Opening a bank account in the USA

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Updated 2021-08-03 12:15

Opening a bank account in the US is an important step for managing your finances. Bank accounts simplify paying bills, receiving your salary, and helping you to establish a credit history.

The US has a very diverse banking landscape. Alongside big names like the Bank of America, you will also find lots of smaller regional and state banks, credit unions, investment banks, online banks and more.

Good to know:

Even though the United States is a very technologically advanced country, when it comes to banking, things are kept rather old school. A lot of banks are not very multi-currency friendly and impose heavy fees on foreign transactions. Banks tend to rely on face-to-face interactions and you may often be asked to go to the bank office in person to handle the paperwork. Moreover, in some cases, accessing your US bank account from abroad can be a problem — which is not ideal for frequent travelers.

How to open a bank account in the US?

As mentioned above, there are many banks in the United States offering a variety of services. If you are a resident in the country, you can open an account in pretty much any bank of your choosing.

The documents you will need to provide and the specifics of the process might vary from bank to bank. However, in most cases, you will be asked to provide the following information to open a personal bank account as a US resident:

  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Passport or another form of ID
  • US address and proof of address (for instance, a utility bill or regular correspondence)
  • Minimum deposit
  • A US phone number (if you want to access online banking)

If you are a non-resident, things can get a bit trickier.

First, as a non-resident, it's best to set your sights on bigger banks like Bank of America or Citibank.

Smaller local banks may not be equipped to deal with non-resident account requests.

Before making an appointment at your chosen bank, it's best to call in advance and check what their requirements are for non-residents as these tend to vary from bank to bank.

Here are some things you should confirm in advance:

  • Will you need an SSN or an ITIN?
  • Will you need a US address? What kind of proof will you need to provide?
  • What is the minimum deposit?
  • Will you need to prove your source of funds?

Note that it's always best to find out as much information as possible in advance before making the appointment. Otherwise, if you don't have the needed documentation, your request may be denied and you may even get disqualified from opening a bank account at this branch in the future.

It is also recommended that you find a bank branch that is used to catering to non-residents. Smaller banks may not be able to process your request, which may result in a refusal.

Note that most banks do require a Social Security Number for you to open an account.

A social security number (SSN) is used to track individuals for tax purposes and is a standard form of ID in the US. Another option for expats is the Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). These IDs are issued based on your visa type.

However, as a non-resident, you may not be able to obtain an SSN. In this case, having an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) can substantially help your case: a lot of banks will accept an ITIN if you don't have an SSN.

An ITIN is tax identification used by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) for taxing non-residents. Note that to get an ITIN, you will need to have a connection to the United States because of which you are required to file tax returns. You can check out the IRS website for more information on how to apply for an ITIN. You can also get an IRS Certified Acceptance Agent to help you with the process of applying for an ITIN.

If you don't have an SSN or an ITIN, some banks will let you open a bank account with just your passport and proof of address. However, this is not a guarantee and depends on a lot of factors like your nationality, tax residence, source of income, etc. You will generally have more chances to do this in larger popular banks that have a lot of experience dealing with non-resident clients.

When choosing a bank, you should also consider your financial habits. You may want to have access to a bank with a lot of ATMs or branches around the city, or a user-friendly website to be able to pay bills online. Be sure to ask about associated fees and required minimum balances.

While a lot of banks do require a face-to-face appointment for opening an account, there are some that will also let you open an account remotely. In fact, due to the COVID pandemic and following travel restrictions, a lot of banks have become more flexible when it comes to opening an account remotely.

Some of the banks that are popular with expats in the US include Bank of America, Citibank, Chase Bank, Wells Fargo and others.

If you are a frequent traveler, a freelancer or digital nomad, you might consider options like Wise Borderless (supports over 50 currencies, no need for a US convention) or Charles Schwab (no foreign transaction fees).

Types of bank accounts in the US

The two most common types of bank accounts in the United States are checking and savings accounts. Checking accounts are used for frequent deposits and withdrawals. Most checking accounts are used for salary deposits and to pay bills. If you open a checking account, you will be given both a chequebook and a debit card. Savings accounts are for long-term deposits and accrued interest. These accounts often have a minimum balance requirement, and interest rates can vary by bank.

Good to know:

It is common for U.S. employers to ask for your checking account number in order to offer direct deposit of your salary instead of giving you a paper cheque.

Many banks offer free checking accounts but will charge fees for overdrafts, transfers, or cash withdrawals from ATMs outside of their network. Most importantly, look for a bank that guarantees your deposits through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC). The FDIC insures deposits up to $250,000 USD in case a bank fails.

Once you've chosen a bank, visit a branch to open your account. In many cases, this may also be done online. Bankers are usually available to open accounts and appointments aren't necessary. To open an account you will need to prove your name, date of birth, address, and ID number. A U.S. driver's licence and social security number are common forms of identification. If you don't have these, ask your bank which types of proof of identification are accepted.

How to get a credit card in the US?

A credit card will be hard to obtain when first arriving in the US until you have established satisfactory credit history. Your credit history is a record of how well you handle bills for purchases bought on credit, including information about late payments and account overdrafts. In other words, the more you pay your monthly bills on time, the better your credit history. Your SSN or ITIN number links you to your credit history, so it is a requirement to have either an SSN or an ITIN. After a few months of positive payment activity, you will be able to apply for a credit card.

Good to know:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a U.S. government agency established in 2011 to protect consumers from unfair banking and lending practices. If you have questions about banking, credit cards or your credit score, visit their website listed below.

Useful links:

SSN/ITIN for non-citizens
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Popular U.S. Banks:
JP Morgan Chase
Bank of America
Wells Fargo
Citibank

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.