Helen Geraghty, Copywriter   09 December 2019

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Living, working and shopping in the US are all made easier with a US bank account. But getting one can be a little complicated if you’re not a US citizen.

At WorldRemit, we’ve put together some tips and advice to help non-citizens open a bank account in the US with minimal fuss.

Can a non-citizen open a bank account in the US?

In short, the answer is yes.

However, you’ll find that as a non-citizen you’re a little more restricted as to which US banks will accept your application for an account.

You may also find the application process a little longer and more demanding than if you were an American citizen, particularly if you’re trying to apply from overseas.

This is because many US banks have strict guidelines and requirements in place to help fight money laundering and terrorism.

Each bank has its own unique process and rules for opening a new account. Many banks only allow US citizens, or those with a permanent address in the US to open an account. Others are open to non-residents, as long as they have a Social Security Number (SSN), and many will request that you to visit them in-branch to complete the process.

So, can a non-citizen open a bank account in the US? Yes, they can, and we can guide you through how to do it

How long does it take to open a bank account?

This can vary greatly, so it’s wise to start the application process as early as possible.

Factors that can determine how long the process takes include:

  • having all the necessary documentation.
  • the bank that you’re applying to
  • the type of account that you’re opening.
  • whether you’re already in the US or applying from overseas.
  • whether you’re applying online or in person.
  • how long you’ve been in the country

It’s nearly always quicker and easier to apply once you’re already living in the US and can visit a bank in person. You’ll also find that you have more choice as to which banks will accept your application, once you’re in the country.

If this is not a practical solution, and you need to apply for a bank account before arriving in the country, then you should expect it to take a little longer to get set up.

Do I need a US bank account to work in the US?

Having a bank account is not a legal requirement for employment in the US. But most employers will expect you to have one, as this makes getting paid much simpler and safer.

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Different types of US bank

There are a huge number of banks to choose from in the US. To help you narrow it down, here’s some information about the different types of bank and their attitude to applications from non-residents.

International banks

International banks are very large and established banks like HSBC, Citibank and Barclays. Larger banks like these tend to be more flexible with the documentation that they require during your application.

International banks may be able to offer you an international bank account in US Dollars set up from your home country. They can be much easier to open from overseas, even if you’re a non-US resident or don’t yet have a US address. However, this isn’t an accessible option for everyone, as these bank accounts usually require high minimum deposits and a high ongoing balance.

Online banks

These are banks that only operate online and have no physical branches or in-person assistance. Online banks typically only accept applications from US residents.

Traditional US banks

You’ll probably need to visit the US to open an account with a traditional US bank. Always call ahead and speak to a representative at the bank to discuss your circumstances before showing up. You should confirm that you’ll be able to open an account. Then book an appointment and ask what documentation you’ll need for a successful application.

Local banks

Local banks operate within a particular state or region. They’re suitable for local people who won’t be banking or using their card outside their local area very often. That’s because they can charge for using ATMs outside of the network. Local banks are very unlikely to allow you to open an account from overseas.

Correspondent bank

This is a bank in your home country that’s partnered with a US bank. A correspondent bank may be able to help you set up an account in the US from overseas, even if they are not an international bank. Get in touch with your home bank to find out if they have any such partnerships.

Different types of US bank accounts

Three main types of personal bank account are available in the US:

  • Checking account (current account) – The commonest type of bank account. Get money paid into it, pay bills and make transfers. Receive a debit card for everyday purchases and ATM withdrawals, and access online banking services.

  • Savings account – Securely store money and accrue interest on it.

  • Certificate of deposit (CD) account – Put away a large amount of money for a set period and accrue interest on it.

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Best US banks for non-residents

As an immigrant, only certain US banks will accept your application for an account, particularly if you are trying to apply whilst still living overseas.

Which are the most popular banks in the US?

  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Bank of America
  • Wells Fargo
  • Citibank
  • US Bank
  • Chase
  • HSBC
  • Barclays
  • TD Bank

If you need to apply for a bank account before arriving in the country, then the simplest solution is usually to open an international bank account. That is if you can make the financial commitments required to do so.

Alternatively, find out if your bank in your home country has any partnerships with US banks. Or you could make enquiries with different international banks about what documentation they require.

HSBC and Citibank may allow you to open a US bank account by visiting a branch overseas. And Chase and Bank of America both allow online applications for overseas applicants.

If you’re a non-US citizens already living in the US, find out which big US or international banks have branches local to you.

What documentation do I need to open a bank account in the US?

So, what do you need to open a checking account?

