The obstacles non-German founders face when establishing businesses in Germany aren’t limited to the incorporation process – opening a business bank account in Germany can be just as challenging. If you’re not a German citizen nor reside in Germany, opening a business account with a German bank won’t be easy.
Here, we’ll explain how opening a bank account from abroad works and from which countries it is currently possible or not possible to do so.
Although it is theoretically possible for anyone to open a business account with any bank, non-German citizens who don’t reside in Germany can usually only open accounts with so-called direct banks (Direktbanken).
Unlike multi-branch banks (Filialbanken) such as Sparkasse or Volksbank, direct banks have no customer-accessible locations and can only be found online. Each bank can generally decide what requirements for opening an account to set for its customers. Direct banks are often much more accommodating when it comes to opening a business account from abroad.
Banks differentiate between the following groups when opening a new account:
|Citizenship||Country of residence||Opening a business account|
|German||Germany||Possible at all banks (no restrictions on accounts and products)|
|German||Outside of Germany||Possible with most banks (but with account and product restrictions)|
|Non-German||Germany||Possible at most banks (no restrictions on accounts and products)|
|Non-German||Outside of Germany||Only at certain banks (but with account and product restrictions)|
Before you embark on any enterprise in Germany, it’s important to realise that it can be extremely difficult for non-German citizens who don’t reside in Germany to successfully open a German bank account. For some, it is impossible, for others, it requires sheer determination.
To open an account, you will generally need the following:
- Documents confirming your identity
- Apostille or legalisation for foreign documents/certificates (the respective authentication process depends on the country issuing the documents and the country where the bank account will be opened, which is Germany in this case)
- Proxy form allowing a representative to open the account in your name (if you can’t be there to complete the process in person)
- Before you open an account in Germany, you absolutely must make sure that Germany accepts document legalisations or apostilles from the country in question.
NB: There are several countries whose authentications are not accepted for political reasons, despite the fact that those countries participate in this process.
We can advise you on your options in a free initial consultation.
German bank accounts for non-German citizens: Verifying your identity
To confirm your identity, you’ll need to provide quite a bit of information and proof. Ideally, you’ll be submitting this proof to a branch of a bank in person or through a representative. If this isn’t possible, or if your bank of choice is a direct bank (or online bank), you may have the option to complete the POSTIDENT or VideoIdent process to verify your identity.
The POSTIDENT process
You must be located in Germany to take advantage of the POSTIDENT process. Simply bring the account application from your bank as well as a valid ID to a Deutsche Post location and present them to an employee there. The POSTIDENT process is free of charge for you – your bank will pay the fee. Problems might arise if your ID does not provide all mandatory information, such as your place of birth. To be safe, keep additional documents such as your birth certificate ready.
The VideoIdent process
This process can be completed outside of Germany and is quite simple. After you have scanned your documents and sent the files to your bank, you’ll be asked to make a video call to your bank from your mobile phone, tablet or computer.
Verification by mobile phone has proven itself to be particularly effective due to the ability to zoom in and focus better than a webcam. During the call, you’ll be asked to hold your ID up to the camera. The front and back will be checked, and your ID will also have to be tilted to make it possible to see security features such as holograms.
You will then be sent a TAN via SMS or email to be inputted online. After the revision of § 6 of the German Money Laundering Act (Geldwäschegesetz, or GwG), this relatively new process has become extremely popular and only takes a few minutes to complete.
Other methods of identity verification while abroad
Banks, credit institutes, lawyers, certified accountant, tax advisers and notaries from all EU member countries (as well as some EEA countries with an equal BaFin recognition) are permitted to verify and certify the identities of natural and legal persons (according to § 7 of the GwG). In any case, you should find out if and from which countries your bank accepts such authentications.
If your bank of choice does not offer the POSTIDENT or VideoIdent verification process, you can also have a local bank or a lawyer (or, in some cases, a notary, certified accountant or tax adviser) verify your identity. A bank, for example, will confirm your identity directly on the account application form, sending it directly to your bank of choice in Germany. This, however, is not possible in all countries. If your country has comparable or better security standards than Germany, you will generally be able to take advantage of this possibility.
Do note that Germany rejects apostilles and authentications from certain countries. You might not be able to open a bank account in Germany from those countries (see below).
