How to Open Up a Bank Account in the US

As an international student studying in the United States, having a US bank account will make managing your finances significantly easier. With a US bank account, you can deposit your financial aid awards, loans, and stipends—all of which are typically paid by check—as well as money from home.

Why Have a U.S. Bank Account

With a bank account, you can pay all of your bills by check, and manage your bill payments online. In addition, many banks issue debit cards with a MasterCard or Visa emblem, which enables you to use the card to make purchases anywhere that accepts credit cards.

Types of Bank Accounts

There are two main types of bank accounts in the US. They are:

Checking Accounts

These allow you to frequently deposit and withdraw money. They are a great way to pay your monthly bills. When you open a checking account, it usually comes with a checkbook and a bank card. There are usually minimum monthly balances and service fees, and these vary depending on the type of account you open. Most international students only need a checking account, which they use for managing living expenses while at school

Savings Accounts

These are for long term deposits for accruing interest. The interests, minimum balances, and service fees will vary from bank to bank. As an international student, you will probably not need a savings account.

How to Choose a Bank

Ask your school’s international student office or check their website to find out if your school has a relationship with a specific bank to which they refer their international students. If a bank is used to working with international students, the process of opening a bank account will run much more smoothly for you. You might also try to find a bank with a branch close to your campus.

You will want to compare services and costs of several different banks before choosing one at which to open a bank account. Find out whether the bank offers interest on checking accounts, what the interest rate is for savings accounts, and whether the account offers overdraft protection. You will also want to find out how long it will take to “clear” a check, meaning how long from the time you deposit a check in your account until you are allowed to withdraw the funds. Generally, wired funds are available immediately, but the hold on checks (local, out of state, and foreign) varies by state and by bank, and can be several days to a week or even longer.

How to Open a Bank Account

Although many banks advertise that you can open an account over the phone or online, you should plan to open an account in person. As an international student, you do not fit neatly into any category set by US banks, and it will be easier to deal with any complications in person. In addition, it’s always useful to establish a face to face relationship if you require additional services. When you go to the bank to open a bank account, you will need to bring:

  • Your full name, home address, home telephone number, your campus telephone number, and your college address (Letterhead showing the local address – i.e. utility bills or apartment contract)
  • Unexpired passport
  • I-94 card
  • I-20, DS-2019 or I-797 approval notice
  • Any secondary form of identification (such as: your passport, your Student ID card, birth certificate, state driver’s license, or a letter from the International Students and Scholars Office)
  • Enrollment verification letter from your school

You will also need the funds you want to deposit and open the account with. Every bank has slightly different requirements, so make sure you ask beforehand so you don’t forget something you need.

Watch videos and learn more with our International Financial Aid Resources center

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