Banking in Berlin

Now that you’ve made the move to Berlin you’re going to want to start earning those cold hard Euros. You’re also going to have to start paying rent, internet, phone bill and the rest of life’s expenses. That all means you’re going to need a bank account.

Depending on where you’re arriving from, Germany’s banks and how they function can be quite different.

Here are some important things to know and think about before you get started.

Payment methods

First up, newcomers to the city are often shocked by how cash-based Berlin can be, with a surprising amount of businesses abiding by a ‘cash only’ policy. If they do accept card payment it will often only be EC Karte (German debit cards) – not credit cards.

ATM Charges

With that in mind there are also not a huge number of ATMs around the city (we don’t get it either), and a lot of banks will charge you to withdraw cash from an ATM that is not their own, as much as €6, so choosing a bank with a decent amount of or at least conveniently located cash machines makes a big difference.

Account Charges

Traditional German banks like to charge you for a lot of your day to day usage. Aside from the ATM fees, there can also be monthly charges just for the pleasure of having an account, yearly EC card charges even though you get the card automatically with your account and even higher charges if you want a credit card.

Credit Cards

Not all banks will offer a credit card free of charge; in fact, most will charge you an additional fee which can be around €30 or more. Whilst that may not seem like the end of the world it is also important to note that the EC card you are issued with is not like a regular debit card. You can use it in ATMs and most German businesses accept it for card payments; however it cannot be used to make online payments as it doesn’t have the 16 digit card number and security code that other debit and credit cards have.

All these seemingly small charges add up and could mean the difference of €100 or more each year so taking your time to compare and contrast banks is definitely a good idea.

Customer Service

If you are a brand new Berliner(in) then the likelihood is that you aren’t exactly fluent in German. In that case, it may be a good idea to look for a bank which offers its website or app or even a customer service telephone number in English.

Requirements to open a bank account

In order to open an account, most traditional banks will require that you are a German resident, meaning that you have completed the Anmeldung process and have your Meldebescheinigung to prove it. There are some newer online banking options which allow you to open an account without the Meldebescheinigung and therefore could be a good option if you have just arrived or want to open an account before you arrive.

Banking Options in Berlin

There is a notable difference between more traditional banks, like BerlinerSparkasse or Commerzbank, and newer kids on the block, the online banks like N26, when it comes to the above-mentioned factors. The more institutional banks tend to have more charges and can be less likely to offer services in English whereas new online options can be quite the opposite.

Traditional Banks in Berlin

A Girokonto is a current account used day to day for your salary and bill paying etc so that is most likely the account you’ll want to look at initially when comparing different banks.

Here is a comparison of the Girokontos at a few of the banks available.

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It’s important to remember that even when a bank offers some aspects of their online services in English a lot of the official correspondence, including your contract, may still be in German. You may be lucky and have some staff at your local branch who can speak English but again it isn’t a guarantee.

Online Banks in Berlin

With the emergence in the last number of years of a host of banks that operate solely online, the banking options for expats moving to Berlin have expanded greatly. They can be a great route to take if you want to get set up before arriving as they allow you open accounts online, without any need to go into a branch here in Berlin and facing the often daunting process of opening an account in German. They often don’t require proof of your Anmeldung, have fewer charges than traditional banks, and can be entirely in English.

Here is a comparison of a few available online banks operating in Berlin.

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Generally speaking, the process of opening an account at an online bank is a lot less arduous than in a physical bank. You just need a computer and a passport and taaadaaa, you’re an account holder. Most accounts are free to open and don’t charge any account management fee, plus you are automatically provided with a Visa or Mastercard. On top of that you can withdraw cash for free so don’t have to worry about wasting time wandering around looking for a specific ATM.

So which bank to chose?

If you are a newcomer that does not speak German, why not just make things simple for yourself and chose an online bank that works in English. You will save yourself money (yay!) on charges as they are either are significantly less or none at all. You will save yourself time, as absolutely everything can be done from the comfort of your home (read phone). And perhaps most importantly, you will save yourself a heck of a lot of anxiety and stress trying to struggle through a maze of German banking language.

That being said, it is important to remember that opening a traditional bank account without speaking German is still an option. Plenty of people before you have braved the bank, even without the aid of Google Translate (gasp), and there’s no reason you can’t too. It’s just whether you want to try or not.

Of course we’re not making the assumption that every newcomer to Berlin can’t speak German. If you know your du from your Sie and the language barrier isn’t an issue then your choices are much more varied. Any of the above accounts would work for you. If you’re all about that app life you can stick to an online bank. If you’d rather talk to an actual human being in person when there’s a problem or you need help then a more traditional bank is best.

When it comes down to it, the choice is really about what you find important, and what you can afford in fees! Good luck cashing those cheques!