You should probably open a bank account in one of the German banks if you consider staying for a while. Getting an account in German banks is rather straightforward and does not take very long.
You will need your passport, your address in Germany and some money to deposit. If you have cash to deposit, the account will be opened immediately but if you brought a check (even a certified one that is basically cash written on a piece of paper) it will take some time (up to 5 weeks for certified check), but longer for personnal one (about 10 weeks before you have access to that money) before you have access to that money. So, you might want to bring some cash with you, or travellers cheques, or you will have to use your bank card from back home.
Once your account is open, the bank will issue you a bank card call EuroCheque card, but that everyone call EC card or EC Karte in Germany. German banks issue a card that is basically the same as a North American or Australian bank card. You can use it at Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) called Geldautomat to get money from your account.
You do not receive a transaction statement when you take money from your account with the ATMs. You must go to the statement printer (another machine usually situated beside the ATM) called Kontoauszüge to check the account statements. All transactions are listed on these statements. Money transferred into the account has the symbol "H" (Haben). Money transferred from the account has the symbol "S" (Soll). Or sometime they are just shown with + (Haben) and -(Soll).
Your EC card is also accepted by most merchants, hotels, Deutschebahn, etc. It is in fact accepted in more places than credit cards. But, know that you won't get it straight away. The bank sends it to you by mail with your PIN and it can take a couple of weeks to receive them.Another strange fact (from my point of view) is that most of the time you will use it as we do in North America where we enter our PIN to pay for something, but at other times, the merchant will ask you to sign a receipt as if it was a credit card. It can be a bit confusing initially but you get used to it.
Another point about these EC Karte, is that you cannot deposit money in your account at the ATMs. You must go in and see a real human being for that.But all in all, they are very useful. Some time you can use them "free of charge" if you use the ATMs of your own bank. I explain: there are four kinds of German banks (the public sector commercial banks or Private Geschäftsbanken, the saving banks or Sparkassen, the credit cooperatives or Kreditgenossenschften and the Postbank (own by DeutschePost and usually less expensive for its services)). The rules to deposit money is the same for these four types but, the use of the ATMs is free only if you use one of their own machines. For the others, you must pay a fee of 3 to 6 Euros. You can of course use them all over Europe, for a fee.And as I mentioned earlier, they are more readily accepted than credit card. It is just the way Germany is!
You can also do some banking from home if your German is good enough and you can understand your bank web-site in Deutsch (very few of them have more than their home page in English). Otherwise, I would not bother. Just go to see a real person if you need info or a service offer by the bank, and use the statement machine for read-outs.
By the way, German Banks offer much more than just deposit and withdrawals: you can exchange money, buy stocks and bonds, purchase an insurance, some traveller checks (less and less demand for them as they are not as universally accepted anymore), you can even buy gold and other precious metals. You can get a mortgage, buy real estate and of course, transfer money around the world!
German banks are also known to be rather conservative when the time comes to allow you a line of credit. Some people prefer to deal with other banks for that reason.
You can usually get a credit line equivalent to 2 to 3 times your monthly salary and it is possible to overdraw. But these overdrafts will cost you dearly: between 14 to 18 % per year.
Another important aspect regarding banks is that most service companies such as gas and phone, do NOT take cheques: they want transfer of your money to their account directly.
There are three methods of doing this:
first with Überweisung (transfer), which is used to transfer money from one account to another (more or less like a cheque). All you need to do is to fill in a form called an überweisungsformular and hand it to your teller. You use these for unusual payment (to a merchant, for exemple).
Then there is the Dauerauftrag (standing order) that you will use to pay a re-ocurring regular sum (such as your rent or insurance premium for example). Once you have filled out the form (available at the bank), the set amount will be deducted from your account automatically and transferred to the recipient account. It is actually cheaper that way than writing a check every time.
The third method is the Lastschrift (direct debit) that you use to pay re-ocuring sums that vary in amount, such as for gas and cell phone. You then have to fill a form call Einzugsermächtigung that permits the recipient to debit your account directly. You have 90 days after the sum was debited to claim it back (even if the payment was proper), it would then be seen as an unpaid bill.
Most German banks are open on weekdays only and from 8H30 am to 4H30 pm and usually on Thursday evening to 5h30 or 6h30pm. But, some close during lunch hour (from 12h30 to 1h30 or from 1h00pm to 2h00pm) and others close also on Wednesday afternoon, from 12h30 or 1h00pm.
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