Best Free Credit Card In Germany [2024 English Guide]

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Researched & written

by Yvonne Koppen

Updated

Although paying in cash and with the girocard is the most common method of payment in Germany, owning a credit card can benefit you, and it is a must-have in certain situations. For you to not get tricked into an expensive credit card from your German bank or end up with unnecessary foreign exchange fees, we researched the best free credit card in Germany for you. 

Quick comparison of the best free credit cards in Germany

In this guide, we will review and compare the best free credit cards in Germany for foreigners; here is a quick summary:

  1. TF Bank Mastercard Gold – easy to get even with bad credit score. Worldwide fee-free usage, however with some hidden interest rates on cash withdrawals.
  2. Advanzia Gebührenfrei Mastercard – easy to qualify for and worldwide fee-free usage, however with some hidden interest rates on cash withdrawals.
  3. PAYBACK American Express Card – the only free Amex card with great possibilities to collect PAYBACK points; however, with fees for cash withdrawals and foreign payments.

TF BankAdvanziaPAYBACK American Express Card
Type Of Credit CardRevolvingRevolvingCharge
English Website & Supportx iconx iconx icon
Banking App In Englishpro checkpro checkx icon
No Annual Feepro checkpro checkpro check
Not Tied To A Specific Bank Accountpro checkpro checkpro check
Apple & Google Paypro checkpro checkpro check
No Cash Withdrawal Feeyes
(but 24,79% interest fee after cash withdrawal)
yes
(but 24,69% interest fee after cash withdrawal)
4% (min. €5)
No Foreign Currency Feepro checkthere is a hidden fee in the exchange rate2%
Annual Interest Rate24,79%24,69%5% on top of the basic rate of interest set by the ECB on late payments
Rebalancing Via Direct Debitx iconx iconpro check

After reading this guide, you will have a better understanding of why getting one or even two credit cards is important and you will be able to pick the right free credit card in Germany for your needs.

Good to know

Don’t apply within your first weeks in Germany to increase your chances of being accepted as a customer. Give it at least three months’ time to create a Schufa record and settle so that your perceived risk level as a credit card customer gets lowered.

3 reasons why you need a credit card in Germany

1. Deposits and large payments

When renting a car in Germany or abroad, rental car companies will ask you to leave a deposit to cover potential damages. A debit card is not always accepted by car rental companies.

Unexpected large payments, especially abroad, for medical care after an accident often require a credit card with a larger credit limit. While I was studying in New York City, I tore a ligament in my ankle. It cost me about 2.000 US dollars to see the doctor and to get an x-ray and ultrasound. I was very happy that I had a credit card with me to cover those charges.

2. International payments

Whether you are on a business trip or on vacation, your German girocard will be extremely expensive to pay for things abroad or not even accepted. Credit cards are widely accepted overseas. We always travel with at least two different credit cards, as one can easily be lost, stolen, or eaten by an ATM for no reason (yup, we speak from experience 🙈).

3. Money withdrawal abroad

It is always handy to carry at least some cash with you when traveling abroad. With a credit card, you can withdraw money at any ATM worldwide.

What are the different credit card types in Germany?

In Germany, you will often hear people ask whether they can pay a purchase by card (Kann ich mit Karte zahlen?). Most of the time, this does not mean with a credit card, but with a debit or girocard. The term credit card (Kreditkarte) is widely used in Germany to describe different services. These are the 4 different kinds of credit cards that exist in Germany.

1. Charge credit card

The most common type of credit card in Germany is a so-called charge credit card. It gathers all of your payments within 30 days. After those 30 days, you will receive a credit card statement, and the total amount is deducted from your linked bank account. Should your bank account not have enough funds, your balance will go into overdraft. The interest on overdraft is usually less than the interest fee of revolving credit cards.

Depending on where you are from, this system will be unusual for you, as it doesn’t really give you real credit. Traditional banks such as Commerzbank or Deutsche Bank will usually issue charge credit cards.

2. Revolving credit card

Most likely, the revolving credit card fits your understanding of a credit card better, as it allows you actual credit, let’s say of 2.500 euros. Every purchase you make deducts from that allowance. At the end of the month, you will receive your credit card bill with the accumulated amount of all purchases. Should you then pay the full amount via wire transfer from your bank account, you will not pay interest. However, most revolving credit card providers offer you to pay in installments in exchange for costly interest fees on the unpaid credit.

3. Debit card

We know that a debit card is not an actual credit card; however, we don’t want to leave it unmentioned, as it is the most common type of banking card in Germany. Mobile banks like N26 do not offer a credit card, but instead only a debit card. With a debit card, each purchase will automatically be deducted from your bank account. Depending on your bank, this happens instantly or within 24 hours. Therefore, you do not have a ‘true’ credit available. 

4. Prepaid credit card

A prepaid credit card only works if you transfer money from your checking account before use. This is great for controlling your spending or setting yourself a budget; however, you do not have a ‘true’ credit. A prepaid credit card is also a great option in case you do not have a SCHUFA score yet or your score is bad. For more information, check out our guide below.

