How to open a bank account in the US as a non-resident
If you’re a non-resident, but need a US bank account to hold and handle US dollars, you’ll find there are limited options from mainstream US banks.
Many banks only offer accounts to US citizens and residents, and require a US address to get started – tricky if you’re not living in the US just yet, or even if you’ve just arrived and don’t have a local proof of address document available.
This guide walks through your options from some major US banks – and some alternatives like Wise and Revolut. More on that, later.
What documents do I need?
Most old school US banks only offer accounts and services to US citizens and residents. However, there are a few account options for non-residents, such as the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Account.
Let’s take a look at the eligibility and document requirements for this account as an example. Here are the Bank of America eligibility requirements for this account:
- You must not be a US citizen or permanent resident
- You must have a physical US address
- You must be able to apply in person for an account, at a Bank of America Financial Center
When you go along to the Bank of America location, you’ll need to take along:
- Details of your non-US permanent address
- Proof of your US address – such as a utility bill in your name or a rental agreement
- One primary ID document – like a passport or national identity card
- One secondary ID document – such as a driver’s license or a credit or debit card
- Your foreign tax identification number from your home country
Once you’ve gathered all the information and documents needed you’ll be able to schedule an appointment with Bank of America to visit and get your account opened.
Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut
If you’re new to the US, or don’t have a US residence in your name, you may struggle to open an account from a mainstream US bank. However, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.
Instead of turning to a traditional bank, take a look at a modern online alternative like Wise or Revolut.
Providers like these offer accounts which can hold, send, spend and receive US dollars, alongside a range of other currencies, which can be opened using your regular ID even if the US isn’t your home just yet.
Set up your account online – options vary based on where you’re located – and upload your proof of ID. If you need a proof of address you’ll be able to use details of your non-US address easily, and the verification process is entirely done online or in the provider’s app. That means no need to schedule a bank appointment, and no need to stand in line to get started.
How to open a bank account in the US
If you have a US proof of address, and a valid government issued ID document you might be able to open a US bank account online. However, this isn’t universally available, and it does get harder to arrange if you’re a non-resident.
In most cases you’ll be asked to attend a branch in person to apply for your account and show your paperwork – you may also need to take along a minimum deposit amount depending on the account type and provider.
Can I open a bank account in the US before arrival?
You’ll probably find it hard to open an account with a traditional US bank before you are physically in the country. However, that’s not your only option.
Online specialist providers can step in to help, with accounts which can be verified online using a foreign ID and a non-resident proof of address.
Depending on the provider you pick you may still be able to receive and spend US dollars just like a local can and you may also be able to access currency exchange with the mid-market exchange rate to help you manage your money across currencies. Check out Wise and Revolut as good examples of online account providers which may suit your needs.
Which account is best in the US for foreigners?
The US has a well developed financial sector as you may expect – but for regular day to day accounts you may struggle if you’re looking at traditional banks, and you’re not a US resident.
In this case, you might be better off looking at specialist financial technology companies. These tend to be cheaper and more flexible than traditional banks, although the availability of accounts, and the features on offer may vary based on where in the world you are based.
Let’s take a look at a few examples:
|Service||Wise||Revolut||Bank of America*||HSBC International*|
|Currencies covered||50+ currencies including USD||Typically around 28 currencies including USD||USD||USD|
|Open before you arrive in the US||Yes||Yes||No||If you’re in an eligible country|
|Open online||Yes||Yes||No||Maybe possible, based on customer’s location and circumstances|
|Opening fee||No fee||No fee||Minimum opening balance 25 USD||No fee|
|Maintenance fee||No fee||Fee free standard plans are available – or customers can upgrade to accounts which have a monthly charge||4.95 USD/month – can be waived by fulfilling eligibility criteria||50 USD/month – to waive you’ll need to fulfill one of several eligibility criteria including holding a 75,000 USD minimum deposit|
|International transfers||Low fee, varies by currency||Fee varies by currency and payment value||16 USD incoming wire fee. No transfer fee for wires sent in a foreign currency – exchange rate markups are likely to apply||No transfer fee for Global transfer payments sent in a foreign currency – exchange rate markups are likely to apply|
*Bank of America account profiled – Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Account. HSBC account profiled – HSBC International Premier account. Other accounts from these providers have varied terms and conditions
Traditional US banks mainly serve people who already live in the country – non-residents are more likely to be directed to a limited range of accounts, or the bank’s own international and expat operation. That can mean you don’t have many options from traditional banks, or you need to maintain a high balance to dodge extra fees.
If you don’t have a valid US proof of address document you may be better off with an online specialist provider. Specialists often provide more flexible multi-currency accounts which are cheaper and easier to open.
Wise offers multi-currency accounts which can be used to hold, exchange, send, spend and manage 50+ currencies including USD.
Accounts are entirely digital, so you can make payments, convert currencies and check your balance right from your phone or laptop.
The exact features of a Wise account will vary a little based on where in the world you are – however, Wise accounts are available from all but a small handful of unsupported countries. And wherever you are, with Wise Multi-Currency Account you’ll get US bank details including an account and routing number, to receive local USD payments.
Customers in most countries can also get a linked Wise debit card for easy spending around the world.
Account types: In most countries, both personal and business customers can open a Wise multi-currency account with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay. You just pay a low, transparent fee for the services you use. Read Wise fees to learn more.
