Opening a bank account is a big step toward financial stability. While it is possible for non-residents in the US to open a bank account, you’ll need to provide certain documentation depending on your circumstances. You’ll also need to make sure you go to the right bank branch, as not all institutions will issue bank accounts for non US residents.
Can a foreigner open a US bank account?
Yes. As a non-resident in the US, you can open a bank account as long as you’re able to provide the necessary documentation. Banks, credit unions and other financial institutions are legally obliged to check and verify the identity of anyone opening a bank account in the US.
This means you’ll need to provide documented proof of your identity, along with some other details, if you want to open a bank account. Having a bank account in your home country can also be helpful.
Do all US banks accept non-residents?
When looking to open an account in the US, you’ll have to do some research. Depending on the bank you visit, the state you’re in and also your status in the US, the requirements you’ll need to fulfill to open a bank account can vary.
Be aware that while some financial institutions will let a non-citizen open a US bank account, not all banks and credit unions extend that ability to a non-resident alien. The IRS defines an alien as someone who is not a US citizen, US national, or someone without a permanent presence in the US.
Can I open a personal checking account in the US?
Some banks will allow you to open a personal checking account, but it is possible that you may be permitted to open a business bank account only, depending on your circumstances and the bank you deal with.
Here’s what you need to know about opening a US bank account.
How to Open a US Bank Account
So, what do you need to open a bank account for non US residents? Requirements can vary depending on both the state and the financial institution, but there are several pieces of documentation generally required for someone to open a bank account with a bank or credit union in the US:
- Basic contact information such as name, physical address & phone number
- Social Security Number
- At least two forms of valid government ID, such as passport & driver’s license
- Proof of current address, such as a utility bill or official letter
- Initial deposit in cash (usually a minimum of $25)
You’ll also need to visit a bank in person to open a US bank account. Opening a bank account online is usually limited to residents only, unless you’re using an international or correspondent account (see below).
It’s a good idea to call ahead or visit the website of the bank or credit union before you visit to find out exactly what you’ll need to provide to open your account.
Can I Open a Bank Account Without a Social Security Number?
Most non-residents in the US won’t be eligible for a Social Security Number. The good news is that you can still open a bank account without one.
Instead of a SSN, you’ll likely need to provide an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. This is essentially a Social Security Number for non-resident aliens, so for non-residents looking to open an account with a US bank, an ITIN is essential. There are institutions which won’t let you open a bank account without a SSN, but many will accept an ITIN instead.
What is an ITIN?
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, is a number issued by the IRS to non-resident aliens, their spouses or dependents, who are not eligible for a Social Security Number. Applying for an ITIN involves completing a Form W-7 and attaching your identifying documentation.
How Do I Apply for an ITIN?
You can submit your application for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number via mail, or present it at an IRS walk-in office.
There are also Acceptance Agents, usually institutions such as certain banks, colleges or accounting firms, which can process your application for an ITIN.
According to the IRS, ITIN applications are usually complete within seven weeks (or eleven weeks during peak tax time).
Here’s what you’ll need to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number:
- A completed Form W-7
- A federal income tax return
- Identifying documentation such as passport or government issued ID
Can a Non US Resident Open a Bank Account Online?
No. Generally speaking, US banks and credit unions typically do not offer online banking services to non-residents or non-citizens. This is primarily to avoid someone using a US bank to fund an illegal offshore account. While there are multi-currency accounts available online, it’s very unlikely to find a US bank that will provide an account online.
It is also easier to falsify documentation online, so banks typically require non US residents to visit physical branches if they want to open a US bank account. Online banks are extremely unlikely to offer financial services to non US residents.
The only instance where a non-resident can bank online in the US is if they’re using a foreign or international account. This can also apply to a corporate bank account. In these cases, your online banking will already be set up, or you can arrange for your bank to set it up before you arrive to the US, and simply continue banking online as you would at home.
Which US Bank is Best for Non Residents?
There are several major banks in the US which accept alternative forms of documentation, such as an ITIN, for non US residents looking to open either a personal account or business account. Banks which facilitate international accounts will also be more likely to allow non-residents to open a US bank account.
Some of the best banks for non US residents include Chase, Citibank HSBC, Majority, Bank of America, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo. Depending on the institution you may not even need to provide an ITIN in lieu of a SSC, but instead you’ll probably have to provide several pieces of ID.
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Opening a Chase Secure Banking account comes with a $100 cash bonus when you use the card for 10 purchases within 60 days. Account approval is immediate and you’ll receive your debit card within days. There is a small monthly service fee of $4.95; however, there is no minimum opening deposit to get started.