Read Our Related Guide

Best Prepaid Credit Cards in Germany

Throughout this guide, we will only focus on charge and revolving credit cards, as these are the only ‘true’ credit cards that actually give you credit.

Simple Germany’s Hot Tip

All credit card providers only offer their services in German, so we suggest you use Chrome as a browser. With a right-click, you can translate the page to English.

What is the best credit card type to use in Germany?

The best credit card type to use in Germany is a Visa credit card or a Mastercard. The credit card provider American Express is not so commonly accepted, as shops and restaurants would have to pay much higher fees to offer it.

Additionally, American Express cards are quite expensive for owners as well. The PAYBACK American Express card is the only Amex credit card without an annual fee. We review it further down in this guide. To learn more about the PAYBACK program, Germany’s largest loyalty and rewards program, please refer to our related guide below.

What are the best free credit cards in Germany?

Here are our top picks for the best free credit card in Germany for foreigners this year.

❗️❗ Very Important Note

After successfully applying to any of these credit cards, you need to follow these two steps; otherwise, you will not receive the credit card:

1. Verify your ID via a video call or a local postal office
2. Sign an activation letter which you receive via email or postal mail and send it back

So be sure to check your email and postal mailbox frequently within the next two weeks after your application.

1. TF Bank Mastercard Gold

The TF Bank Mastercard Gold is one 100% free of charge with no annual fee, and you can link it to any checking account of your choice. Take a look at our guide on Best German Bank for English Speakers to find the best checking account.

Two unique things that make this card so popular. The ease of applying for the card, especially if you have just moved to Germany. It also seems to be the most accessible card to get, and where you do not need a long credit history. We can confirm that our readers get accepted most by this credit card.

You do not pay foreign currency fees; however, there is one caveat. Based on our research, the card and marketing on the homepage are very consumer-friendly with basically no fees. However, there are some major hidden fees, when it comes to cash withdrawals. TF Bank will charge you an immediate interest fee from the day you make the withdrawal until you wire the amount you withdrew back onto the Mastercard, even though the withdrawal itself has no fees. 

So either you don’t use this card to withdraw cash or balance out the amount you took out on the same day, to limit these fees.

The TF Bank Mastercard Gold also includes travel insurance, if you pay at least 50% of the travel booking with this card. Be sure to check the fine print though on what is actually covered and whether you need another add-on travel insurance. You also get a 5% cashback if you use the card to pay for travel bookings or rental cars.

The TF Bank mobile app is available in English, making handling the card easy. However, the sign-up process is only available in German. We have written an in-depth, step-by-step guide on how to get a TF Bank Mastercard Gold credit card online to help you out.

Requirements For A TF Bank Mastercard Gold:

  • you are 18 years or older
  • you have a German mobile phone number
  • you receive a regular monthly income
  • you have a German bank account
  • you have a valid passport
  • for Non-EU nationals: you need to have a residence permit
  • your Meldebescheinigung (in some cases)

TF Bank Mastercard Gold Benefits:

✅  no annual fee – permanently free
✅  no foreign currency fees
✅  no cash withdrawal fee worldwide (❗but 24,79% annual interest rate)
✅  no checking account obligation 
✅  convenient contactless Apple & Google Pay
✅  user-friendly app to control the card (also available in English)
✅  quick and easy online application with high acceptance

TF Bank Mastercard Gold Drawbacks:

❗  24,79% annual interest rate on cash withdrawals and partial debit payments
⛔️  no refund of foreign ATM fees
⛔️  only German website & customer service
⛔️  no 100% SEPA direct debit possible
⛔️  no ability to transfer money for a positive balance
⛔️  activation process seems to be slow

Repayment And Settlement Of Balances

The TF Bank Mastercard Gold is a revolving credit card and only has the option of manually balancing out your acquired debt. You have no option for 100% direct debit to settle your balance. Instead, you will be invoiced monthly and must pay that invoice on time or otherwise pay high-interest rates from the day of purchase.

To help you with the application process, we have written an in-depth step-by-step guide on how to get and activate your TF Bank Mastercard Gold online: How To Order & Activate Your FREE TF Bank Mastercard Gold

2. Advanzia Mastercard Gold
(aka Gebührenfrei)

The Advanzia Mastercard Gold, also known as Gebührenfrei Mastercard, has been a big player on the market for some time, and some say it is the best credit card for expats in Germany.  

Similar to the TF Bank Mastercard Gold, the card and marketing on the homepage are very consumer-friendly; however, this card has the same hidden fees on cash withdrawals. Advanzia Bank will charge you an immediate 24,69% interest fee from the day you make the withdrawal until you wire the amount you withdrew back onto the Mastercard, even though the withdrawal itself has no fees. 

So you also either don’t use this card to withdraw cash or balance out the amount you took out on the same day, to limit these fees.

Other than that, the card is also free of charge and has no additional foreign currency fees; however, the exchange rate used by Mastercard for foreign currency payments includes a surcharge, i.e., a currency conversion fee, on the European Central Bank reference rate. You can find the current daily currency conversion fees online.

