How to Open US Bank Accounts for Non-Residents and Non-Citizens

US bank account for foreign nationals
8 min read

If you are a Foreign National who will be moving to the US on a temporary work visa such as H1B or L1 visa, will be studying in a university as an international student, or a US non-resident who plans to open a US bank account without living here (manage financial commitments in the US as a non-resident), this blog is just for you!

Many US Newcomers are unaware that some US banks and credit unions allow Non-Citizens to open US bank accounts without Social Security Number (SSN) or remotely before arriving in the US.

After reading this article, you will know how to open a US Bank account as a non-citizen US resident or a non-resident even without a Social Security Number (SSN) or physically setting up your foot in America. You will also understand how bank accounts work in the US and some key things to keep in mind for day-to-day banking in the US.

What are the benefits of opening a US Bank Account remotely for Non-citizens before arriving in the US?  

Some US banks and financial institutions focused on international clients allow US Non-citizens to open a bank account without SSN or remotely before arriving in the US.

Once you obtain a work visa such as H1-B or L1, an international student visa such as F1 for university admission, or any other type of valid US residency status, these US banks will allow you to set up an account without physically being in the US.

In this case, you can open a US bank account online before arriving in the US through an online process or a video conferencing appointment in some cases.  

7 Benefits of opening a US Bank Account as a non-citizen in advance of your arrival in the US: 

  1. Foreign nationals can avoid incurring high banking fees for international wire transfers and currency conversion by opening a US bank account online before arriving.   
  2. You can use your US Bank personal account to set up utilities such as electricity, gas, water, and phone service or pay for any other expenses such as rent, university fees (if applicable), etc., in advance.   
  3. Most of these banks will issue a virtual debit card for immediate use, which can also be used for US online shopping and paying to other merchants with services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.  
  4. You can use your US Bank personal account to link to P2P (peer-to-peer) payment services like PayPal, Venmo, Zelle, etc., which will make moving to a new country much more effortless.  
  5. Opening a bank account in the US will generally be cheaper than using a prepaid travel card such as a forex card.   
  6. Some Banks focused on international customers will open a credit card account and your US Bank account without requiring an established US credit history. In addition, it will help you build your US credit score (FICO score), an essential aspect of building your financial life in the US.   
  7. Funds in your US Bank account are insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Company) up to $250,000. 

What is the process to open a bank account in the US as a non-citizen or a non-resident foreign national?  

The US bank account opening process will be different based on the US residency status you have. 

Following are the process to open a US bank account based on your residency status:

How to open a bank account for current US non-residents who plan to move to the US on a work or student visa?    

For non-residents who are currently living abroad and plan to move to the US on a work visa such as an H1-B or L1 visa or a student visa such as F1 or J1 visa, the US bank account opening process can be done in two ways: 

1. Apply Online with Financial Institutions focused on international customers and US Newcomers  

You don’t need to be in the US or have an SSN (Social Security Number) when you apply for your US Bank account as a foreign national. However, you may need to provide a US address to receive your physical debit card.

While completing your application online, you will need the following documentation: 

  • Passport – You will need to upload a scanned copy of your passport using the online application or mobile app when you’re applying for a US bank account online. This document is needed to verify your identity. 
  • US Visa – You will need to upload a scanned copy of your US visa when you’re applying for the US Bank account online. This document is required to verify your identity and US residency status. 

You might also need documentation to validate your name, current US address, date of birth, etc. In some cases, the financial institution may request a secure video call to confirm a few personal details, validate your passport, take a selfie for your photograph. Then, in most cases, you can open your US bank account during the same business day.

2. Apply through an International US Bank’s Global Branch   

Some International Banks can help you open an overseas account in the US through their bank branch in your home country. The financial institution may request additional documentation such as a US Visa, Passport, or other identification documents. 

Using the services of an international bank can help you open a bank account before arriving at your destination. 

 In addition, you can view your worldwide accounts in one place, enable instant money transfers between your global accounts (in the US and your home country), and even help transfer your credit history to your new destination.  

How can a US non-resident open a bank account in the US?

If you plan to open a bank account in the US without living here, some international banks can help you if you meet specific non-resident criteria, such as: 

  • Working for a significant time in the US. 
  • Customer of the international bank in other markets such as your home country or anywhere that international bank has a presence. 
  • You are purchasing a property in the US or own a home in the US. 

If you meet any of the criteria above, you may be able to open a bank account as a non-resident without living here to manage your financial commitments in the US. 

You’ll need to provide supporting documentation as evidence that you meet the criteria above.  

How can a non-citizen US resident open a bank account in the US? 

Foreign Nationals who are US Residents and have a valid SSN; can usually finish the bank account application process online with most major U.S. Banks, just like any other American citizen.

