How to Open a Bank Account When Studying in the U.S.

by MPOWER Financing | In Guides and Tools | 14 March 2023 | Updated on: March 14th, 2023

Nearly 82% of households have bank accounts in the U.S., according to the FDIC. If you’re planning to study in the U.S. as an international student, it’s a good idea to look into opening one for yourself.

It’s important to remember that not all financial institutions offer bank accounts to international students or visitors. Keep this in mind as you explore banking opportunities in the U.S.

1. Find the right bank

The right bank account for you comes down to your needs. Evaluate different banks based on:

  • Location: Is there a branch close by campus that you can get to easily, such as by walking, riding a bike, or public transportation? Some banks are on campus and are a convenient option for students. 
  • Accessibility: Does the bank have a mobile app that lets you access your money wherever you are and wherever you need it? Can you transfer money to pay bills, like rent and utilities, all through your account? Some local banks and credit unions might have more limitations compared to global banking institutions. Make sure you have access to your money when you need it, not necessarily whenever the local bank branch is open.
  • Offers and fees: Some banks charge for wire transfers and even more for international ones – and some might charge fees for foreign currency conversion. These charges might vary based on the account you open, so if the bank you’re looking at has multiple accounts, make sure to compare within each institution as well, since some accounts might face fees that others don’t.

You can ask other international students on campus or the international student office what bank they use or suggest, in case you need some references. 

2. Choose the best account for you

There are usually two types of accounts to explore: checking and savings. Savings accounts are there to earn a little bit of interest and aren’t normally for making a lot of transactions. You might want one of these if you only have a few bills and want to keep your money safe without taking a lot of it out.

Checking accounts let you withdraw money from ATMs whenever you’d like as well as make payments with your debit card similar to how a credit card works. You can usually set up direct deposit to this account so if you have a job, your paycheck goes directly into your checking account. You can also set up autopay, which means you can automatically pay bills at the same time every month without falling behind.

Depending on where you open your account, you might face limitations for both. For instance, you might have to have a minimum amount in your account every month or you could get charged a fee. For checking accounts, you can usually avoid fees if you have direct deposit, but not every account holder has that available to them. 

3. Prepare your documents

In general, you’ll need:

  • A valid passport
  • Another form of identification, like your student ID, credit card, or a driver’s license from your country
  • Proof of U.S. home address (you’ll need a bill or legal agreement that shows your campus address or off-campus apartment or housing)
  • I-20 form or DS-2019
  • I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

Remember that all banking institutions vary slightly in their requirements. So, make sure you find out what you need before heading to a branch to open your account.

4. Open your account

Some banks are online-only, so the only way to open an account would be through the bank’s website or mobile app. Other institutions allow accounts to be opened both online and in-person. Some might require you to be in person to open your account.

Once you have all your documents and the minimum deposit required, you can open your account. You’ll be prompted along the way as you fill out your information and attach any required documents. If you’re opening your account online, you can initiate a wire transfer to move your funds to your new account, but keep in mind that international wire transfers might come with an additional fee. 

Banks that offer accounts for international students

Not all banks offer accounts to international students. But there are lots of big banks that offer accounts to those who are studying in the U.S. and need a U.S.-based bank account. Here are a few of them:

  • Bank of America: The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking account doesn’t charge monthly maintenance fees for students aged 25 and under. There are also no overdraft fees and if you have a U.S. visa, you’re eligible to open this account.
  • Wells Fargo: The Wells Fargo Everyday Checking account for students requires a US$25 opening deposit and doesn’t charge a monthly service fee as long as the student is the primary account holder.
  • PNC Bank: PNC Bank requires international students to open an account at one of the 60,000 branches nationwide. You’ll need at least two forms of identification to get started.
  • Chase Bank: You can open your account as an international student as long as you have a primary ID, a secondary ID, and proof of your college or university status (like a transcript or acceptance letter). International students need to visit a Chase branch to open an account.
  • Capital One: The Capital One 360 checking account isn’t student-specific, but is available to international students. For non-U.S. citizens, you can open one as long as you have an individual taxpayer identification number (if you don’t have a Social Security Number). If you don’t have one, ask if the bank will accept a passport number or another form of identification in its place. 

You might find other banks – both online and in person – that welcome international students as customers. Make sure you’re eligible and have all your necessary documents before signing up. Try to get this done as soon as you can, just in case there’s any delay. The bank may take some time to process your paperwork, you may be required to provide additional documentation for verification, and it may take time for your first deposit to clear your new account.

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