This letter reports on effective surface passivation of n-type crystalline silicon by ultrathin niobium oxide (Nb2O5) films prepared by atomic layer deposition (ALD) and subjected to a forming gas anneal at 300 °C. A champion recombination parameter J0 of 20 fA/cm2 and a surface recombination velocity Seff of 4.8 cm/s have been achieved for ultrathin films of 1 nm. The surface pretreatment was found to have a strong impact on the passivation. Good passivation can be achieved on both HF-treated c-Si surfaces and c-Si surfaces with a wet-chemically grown interfacial silicon oxide layer. On HF-treated surfaces, a minimum film thickness of 3 nm is required to achieve a high level of surface passivation, whereas the use of a wet chemically-grown interfacial oxide enables excellent passivation even for Nb2O5 films of only 1 nm. This discrepancy in passivation between both surface types is attributed to differences in the formation and stoichiometry of interfacial silicon oxide, resulting in different levels of chemical passivation. On both surface types, the high level of passivation of ALD Nb2O5 is aided by field-effect passivation originating from a high fixed negative charge density of 1-2 × 1012 cm-3. Furthermore, it is demonstrated that the passivation level provided by 1 nm of Nb2O5 can be further enhanced through light-soaking. Finally, initial explorations show that a low contact resistivity can be obtained using Nb2O5-based contacts. Together, these properties make ALD Nb2O5 a highly interesting building block for high-efficiency c-Si solar cells.