What About Fees?
The downside is you’ll be charged higher minimum withdrawal fees with international bank accounts, and potentially a high minimum deposit requirement too. In addition, if you can’t open a regular bank account and need to go for an international account instead, you’ll likely have to pay more for ATM withdrawals, maintenance fees, and money transfer services.
It’s a good idea to do your research and find which bank is the best fit for you, ideally before you arrive to the US. And even if you don’t choose international banking, fees are still an important factor to consider when banking in the US.
US Checking Account Fees
It’s important to make sure that you’re aware of the kind of banking fees you will encounter when using a personal account with a US bank. These are some of the most common checking account fees to keep in mind.
Using an ATM outside your bank’s network can incur high ATM fees, whether it’s domestic or international. You can be charged anywhere from $2 to $5 per transaction for using a non-network ATM.
Monthly Maintenance Fees
This is a common baking fee for the maintenance of your personal account. Usually, this fee is around $15. There are also ways to avoid having to pay it. Things like maintaining a minimum balance, setting up a direct deposit, or meeting age requirements can qualify you for waived maintenance fees.
Be careful not to spend more than you have on balance in your personal checking account, as you can incur big fees here. If you end up with a negative balance in your checking account, you can be charged up to $35 per incident.
See also: Checking Accounts With No Overdraft Fees
Foreign Transaction Fees
If using a debit card to purchase or withdraw money from an ATM outside the US, you will incur a foreign transaction fee that’s typically around 1% to 5% of the transactional value in US dollars. This is another important fee to keep in mind if you happen to use a US bank account outside the States.
US Savings Account Fees
Just as with checking accounts, a savings account with a US bank will also be subject to certain fees. They can vary widely depending on the account type, but here’s what savings account fees generally look like:
Monthly Maintenance Fees
Like checking accounts, savings accounts are subject to a monthly maintenance fee, although it’s often much less. There are numerous types of savings accounts available, even from a single bank, which means that fees can vary quite a bit.
The monthly maintenance fee for these accounts is typically around $5. Again, similar to a checking account, most banks and credit unions will offer their customers ways to avoid paying monthly fees if they can maintain a certain balance, make regular deposits, or even link to a brokerage account.
Excess Withdrawal Fees
Because savings accounts are intended to be used infrequently, there is usually a limit of six free withdrawals available to you within a given statement period. This means you’ll be charged a fee for exceeding the number of withdrawals on your account, typically within a month. These fees usually start at $15, so it’s something you’ll want to avoid as far as possible.
At the same time, many banks will charge customers for leaving a savings account completely dormant. If you don’t complete any transactions with your savings account for a long time—typically 12 months—your bank may charge you inactivity fees.
In most cases, these fees are $15 and are charged once a month until a transaction is made. Keep in mind that some banks and accounts won’t charge inactivity fees, or only charge them if your balance is under a certain amount. In any case, it always pays to shop around.
Paper Statement Fees
Many banks charge a fee for providing paper statements to their customers, typically no more than $5 per statement. Avoiding this fee is easy and often just involves signing up for online statements instead.
Alternatives to Opening a Traditional US Bank Account
While it is entirely possible for a non-resident to open a US bank account, it’s good to know that there are also some alternative options available. If you’re a non-resident in the US and you’re having trouble opening a regular US bank account, or if you need a way to manage your money while you wait to receive an ITIN, for example, there are alternatives to explore.
Correspondent Bank Accounts
Correspondent banking leverages global inter-banking relations to provide financial services to customers around the world. This makes it possible for someone from the UK, for example, to use their domestic bank account with a partnered bank in the US. Many US banks have affiliate or partnership relations with banks around the world in other countries.
However, even if your bank doesn’t have a direct connection with a bank you’ve chosen in the US, they can still provide you with service by relying on the global banking network. This could save you needing to open a US bank account at all, and allow you to conduct your regular banking via a partnered bank in the States.
If you already have a bank account set up in your home country, you can check with them and ask about correspondent banking options available to you. You may even be able to continue using the same account number.
Correspondent bank accounts work primarily using the SWIFT network, sending transfers from your domestic bank to a partnered bank in the US. These transfers can either be direct, from one bank to another, or they can involve multiple connections across several banks. It’s a convenient, reliable and extremely secure way of conducting money transfer services.
The major downside to correspondent banking is that it is both slow and costly. Unlike domestic instant money transfers, the SWIFT network takes time due to the connections sometimes needed to reach a foreign bank.
