Non-U.S. citizens spending time in America likely want a safe place to stash their cash and a hub for establishing their financial life in this country. One of the best ways to accomplish this can be opening a bank account. However, there can be some hurdles when a person is not a citizen. Fortunately, with a little research and legwork, it’s often possible to establish a relationship with one of many banks when arriving on U.S. soil.
This guide explores how non-U.S. citizens may open a bank account in the 50 states, including the answers to:
• Can a foreigner open a bank account in the U.S.?
• What kind of identification is needed to open a bank account?
• How can a person get an ITIN for identification purposes?
• What are alternatives to a U.S.-based bank account?
Can a Foreigner Open a US Bank Account?
It may be possible to open a U.S. bank account as a non-resident, though not all banks allow this. It’s wise to check with a specific financial institution to learn their policies, including what forms of identification will be required.
For example, a non-U.S. citizen might ask about the process of opening a checking account or what is needed to start a savings account. This can reveal what types of ID and other credentials are going to be necessary so either a complete application can be prepared or one can look elsewhere.
Recommended: What is a Savings Account and How Does it Work?
Typical Requirements for Opening a Bank Account
When a person is ready to open a bank account, even if they are a U.S. citizen, they will have a number of documentation requirements to open a bank account. According to the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, financial institutions must verify the identity of someone who wants to open a bank account to the “extent reasonable and practical.”
How financial institutions choose to manage this process can vary, but here are typical requirements whether opening a bank account online or in person:
• Contact information (name, address, phone number, email address).
• Two forms of current government ID, such as a driver’s license and Social Security card.
• If a person hasn’t used a Social Security card as a form of ID, the financial institution will likely still ask for a Social Security number (SSN).
• A current bill (such as a water, electric, or other utility bill) to confirm one’s current address.
• Minimum opening deposit (this is often $25, but may be as little as $1 or even zero).
It’s wise to check with the bank of choice (or a couple of financial institutions being considered) for more details.
Alternative Forms of Identification That Can Be Used
If a person is new to America, they may not have all of the documents mentioned above. Opening a bank account in a foreign country can therefore seem problematic. When applying for an account, however, it may be possible to submit alternative paperwork. Other options can include the following:
• Instead of a driver’s license, a government-issued state ID or a U.S. military ID may be acceptable. All must be current/unexpired.
• Other forms of secondary governmental IDs (besides a Social Security card) can include an original or certified birth certificate or a passport; a passport can also serve as a primary form of ID.
• An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, if the applicant is not eligible for a Social Security number.
Next up: More about an ITIN, which can be a vital piece of identification for non-U.S. citizens, allowing them to bank in America.
What Is ITIN?
If a person pursues a bank account as an immigrant, they may wonder, “What is an ITIN?” It’s an important point to learn more about and can unlock financial services. ITIN stands for an “Individual Taxpayer Identification Number,” as noted above, and, according to the IRS, this serves as a tax processing identification number.
The IRS issues this nine-digit number to people who need to have an identification number in the United States but are not eligible to get a Social Security number. A person’s immigration status is not relevant when applying for an ITIN because resident and non-resident aliens may each need to have this number.
Worth noting: Getting an ITIN does not authorize a person to work in America. It is simply a number that is used for tax-reporting purposes.
How to Apply for an ITIN
If a person is not a U.S. citizen and wants to apply for an ITIN, they will have a few options. The IRS lists the steps for a couple of alternatives:
• To apply by mail, provide IRS Form W-7 PDF File , proof of identity, tax return, and foreign status documents to the following address:
◦ IRS Austin Service Center, ITIN Operation, PO Box 149342, Austin, TX 78714-9342
◦ No return envelope is required for the documents to be returned. However, if a person wants their documents returned more quickly, they can include a prepaid express mail envelope or courier envelope.
• If these original documents are needed within the next 14 weeks (which can be how long processing takes), a person may decide to apply in person at a Certifying Acceptance Agent (CAA). Certified copies rather than the originals can be submitted.
◦ If the original documents haven’t been returned and 14 weeks have passed, an individual can call 800-908-9982 in the United States or 267-941-1000 outside the country for an update on their return.
• Make an appointment at an official IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center . Multilingual operators are available.
Once an individual receives their ITIN, they can move ahead with opening a bank account.
Opening a Bank Account Without a SSN or ITIN
Some banks and credit unions are willing to accept other forms of identification rather than an SSN or ITIN. For example, they might use:
• A passport number and documentation of the country that issued it.
• An alien identification card number.
