In 2017, I signed up to N26 for one simple reason: they're the only bank in Germany that officially supports English. Not a translation, not getting lucky with an English-speaking bank branch manager. Officially supported.
As an ex-banker turned UX consultant, I was also impressed by their self-service options through their app. This was a real blessing as in-person customer service is notoriously poor in Berlin, especially if you make their lives hard (i.e. by speaking English).
Now, my German has improved to a point that I could switch to another bank, but I haven't. That's because after three years, N26 is still my favourite bank in Germany. And unlike some other banks, they've only gotten better over time.
Not in Germany? N26 is available in most of Europe. The service is largely the same, and the app is available in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
As of 2020, N26 has well and truly outgrown its start-up roots and has its own banking licence. In my opinion, this makes it the expats' best choice for banking in Germany as well as the rest of Europe. Even if you're fluent in German and could switch to one of the other banks, you're still getting a far better deal with N26.
This N26 review was updated for July 2020, as I thought that some of my original comments had since become a little outdated.
There are a few things that I wanted to do differently compared to other N26 reviews.
From a personal perspective: I got obsessed with "points hacking" a few years ago, and since then, I've developed an interest in the banking industry for many years. I've gone on to open and close over a dozen bank accounts - just to try them out - and have churned through about the same amount in credit and debit cards.
From a professional perspective: I've worked as a strategy consultant in the banking and finance industry - so it'd be fair to say that my knowledge of banking is a little above average. I've since transitioned to UX (User Experience), so I'm now on the other side of the table when it comes to banking.
I'm also a non-European expat in Berlin, which means that I've had to jump through more hurdles than most people you meet in Europe. After writing long WhatsApp messages to friends about these topics, I've turned some of these into articles such as How to Apply for a German Working Holiday Visa and How to Apply for a German Freelance Visa, as well as more general guides such as Buying a SIM Card in Germany.
Rather than just using what I'm used to (as many locals might do), I've been on the lookout for what would best suit myself, my friends, and my readers. Basically, I’ve spent a lot of time doing my homework.
And now, onto my N26 review.
N26 was founded in 2013 and was originally called Number 26, rebranding around the same time that they received their banking license from BaFin in 2016.
Its headquarters are in Berlin, however they serve most of Europe. This includes: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. They've since expanded to the US, while pausing activity in the UK due to the uncertainty around Brexit.
From an industry perspective, Germany has been historically conservative when it comes to anything to do with money, largely thanks to a public preference for cash. This resulted in a collection of extremely traditional banks that have been complacent and have struggled to play catch up with digitisation.
This is when the relatively young N26 swooped in to take customers from the traditional banks, offering modern banking, an excellent app (seriously, it's world-class), integrated foreign currency conversion, and in mid-2016 - their own banking license from the official German regulator BaFin. This sets them ahead of most of the competing digital banks, and also means that they were completely unaffected by the Wirecard scandal in June 2020.
Now, N26 is by far the best choice for people who want a modern banking solution.
And if you'd prefer to do your banking in English, you're in luck: N26 is the only bank in Germany that officially supports English as well as German. The app also works in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
Learn more about N26 here (opens in new tab).
N26 comes in three types of accounts: Standard, You and Metal.
Update (July 2020): The N26 website has recently been refreshed and the "Plans" section does a great job at explaining the different types of accounts. I'd highly recommend starting there.
The most obvious difference between the different N26 bank accounts are the cards.
The N26 Standard card looks like this:
The N26 You card comes in multiple colour options:
And the N26 Metal card comes in a beautiful 18-gram metal finish:
All three plans share the following features:
|N26 Standard||N26 You||N26 Metal|
|Transparent debit card||Colourful debit card||18-gram metal card|
|Contactless payments||Contactless payments||Contactless payments|
|Mobile payments||Mobile payments||Mobile payments|
|100% mobile banking||100% mobile banking||100% mobile banking|
|Free payments worldwide||Free payments worldwide||Free payments worldwide|
|3 free withdrawals*||5 free withdrawals*||8 free withdrawals*|
|Deposit protection^||Deposit protection^||Deposit protection^|
|3D Secure protection||3D Secure protection||3D Secure protection|
|Two-factor authentication||Two-factor authentication||Two-factor authentication|
|24/7 chatbot support||24/7 chatbot support||24/7 chatbot support|
|In-app live chat||In-app live chat||In-app live chat|
* in the Eurozone. With foreign currencies, You and Metal cardholders have unlimited free withdrawals in other currencies, anywhere in the world.
^ up to 100,000€ by the German Deposit Protection Scheme.
However, the N26 You and N26 Metal plans also have a number of extra premium features.
N26 has two premium plans called "You" and "Metal".
N26 You is 9.90€ per month, while N26 Metal is 16.90€ per month. While typically I don't recommend paid bank accounts (especially when the Standard account is already so good), N26 You and N26 Metal actually offer great value for money - especially if you're a frequent traveller.