Eligibility: Accounts are offered in most countries around the world – you’ll need a government issued ID and in some cases a proof of address or tax number to apply. Full details of availability by location available on the Wise website.
Is it safe? Yes. Wise is also overseen by a range of global regulatory bodies around the world, and trades under its own licenses and partnerships with banking providers in the US. For more information: Is Wise Safe?
Revolut multi-currency accounts are managed primarily through the Revolut app, and offer multi-currency functionality with some fee free currency exchange, linked debit cards, as well as saving and investment products in many regions.
Exactly what’s available from Revolut will depend on where in the world you are, but you’ll always be able to get a free standard plan or choose to upgrade to pay a monthly fee and get more perks and higher fee free transaction levels.
It’s worth knowing that while Revolut does offer accounts to customers from most of Europe and a reasonable number of other large economies like Australia and Japan, the US is the only country in the Americas where it’s currently available.
Account types: Standard account plans are free or you can upgrade to a paid plan on a variety of different tiers – prices vary depending on your location.
Eligibility: Available to customers with addresses in the UK, the EEA, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and the US.
Is it safe? Yes. Revolut operates safely in the countries it serves, with oversight from a range of global bodies.
Bank of America
Bank of America has a broad range of account options, and extra services like cards, loans and overdrafts for eligible customers. Some of the accounts on offer won’t be available for non-resident customers – however, one which is available is the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Account.
This account doesn’t have a linked check book, but you will be able to manage your money in person, online or in the Bank of America app, with extra perks like payments with Zelle thrown in. You can customize elements of the account to add in cashback, or set savings goals too. There’s a monthly fee to pay, but this can be waived if you enroll in the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program.
Account types: Bank of America has a broad range of accounts on offer, including the Advantage SafeBalance Account for non-resident customers.
Eligibility: For the Advantage SafeBalance Account you’ll need a US and foreign address, 2 forms of ID and a foreign tax number.
Is it safe? Yes – Bank of America is a large and trusted bank which operates securely.
One option for US non-resident accounts is to turn to the international or expat banking division of one of the world’s huge banking giants like HSBC. Accounts from international banks like these tend to have a focus on high wealth individuals with high maintenance fees if you don’t maintain a minimum balance in the account. In this case, you’ll need around 75,000 USD to avoid the charges.
In return you’ll get a fairly flexible and often personal service, including easy online and mobile global transfers and currency exchange.
Account types: HSBC’s International accounts tend to be aimed at high wealth individuals and have high minimum balance requirements – but they can be opened by non-US residents
Eligibility: Customers must be based in an eligible country
Is it safe? Yes – HSBC International is the international and expat banking service of global finance giant HSBC, a trusted provider
What are the costs?
You won’t usually need to pay any fee to open an account in the first place – but some accounts, and particularly those targeted at expats and high wealth individuals, do have pretty hefty minimum balance and minimum deposit requirements.
It’s worth reading through the terms of different accounts carefully to make sure you don’t get hit with high fall below fees.
No matter what account type you pick, you’ll also run into transaction fees, especially for out of network withdrawals, international payments and currency conversion.
Tips for transferring money
One common transaction needed by new arrivals and people living between countries is international payments.
Unfortunately, US banks usually send transfers overseas by bank wire – which means payments are processed using the SWIFT network. SWIFT payments can be pretty slow and expensive, with several different fees to look out for.
Here are some tips to cut the costs on international wire transfer fees:
- Compare the exchange rate you’re offered against the mid-market exchange rate to see if a markup is being used
- Look carefully at the costs if you’re sending a payment overseas in USD – this is often more expensive than sending foreign currency
- Review the terms and conditions of your specific account to see the transfer fee which will apply
- Check if there are third party fees associated with the SWIFT network – these can push up the overall costs
Most traditional banks in the US only have a limited service for non-US residents, or for people who can’t prove their residency in the US. There are a few options from mainstream banks, but it’s also common for customers to be directed towards expat banking services which typically have restrictions and higher fees.
A great alternative if you’re looking for an everyday USD account as a non-resident is to look for a specialist provider like Wise or Revolut, to get an account opened and verified online, with USD banking details and a linked payment card.
- Can a foreigner open an account in the US?
Yes, foreigners can open US bank accounts. However, it’s much easier – with a better range of products available – if you have a US proof of address. If you don’t, a flexible account from a specialist provider may be a better option.
- How much do I need to open a bank account in the US?
It’s usually free to open a US bank account, but there may be a minimum initial deposit, or a minimum balance requirement to waive monthly fees. Minimum balance requirements can be fairly high if you’re looking at expat bank accounts, with hefty monthly fees if you don’t hold enough in your account.
- Can I open a US bank account online?
If you’re a non-resident you’ll probably struggle to open an account with a traditional bank online. A better alternative is probably to look at online specialists, which have fully digital onboarding and verification processes, with USD details to send and receive payments. Read our How to Open a Bank Account Online article to learn more.
- Can I open a bank account in the US before landing?
It’s hard to open a regular US bank account without a proof of address in the country – which may make it impossible to open your US bank account before you arrive. However, online and digital specialist services like Wise and Revolut may be more flexible, with accounts you can open with proof of address from your home country instead.