Opening a US Bank Account as an Immigrant: Key Questions to Ask Yourself
Banking Basics Living Abroad

Opening a US Bank Account as an Immigrant: Key Questions to Ask Yourself

Naina Raturi

Table of Contents

As a new immigrant to the United States, one of the first items on your to-do list will be to open a bank account. Here’s how you can do that.

Financial institutions (FI) can intimidate a lot of people. Not only do they manage your hard-earned money, but they can make you jump through several hoops in order to first prove your eligibility to them. But it’s important to remember that almost everyone goes through this nerve-racking process while opening a bank account. One way to better prepare yourself for the experience is to do your own research and ask the right questions. What are the right questions, though? This article goes over some questions that will help you understand the process of opening a US bank account as an immigrant (or non-resident). Let’s get started.

Do I Need a US Bank Account?

This must be the first question to ask yourself, and the answer is a resounding YES! You will have numerous transactions to make and using your home country’s bank account can prove costly. You may also run into other issues like non-acceptance of cards and other payment modes if you stick to your old debit and credit cards. Opening a US bank account can be a cakewalk if you know the procedures and have all the necessary documents ready.

Can I Open a US  Bank Account Even Before Moving There?

Wondering if you can open a bank account from overseas? Renowned US banks will open an account for you only after you arrive in the US, and that too after several visits to the bank. You need to be present there and it takes a lot of time.
However, with Zolve, you have the opportunity to open a US bank account even before you leave India. It is a simple online process that takes a few hours and minimum documentation. And it can be done from your phone. Read more about how Zolve can help you arrive in the US as a financially empowered immigrant.

What Type of Bank Account Should I Opt For?

There are six major options available (you can go over them in our post on the Types of Bank Accounts in the US). Once you familiarize yourself with the different types of bank accounts in the US, you will realize this: An immigrant opening their first account will usually have to choose between a Checking Account and a Savings Account.

If you foresee yourself making a number of daily transactions, you should go for a Checking Account, which allows any number of deposits, withdrawals, or online payments, as often as you require it. Remember the interest rate for a checking account is zero (or close to it).

If you require a higher interest rate on deposits, then a Savings Account is the way to go. Keep in mind, though, that the number of withdrawals through check or debit card for a savings account is usually limited to six.

You could open one of each as well, if you want. You can explore other options later, depending on your requirements and any additional features you may want.

What are the Features Required in My Bank Account?

Each bank offers a list of features that is meant to be unique to them. Your job is to match your requirements to the bank’s offerings! Take some time to understand each of them and figure out which ones are a must-have for you. Here are some commonly mentioned features:

FDIC Insured

If an FDIC-insured bank fails, your deposit up to $250,000 is insured. In the case of credit unions, they should be NCUA (similar to FDIC but for credit unions specifically) insured.

Access to ATM Services

In today’s cashless world, this might not be a major requirement but it is always beneficial to have an ATM nearby. If it’s not present, then there should be enough free transactions through other banks’ ATMs.

Interest Rates

This would generally not matter in case of checking accounts as their rate is very low, but interest rate is a necessary consideration for a savings account.

Online Banking

Mostly available with all the banks as an essential feature.

Monthly Service Fee

This fee can vary anywhere from $6 to $50. It depends on the bank and the type of account you are opening. Most banks waive this fee for students, so make sure you ask  for a waiver if you are a student.

Minimum Required Balance

This also depends on the bank and the type of account. There are options of zero minimum balance accounts for students, but this can also be as high as $5,000.

Overdraft Protection

If your bank account does not have sufficient funds and you try a transaction that causes the balance to fall below zero, then with overdraft protection the bank does not decline the transaction and instead triggers an overdraft fee. To avoid this fee, you can connect your other bank accounts, from which the scarce amount can be deducted by paying a transfer fee.

Number of Allowed Withdrawals

This matters when you are opting for a savings account. Generally, savings accounts allow for six withdrawals per month through a check or a debit card.

Other Benefits and Perks

Are they offering a sign-up bonus, a free sim card, or a card lock / unlock option? Go ahead and inquire about perks. No one dislikes a free lunch!

What Documents Will I Require to Open a Bank Account?

The bank will ask for your personal details: your name, date of birth, mailing address, and photo identification. To prove these details, you will have to submit supporting identification documents. This list might vary from bank to bank, but these are the mandatory documents that every immigrant applicant will be asked to provide:

  • Passport
  • Another proof of identity (such as a driver’s license)
  • VISA document
  • US mailing address for getting a debit card
  • Initial deposit amount (there are minimum deposit requirements in certain banks that you will have to adhere to)

If you are a student, you will need to provide these extra documents as well:

  • I-94 or I-20, if you are an international student
  • Letter of Enrollment from the university or your Student ID card

Can I Open an Account without an SSN?

The SSN, or Social Security Number, will undoubtedly become an important part of your life in the US. All in good time. However, there is no legal requirement for an SSN to open a bank account. Many people tend to get confused and stressed about this particular aspect. Some banks might ask for it, but most do not require it. Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) checklist of the commonly required documents for opening a bank account. You can open a bank account without SSN through Zolve.

How Do I Apply for the Bank Account?

After zeroing in on the bank and arranging all the necessary documents, you can apply online or visit the nearest branch to fill out the application form. This process will take a few minutes. As you open a bank account, you can expect a debit card and online banking privileges along with a host of other benefits. Remember that every bank requires you to have a minimum deposit in your account. The amount varies, and can be as low as $10 or as high as $100.

Now, you can deposit the amount and start using your bank account. Do read all the guidelines and understand all the different types of fees that are applicable to your account, and adhere to those. Opening an account is the first step of your American financial journey, and managing it well to meet your financial goals is of utmost importance. Budgeting and monitoring your expenses regularly will go a long way in securing your financial future.

You’re Now Ready to Open Your Bank Account!

Opening a bank account today is not difficult - as long as you are aware of the process, know your needs, and have all the necessary documentation. As you take a step towards your financial awareness, this quote from Robert T. Kiyosaki, the author of the famous book Rich Dad Poor Dad, is relevant: “Financial freedom is available to those who learn about it and work for it.” Cheers to learning!

Follow this space for more posts like this. We hope they will help make your life more comfortable in the US.

Read More About the US Banking System

Understanding Banking Terms in the United States

Types of Bank Accounts in the US: A Complete Guide