Opening a U.S. bank account as soon as you arrive will help you transition much more quickly to your new surroundings. It can help you pay the bills, send and receive money transfers, deposit paychecks, and set up a mobile wallet. Fortunately, opening a United States bank account is a fairly straightforward process.
This guide is especially for new arrivals like immigrants and international students, but it’s also relevant to anyone who needs a U.S. bank account.
Let’s look at the requirements and a brief step-by-step guide to opening an account in the U.S.
Documents You Need to Open a U.S. Bank Account
Keep in mind that banking regulations may differ from state to state — which is to say, specific requirements will depend on the location of a bank or credit union.
Because there may be additional requirements depending on your residency status, opening an account online may not be a widely available option.
Most times, talking directly to someone at a physical branch is your best bet.
That being said, most financial institutions require the following documents:
- Some form of government-issued ID like a passport or U.S. green card;
- Social Security number;
- Immigration forms; and,
- Proof of physical address like a utility bill or apartment lease agreement.
Again, documentation requirements differ depending on where you open your bank account, so it’s best to speak with customer service before applying for an account.
Opening a U.S. Bank Account as an International Student
International students with a valid student ID and supporting documentation should be able to open an account. Check with your university for recommendations and banking resources. Brown University, for instance, offers a comprehensive online guide to foreign students on opening a U.S.-based account.
Not all banks allow international students to open a bank account, but if they do, they may require the following types of documentation:
- Your address in the U.S. and one in your home co untry
- Government-issued passport
- Verification of school enrollment
- A secondary form of identification such as a driver’s license, student ID or birth certificate
- Form I-94
- Form DS-2019, Form I-20 or I-797 approval notice
How to Open a Bank Account in the U.S.
Opening a bank account can be a simple process once you understand what you need. Here are the general steps you’ll need to take.
1. Gather Your Documents
Using the list above, gather all documentation you’ll need to open a bank account. That way you can ensure a faster and smoother process when you fill out an application online or in person.
2. Choose the Type of Account You Want
The bank account you want will depend on your individual needs and reasons for being in the U.S.
For instance, international students are likely to prefer basic bank accounts and ones that charge minimal or no monthly maintenance fees.
Immigrants or non-residents who plan to stay in the U.S. permanently may want to open a joint savings accounts with their spouse or investigate accounts for investing.
Whatever your reasons, most non-residents are looking at either a checking or savings account as a starting place. Both make it easier for you to send money abroad and to conduct everyday transactions.
A savings account tends to have higher interest rates so you can earn some money on your deposits. However, due to Federal Reserve Regulation D, you may not be allowed to make over six withdrawals a month.
A checking account allows more frequent transactions and offers other features such as a debit card for purchases and the ability to pay bills online.
However, you may earn less in interest. Check fees before starting, such as non-network ATM charges or bank transfer fees. Some checking accounts may require a minimum balance.
Once you figure out which type of account you want, you’ll need to look up different financial institutions to see which ones can best fit your needs.
3. Choose a Bank and Confirm Requirements
Given the sheer amount of banks and accounts to choose from, it can feel overwhelming to figure out the best option. Ideally, you want a bank or credit union that understands the needs of newcomers or international students.
For instance, most major banks have dedicated bank accounts for college students, such as the Chase College Checking Account. Keep in mind you’ll need to be physically in the United States to open such an account.
Your best bet is to do a simple search and then call around to the banks you’re interested. Find out how much money you need when making your initial deposit and what pay in monthly fees.
4. Look for Special Features
You want your bank account to work for you, so look for features that might help save you money.
These desirable features might include:
- No foreign transaction fees when using your debit card outside of the U.S.;
- Fee-free ATMs; or
- The ability to make cash deposits.
5. Open Account and Make Initial Deposit
Once you know which account you want and confirm that you can meet the bank’s requirements, now it’s time to open it. Either head online (if the bank allows you to go this route) or head to the nearest branch.
If you’re opening an account in person, see if you can make an appointment — doing so might help you complete the process faster.
Once you open the account you’ll need to make a deposit, either via a paper check, bank transfer, or in cash.
Following these steps will help make it easier for you to open a bank account in the U.S.
Once you have one, you can then use it for its intended purpose — to help you settle into your new country.
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