It’s time to set up a U.S. bank account! Here’s how to do it.

by Su Hsiang Yu | In Financial Empowerment, Immigration Assistance and Information | 8 July 2019 | Updated on: March 24th, 2021

If you are an international student in the U.S., opening a bank account is probably on your checklist. But, with several personal accounts to choose from, which one should you go with? Let’s walk you through everything you might need to know. Read on!


Q1: How to choose a bank?

1.Compare the special offers for international students across all banks

It’s always worth comparing the services and special offers for international students from different banks before deciding where to open a bank account. Find out which bank has the best options and provides the most suitable services for your needs, such as overseas wire transfers, foreign currency conversion, etc.. Moreover, watch out for added fees when comparing different offers. For example, monthly maintenance fees, overdraft fees, and a fee for not meeting a minimum balance requirement are all common in the U.S. Be sure to compare all these things across all banks before you made your decision.

2. Reach out to your school’s international student service office

As an international student, it’s worth reaching out to your school’s international student service office to find out if there is a specific bank your school is affiliated with or recommends. They’ll probably suggest a bank that has a branch close to your campus, so you can save a lot of time commuting to find an ATM, withdraw money, or talk to a representative.


Q2. What type of bank accounts should I open?

There are two types of bank accounts that international students normally open:

1. Checking Accounts: Having a checking account allows you to keep your money safe and withdraw it at an ATM whenever you want. The account also provides you with checks if you want to pay bills with them. If you have a checking account, you’ll get a debit card, which can be used instead of a credit card and is mostly accepted everywhere(restaurants, groceries, etc.). The debit card pays directly from your bank account, but you may not have protection for it if it’s stolen or lost and someone else uses it.

2. Savings Accounts: The benefit of having a savings account is that you can earn interest on the money in it. So, most international students open savings accounts alongside a checking account. However, remember to research the minimum balance requirements for a savings account, since the service fees and regulations may vary from bank to bank. 


Q3. What documents should I bring to the bank to open an account?

Before heading to the bank, remember to bring all the following documents with you:

  • Valid passport
  • Proof of U.S. home address (e.g., apartment leasing agreement or bills) 
  • I-20 form if you have an F-1 or M-1 visa, or DS-2019 if you have a J-1or J-2 visa 
  • I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (You can retrieve it online
  • Any secondary form of identification (e.g., student ID card, foreign driver’s license,credit card, etc.) 
  • The money you want to deposit in your account (some banks may require a minimum deposit for opening a new account) 

Bear in mind, all these requirements may be slightly different across banks, so make sure you know what your bank requires beforehand. And, good news: a social security number is not required for international students to open a bank account!

It is smart to understand and compare all services and offers across banks before choosing where to open an account. Use tips from MPOWER, don’t be blind to the freebies when researching, and choose wisely based on your needs and accessibilities. Enjoy your new life in the U.S. and good luck with your banking!

So, now you know everything about how to open a bank account in the U.S. Read this to find out how to save money in the U.S. so you can add money to your account.


Author: View all post by Su Hsiang Yu

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