What documents do I need to have my identity verified by a credible third-party?
To have your identity verified by a credible third party (zuverlässiger Dritte) in your country, you’ll need the following documents:
- Form for establishing your identity, residence and tax ID number (Identität, Wohnsitz and Steuer-Identifikationsnummer)
- A valid ID (passport or EU identity card)
- All papers needed to open the account
- Apostille template
The credible third party will fill out the respective forms for you; you’ll only need to provide a signature. Most banks require the letters written by credible third parties to be in German. In such cases, you’ll need to obtain a certified translation. The credible third party’s signature needs to be confirmed by an additional authentication – a so-called apostille.
There are exceptions for France, Switzerland, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg and Italy. If the credible third party is unsure of where to obtain the apostille, you can get in contact with the general consulate or embassy in your country.
You can find addresses and contacts under `Merkblätter’ here. As soon as all necessary papers have been provided, the credible third party will post them to your bank in Germany.
If your country does not issue apostilles, or if apostilles from your country are not accepted in Germany, you’ll need a so-called legalisation. The country issuing the document is the determining factor when deciding between an apostille or a legalisation. Unlike an apostille issued and authenticated abroad, a legalisation is issued abroad, pre-authenticated and then authenticated again in the German consulate or embassy. There are certain countries where neither apostilles nor legalisations of the documents needed to open a bank account are currently accepted by Germany (or at least not all apostilles and legalisations). You’ll find a list of those countries at the end of this article.
Having a representative open your bank account in Germany
If the possibilities mentioned above are not an option for you or are not accepted by your bank, you can have someone represent you in some cases to complete the process in Germany. The authorised person can then open the account for you in a branch of your bank of choice.
In order to allow that person to represent you, you’ll need a notarised power of attorney. Your relevant consulate or embassy (click here for a country overview) can prepare one for you. Print out the text of the power of attorney or authorisation form and bring it to the consulate or embassy along with a valid ID.
Make sure to find out in advance if your bank of choice even accepts such representation. If they do, request the apostille or legalisation of the documents necessary for opening the account and for the power of attorney well ahead of time. If your bank rejects your request to open an account with a representative, you’ll either have to choose another bank to open an account with or travel to Germany.
Necessary documents for verifying your identity before opening an account
If you want to open a bank account in Germany, you must be able to confirm your identity. There are various types of supporting documents to be submitted, depending on whether the bank account is to be opened in your name or your company’s name.
Proof of your identity: Necessary information and document
If you want to open a bank account as a natural person (for a sole proprietorship, for example), you must prove your identity. To do so, you’ll need:
- Identification document with an apostille or legalisation that includes your name, date of birth, place of birth, citizenship and address
- Certificate of registration, tax returns or current utility bills, if necessary (these are usually requested if your form of identification does not include your address)
Proof of your business’s identity: Necessary information and documents
If you want to open a business account on behalf of your company as a legal person, you’ll need the following information:
- Company name
- Legal company form
- Commercial register number (if you’ve already received it)
- Addresses and names of the members of the company’s representative body (such as the management board of an AG)
- Commercial register excerpt (if available)
- Official proof of your right to represent the company (including an apostille or legalisation)
- Certificate of registration or tax return/current utility bills of the company’s representative, if necessary (these are usually requested if the submitted identification documents do not include an address)
In order to open a bank account in Germany, you’ll need to submit documents confirming your identity that are recognised in Germany. Documents issued abroad must be authenticated by an apostille or legalisation, depending on the country of issue. Take a look at the following lists to see which countries’ authentication processes are recognised in Germany.
Which countries issue apostilles that are recognised in Germany?
Identification documents from most of the member countries of the so-called Hague Agreement are recognised in Germany if they are accompanied by an apostille. If this authentication process is not possible in a given country or if it is not recognised in Germany, a legalisation might still be possible.
Apostilles from the following countries are recognised in Germany:
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Brunei Darussalam
- Cape Verde
- China (only for certificates from Hong Kong and Macao)
- Cook Islands
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Denmark* (except for Greenland and the Faroe Islands)
- El Salvador
- Marshall Islands
- Netherlands (as well as Aruba, Curacao, Sint Maarten, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba)
- New Zealand (not including Tokelau)
- Russian Federation
- San Marino
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- St. Kitts and Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- South Africa
- South Korea
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United States of America
- United Kingdom (as well as for Anguilla, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Saint Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands)
*There are additional bilateral agreements with these countries that waive the need for formalities such as an apostille for certain certificates.
