Here are some things to know about what it’s like to use a German bank account. Keep in mind that it’s possible that there are many types of bank accounts out there, but all of this is accurate for our own bank account. Similarly, the only other place where I’ve had a bank account is in the U.S., and I’ve only ever had low-rolling, basic, student-level accounts there. If you’ve had a different type of U.S. bank account or you’re from another country entirely, some of these points may not be useful/shocking/insert your own adjective here:
- From what I understand, there’s no such thing as having a bank account in Germany without paying quarterly and yearly fees.
- If you are opening a German bank account, I sure hope you like passwords and PINs. You will have one for phone access, one to access your account online, one to take money out at an ATM, one specifically for buying bratwurst…
- Financial transactions are done entirely online. If you make an online purchase, the website will usually list the vendor’s banking account number. This is not a number that can be used for you to commit nefarious deeds with someone else’s account – it’s just a code telling your bank account where to deposit money. Similarly, all reimbursements and salary checks go directly into our account. We haven’t seen a physical check printed out here yet; in fact, some of the places I freelance for in the U.S. could take a lesson from this system.
- If you like those passwords and PINs, you’ll really like completing online transactions! Every single transaction you complete requires a TAN, a 6-digit transaction number (one of about 100) that has been printed out and sent to you on a little sheet that you’d better not lose. I don’t know what happens if you lose it. Just don’t lose it.
- With our account, you can take up to €1,000 out from the ATM at a time (in the U.S. I think that the limit is usually $300). Pretty much no one uses credit cards, opting instead for cash. However, our ATM card also functions as a direct debit card. I’ve noticed more than a few younger customers at the grocery store using their cards to pay even for small purchases. It’s like a little touch of home.
- Ok, about that direct debit thing – it’s not actually *called* a debit card. It’s called an “EC (Electronic cash) card,” which functions exactly as a debit card. The tricky thing, which we discovered when we went to London, is that it usually requires an entirely different kind of card reader. When you pay using an EC card in Germany, you stick the card into the reader and it sits there while you input your PIN and the transaction processes, rather than just swiping quickly. We’ve been able to use the card at a few places in the Netherlands, though not all, and it doesn’t work at most places outside of Germany.