To open an account in Germany, you, of course, need money. But that is just the beginning of the requirements. You will also need to produce a passport or other official ID. You may also be asked to show that registration form you received at the local registry office (Meldestelle), along with your residence permit.
The most common and convenient account is the current account or checking account (Girokonto), which allows you to put in and take out money as you need it. The banks will even extend you a credit line, which can amount to thousands of euros, depending on your regular monthly income. Most banks charge you a monthly maintenance fee for your current account, usually billed quarterly. If you come from a country where current or checking accounts are absolutely free, sometimes even laced with extras for the customer, you may find this practice strange.
While the maintenance fees are not that high, these fees and additional charges differ from bank to bank and can sometimes tally up to 200 euros a year. Also, since some of the additional charges are hard to detect at first glance, shopping around for the best offer can prove a tad difficult. Your best shopping guide in this regard is the magazine Finanztest, published by Germany's leading consumer guardian, Stiftung Warentest. Early each year, Finanztest puts together a detailed list of various banking charges. In addition, more consumer-oriented banks and most direct banks now offer free current accounts.
Of course, savings accounts are also quite prevalent, though these accounts are loaded with rules and restrictions that probably differ significantly from what you have experienced in your home country. The most glaring restriction involves the amount of money you can withdraw from these accounts and when. As restrictions vary according to the financial institution and the specific type of savings account, you will have to calculate how much you can withdraw at any one time and maybe even maintain different savings accounts to insure adequate amounts of available cash.
The most common form of savings account is the so-called Konto mit vereinbarter Kündigung. This allows you to withdraw a pre-defined amount of euros within any one calendar month. You are also allowed to withdraw larger amounts from these accounts, but you must give a three-month notice. If you go beyond these limits, you are penalized by a reduction in the interest you would have earned on these amounts. By the way, these savings accounts also draw the lowest amount of interest, and that interest is generally paid only at the end of the calendar year, or when you close the account.
There are options for earning higher interest on your savings, as long as you do not need ready access to your money. These accounts include fixed-term deposits and money market accounts, and their terms can run from one month to five years. The longer you keep your money in these accounts, the higher the interest you earn on them.
One very important point to keep in mind: you do not automatically receive your money with higher interest when the fixed term runs out. To get the entire lump sum, you have to give official notice before the expiration of the term. Some banks will send you a written reminder of the impending end of the term and your required notice period, but others expect their customers to keep track of all these details themselves. If you do not hand in the official notice form by the appropriate date, the account is either rolled over for another fixed period or converts to a lower interest-bearing account, with all the aforementioned restrictions.