How to Open a US Bank Account: A Guide for New Arrivals in 2024

Last updated on April 30th, 2024 at 10:46 pm

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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 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 created by our team here at Remitly is especially for new arrivals like immigrants and international students. Still, 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 US 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. 

There are generally two main ways to open an account in the U.S. You can stop into a bank branch and complete the steps in person or open a bank account online.

Because additional requirements may depend on your resident status, opening a bank account online may not be a widely available option for all immigrants. Most times, talking directly to someone at a physical branch is your best bet.

That said, most financial institutions require the following documents.

Government-issued ID

Your financial institution will typically require you to present a photo ID issued by the government. Options may include:

  • Passport
  • U.S. Green Card
  • Driver’s license
  • State-issued ID

Social security number or individual taxpayer identification number

Brick-and-mortar and online banks will typically request a number to identify you when collecting your personal details. Depending on your resident status, you will need to provide either:

  • Social security number (SSN): A nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens as well as some permanent residents and temporary residents. You can learn more about how to apply for a social security card as a U.S. immigrant by checking out our guide on the subject.
  • Individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN): A nine-digit number issued to individuals who don’t qualify for a social security number but still have taxable income and must pay taxes in the U.S. Find out how to get an ITIN number with our easy step-by-step guide.

Proof of resident status

When you can open an account, the bank will likely ask for proof of your resident status. To fulfill this requirement, you can present your visa and other immigration documents.

Proof of physical address

Most banks will only open accounts for individuals who have an international presence in the U.S. Typically, this means having a valid US address.

What banks will accept for proof of a U.S. address varies when you open a checking account or savings account. Depending on the financial institution, acceptable proof may include:

  • Utility bills, magazines, and other pieces of mail with your name and address
  • Apartment lease agreement
  • Property deed with your name listed on it
  • Driver’s license or state-issued ID with a US address listed on it

If you don’t have a U.S. address yet, a few banks offer international bank accounts that may be able to assist you. Some of these international accounts have multi-currency account benefits, allowing you to deposit money and make payments in more than one type of currency.

Find out the requirements before you open a bank account

Bank clerk receiving money from a person

While most US banks require you to present a government-issued ID, have an SSN or ITIN, show proof of immigration status, and have a US address, the necessary documents will vary. As a result, it’s a good idea to check with customer service before you visit a branch or complete an application online to open a bank account in the U.S.

Opening a US bank account as an international student

International students with valid student IDs 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 international 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 country
  • Government-issued passport
  • Verification of school enrollment, such as a student ID or a letter of registration
  • 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. 

Once you understand what you need, opening a bank account can be a simple process. Here are the general steps you’ll need to take. 

1. Gather your documents

Using the list above, gather all address proof, immigration paperwork, and other documentation needed to open a bank account. Having the documents the bank requires ready 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

There are a few different types of bank accounts that may be right for you, including:

Checking account

Intended for everyday banking, a checking account is a personal account that allows you to write checks and make ATM transactions like ATM withdrawals and deposits. Most come with debit cards as well, and these accounts set you up for receiving and sending money electronically through direct debits and direct deposits.

Some checking accounts do pay interest. However, you may need to maintain a high minimum balance to qualify for interest payments or pay higher fees for these accounts.

Student checking account

A student checking account is designed specifically for students enrolled in school. They usually have low fees and relaxed rules regarding things like minimum balances. Learn more about the differences between student and regular bank accounts by checking out our guide on the subject.

Savings account

A savings account is a bank account designed to help you save money for the future. A savings account tends to have higher interest rates to earn money on your deposits. However, due to Federal Reserve Regulation D, you may only be allowed to make up to six withdrawals a month.

Selecting a bank account type

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 joint savings accounts with their spouses 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 to transfer money abroad and conduct everyday transactions. 

3. Choose a bank and confirm requirements 

Choose a bank

Once you figure out which type of account you want, you’ll need to look up different US banks to see which ones best fit your needs.

Given the sheer number of banks and accounts, 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. 

Your best bet is to do a simple search and then call around to the banks you’re interested in. Some things to ask include:

  • Will you open an account for non-residents?
  • Is there a monthly maintenance fee on the account?
  • Are there any minimum balance requirements for the account?
  • How many ATMs do you have, and what ATM fees will I need to pay?
  • Are there limits on the number of transactions I can make on my account each month?
  • Do you offer online banking and bill pay services? Is there a fee to pay bills or access my account online?
  • What are the fees for wire transfers?
  • What are the overdraft fees? Do you offer overdraft protection to help me avoid fees?
  • Do I get checks with this account? How much do checks cost?
  • What other financial services do you offer? Investments? Insurance? Safety deposit boxes?
  • What documentation do I need to open a new account? Can I do it online, or do I need to come to a bank branch?
  • What do you base exchange rates on when sending money internationally?
  • Are there any additional fees on this account that I need to be aware of?

4. Look for special features

You want your bank account to work for you, so look for features that might help you find a low-cost option. 

These desirable features might include:

  • No foreign transaction fees when using your debit card outside of the U.S.
  • Fee-free ATMs
  • The ability to make cash deposits
  • No monthly fees if you have a direct deposit
  • Perks like discounts at retailers or free subscriptions to streaming services

5. Open an account and make an initial deposit

Once you know which account you want and confirm that you can meet the bank’s requirements, it’s time to open a US bank account. Either head online (if the bank allows you to go this route) or go 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. Depending on the bank, you may be able to fund your account with:

  • Cash
  • Direct deposit from another account using your new routing number and account number
  • Paper check, though banks place a hold on a personal check, requiring you to wait until the check clears to withdraw or send money from your new account

Research your options and get on your way to opening a bank account

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.