Banks and Banking in Germany
Banking in Germany isn't all that different from back home but there are a few twists.
Expatriates staying in Germany for an extended period will probably need a German bank connection. Setting up an account is a fairly straightforward operation, much the same as at home. All you need are your passport and money for the initial deposit.
If you bring cash, your account is opened immediately. If you are transferring funds from your home bank, it can take a couple of weeks for the amount to be credited to your account.
Once you have opened the account the bank will issue you a Eurocard (EC), which is very valuable for transactions nowadays. You can use it to get cash or statements around the clock from the automatic teller machines (Geldautomat), and it is commonly accepted for payments at hotels, ticket offices, department stores and even supermarkets.
Credit cards, too, are becoming more and more accepted. There are many Geldautomat's that will accept them for cash advances and they are accepted at boutiques, department stores, hotels, airports, many restaurants. They can be used at the T-Punkt telecom shops to buy equipment and are accepted by the Bahn for the purchase of train tickets as well.
German banks, too, are into online banking. With most of them now you can check your balance or order a fund transfer from your computer. PIN numbers are issued for home banking and automatic teller machines.
The Geldautomats are interconnected and you can get cash from just about any one you find in Germany and its neighboring countries. And the use of them in many, but not all cases, could be free if you go to a bank of the same name and/or type as your own. Withdrawing money from a Geldauutomat of a different bank than your own may cost from €3 to €6.
There are four different types of banks in Germany: public sector commercial banks (Private Geschäftsbanken), savings banks (Sparkassen), credit cooperatives (Kreditgenossenschaften) and the Postbank. The distinctions between these are of little interest to most depositors. The rules for a standard checking account (Girokonto) are generally identical.
You can establish a line of credit at a German bank, usually two or three times your monthly pay. Once you have done this you may overdraw your account to the agreed amount, but be warned that these overdrafts may cost you some heavy interest, sometimes ranging from 14.5% to 18% per annum.
German banks are universal. In contrast to AngIo-American banks, they offer the consumer a very wide range of financial services beyond deposit taking and lending. At just about any of them you can exchange currencies, purchase stocks, bonds, insurance, travelers checks and precious metals, take advantage of portfolio and asset management, take out a mortgage, buy real estate and make electronic transfers around the globe.
There are several alternate ways of making payments in Germany
Transfer (Überweisung) is used to transfer money from one account to another. You fill in a transfer form (Überweisungsformular) and hand it in. This can be done online or with a paper form.
Standing order (Dauerauftrag) is used if you have regularly recurring payments of a set sum, such as rent, insurance premiums, television fees and the like This sum is deducted automatically from your account on an agreed date and transferred to the account of the recipient. The necessary forms can be filled out online or at the bank.
Direct debit (Lastschrift): This is a practical method if you have recurring payments that vary in size, such as the telephone, gas and electric bills. You give the recipient a direct debit authorization (Einzugsermächtigung) which authorizes it to deduct the respective amounts from your account. Of course, you can always cancel the authorization and stop the direct debit. As a safeguard against abuse you also have the unrestricted right for 90 days to recall any sum that was deducted in this manner. You can recall it even if it was proper, though this would give it the status of an unpaid bill.
Several large German banks operate "International Desks," designed to cater to all the banking needs of English-speaking and other expatriates in Germany. They are a good source for information on the services and goods that are offered.
As a rule German banks are open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Thursdays to 5:30 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. Some smaller branches shut at lunchtime. Most allow access to the Geldautomat and the statement printers in their foyer around the clock.