Here's an overview of travel benefits:
|N26 Standard||N26 You||N26 Metal|
|-||Medical travel insurance||Medical travel insurance|
|-||Trip insurance||Trip insurance|
|-||Flight insurance||Flight insurance|
|-||Luggage coverage||Luggage coverage|
|-||Mobility insurance||Mobility insurance|
|-||Winter sport insurance||Winter sport insurance|
|-||-||Car rental insurance|
Then, there are the premium perks:
|N26 Standard||N26 You||N26 Metal|
|Up to 2 sub-accounts||Up to 10 sub-accounts||Up to 10 sub-accounts|
|-||Shared sub-accounts||Shared sub-accounts|
|-||Partner offers||Partner offers|
|-||-||Dedicated support line|
While most banks have a fancy card for their premium plans (N26 has these too), the N26 You and N26 Metal plans actually offer really good value - especially if you travel a lot.
See a more detailed breakdown of N26's plans here.
If you don't speak German - no contest, N26 is the best bank in Germany.
If you're an expat, globally-minded resident, frequent traveller - still yes, absolutely.
If you're not interested in these things, but want modern banking features, transparency, and overall customer experience - in my opinion, N26 still comes out on top. N26's progress seems to have jump-started a game of catch up in the banking industry, but they're still way ahead.
There are a lot of things that set N26 ahead of the rest, but here are the points that most people care about.
With N26, you get 3 monthly cash withdrawals every month as standard. "You" and "Metal" cardholders get even more.
While other banks such as Sparkasse can only withdraw cash from their own ATMs, N26 allows you to use these free monthly cash withdrawals from literally any ATM across the country. Other banks would charge you around 5€ to use other bank's ATMs. In one of their past announcements, N26 explained that they absorb the cost of ATM withdrawals on behalf of their customers.
If you're really in a pinch, you can use the CASH26 feature on your app to create a barcode, have it scanned at one of 11,150 retail partners across Germany (including REWE, Rossmann, DM and Penny) and get up to 900€ over the counter every 24 hours, as many times as you want.
Here's how it works:
Not bad for a bank account that's completely free.
In other words, free.
By comparison, banks such as Sparkasse and Deutsche Bank have monthly fees of 3-6€ per month, while other banks such as Commerzbank and DKB have minimum account balances and other complicated fine print.
N26 provides a MasterCard debit card as standard, and you can request a Maestro card if you'd like one.
I've got both, but have found little use for the Maestro card, but it's nice that they offer both options as some of the less digitally-inclined businesses around Germany sometimes have issues with MasterCard and Visa cards.
Don't ask why - it doesn't make sense to me either.
Simple enough: there are no fees for using your card abroad, or for purchasing something in another country.
There are also no foreign currency exchange fees. This is quite unusual for a free card, but comes as a blessing for frequent travellers that want to spend their Euros outside of the Eurozone.
Currency exchange rates are also set by MasterCard, which is one of the best ways of getting a fair exchange rate on foreign currency.
One of the biggest struggles that people encounter when arriving in a new country is the language barrier.
While some banks have branch managers who might be willing to help out, English is not an officially supported language in most German banks. This also means the contracts and documentation will be exclusively in German, with the occasional half-hearted translation.
I've rarely needed to contact customer support, as everything just works.
However, on the few occasions that I've had some questions, I went straight to their live chat and was connected within minutes. Customer support was super quick to respond and even helped me figure out some mystery fees that had turned up on my card (turns out they were some sneaky fees from PayPal).
Customer support is available in English, German, French, Italian and Spanish.
You might not think that this is so important, but hear me out.
I've found that Germany (and Germans, by default) are very straightforward people - it's one of my favourite traits. That said, I've also noticed that people expect the same of their companies, and they often exploit this trust by disguising it with complexity. Add the fact that many companies have not bothered digitising for the 21st century, and you find a lot of fine print.
N26 prioritises user experience, and this has resulted in a service that's refreshingly transparent.
Even their legal documents make sense to the average person, and are even translated into two languages (English and German).
See the N26 website to see for yourself.
While most people would be fine with the free plan, they also have the N26 You (9.90€ per month) and N26 Metal (16.90€ per month) premium plans. Read more about these above.
Most banks require proof of address (Anmeldung), but this can be hard to obtain for people who have just arrived in the country. N26 understands this - and the fact that a large part of their customer base are expats - which means that an Anmeldung is not necessary for most applications. Still, some exceptions apply.
Check out the N26 website to find the latest information.
If all goes well, opening an N26 account takes less than 10 minutes and can be done from anywhere in the world.
Simply open the app, start a video chat, take photos of your documents (e.g. passport), complete your video verification, and you're done. You'll receive get your debit card in the mail a few days later.
Get started with your free N26 account.
N26's app is both simple and functional, with a few useful tricks hidden up its sleeve.
Overall, it looks and works great - clean, intuitive and easy to use.
They've done a great job with the details, such as the subtle animations on the login screen, a native dark mode, and the ability to hide your balances by waving a hand over the screen. Each transaction is automatically categorised, which can then been viewed as statistics of your spending habits.
Then, there's the handy Spaces feature to put aside money for later (such as taxes, future holidays, and so on), and N26's Moneybeam allows you to transfer funds to anyone on your contact list using their phone number.
