The essentials in brief:
- Owning an own bank account is indispensable for most of the daily life affairs in Germany. Therefore you are entitled by law for a basic account ("Basiskonto").
- To get a basic account you only have to file an application and verify your identity.
- If a bank or savings bank refuse it to open a basic account, you can appeal to the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht (BaFin)).
The law explicitly addresses asylum seekers and persons with a tolerated residence permit as one target group. Every credit institution that offers payment accounts to consumers is therefore obliged to open a basic account for refugees.
This is a checking account that can be opened regardless of creditworthiness and that provides access to cashless payment transactions, e.g. for SEPA, which may be necessary to buy a public transport ticket. The basic account must at least be able to be used for
- cash deposits and withdrawals,
- direct debits, transfers and standing orders, and
- card payments.
To open a basic account there are two requirements that need to be fulfilled:
- You have to make an application.
- You have to prove your identity. You need a residence permit and/or an identity card.
The Consumer Association recommends using the form provided by law for the application. You can easily download it here [in German]. Banks must provide it – also online.
In addition, payment institutions must accept the completed application form and confirm that they have received the application (on a copy or duplicate) with date.
As proof of identity within the meaning of the Anti-Money Laundering Act, the official proof of arrival (Ankunftsnachweis - § 63a AsylG) is generally sufficient for asylum seekers. Persons with a tolerated residence permit need their toleration notice (Duldungsbescheid - § 60a Abs. 4 AufenthG).
Banks may only refuse to open a basic account in a few exceptional cases. However, an unclear nationality can be a problem for refugees, as the identity check according to the Money Laundering Act may not be complete.
When applying for a basic account, the bank must not only offer the account itself - especially to particularly vulnerable consumers - but also provide further support (§ 45 Zahlungskontengesetz). For example by general information about the basic account (eligibility, functions and fees) in different languages.
If a credit institution refuses to open a basic account, you do not have to accept it. In this case contact the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht, BaFin) and ask for a review. As the competent supervisory authority, the BaFin can initiate administrative proceedings free of charge.
The Consumer Association advises asylum seekers and refugee helpers who have problems opening an account (e.g. with the PostIdent or VideoIdent procedure of online banks) to exhaust all legal means. In particular, you should use the BaFin's administrative procedure, which you can initiate by mail using the form provided by law. Alternatively, you can use the online complaint form [in German] for the basic account.