Similar to the TF Bank Mastercard Gold, this seems to be the most accessible card to get for foreigners and where you do not need a long credit history. The Gebührenfrei Mastercard also includes travel insurance, if you pay at least 50% of the travel booking with this card. Be sure to check the fine print though on what is actually covered and whether you need another add-on travel insurance.

Requirements For An Advanzia Mastercard Gold:

  • you are 18 years or older
  • you are registered in Germany or Luxembourg
  • you receive a regular monthly income
  • you have a German mobile phone number
  • you have a German bank account
  • you have a valid passport
  • for Non-EU nationals: valid residence permit
  • you have a good SCHUFA score (credit history)

Advanzia Mastercard Gold Benefits:

✅  no annual fee – permanently free
✅  no cash withdrawal fee worldwide (❗but 24,69% annual interest rate)
✅  no checking account obligation 
✅  convenient contactless Apple & Google Pay
✅  user-friendly app to control the card (also available in English)
✅  quick and easy online application with high acceptance

Advanzia Mastercard Gold Drawbacks:

❗  24,69% annual interest rate on cash withdrawal and in case of partial debit payment
⛔️  no refund of foreign ATM fees
⛔️  no additional foreign currency fees, however, the exchange rate includes a fee
⛔️  only German website & customer service
⛔️  no 100% SEPA direct debit possible
⛔️  no ability to transfer money for a positive balance

Repayment And Settlement Of Balances

The Gebührenfrei Mastercard is also a revolving credit card and only has the option of manually balancing out your acquired debt. You have no option for 100% direct debit to settle your balance. Instead, you will be invoiced monthly and must pay that invoice on time or otherwise pay high-interest rates from the day of purchase.  


3. American Express Payback Credit Card

There is one more free credit card in Germany we don’t want to ignore: the American Express Payback credit card. If you are a fan of American Express or loyalty programs where you collect points for rewards or cashback, this is definitely an option you should look into. We have written a detailed guide where we explain PAYBACK, the largest loyalty rewards program in Germany, and its relationship with the Amex credit card.

Other than that it is a great credit card for mainly online purchases, where acceptance of Amex is a lot higher than in shops and restaurants in Germany. It is not ideal for travel, as there is a 2% foreign currency fee and a 4% cash withdrawal fee.

Requirements For A PAYBACK American Express Card:

  • you are 18 years or older
  • you are registered in Germany
  • you receive a regular monthly income
  • you have a German mobile phone number
  • you have a German bank account
  • you have a valid passport
  • for Non-EU nationals: valid residence permit
  • you have a good SCHUFA score (credit history)

PAYBACK American Express Card Benefits:

✅ no annual fee
✅ no checking account obligation 
✅ double PAYBACK points when you use it with partner stores
✅ no annual interest rate (debts must be paid monthly)
✅ 100% SEPA direct debit possible and mandatory
✅ convenient contactless Apple & Google Pay
✅ user-friendly app to control the card (only in German)

PAYBACK American Express Card Drawbacks:

❗2% fee for paying in currencies other than the euro
❗4% for withdrawing money from any ATM
⛔️ not all shops in Germany accept American Express credit cards.
⛔️ no refund of foreign ATM fees
⛔️ only German website & customer service

Repayment And Settlement Of Balances

The PAYBACK American Express card is a charge credit card, so you do not need to worry about paying your debt on time. The acquired credit will be deducted from your linked checking account once a month. Thus, there are no annual interest rates, as long as your checking account has enough money in it.   

How can you increase your credit card limit?

After your successful application to one of these credit cards, you get a set limit. This limit is usually based on an algorithm that takes all your personal data, income, Schufa, and other factors into account. Sometimes, this limit can be relatively low.

The best way to increase your limit is to use the card frequently. After a few months, you can reach out to customer service and provide your last three payslips to showcase that you can handle a higher limit (provided your salary is higher than your limit). In our experience, this approach made a limit increase possible.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a credit card for traveling, the TF Bank Mastercard Gold is a good option. If you are looking for a credit card with a rewards program, the PAYBACK American Express card is a great option.

Especially while traveling, we can recommend carrying two different credit cards in case one gets stolen, lost or simply doesn’t work. Just make sure not to apply to two cards at the same time, but let some time pass to not affect your credit score

If you were unsuccessful in applying for a credit card due to no or a bad credit score, look at our guide for the 5 Best Prepaid Credit Cards in Germany without a SCHUFA credit check to find a great alternative.

Read Our Related Guide

Best Prepaid Credit Cards in Germany

Happy credit card hunting!

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About the Author

Yvonne Koppen is a researcher and writer at Simple Germany, focusing on demystifying German bureaucracy for international skilled workers.

She has lived and worked abroad, which helps her understand how difficult a move to a new country can be. Beyond her professional pursuits, Yvonne loves to plan and go on road trips, puzzle, and do a triathlon here and there.

She is committed to creating accessible, empowering content through her writing and YouTube videos. Yvonne's passion for continuous learning and her ability to simplify complex topics make her an invaluable resource for expats seeking to navigate their new life in Germany.