Banking

How To Open a Bank Account if You’re Not a US Citizen

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A non-U.S. citizen can open a bank account in the U.S., it just takes a little bit of elbow grease and hoop-hopping to make it happen.

While no one likes headaches, there are many advantages to maintaining a bank account. If you have a bank or credit union account, you can cash checks without fees, build an emergency fund with a good interest rate, keep your money safe and more.

Below is a guide for any noncitizen hoping to open a bank account in the U.S.

What is required to open a bank account?

To start, financial institutions want to know one big thing: Are you who you say you are? You can prove you’re you by providing the bank or credit union with several pieces of information, ranging from your address to a phone number. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll need:

  • Contact information: Your name, date of birth, email if you have one and phone number.
  • Government-issued ID: If you have a foreign country’s driver’s license or other ID, you’ll want to provide it. You can also use an unexpired passport.
  • Identification number: You must provide a Social Security number if you have one. Other accepted forms of identification numbers include Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or an alien registration number.
  • Proof of address: You’ll need to hand over something that proves your residential address, like a utility bill.
  • Initial deposit: Depending on the bank or credit union, you might be asked to make an initial deposit to open an account.

Once you have these documents handy, you can begin the process of opening an account. The guidelines for opening an account vary by financial institution, but for the most part, if you’re a noncitizen opening a bank account, you’ll have to visit the bank or credit union in person. That means online banks likely aren’t an option.

Can I open a bank account without a SSN?

You can still get a bank account without a Social Security number, but you’ll likely need an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). The ITIN is a number issued by the IRS so that non-U.S. citizens or resident aliens can pay taxes.

How to get an ITIN

The process for getting an ITIN is fairly straightforward. Like anything government related, you’re going to need to fill out some paperwork. Here’s what you’ll be looking at:

  1. Fill out a W-7 form from the IRS
  2. Complete your tax return
  3. Collect documents that prove your identity as we cited above
  4. Mail all of these forms and documents to the IRS. You can also bring the forms to an IRS-approved location and apply in-person.

Once you submit your paperwork, you can expect a shiny new ITIN within seven weeks. If you’ve applied and haven’t heard anything back from the IRS after seven weeks, contact them and check on the document’s status.

Why should I open a bank account?

According to the Federal Reserve, about five percent of the nation’s population are “unbanked,” meaning they have no bank or credit union accounts. You don’t want to be among them just because you’re not a U.S. citizen.

The key here is security. Financial institutions can keep your money safe and sound. Bank accounts also just make your life a lot easier. Here are some other reasons that you should use a bank account:

  • It keeps your money safe: Once you open a savings or checking account with a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation- or National Credit Union Administration-insured institution, your money is protected. The former insures up to $250,000 per owner, per ownership type, per bank; the latter covers the same at credit unions. Before you open an account, make sure you do some research on the best savings accounts and best checking accounts available.
  • You can easily receive and spend money: Bank accounts allow you to deal with finances in a convenient way. Instead of having to cash a physical check, you can have money instantly deposited into your accounts. You can also make your life easier by setting up auto bill pay. You’ll also have access to cash via ATMs.
  • It sets you up to build wealth: A bank account is one of the first steps toward accumulating wealth. Your money will grow when stashed inside a high-yield savings account. It will not grow stuffed under your mattress. Plus, once you open an account at a financial institution, you open yourself up for eligibility to its other products, like mortgages, car loans and more.
  • You have receipts: When you pay for something using your checking account or debit card, you automatically have proof of payment via your bank statements.
  • You can track your money: Having a bank account makes it easier to create and stick to a budget. You can easily see how much money is coming in, where your money is going and more.
  • It protects you from scammers. If scammers somehow get ahold of your debit card number or bank account info, you’ll have a line of defense. Report the fraudulent transaction to your bank or credit union ASAP and you’ll get your money back.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, a foreigner can open a bank account in the U.S., it just takes some additional paperwork to make it happen. If you have a foreign government ID, passport or resident alien number from a green card, those will help. If you don’t have a Social Security number, you’ll need an ITIN.

A tourist or non-resident can open a bank account in the U.S. with the proper paperwork. While the process for opening an account varies by bank or credit union, many will accept alternative forms of I.D. to open an account.

You do not need a Social Security number to open a bank account. If you don’t have one, you’ll likely have to apply for an ITIN before getting access to an account.