• Another ID number issued by the government.
It can be a wise move to check in with a financial institution and see what their requirements are. By doing this, a person can likely identify the right spot to open a bank account as a foreigner, using the forms of identification that are accessible.
Can Undocumented Immigrants Open a Bank Account?
What if an individual is an undocumented immigrant who wants to open a bank account? There are financial institutions which will accept a person as a client without a Social Security number or ITIN.
Here is the documentation that will likely be needed:
• Proof of name and date of birth. Acceptable documentation might be an unexpired passport, a domestic or foreign government-issued driver’s license, a birth certificate, or consular ID.
• Proof of address. This might mean showing a driver’s license, a lease, or utility bill.
• An identification number. Assuming a person doesn’t have an SSN or ITIN, an alien identification card number could be sufficient, or else a government-issued document (like a passport or foreign driver’s license) that proves one’s nationality or residence.
There could be other requirements, depending on the financial institution where an account is sought. However, the answer to “Can a non-U.S. citizen open a bank account?” (including those who are undocumented) is likely to be yes.
Benefits of Opening a Bank Account
Opening a bank account can be a vital step in establishing and maintaining one’s day-to-day financial life in the U.S. Here are some of the benefits. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or FDIC, lists numerous reasons why opening a bank account PDF File can be beneficial:
• Safety: A bank account can keep money safe, and not only from theft. FDIC insurance keeps money secure even if a bank fails, though that is a very rare occurrence.
• Convenience: A paycheck can be seamlessly direct-deposited into an account, eliminating the possibility of a lost or stolen paper check. Bills can easily be paid from a bank account, and, with a debit card (provided by many accounts), a person can easily swipe to pay for goods and services. With a bank account, it’s also possible to transfer money via P2P apps (or peer-to-peer apps), like Venmo and PayPal.
• Accountability: With a bank account, an individual can track balances and transactions made and have a record of everything. They can set up alerts to stay informed about funds coming in and flowing out, as well as low balances. In addition, they can benefit from other services that the financial institution offers.
Depending on a person’s situation, they may want to open an individual account solo or bank with another person, which will provide some joint bank account benefits. In either case, if an individual is a new owner of a checking account, it’s important to learn how to balance bank accounts and keep on top of cash flow to avoid overdraft fees and the like.
Alternative Accounts for Non-US Citizens
What if a person is not a citizen and wants to open a bank account, but doesn’t have or can’t get one of the standard accounts? Here are some options:
• They can see if a bank in their home country has a relationship with a bank in America. If a financial institution does have this kind of connection, it might pave the way to open an account at a U.S. bank.
• A person might investigate an offshore account, which would be neither in their home country nor in the U.S. These accounts can have high minimum deposit and other requirements, but may suit some individuals.
• Another route may be to open an account with a financial services company which will allow wages to be received and funds to be moved. Services such as Majority and Wise may provide options, though this may not deliver all the benefits sought from an online or traditional bank.
Many banks allow non-U.S. citizens to enjoy the convenience and security of a checking or savings account. However, extra steps are likely involved when it comes to providing forms of ID. An ITIN can be helpful when opening a bank account as a non-U.S. citizen. This form of identification can be worthwhile in getting one’s financial life up and running in America.
SoFi online banking does not accept ITINs at this time, but for those with other required forms of ID, it can offer the right combination of a competitive annual percentage yield (APY) and no account fees. Together, these can help money on deposit grow even faster. And with our Savings and Checking account, spending and saving happen in one convenient place.
Can a non-resident open a bank account in the US?
The answer to “Can an immigrant open a bank account?” is often yes. Opening a bank account in the U.S. as a foreigner comes with added steps: Those who don’t qualify for an SSN, or Social Security number, must identify themselves in another way, such as with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, that is acceptable to the financial institution.
How do I open a non-resident bank account?
It’s wise to check with a financial institution of choice to see whether they offer accounts to non-citizens and their specific policies on how a non-resident can open a bank account in the U.S. Ask what forms of ID are needed; many banks will likely require an ITIN or an alternative document.
What identification is needed to open a bank account in the US?
Although specifics may vary by financial institution, in general, a bank will ask for contact information along with a document (say, a recent utility bill) that confirms the applicant’s address; two forms of a government-issued ID; Social Security number; and a minimum opening deposit. If someone isn’t eligible for a Social Security number, an ITIN may be an acceptable alternative. It may be possible to open an account with neither an SSN nor an ITIN; check with financial institutions under consideration for details.
Photo credit: iStock/Nuthawut Somsuk
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