The documents you’re required to show to open an account will vary from one bank to the next and will depend on whether you’re applying online or in person.

Before starting an application or attending an appointment in-branch, it’s always best to call ahead and find out what information you’ll be required to provide. This can save time and ensure the process runs smoothly.

Details and documents that may be required, include:

  • Proof of address
  • Personal contact details
  • A valid driver’s licence, passport or other official government identity document
  • SSN or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN)
  • Debit/credit card from your home country
  • Deposit payment
  • Immigration documents
  • Proof of income
  • Credit history report

Which banks don’t require SSN?

Whilst many US banks ask for your SSN as part of their application process, it’s not a legal requirement.

If you’re wondering if you can open a bank account without an SSN? The answer is yes, but not at all banks. Some banks will accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in the place of an SSN, and others may only require proof of your identity and address.

Depending on your circumstances, what other documentation you have and the type of account you wish to open, the following banks may consider your application for an account without an SSN.

  • Bank of America
  • US Bank
  • Chase Bank
  • TD Bank
  • Citibank
  • HSBC
  • Wells Fargo

How to get the required identity documents

Whether you wish to apply for a bank account before or after arriving in the US, the bank you’re applying to will want to see the documentation that confirms your identity.

Here’s how to get some of the most frequently requested identity documents.

Social Security Number

If you plan to find employment in the US, then you’ll need to first get a social security number. Social security numbers are unique 9 digit numbers issued by the US government in order to track a person’s income and determine their eligibility for certain social security benefits. Generally, to get an SSN as a non-US citizen, you’ll need to be authorised to work in the US by the Department of Homeland Security.

There are several different ways to apply for an SSN:

Using the SS-5 form – Download the SS-5 form to apply online. And find out more about the documents and information you’ll need to make a successful application, using the government’s guidelines here.

When making your visa application – It’s now possible to apply for your social security number at the same time as making your visa application, using either the DS-230 or DS-260 form. You can find out how on the government website here.

When making an application for employment authorisation - You may also apply for an SSN whilst filling out form I-765, Application for Employment Authorisation. Download the form and read the instructions on how to fill it out on the government’s US Citizenship and Immigration Services website here.

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

If you’re not eligible for a SNN, then you may be able to apply for an ITIN tax processing number instead.

You can download Form W-7 online and then apply either online or in-person. Find out more about how to apply on the government website here.

You should then receive your ITIN by mail within seven weeks.

Proof of address

Different banks will want to see different documents as proof of your address. Utility bills, bank statements, lease agreements and student enrolment documentation (if you’re studying in the US) will usually be acceptable.

How much does it cost to open a bank account?

Many US banks charge fees for using their services. The cost will depend on which bank and account option you choose. Be sure to read the small print and make sure you understand all associated costs before signing up.

Maintenance fees

These are monthly fees for using the service. Maintenance fees can vary depending on whether you choose a basic or more premium service. Some banks may waive this fee, providing you’re paying in a minimum amount each month.

ATM fees

Make sure you are aware of the fees you’ll be charged for withdrawing cash at a cash machine. You can usually withdraw cash for free from your bank’s own ATMs and from other banks in the same network. But you may be charged for withdrawing cash from ATMs on different networks.

International transfer fees

If you plan to regularly send money overseas, then make sure you’re aware of how much it will cost to do so, as fees vary from one US bank to the next. As well as upfront international transfer fees, you may also find yourself charged a ‘hidden fee’ in the form of a very poor exchange rate.

It’s usually quicker, more convenient and cost-effective to use a specialist money transfer service to send money abroad, rather than a traditional bank-to-bank transfer.

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How to transfer money abroad without a bank account

If you need to transfer money abroad, having a US bank account isn’t the only way. In fact, there’s a much quicker, cheaper and more convenient way of sending money overseas.

When you sign up with WorldRemit you can transfer money internationally in just a few simple steps, from any location. All you need is an internet connection and a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Even once your US bank account is up and running, you’ll find that our online money transfer service is likely to be a better way of sending money abroad.

With WorldRemit:

  • money will usually arrive with your recipient fast, sometimes even instantly.

  • you’ll enjoy fair exchange rates.

  • there’s one low-cost fee and no hidden fees.

  • there’s a variety of convenient pay-out options including cash pickup, mobile airtime, and bank transfer.

Send money with WorldRemit

If you want to get started sending money abroad, we’re here to make your WorldRemit registration as simple as possible. We’ve put together a quick how-to guide to the WorldRemit sign up process, so that you can send money abroad to loved ones quickly, easily and safely.