The convenience, security and safety of a checking or savings account is a privilege that many Americans take for granted. But what about those who aren’t U.S. citizens? Can they open an account at a bank or credit union?
The short answer: Generally, yes. According to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is perfectly legal for a business to enter into a contract with a person who isn’t a U.S. citizen. But be prepared for a few hiccups along the way if you don’t have a Social Security number, which also makes it tough to get a credit card, too.
So what are your options if you want to open a bank account in the U.S.?
Go directly through a bank (the easiest method)
There are dozens of checking accounts available through banks, including some online banks, but each has its own rules and requirements. In most cases, you will be asked for a Social Security number, but some banks might also accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. You will probably have to provide a legal form of identification (a state ID or passport should work) and proof of residence, such as a utility bill with your address. If you anticipate problems with documentation, it’s best to pick a bank with local branches and go there to set up your account in person. And when choosing a bank, remember that larger banks will have more branches, which means easier, and cheaper, access to your money.
If you own a business, your business could be the easiest way to establish a relationship with a bank. Most banks are concerned with documentation because they want to make sure you’re a reliable customer, but if you own a business, what could make you seem more reliable than trusting the bank with your business’s money? You can choose from one of the many business checking accounts, and as long as your business is registered with the federal government, you’ll be able to open an account. Banks will ask for your Employee Identification Number, which is given to a business by the IRS, or a government-issued business license.
Try a credit union
Credit unions are usually cheaper than banks because they are not-for-profit organizations, and there are many options. Because of their not-for-profit status, credit unions also often have the best interest rates.
However, credit unions are generally small chains, so free access to your money is often limited to local branch locations. If you anticipate a lot of travel in the U.S., you can still access your credit union account through other banks, but be prepared to pay for the privilege via fees.
Just like with banks, going to the credit union is the easiest path to opening an account.
Use a bank with foreign branches
In today’s globalized economy, many banks have become multinational — and those banks are likely to have branches both inside and outside the U.S.
If you open an account with a large bank outside the U.S., it’ll help you become established with that bank and it will also address their concerns about your reliability. This can be especially useful for foreign businessmen traveling to the U.S. Your bank’s customer service department can help you open an additional account inside the U.S. Also, you can walk into any of your bank’s branches with your foreign account information and get assistance there.
Banking in the U.S. via Shutterstock.