Countries whose apostilles are not recognised in Germany
Although the following countries are member countries of the Hague Agreement, their apostilles are still not recognised in Germany:
- Dominican Republic
Source: Federal Foreign Office (Auswärtiges Amt)
Which countries issue legalisations that are recognised in Germany?
If it is not possible to obtain an apostille in a specific country or if it is not recognised in Germany, a legalisation might still be possible.
A legalisation can be issued in almost all countries where apostilles are not possible, and they are generally recognised in Germany. There are, however, several exceptions:
Countries whose legalisations are not recognised in Germany:
- Central African Republic**
- Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Dominican Republic
- Equatorial Guinea**
- Republic of the Congo
- Sierra Leone**
- Sri Lanka
- South Sudan**
* Only applies to certain certificates in these countries. You can find more details on the websites of the relevant German consulates or embassies.
** Document verification via German consulates or embassies is currently not possible in these countries.
From which countries is it currently not possible to open a bank account in Germany?
The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht, or BaFin) informs banks as to which countries pose a considerable risk to the international financial system according to the European Commission.
Applications to open bank accounts from citizens of these so-called ‘high-risk countries’ will, therefore, most likely be declined by any bank.
High-risk countries (according to the European Commission)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
- Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Source: European Commission as of November 2018
Countries with no authentication process recognised by Germany
Germany does not recognise apostilles or legalisations from the following countries:
- Dominican Republic
As of November 2018
* Document authentication via German consulates or embassies is currently not possible in this country
Opening an account in Germany from one of the countries listed above is either impossible or incredibly difficult. Certificates from countries with one star are only partially affected. Contact your relevant foreign agency to find out what certificates and documents are not currently recognised in Germany.
Opening an account with DKB Bank or comdirect from abroad
DKB is a direct bank that is currently accepting customers who do not reside in Germany (with the exception of Iran and North Korea due to current EU sanctions).
To open an account, simply fill out the application form online. As soon as it is reviewed (DKB Bank accepts identity verification via any bank), DKB will inform you of the possibilities for identity verification in your country. After you have completed one of the above-mentioned identification processes, your account will be opened.
comdirect also opens accounts for non-German citizens who don’t reside in Germany, but with one condition: Your credit must be accessible via Schufa. This is a prerequisite if you have acted as a consumer within Germany (by signing a mobile phone contract, for example).
How long does it take to open an account for non-German citizens who don’t reside in Germany?
It can take several days for the bank to reach a decision. Most banks will not make a decision until all documents and information have been provided. Therefore, you should ideally turn in all necessary documents when you apply. If you find out that a document is missing, do make sure to act as quickly as possible.
Can I withdraw money abroad free of charge?
Whether or not you can withdraw money from your German account without paying a fee depends on what your bank offers. Most banks charge a fee of 1 to 2 per cent of the withdrawal amount when withdrawing money abroad. Be sure to request that information from the bank before opening an account with them.
Why did my bank of choice refuse my request to open an account?
Several German direct banks reject around 60 per cent of account applications due to their high requirements for potential customers. In addition to having a strong credit standing, non-German customers who don’t reside in Germany must always provide a legitimate reason for opening the account (self-employment, for example). If one or both of these aspects fall short, it can become incredibly difficult for non-German citizens to successfully open the account.
Many banks act conservatively when it comes to those who are self-employed, preferring a steady income. Missing Schufa records can also result in a rejection. Schufa operates and collects data exclusively in Germany, which generally poses an immediate obstacle to non-German citizens attempting to open an account.
Moreover, many banks have fully automated the processing of account applications. Even applicants who have perfect credit and have provided all necessary documents can be refused. If you feel that your request was unfairly rejected, you can contact the bank’s customer support and request that your application is personally reviewed.
The information published on our site is all written and checked by experts with the greatest care. Nevertheless, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of this information, as laws and regulations are subject to constant change. Therefore, always consult an expert in a specific case – we would be happy to connect you with the right professional.
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