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.
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.
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. When opening a business in the States, you’ll have to open an American business bank account as well.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Even if you think it’s completely necessary to open a U.S. bank account, there might still be alternatives you haven’t explored.
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.
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.
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.
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.