Why do I need a German bank account?
Apart from life-matters, such as rent payments, getting your salary, and so on, presenting your German bank account is a requirement in applications for certain types of visas.
How should one choose a bank?
As German or European citizens, you should be free to choose your bank according to recommendations, special needs or location. If you citizens of a third country, you might experience difficulties setting up a bank account, since many banks in Berlin set your residence permit, work permit or employment contract as a requirement while setting up a German bank account. This mainly depends on your nationality.
If you are interested in setting up a bank account with a specific bank, just try. You might get a bank account with no problems. If you get rejected from several banks, try Deutsche Bank, which allows setting up bank accounts for foreigners.
In our experience one of the most important matters in choosing a bank is online banking in English, since even if you do plan on learning German, it might be a long process, and you would have to work out your bank account in the meanwhile. Not all banks offer English online banking, so make sure to check that in advance.
In the past couple of years, we are experiencing an industry of online banks in Germany, which offer German bank accounts and make the process easier for expats. From our experience, it might be a great deal for you, but you should check out the different offers, the reliability levels of your bank and the perks you get by working with them. For example, most of those bank offer great online banking in English and will provide you with an international credit card from day one, but will not provide you with a German EC-Card, which might make payments for governmental services a bit more complicated.
What should I bring with me?
Your passport and your Anmeldung. If you already have an employment contract, you should bring it with you as well. You should also consider bringing in some cash to deposit in your account (even though it is not a requirement in most cases).
What will I get?
A Giro-Account according to the terms and conditions of your bank. Fees vary from bank to bank, and you should inquire before setting up an account. Along with your account you should get a debit card (EC-Karte), which you can use in order to withdraw cash and pay electronically. You will of course also get a password for your online banking logged-in area.
I would like to get a credit card. Will I get one?
The German banking system is very conservative: while credit cards are a common mean of payment in many countries, they are not so common in Germany. Many businesses, especially small shops, cafes and restaurants refuse to accept cards, for example.
As far as the bank is concerned, you might not be able to get a credit card immediately after setting up an account (assuming that you chose a conservative bank and not an online bank), since the bank does not know you yet. You will probably have to wait for a couple of months, until the bank will get the impression that you have a stable income and make all your payments.
Do I need to be accompanied by a German speaker?
In most banks you will be able to find case workers who speak English (you might have to wait a bit for seeing them, but they exist), and being accompanied by a German speaker is not required. Furthermore, many banks do not like translators since they need to make sure that they can communicate with their clients directly.