This is because they are considered US residents for tax purposes. Therefore, resident foreign nationals might not need financial institutions focused on immigrants or US Newcomers; however, you might still find it beneficial to work with financial institutions specializing in international customer’s financial needs.

As a resident foreign national, you might need the following documents to open your bank account: 

  • SSN (Social Security Number) or ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number)
  • Passport 
  • Proof of your physical address, such as a lease or utility bill 

Understanding your US Bank Account as a Non-citizen

The most common US bank accounts are checking and savings accounts, and you’re likely to open one of these as your first bank account in the US as a foreign national.   

Checking accounts work like current personal accounts in other countries and provide services like: 

  • Debit card for ATM withdrawals and merchant purchases 
  • Online banking  
  • Personal checks 
  • Direct deposits from your employer  
  • Ability to send money with ACH transfers and wires 
  • Bill-pay and recurring payments 

Savings accounts are designed for saving money as opposed to day-to-day transactions. They allow you to put some cash away for later, earning interest on your savings. However, savings account usually have limitations such as how often or how much you can withdraw at any one time. 

Checking Account vs. Savings Account 

Checking Account Savings Account 
Generally, no limits on withdrawals A limited number of withdrawals 
Minimal or no interest Earn interest on your savings 
Able to make direct payments with checks, debit cards, and account information Able to make direct payments with your account information, subject to your withdrawal limits 

What are the most common checking account fees in the US? 

Here are the most common checking account fees in the US that foreign nationals should keep in mind:

  • Monthly Maintenance Fee: One of the most common personal checking account fees that banks charge to maintain your account, which can be as high as $15 per month. Many banks will waive the monthly fee if you meet specific requirements. This may include maintaining a minimum balance, setting up a direct deposit, or enrolling in paperless statements. You can also consider no-fee checking accounts for foreign nationals that don’t charge monthly fees at all. 
  • Overdraft Fee: When you spend more than the balance in your account, a negative fee will be deducted from your checking account. An overdraft fee is usually up to $35 per incident. However, you could opt for overdraft protection or request a one-time waiver if the overdraft happened in error.  
  • ATM Fee: If you use an ATM outside your bank’s network, you will be charged a small fee roughly between $3 to $5 per transaction by the ATM service provider. Some banks refund the ATM fee as an added benefit.  
  • Foreign Transaction Fees: When you use your debit card to purchase or withdraw money from an ATM outside of the US, it will often incur a fee, typically a percentage of the amount in US dollars. Most financial institutions that specialize in international customers will waive off this fee.  

What are some key things to keep in mind for day-to-day banking as a foreign national in the US? 

The US banking system might seem very different than what you are used to in your home country, and there might be some surprises when it comes to fees or technology.

Following are some of the critical things to keep in mind: 

  • While it may be unthinkable to some in this era of smartphones and online banking, checks are still a significant part of the American financial system. However, there is technology to support check deposits via your mobile app rather than visiting a branch or ATM for depositing your check. 
  • Banks charge for some services in the US that will be accessible in your home country and vice versa. 
  • Credit cards are a preferred payment option for many Americans as they offer attractive rewards programs. Furthermore, timely repayment of loans can help create a healthy credit score and establish your US credit history.  
  • Debit cards are also widely accepted and commonly used for payments to merchants in the US. 

Conclusion 

US Bank Accounts for Foreign Nationals can be a great way to manage your US spending while abroad. However, there are some key things you should know before opening one of these accounts.

Make sure you investigate the different fees and requirements at various banks or credit unions and what services may or may not be offered depending on where you live, work, travel, or conduct business in the US.  

To avoid any surprises with US banking, we recommend that all foreign nationals open a bank account before arriving in the US. 

This will ensure that they are well prepared to transition to a new country and remove the stress of taking care of finances in an already stressful process of moving to a new country. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a non-US resident open a bank account?

Yes, non-US residents can open a bank account in the US.

The account opening process may differ based on whether the non-resident is planning to move to the US shortly or want to open a US bank account as a true non-resident to manage financial commitments in the US.

Please refer to this section in this blog for details.

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

Yes, US non-citizens can open a bank account in the US.

US non-citizens include US permanent residents (green card holders) and US visa holders such as temporary workers on work visas such as H1B, L1, etc., or international students.

Please refer to this section in this blog for details.

How can international students open a bank account in the US?

Most US Banks will require international students to produce a combination of documents, including their passport with visa, an I-20, and proof of residency along with a US address.

However, international students may also open a US bank account remotely from their home country. Please refer to this section in this blog for details.

Can a foreigner open a bank account in the US remotely?

Yes, a foreigner can open a bank account in the US remotely without an SSN, even before arriving in the US.

Can I open a bank account with a foreign passport?

Yes, US Non-citizens and non-residents can use their foreign passports to validate their identity to open US bank accounts.