Opening a Bank Account:
Establishing a bank account and a line of credit will be one on the top of your list of things to do if you are considering living in Germany (or Europe for that matter) for more than a couple of months. Summer stays are too short for this, but if you are planning to stay for any duration over a few months in which you expect to be receiving financial infusions from abroad or want to be paid or desire to have any chance at surviving the german bureaucratic beastset up an account.
In many ways these accounts are similar to American-style bank accounts. There are dedicated savings accounts available, a prevalence of local and national banks, and differing types of terminals at which money can be withdrawn. Further, the German bank system provides utility that American banks do not. For instance, if you intend to rent an apartment or house whilst abroad, you will most likely encounter what the Germans refer to as a Kaution. The Kaution is sort of like a security deposit in that the deposit is returned on condition that the residence is properly maintained, but differs in terms of the interim mechanisms; the bank withholds the Kaution instead of the landlord, and upon departure from the residence, a document must be signed in order to have the funds released. So renting without a bank account will be difficult.
Another feature unique to German banks is the berweisung, a direct bank transfer similar to the wire transfer system. The most important difference between wire transfers and direct bank transfers is the methodology: direct bank transfers allow German bank customers to directly deposit funds into other German bank accounts with an attached note detailing information about the deposit. These types of transactions can be made at the ATM-like machines in the banks that have full keyboards attached to them. The berweisung is analogous to the American checking system, but is capable of partially integrating with foreign wire transfers, and thus the common confusion between “transfer” and “wire” transactions for foreigners. Luckily, most of these transactions can actually be done over the internet through banking software and T-Online.
Residency permits required
The key piece of paper of course being your polizeiliche Anmeldebestaetigung’ (see How to get a residence permit (part 1) to prove that you reside in Germany, plus your passport. Some banks may allow you to open an account without a polizeiliche Anmeldebestaetigung, but they are unlikely to allow you to set up standing orders or to arrange credit. If you are a student you will need additional proof of your student status. As a student many banks will not charge you fees, so it is wise to check before you sign up with them. You will need an EC (cash card) to withdraw cash from the Geldautomaten’ (automatic teller machines) and to operate the bank’s other customer service machines. Most German banks use the maestro card system. You can also use your cash card to buy things from shops and other businesses.