5 Reasons to Open a U.S. Bank Account When Studying in America

by MPOWER Financing | In Guides and Tools | 27 December 2022 | Updated on: May 17th, 2023

Leaving your home country to attend university in the United States is a transition that requires planning. But the logistics don’t stop there. While you’re studying in the U.S., retooling how you manage your money is also necessary.

Although you might be able to access your bank account back home, or have arranged financial assistance from your family via wire transfers, doing so takes time, is inconvenient, and potentially costly.

In comparison, opening a bank account in the U.S. as an international student has numerous advantages for the short- and long-term.

5 Benefits of a U.S. Bank Account for International Students

Whether you intend on returning to your home country after graduation or working in the USA, having a U.S. bank account makes day-to-day money transactions simpler while establishing a financial foundation if you stay longer. Below are five reasons establishing a U.S. bank account as an international student is a smart move.

1. Bank accounts keep your money safe

Carrying cash or storing it in your dormitory or apartment is risky. Since cash is difficult to trace, if you lose it or it’s stolen, there’s no way to recover your money. If you’re caught in this difficult situation, and can’t access funds in a timely manner, it might affect your ability to pay for your tuition and school bills, housing, and general expenses.

A local bank account offers greater protection than carrying cash with virtually the same access. To access funds from your bank account, banks and merchants typically require a photo ID (and/or a debit or credit card) and/or personal identification number (PIN) that’s associated with the account.

2. Bank accounts offer purchasing flexibility

Not all merchants accept all types of payment. Some retailers only accept cash while others exclusively accept cashless payments. Having a local bank account while studying in the U.S. offers the convenience of multiple payment methods.

Many U.S. financial institutions have mobile banking apps that let you tap your phone for contactless payment. With a U.S. bank account, you can also easily make purchases online, or use the account’s debit card to withdraw cash from an in-network ATM.  

3. Bank accounts are convenient for receiving financial aid

If you’re receiving financial aid from a scholarship or from an international student loan, you might receive it directly or it might be disbursed to your school. Any funds that are left over are typically returned to you when studying in the U.S.

Without a local bank account, you might receive this refund as a paper check but you’ll need to cash the check at the issuing bank’s branch — which might not be nearby — or go to a check-cashing service that charges a fee. Both options require time, effort, and possibly money.

Having a U.S. bank account lets you have your financial aid surplus electronically deposited into your account. This option gives you access to the money sooner and is more convenient.

Additionally, if you’re receiving funds from abroad, accessing the money through a local bank means avoiding most international transaction fees and currency exchange fees.

4. Bank accounts make receiving a paycheck easier 

Having your paycheck automatically deposited into a domestic bank account requires a shorter processing time and fewer fees to access your earnings.

Whether you work at an on- or off-campus job, or through a paid internship, receiving your pay through a U.S. bank account is simply more straightforward.

5. Bank accoutns might be necessary for building your credit in the U.S.

If you have an opportunity to work in the United States after graduation, developing a positive credit profile while you’re studying in the U.S. can make renting, buying a car, and setting up basic utilities easier. 

Some financial tools designed to help international students build their U.S. credit require a bank account. For example, if you’re interested in applying for a secured credit card, you’re typically required to provide a deposit into a savings account. If you already have a bank account at the financial institution offering a credit card or line of credit, the application process is often easier to complete through that existing relationship.

How to Get a Bank Account While Studying in the U.S.

Opening a bank account while studying in the U.S. takes some effort, but is certainly possible. You might have to visit a bank location in person to open an account. 

As a non-U.S. citizen, you may not immediately be able to provide a Tax Identification Number (TIN) or Social Security Number. Instead, you might be required to show the following documents: 

  • An F-1 or J-1 visa
  • I-20 or DS-2019 form
  • I-94 form
  • Passport

If you’re opening a student-specific bank account, it also doesn’t hurt to have proof of enrollment for the current academic term. Each bank has its own requirements when opening a new bank account so ask a bank associate about the documents that are needed.     

What to Consider When Choosing a U.S. Bank Account

Gathering the necessary documents to open a bank account as an international student ahead of time can make the process easier. If you’re having trouble choosing which U.S. bank account to open, here are a few factors to think about:

  • Accessibility. Locate the bank branches and automated teller machines (ATMs) near your campus and your housing accommodations. Sign up for a bank account through a bank with a location that’s walkable or a short drive, for easy access.  
  • Fees. Some banks charge monthly maintenance fees for a U.S. bank account. Depending on the bank, you might be able to avoid these fees while you’re enrolled as a student. Sometimes, maintenance fees are also waived by setting up automatic monthly deposits or by keeping a minimum rolling balance in your account. Also, ask about other types of fees that can be costly, like overdraft fees, wire fees (inbound and outbound), international transfer/ACH fees, and out-of-network ATM fees.
  • Benefits and features. Compare the perks and features between different bank accounts. If being able to deposit checks into your bank account through an app is important to you, make sure the bank offers this feature. Some accounts earn interest so that you can earn money on your account balance, or gain monthly ATM fee reimbursements. 

Drawing money from a bank account that’s located in your home country can result in needless fees and delayed funding. Opening a bank account as an international student provides a level of ease for your day-to-day expenses and long-term money management. 

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