The Best Bank Accounts for International Students: Banks in the US & the 4 Best Online Banks

Nov 14, 2022
Affiliate disclosure

As a foreign national studying abroad, a bank account will enable you to save some cash, spend with a card, get paychecks from part-time jobs, and receive money from family back home.

With a government-issued student visa and proof of residency, you will have many options at your disposal. If you are studying in the United States, then you will be able to open a basic checking account with an American big bank, a fully-digital account with an online US neobank, or an account with a versatile banking app.

In this guide, we explain what international bank accounts are and how to open one as an international student. Then, we show you your legacy bank options and recommend the best online bank alternatives. Let's dive in!

recommendation icon

The Best Bank Account for International Students in the US, the UK, and 8 Others:

Wise Multi-Currency Account: Get your personal US checking account backed by FDIC-insured banks for zero monthly fees or minimum balance. Receive paychecks, make domestic transfers, and spend with a contactless debit card. No proof of US residency or social security number is required to sign up.

If you are an international student in the United Kingdom, Eurozone, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Turkey, Romania, or Hungary, then the Wise Multi-Currency Account will even give you local bank account details for those countries too.

What is an International Bank Account?

Miquel Parera on Unsplash

International bank accounts are marked by a specific IBAN (international banking account number). International bank accounts have become standard in the European Union so that EU citizens can send money across borders with their shared currency: the Euro.

Since countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom run on their own currency, international bank accounts with IBAN numbers do not exist. Banks in these countries recognize the IBAN system when processing your international transfers (which is expensive for you, by the way). But they have their own systems for domestic transactions: US account numbers, Canadian transit numbers, and UK sort codes

As an international student and resident of a new country, your financial activities will be much smoother if you open an account with local bank details (a US account if studying in the United States, a UK account if in the United Kingdom, etc).

How Bank Accounts for International Students Work

Sometimes called offshore accounts, international bank accounts help foreign nationals who are not citizens of the country where they reside to get access to financial services.

In this sense, they work no different than any other bank. As a student, you will get access to direct deposits, ATM cash withdrawals, and debit card usage.

Some offer debt instruments as well, such as overdraft facilities and credit cards. Some international bank accounts also offer investment platforms, but student checking accounts won’t be able to access these kinds of services (unless you are a taxpayer).

Is it Legal to Have an International Bank Account?

Yes, you are legally allowed to open a bank account as an international student in your new country of residence. In fact, countries welcome this because your inward cash flows support their economy. 

If you’d like to open an international bank account to make investments in stocks, then that is a different question. To purchase stocks on the US stock exchange, for example, you will need to register as a US taxpayer and find an investment broker.

Types of Bank Accounts for International Students

In the United States, the United Kingdom, and most other countries, there are two main types of accounts for university students:

  • Checking Account: This account should be used to manage your cash flow. It is connected to a debit or credit card for daily spending. If you have a part-time job, your employer can send your paycheck here.
  • Savings Account: This account is used to earn interest on your untouched balances. The more money you have in here, the more interest you accrue.

    Since interest rates are very high as of 2022 in the United States, it’s not uncommon to earn annual interest of 1% or higher. (At 1% APY, for example, the bank will give you $10 at the end of the year if you manage to keep $1,000 in this account without touching it.)

Reasons International Students Need Bank Accounts

The most important financial reason why you need a bank account as an international student is to pay expenses like tuition, room and board, and living costs in the local currency.

To pay tuition, you have the option to send an international wire transfer from your home bank to your university abroad. This process will be slow, cost you high fixed fees, and cost you more in the form of poor exchange rates

Using a bank account instead of handling daily purchases in cash adds a strong layer of safety as well.

How to Open an International Bank Account as a College Student

The ease of opening a bank account as an international student will depend on the financial institution you choose. Traditional high street banks that offer online banking can be good options while those with in-person processes can be a hassle. These banks have the highest opening requirements. 

Online neobanks in the United States and in the United Kingdom are highly recommended alternatives. Electronic money institutions are often the easiest to open but are not licensed banks. We discuss their account opening requirements in the next sections.

If you are a non-resident in the United States but you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), then you may qualify for a student credit card even without a credit history.

How To Open a Checking Account With American Big Banks as an International Student:

  • Step 01

    Compare Your Options

    Compare the financial services and check if your desired bank will accept your specific student visa:

    • F1 Visa (academic studies);
    • J1 Visa (practical training);
    • M1 Visa (vocational studies).
  • Step 02

    Prepare the Following Documents

    Show these requirements at sign up:

    1. Your passport;
    2. I-20 form (your Certificate of Eligibility to enter the US);
    3. Student Visa;
    4. I-94 form (your status document once inside the US);
    5. Proof of enrollment document (acceptance letter);
    6. Proof of US address (Utility bill, recent government-issued document).

