 is always free of fees – and here’s what I in particular like with N26: I immediately get a push notification on my phone, showing me the price in EUR. This is why especially for travelling, I always use N26 for payments:
- I can be sure that I pay no fees.
- I see the price converted into EUR right after paying.
Deposit cash ↑
Paying cash into your account can be tricky with an online bank, as there are no branches where you can walk in. But again, Cash im Shop (DKB) and Cash26 (N26) come to the rescue.
Similarly to withdrawing cash at shops, you generate a barcode your mobile phone app, go to the shop, let the clerk scan the barcode, give them your cash and then it will be paid into your account.
DKB: Deposit cash at special cash machines
DKB in addition to Cash im Shop offers a few special cash machines where you can deposit cash for free. You find them in Berlin, Munich and many east German cities, see here a list (PDF).
Conclusion: Use both accounts!
After this comparison you might wonder which account I use: And the answer is: Both!
Both have no basic fee so I can run them for free. And then I use
- DKB for unlimited free cash withdrawal worldwide
- N26 for free Mastercard payments worldwide, incl. immediate push notifications on their app.
Thus I combine the big advantages of both accounts, plus I always have the other account as a backup.
Sounds good to you, too? Then here you go:
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