In today’s global economy, living internationally is easier than ever. Almost anything from working remotely to finding a place to live can be accomplished with just an Internet connection. Unfortunately, one area that hasn’t quite caught up yet is the banking industry. Laws enacted after 9/11 have made the process to open a U.S. bank account for non-residents somewhat difficult. But if you intend to make the U.S. your home for an extended period of time, you may find yourself in a scenario where you need access to local funds. We’re here to help describe your options and explain how to open a bank account if you need one.

 

Why foreigners need a U.S. bank account

someone wearing a white shirt holding a brown wallet in one hand and pressing buttons on an ATM machine with the other hand

For most short and medium-term visitors, having a local bank account is completely unnecessary. However, there are a few scenarios in which a U.S. bank account is very helpful.

Getting paid by a U.S. company

If you’re employed by a company in the U.S., you can have your paychecks deposited directly into your U.S. bank account. This is the best way to get paid as you won’t have to go through the hassle and cost of trying to deposit a paper check to your foreign bank account. Blueground offers fully-furnished, equipped and serviced apartments in some of the world's most sought after cities. When opening a business in the States, you’ll have to open an American business bank account as well.

Pay bills via direct debit

In the U.S., you have the option to pay rent, utilities, gym membership fees, and other recurring charges automatically from your U.S. checking account. This will require you to provide a U.S. bank account number and routing number. It’s usually not a requirement to pay bills this way, however, some merchants do charge a transaction fee of 1-3% if you pay with a credit card. It might seem like nothing, but those small fees add up fast!

Make frequent ATM withdrawals

When you have a U.S. bank account, you can avoid foreign transaction fees from your international bank if you need to get small amounts of cash out frequently. Some international visitors withdraw large sums at once to cut down on these types of fees. However, it becomes a security issue when you’re stuck stashing piles of cash in your place of residence, or even worse, carrying it around with you.

 

Steps to open a U.S. bank account for non-residents

The good news is that it’s completely legal for foreigners to open a bank account in the U.S. The bad news? Not every bank will allow it. Those that do might have difficult requirements to meet, such as proof of residency or a high minimum balance to open the account.

Banks that allow foreigners to open an account

There’s no cut and dry list of U.S. banks that will allow foreigners to open an account. Policies will vary by state and even by branch. The rule of thumb is to call ahead and ask what the requirements are for non-residents.

Nevertheless, here are a few major bank branches where foreigners have had success in opening an account:

Documents needed to open a bank account as a non-resident

Once you’ve called around and identified a bank that will allow you to open an account, ask for a specific list of documents to bring in person. These are a few of the documents you might be asked to provide:

  • Passport
  • Social security number (if you’re authorized to work in the U.S.)
  • Alien identification card
  • An additional form of identification, such as a driver’s license or a debit card from another bank
  • IRS Form W-8BEN
  • Proof of address, which is usually a piece of mail such as a utility bill (some banks will require you to have a U.S. address, others may accept an address in your home country)
  • Letter of good standing from your foreign bank

Don’t forget than any legal documents sent from abroad must be authenticated by apostille stamps. You’ll also need to show up ready to make an initial deposit to open your bank account.

A person wearing a long sleeved blue shirt pushes some American dollars under the window counter to the bank teller

This amount can be anywhere from $50 to $3,000+, depending on the bank. American banks may also charge an account maintenance fee if you don’t meet a certain minimum balance requirement. Be sure to check this with the branch to make sure you’re not faced with any unexpected costs.

 

Alternatives to opening a U.S. bank account

a man wearing a blue suit swiping a credit card through a black credit card reader machine

Even if you think it’s completely necessary to open a U.S. bank account, there might still be alternatives you haven’t explored.

Get a borderless account

International banking company Transferwise offers a borderless account that allows you to send and receive money as well as convert between currencies all through a mobile app. You’ll get a U.S. account number and routing number just as you would with any bank, where you can receive direct deposits from your U.S. employer.

Ask about your foreign bank’s ATM network 

It’s a little-known fact that most foreign banks have partnerships with U.S. banks which allow customers to withdraw cash for free at their ATMs. It’s worth a call to your bank at home to ask whether they have an ATM network in the U.S.

Choose companies that don’t require payment from a U.S. bank account

During your time abroad, you might encounter a utility company or apartment complex that requires payment from a U.S. bank account for foreigners. The bottom line is that in most cases, this is completely unnecessary, so don’t be afraid to do business elsewhere. If you’re having trouble getting approved for an apartment without proof of a U.S. bank account, try booking one through Blueground, which provides fully-furnished and equipped apartments in many major cities.

A fully furnished apartment in Washington, D.C. managed and designed by Blueground. The kitchen has stainless steel appliances and a small circular table with four chairs next to a large window

They especially cater to foreigners traveling from abroad, so not having a U.S. bank account will never be an issue. Furthermore, they don’t require a minimum credit score or lease guarantors, which is a typical barrier when renting as a non-US national.

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