How to Open a Bank Account in the US

So how does a fabulous international student such as yourself open a bank account in the United States? It’s actually a surprisingly easy process, as long as you have the correct documentation. Don’t be afraid of going into a bank and asking the representative what you need to bring them to open a bank account in the US, or what the bank’s policies are in regards to international students. “Hi, I’d like to open an account” is probably a banker’s favorite sentence to hear!

So what will you need to bring with you? Firstly, if you have been issued a social security number, even if this is a temporary number, you will need to bring this with you to the bank. Your social security number is one of the most important numbers you will ever be issued. All of the accounts you open, as well as many of the transactions you conduct, and any identification that you are issued while in America will be attached to this number. Do not lose it! If you haven’t been issued a social security number, check with the bank you plan to visit to ensure this will not be a problem. Some banks have different policies regarding international students opening a bank account in the US. Additionally, if your status is anything other than a non-resident alien, you’ll need to mention that to the banker as well.

You will also need to bring at least two separate pieces of identification. These may include your passport, a valid state-issued American identification card, American driver’s license, a resident alien registration card, a student identification card from your American school, or an ID from your home country. Acceptable types of identification from foreign countries vary from bank to bank, but often voter’s registration cards or driver’s licenses may be accepted as a form of identification. Better yet, your passport may count as both of the pieces of identification you’ll need, if you have the appropriate visa. This works because many banks consider the visa issued by the United States to be a separate piece of identification from your home passport.

Once you have your identification ready, you can head into the bank of your choice. Be sure to note that you are an international student while speaking to the banker. Also, if the conversation gets out of your comfort zone with English, feel free to ask if there are translation services or native speakers of your language available. Many banks offer these services free of charge.

Be sure to ask what the cost of your account is. While many financial institutions offer “free” accounts, bank accounts often come with hidden fees, or fees related to certain behaviors or minimum balances. A popular version of this is getting an account without a service charge for having a direct deposit, or keeping above two thousand dollars in your account. Be sure you clearly understand what you’re getting when you open your account.

Often you’ll have the choice over whether to get a savings account or not. If you’re not going to be in the United States for a long period, it usually doesn’t make much sense to open a savings account. Additionally, you may also be offered an online access or overdraft protection. These services are usually optional, and may cost you an additional fee. If you feel like you will use these services, go ahead and allow the representative to sign you up.

Before opening a bank account in the US, you will likely be required to sign a document called a “signature card,” which is used to both legally open your account with the bank and also to confirm what your signature looks like, in the event the bank has a question about whether or not a transaction was conducted by you. You will also probably have to sign a W-8, which is a form to let the American tax department know that your money did not come from working in the United States, so that the American government doesn’t try to tax you on it.

Happy banking!