    Others may require the following:

    1. Credit history report;
    2. Proof of funds for a minimum deposit.
  • Final step

    Sign Up in Person or Online

    In-person banking is ideal if you'd like to take out a mortgage or a loan in the future since your banker can offer personalized advice.

    If you are studying abroad for a set number of years, online banking is much more convenient and reliable 24/7. This is also why we highly recommend authorized neobanks.

How to Choose the Best Bank Account as an International College Student

Gilles Lambert on Unsplash Mobile smartphone touchscreen

Consider these factors when browsing the following list of banks and student checking accounts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and around the world:

  • Online banking facility: It is essential in today's digital age to be able to access and use your money 24/7 from your desktop or smartphone. Integration with online budgeting and money management tools is also a plus.
  • ATM charges: Banks generally charge fees when you withdraw cash. Some waive fees if you withdraw from their machines so it can help to open an account with a bank with a large ATM network.
  • Overdraft protection: This allows you to make a payment even if you don’t have enough money in your checking account. Money will either be taken out of your savings account or the bank will issue you a line of credit. They often charge fees of up to $35 for the service. You should try to avoid over-drafting because it affects your creditworthiness.
  • Monthly service fees: Banks charge monthly maintenance fees between US$6 and $50 per month. Banks often waive these fees for student checking accounts but activate them once you graduate, so keep this in mind before opening an account.

What is the Minimum Balance for a Checking Account as an International Student?

Minimum balances for checking accounts vary from bank to bank. Your typical minimum balance for a checking account in the United States is $25. If your balance dips below the minimum, your bank may charge you a small fee.

Banks also reward customers for keeping their ledgers above a certain minimum. For example, monthly maintenance fees may be waived if you hold over a few thousand dollars in your checking account. See your bank for their specific criteria.

Big American Banks for International Students in the USA

Etienne Martin on Unsplash

For those studying in the United States, check out the student offerings by each of the largest banks in the country.

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Santander, and PNC have minimum deposit requirements. All of the following waive monthly fees until graduation:

Best Overall Checking Account for International Students — Wise

Wise Wise multi currency account platforms online

The Wise Multi-Currency Account is hands down the best bank account for international students, specifically for those who are studying abroad in any of the following 10 countries/regions: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Eurozone, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Turkey, Romania, and Hungary.

Local Account Details in 10 Countries

This is because the Wise Multi-Currency Account, which is free to open and charges zero monthly fees, gives you local bank account details in those 10 countries, unique to you. You do not need a social security number. In fact, you do not even need proof of US residence to open an account.

If you are an international student in the US, for example, the Wise Multi-Currency Account will allow you to make local ACH transfers with your account number, receive direct deposits from US employers, and use a contactless debit card.

Cheap International Money Transfers

Wise, which is also well-known for its cheap international money transfers, integrates its technology into the app. So if you need funds from friends and family back home, you can send money internationally to the United States at the mid-market exchange rate and manage over 50 foreign currency balances from your desktop or smartphone.

To get the most bang for your buck from friends and family abroad, you will want the most efficient international money transfer service possible. Compare Wise to money transfer specialists worldwide with Monito's real-time comparison engine.

Best Account for International Calling for International Students in the USA — Majority

Monito Majority Bank Review for migrants

Called the "All-In-One Mobile Banking For Migrants", Majority has a suite of international features (e.g. international calling, international money transfers, exclusive discounts with stores, etc.) for US residents without an SSN or ITIN. We found it to be a good option for international students studying at university in the United States.

Airtime Tool and Free International Calling

The app comes with a US checking account, a debit card, and a network of fee-free ATMs in the US. It also has a handy airtime feature for you to top up the mobile data and minutes for friends and family back home. Free calls to the UK, Canada, Mexico, and 20 other countries come built into the smartphone app, making this an excellent option for international students.

The app also has an international money transfer feature, but Majority is not transparent about their exchange rates. If you want to send money to your Majority account from overseas, then compare the cheapest international money transfer services first.

Majority does not offer interest on savings, loans, joint accounts, or a multi-currency functionality.

Best Online Bank for International Students in the UK — Starling Bank

Starling Bank is one of the best online banks in the United Kingdom that is not only fully licensed by the UK authorities but is also open to international students. For zero monthly fees, Starling Bank comes complete with a checking account, desktop and mobile banking, a debit card, and a humble interest rate of 0.05% on your balances.