International Bank Accounts
Depending on your circumstances it may be more convenient for you to open a checking account with the international or expat arm of a global bank. You may be able to use or open a personal bank account with an international bank.
International bank accounts are available from banks with a global presence. This can be a useful option, especially if you can’t provide the documentation required to open a regular account.
It also makes it possible to open a USA bank account from your native country, allowing you the chance to hit the ground running when you arrive to the US. Most international banks offer online services that allow you to open a checking or savings account from the comfort of your own home.
Top Banks with a Global Presence in the US
HSBC, Charles Schwab, Citibank, and TD Bank are among the leading banks with a global presence in the United States. Citibank has a particularly wide international reach, making it ideal for international wire transfers and reduced intentional banking fees.
These are the basic documents need to open an international bank account:
- Government-issued ID (such as foreign driver’s license and passport)
- Proof of address (such as utility bill)
- High minimum initial deposit
While an overseas account is a great alternative to a typical USA bank account, they certainly aren’t for everyone. For example, they normally require sizable initial deposits, sometimes in the range of $100,000.
There are also high monthly maintenance fees, and penalties if you fail to maintain a high minimum balance. This is the trade off that typically comes with a multi-currency overseas account.
Alternative Financial Services
Just because you can’t open a US bank account doesn’t mean all hope is lost. If you can’t avail of correspondent banking, and international accounts are not for you, you might want to research alternative financial service providers instead.
Companies such as PayPal and Wise (formerly TransferWise) are secure, well-used, and trustworthy, and can help you manage your money when you’re without a regular personal bank account. Setting up a Wise account, for instance, is fairly simple and requires just a government issued ID and proof of address.
Wise Multi-Currency Account
Opening a multi-currency account with Wise offers numerous benefits to your personal finance as a non-citizen abroad. You can send money, and receive it at rates often lower than traditional banks, although sometimes these transfers can take a few days.
This account can be used together with the Wise debit card, which costs just $9 to order. This card allows you to withdraw cash anywhere, make payments online, and spend while you’re abroad at competitive exchange rates.
Using a Wise account also means you can manage your money over the internet, making it similar to using your bank account online.
You can even get the account details necessary to receive payments the same way a local would, making it a viable alternative for a non-resident in the US, Europe, or UK.
While a Wise account may not feel as familiar or reliable as traditional banking, it may help make your financial life a lot easier as a non-resident in the US.
PayPal for International Transfers
PayPal is another well-known global payments provider that could be a useful alternative if you can’t open a bank account in the US. Your PayPal wallet can be easily linked with your bank account at home, allowing you to send and receive money in many different currencies.
PayPal is a popular option for sending international money transfers, and they do also offer a PayPal debit card that you may be eligible for. Like a Wise multi-currency account, this could be a helpful alternative if you can’t open a bank account in the US.
Keep in mind that PayPal’s fees can sometimes be high, and their exchange rates are often higher than those used by competitors.
Despite this, many people use PayPal to send money, making it a convenient option for money transfers outside of regular bank accounts.
Banking in the US as a Non-Resident
While the US banking system might seem very different from the one you’re familiar with in your home country, the positive is that there are numerous options for opening a bank account in the US. US banks are particularly accommodating to non-residents. You just need to do your research beforehand, and have the right documents with you once you’ve got a US address.
Remember that as a non-resident, it might take some time to open an account in the US, especially if you need to apply for an ITIN or chase down information for tax purposes. It is also unlikely that you’ll be allowed to open a US bank account online, but you may be able to manage your account in the US via the web if you’ve got a correspondent account or international bank.
The more time you can put toward your US banking journey before you leave home, the better. Especially if you’re considering using a correspondent or international account, as this could easily be set up in advance. Occasionally, a bank will let you begin an application online and complete the process in person, so being prepared in this way could save you time when you land in the US.
Opening a bank account in the US is absolutely possible as a non-resident or non-citizen. While not every bank allows you to do business with them, there are certainly plenty who do. The biggest hurdle most non-residents have when opening a bank account in the US is gathering the required documentation.
Even if you can’t open a US bank account, or if you need to manage your money while you wait to open one, there are still options available to you.
Whether you need to send money, deposit money, manage your accounts online or even receive wire transfers, there are a host of other financial services available to you as a non-citizen.
Correspondent accounts can be particularly useful, and there are also plenty of alternative financial service providers to consider, too. It’s a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of each in relation to your own specific circumstances, and go from there.