Every year, thousands of people from every corner of the globe migrate to the United States. Many of them arrive here as international students attracted by top-notch educational opportunities, while others arrive for work.
Having a checking account can be a way to build a solid foundation for your financial life in the U.S. Some non-residents sometimes believe they're ineligible to open a bank account in this country. Fortunately, that isn’t true. Many financial institutions offer U.S. bank accounts for non-residents. However, there may be a little bit of additional paperwork involved. Let’s find out more.
Potential benefits of opening a bank account in the U.S.
There are a number of potential benefits that come with having a local account while you’re in the United States. These include:
Receiving payments directly
Having a U.S. bank account allows you to take advantage of direct deposit. This way, your paychecks can be automatically delivered directly to your account.
Having a local bank account makes paying bills a much smoother process. You can use your account to pay online or by check instead of having to use money orders or other services that may have additional fees.
Accessing debit cards and ATMs
Opening a U.S. bank account typically features debit cards with access to a network of ATMs. This lets you access your funds and make everyday transactions while avoiding possible fees associated with transactions using a foreign bank account.
Building a financial history
Opening an account at a bank or credit union begins a history between you and that financial institution. If you plan to apply for any financing from a U.S. financial institution in the future, this ongoing relationship may improve your chances of approval.
What do you need to open a bank account?
Document requirements may vary from bank to bank. When opening a bank account in the U.S., non-residents may need to provide identification, proof of address and possibly an opening deposit. Contact your bank to confirm what documentation is needed. Here are some items that you may need to open an account:
You’ll need to provide official, government-issued photo identification. Many of these requirements may be familiar to U.S. citizens as well. Some financial institutions may require more than one form of ID to verify your identity, particularly for non-residents. Acceptable documents may include:
- Driver’s license with photo
- Matricula Consular Card
- Passport with photo
- Student ID with photo
- U.S. Employment Authorization Card with photo
Proof of address
Proof of U.S. address must be provided in the form of a document that shows both your name and address to ensure you’re associated with the property. This can include:
- Employer's pay stub or paycheck
- Letter with name and address
- Utility bills dated 60 days or sooner
Financial institutions may require an opening deposit to activate your account. The minimum required will likely vary from one financial institution to the next. A few examples of opening deposit sources are:
- Debit card
- Automated Clearing House (ACH) electronic fund transfer
Requirements can vary from bank to bank and may be subject to change. It’s good practice to check with your prospective financial institution for the most up-to-date information regarding what you need to open a bank account.
Can an immigrant open a bank account without a Social Security number?
Since many account types bear interest, which is a form of taxable income, some U.S. banks require customers to provide their Social Security number (SSN). This facilitates tax reporting to the IRS.
Non-residents who don’t have a Social Security number can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead. This may be used as a substitute for an SSN on your bank account application if one is required by the bank.
SSN vs. ITIN: What’s the difference?
Although both SSNs and ITINs are used for tax reporting, they’re issued by different agencies and have different benefits. An SSN is issued by the Social Security Administration to citizens and authorized non-citizens. It typically denotes authorization to work in the United States (though not always). An SSN also provides access to public assistance benefits such as unemployment or disability income.
ITINs are issued by the IRS to non-residents — anyone who isn’t eligible to receive an SSN. An ITIN is not a work authorization, but it can be used in place of an SSN for filing taxes while residing in the United States.
A note for international students
International students typically arrive in the U.S. under visa designations that don’t authorize them to work. However, they may be able to get a job through their university or by practical training programs. In this case, the university may help them apply for a Social Security number.
Other students, however, may also need to file tax returns in the U.S. due to alternative forms of taxable income. If this applies to you, you’ll likely need to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
If you find yourself unable to qualify for a U.S. bank account for non-residents, you may not be entirely out of options. There are some other forms of banking for immigrants. These include:
Using an international bank
Some banks are international, meaning they have a presence in your home country as well as the United States. Using a bank like this means you can open an account back home and likely still have access to it while in America.
Using a correspondent account
Sometimes, a bank from your home country might have an existing partnership with a bank in the United States. These banks may be able to leverage that relationship to help you open an account in the U.S.
The process to open a U.S. bank account for non-residents may require a little extra time and effort, but there can be significant advantages to doing so. When you open a bank account in the United States, it allows you to access your funds, utilize debit and ATM services and accept payments while building financial history.
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