Ideal for International Students Between the United Kingdom and Europe

The debit card charges no international card transaction fees, which means you can keep spending with it while away from the UK. Its smart tools for budgeting and money management are some of the best in the UK as well.

You can open a Euro account with Starling Bank to get your own IBAN in the UK. It’s free to hold, send and receive euros, and there are no monthly fees associated with the account.

Present your passport, university acceptance letter, and student housing address during sign-up. You will need a smartphone to download the app too.

Offers the Most Financial Services to International Students — Revolut

Who is Revolut Business for?

Revolut is an impressive smartphone finance app that gives you access to travel insurance, exclusive discounts, multi-currency functionality, and savings management.

Revolut's offerings change depending on your nationality. If you are an EU citizen, then Revolut would be an excellent option for international students in the UK. This is because the Standard Revolut account gives you a European IBAN and a UK sort code for all your checking account needs.

A Powerful Supplement to a Main Checking Account

If you are a UK citizen or US citizen, on the other hand, then Revolut will work as a nice supplemental finance app to your main current account. Revolut does not offer international bank account details to these nationalities. Check Revolut's website for your country to see their specific services.

Like Wise and Majority, Revolut also offers a tool for international money transfers in their app. Their fees and exchange rates are often very competitive. To make sure you are getting the best deal, compare rates with Monito's real-time comparison engine.

Recap: Best Banks and Checking Accounts for International Students

  1. Wise: Best overall US banking app without an SSN or US residency.
  2. Majority: Best US banking app for students calling internationally.
  3. Starling Bank: Best bank for international students in the UK.
  4. Revolut: Best fintech app for international financial services.

Frequently Asked Questions About International Student Online Banks and Checking Accounts

International Bank Accounts in the US vs Other Countries

Many countries allow non-residents to open a bank account within their legal jurisdictions, but exactly what kind of requirements non-residents face can differ drastically from country to country and even bank to bank. See the list below to get a better idea of this:


Which non-residents can open an account?

🇬🇧 United Kingdom

Parties with close ties, expats, immigrants, investors, students

🇮🇪 Ireland

Any interested party

🇩🇪 Germany

Parties with close ties

🇫🇷 France

Parties with close ties, investors, students

🇮🇹 Italy

Parties with close ties, Investors

🇨🇭 Switzerland

Investors only

🇪🇸 Spain

Parties with close ties, investors, students

🇵🇹 Portugal

Parties with close ties, investors, expats, students

🇳🇱 Netherlands

Parties with close ties, investors

🇩🇰 Denmark

Parties with close ties, investors

🇳🇴 Norway

Parties with close ties, investors

🇸🇪 Sweden

Parties with close ties, investors

🇦🇹 Austria

Parties with close ties, investors

🇬🇷 Greece

Parties with close ties, investors

🇭🇺 Hungary

Any interested party

🇱🇺 Luxembourg

Parties with close ties, investors

🇱🇮 Liechtenstein

Investors only

🇬🇮 Gibraltar

Investors only

🇮🇲 Isle of Man

Parties with close ties, investors, expats

🇯🇪 Jersey

Parties with close ties, investors, expats

Last updated: 23/2/2022

Life Abroad Guides & Online International Banks Tips For Non-Residents and International Students

Why Trust Monito?

You’re probably all too familiar with the often outrageous cost of sending money abroad. After facing this frustration themselves back in 2013, co-founders François, Laurent, and Pascal launched a real-time comparison engine to compare the best money transfer services across the globe. Today, Monito’s award-winning comparisons, reviews, and guides are trusted by around 8 million people each year and our recommendations are backed by millions of pricing data points and dozens of expert tests — all allowing you to make the savviest decisions with confidence.

Learn More About Monito
  • Monito is trusted by 15+ million users across the globe.

  • Monito's experts spend hours researching and testing services so that you don't have to.

  • Our recommendations are always unbiased and independent.

Global Impact Finance Ltd
Rue du Pont 22
1003 Lausanne

Affiliate Disclosure
Instead of banner ads and paywalls, Monito makes money through affiliate links to the various payment service providers featured on our website. While we work hard to scout the market for the best deals, we're unable to consider every possible product available to you. Our extensive range of trusted affiliate partners enables us to make detailed, unbiased, and solution-driven recommendations for all types of consumer questions and problems. This allows us to match our users with the right providers to suit their needs and, in doing so, match our providers with new customers, creating a win-win for everybody involved. However, while some links on Monito may indeed earn us a commission, this fact never impacts the independence and integrity of our opinions, recommendations, and evaluations.