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Opening a U.S. Bank Account as an Immigrant

Opening a U.S. bank account as an immigrant is one of the most important steps for establishing a foothold in the country. The U.S. is a fairly easy country to open a bank account in as a non-citizen. However, there are a few extra and alternative steps you need to take.

The Patriot Act stipulates that banks must check the identity of anyone attempting to open a bank account. This applies to everyone equally, but as a recent immigrant, one faces the obvious challenge of possessing the right kind of ID. For non-citizen residents, this is fairly easy. But if you are not yet a resident, there are additional challenges.

Let’s go over the specifics. But don’t worry, it’s not that difficult!

Basic Requirements for Opening a U.S. Bank Account

The requirements for opening an account with a bank or other financial institution are:

  • Being at least 18 years old
  • Contact information (phone number)
  • Address
  • Two forms of government-issued ID
  • Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Piece of mail sent to your address (utility bills, etc.)
  • A small cash deposit

So, you will need a U.S. phone number for starters. Government-issued ID is normally simple. A driver’s license, passport, or other ID will suffice.

As a non-citizen without an SSN, you will need an ITIN.

How to Acquire an ITIN

You can get an ITIN assigned to you by filing a Form W-7 Application with your federal income tax return. This legally makes you a taxpayer in the U.S.

Keep in mind that some banks will not accept an ITIN in place of an SSN. Check with the bank in question to make sure you can meet their requirements.

For more details on getting an ITIN, read this IRS guide.

What if I Don’t Have an Address?

There’s no possibility of opening a bank account without listing an address.

You don’t need to be a U.S. resident to have a usable address in the country. You don’t need to have a house or apartment to be able to fill in the line beside “Address.”

One way around this is to open a virtual address with a commercial mail receiving agency (CMRA).

Most banks will accept the above. The requirement they must fulfill is that you possess a mailing address, so if you can receive mail, it will suffice. However, keep in mind that not all banks (or other institutions) will accept a CMRA address. Banks that do not will state the fact.

Check the specific requirements of the banks you are considering opening an account with.

Obtaining Valid ID

This one should be the easiest part, even if you currently don’t have an American Government-issued ID.

Most banks will accept a foreign passport, with or without a visa. Some other forms of foreign national identification are normally accepted:

  • Canadian citizenship certificate card
  • Consular ID from:
    • Columbia
    • Dominican Republic
    • Mexico
    • Guatemala
  • Foreign or international driver’s license
  • US work ID
  • Debit or credit card issued by Visa or Mastercard

There are several other possibilities as well. If you want to be safe, find as many forms of government-issued IDs as you can.

The Lowdown

The U.S. is a relatively open country to foreigners when it comes to activities such as opening bank accounts, or even corporations. As an immigrant, it may be a bit more difficult and take more time to open one. However, it’s normally a smooth and fast process with benefits that justify the extra steps.

The key is to ensure that you have everything the bank you want to apply to requires. Different banks are free to set their own requirements, including specific ID requirements. You can save yourself a lot of time by matching with the bank that provides you with the services you need and accepts the documentation that you are able to submit.

About the author:

Jemima Owen-Jones

Jemima helps international startups and their teams navigate the work visa process so they can get approved fast and focus on what they do best.