Here's how Spaces work:
More recently, they've added shared Spaces. For example, you can have a shared space for groceries with your housemates, or even a shared Space with your spouse.
Above all, one of my favourite features are the instant push notifications that I receive whenever a transaction has been made from my N26 account. This gives me complete visibility over my account and peace of mind. Logging into the web version of N26 also requires two-step verification from the N26 app, which now supports fingerprints.
N26 also has a TransferWise integration, which allows you to convert and send your money in different currencies at far cheaper rates than what you'll find at banks of foreign exchanges.
I've used dozens of banking apps, and N26 has really nailed the functionality and experience - only including features that are actually useful on a daily basis, and leaving out all the fluff.
Despite all this, nobody's perfect and N26 is no exception - although I've found the list to be quite short.
N26's CASH26 feature allows you to withdraw cash from retail outlets is completely free, but depositing cash will cost you 1.5% every time.
In 3+ years, I've never had to deposit cash so have never found this to be an issue, but this could become expensive if you do. For example, a friend of mine regularly earns enough in tips to justify depositing it into her bank account, but found it simple enough to ask a friend to deposit the cash into their account and transfer the balance.
The application process is typically simple and quick, with most people being done in around 10 minutes.
The potential bottleneck is the video verification, as some forms of ID (i.e. passports and residency cards) not being accepted by N26 through this method. For those customers, they simply have to print out a verification document and head to their nearest post office with ID. It's still quite simple and easy, but a little more clunky.
I personally had to go through this process and found it quite painless, with my visit to the post office taking less than a few minutes.
Opening a bank account with N26 is super easy.
After being seeing the same questions being asked over and over again, I've added some answers to this N26 review.
There isn't one. N26 is what's called a "neobank", a type of direct bank that operates completely online and doesn't have any physical branches. Before obtaining their banking license from BaFin in 2016, N26 was called Number 26 and their back-end built on Wirecard.
No, they were not. Since N26 moved away from Wirecard in 2016, it was not affected by the Wirecard scandal in June 2020 that locked down other digital banks. N26 has had its own banking license from BaFin since 2016.
Yes, N26 is a fully licensed bank. They're licensed with BaFin, the financial regulatory authority for Germany, which insures all deposits up to 100,000€ held in the member states of the European Union.
They've even made a video about their banking license and how it benefits their customers:
This is important, because many of the English-speaking bank alternatives that people often mention are... well, not real banks. If you open an account with one of these companies, you have no protection if they go bankrupt or something goes wrong, such as the recent Wirecard scandal occurs.
With N26, this isn't an issue and you're protected against all of this.
Yes, see above. N26 is as safe as you'll find with any other bank in Germany.
Yes, N26 is about as reliable as any other bank in Germany. They're a fully licensed bank with BaFin, which also means that your money is guaranteed up to 100,000€ by the German Deposit Protection Scheme.
To transfer foreign currency into your N26 account, I highly recommend using TransferWise. TransferWise is by far the cheapest and safest way to transfer foreign currency to any bank account of your choice. Simply head to the TransferWise website and open a free account to get started.
If you're transferring Euros, it works the same as any other European bank account - simply add in your banking details (e.g. name and IBAN) and the amount you want to send.
Yes, absolutely. When receiving your salary, you'll receive a push notification from the N26 app and it will be automatically characterised as "Salary".
Yes, the Standard account is completely free. This is the account that most people end up using, although the premium plans (You and Metal) do offer exceptionally good value.
Yes, you can activate overdraft from within your N26 app.
All it takes is a quick credit check, and they'll let you know how much you'll be able to overdraw. Then, you can customise the amount as you like it through the app.
Yes, N26 is one of the best cards available for travel. Zero international and currency conversion fees come as standard, and the premium plans offer comprehensive travel, medical and liability insurance for while you're on the move. Their top Metal plan even includes smartphone insurance.
In short: yes.
If you're looking for a modern banking experience within Germany (or Europe, for that matter), N26 is a great choice.
If you're looking for an English-speaking bank, N26 is your only choice. Luckily for you, it's a great one.
N26 is also especially good for travellers, as it includes a number of premium features (such as zero international fees and currency conversion fees) as standard, while their "You" and "Metal" premium plans offer travel, medical and liability insurance for almost any situation you can think of.
But don't just take my word for it - go to the N26 website to see for yourself, or check out my other article on how to open a bank account in Germany for step-by-step instructions. If you need Euros, I also highly recommend using TransferWise to convert and send your home currency to your new N26 account. It's significantly cheaper than any bank or currency exchange, and I use it myself to convert Australian Dollars to Euros, and vice versa.
Thanks for reading!
I noticed they asked if I am an American citizen, I am also an Italian citizen, and that the account is also controlled by FATCA, which means I would have to pay taxes in USA as well. I don't think other online banks have this! Anyone know?
Hi Amy, you would need to report your taxes to both countries regardless of which bank you're with. There are tax credits and something called "Foreign Earned Income Exclusion" that you might want to look into - or ask an accountant!
For the purposes of signing up to N26, I would think that the Italian passport be a simpler option though.