How To Open a US Bank Account Online as a Non-Resident

Jul 29, 2022
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Whether you’re planning to move to America or simply looking for a bank account in US dollars, you'll probably find opening a US bank account online as a non-resident to be a tricky process filled with varied requirements and lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

However, while it can be tough, it’s certainly not impossible. In this guide, we explore the main options you most likely have at your disposal to open a non-resident US bank account — no matter what your individual needs and preferences might be!

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These are our recommendations in short:

  • Without US residence: Wise Account, which gives you US checking details and a debit card to spend in 50+ currencies, including US dollars. If you want to make a large investment and don't mind paying high fees for a full checking account, then Zenus Bank is what you want.
  • With US residence: Sable, which gives you a low-fee US checking account, debit card, and a credit card and credit-builder. Packed with useful features, Sable is available to new customers even without a Social Security Number (SSN)!

In short, many people find opening a bank account in the US to be particularly difficult as a non-resident for one reason: most US banks require you to be an American citizen or resident to be able to approve your application.

That typically means you’ll need to submit a Social Security Number (SSN), an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), and proof of address in the US (although these details vary from bank to bank). You’ll also be required to submit an identity document such as a passport, driver’s license, government-issued photo ID or, where applicable, immigration documents.

All told, there are four main paths to open a US bank account for non-residents, and the best one for you will depend heavily on your needs and preferences. These paths are as follows:

  1. Big banks in the US: This path usually requires residence in the US (although it doesn't necessarily have to be a primary residence) and will require you to travel to the US to visit a bank branch and open an account in person. You'll need certain documentation, so always call ahead to see the requirements before you make the journey as it can differ from bank to bank.
  2. International US banks: This path doesn't require residence in the US or local documentation, but it typically comes with a steep initial deposit, high fees, and minimum balance requirements.
  3. Online accounts: Here, you won't necessarily need a SSN/ITIN but you will need US residence. It's the best path for US residents who want low-cost, digital banking services and who don't mind slightly less banking coverage.
  4. Wise Multi-Currency Account: This path is the easiest and cheapest way to open a bank account online in the US as a non-resident and is ideal for those wanting to open an American bank account online from abroad (as its checking accounts are held by CFSB and EVOLVE).

Let's explore each of these paths in detail below:

Path 1 — US Big Banks

Ken Teegardin (CC BY 2.0, modified)

The first and most obvious way to open a US bank account as a non-resident is to open an account with a big-name US bank. This route requires residence in the US (even if your primary residence is abroad) and sometimes (although not always) also requires a SSN/ITIN and other documentation. Banks in this category include Wells Fargo, Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, US Bank, TD Bank, Capital One, and others.

This option also involves visiting the US and opening your bank account face-to-face — therefore it usually only makes sense if you have a home in the US and regularly visit the country. Otherwise, it’ll be very difficult to open a bank account online without proof of residency, though you could still contact the bank to check what their requirements would be if you wanted to become a temporary or permanent resident.

Types of US Bank Accounts

Most US bank accounts are either 'checking' or 'savings' accounts. Checking accounts work like current accounts in other countries and provide services such as:

  • Internet banking;
  • Bills and other payments;
  • ACH and wire transfers;
  • Direct debits;
  • A debit card;
  • ATM withdrawals.

Savings accounts, on the other hand, allow you to deposit money away over time and pay interest on that amount There are usually restrictions on how often you can withdraw money from this type of account.

Both checking and savings accounts come with:

  • A routing number (identifying your bank).
  • An account number (identifying your account).

Documents Needed To Open a US Bank Account

In addition to a completed application form, the documents that are most commonly requested by US banks include¹:

  • Proof of identity: This can include a valid government-issued identification document such as an ID card, passport, or driver's license.
  • Proof of address: Utility bills, bank or credit card statements, lease agreements, or mortgage statements that list the address of a US residence will usually suffice.
  • Social service number: This is usually Social Security Number (SSN) or a Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

While many US banks will require you to have both a SSN or ITIN and proof of address in America, the exact documents needed to open an account are not set and stone and can vary significantly from state to state and branch to branch.

To obtain a SSN/ITIN, you'll need to apply through the IRS's website². To obtain temporary proof of address, on the other hand, it's worth asking your bank if they'd be able to accept a letter from your university, employer, or prospective landlord that notes your place of residence.

It's also worth noting that most US banks will also require you to make an initial deposit. You can transfer this amount (usually between $25 and $150) into your new account using a debit card, cash, or ACH transfer.

How To Open an Account With a US Bank

  • Step 01

    Gather Your Documents

    First, you'll need to get your documents in order. As we saw above, to open an account with a big bank in the US, you'll generally need:

    1. Proof of identity
    2. Proof of address
    3. SSN/ITIN (sometimes this isn't required)
  • Step 02

    Make an Appointment

    Next, you'll need to make an appointment to open a checking account. Some banks allow you to do this online, but it's usually the best idea to call.

  • Final step

    Open Your Account

    At the appointment, you'll be able to discuss your banking needs. Your eligibility will be checked, and your account will be opened.

Accounts at US Banks for Non-Residents

Below, you'll find the flagship checking accounts offered by a few of the biggest US banks. As we saw above, there are many other types of bank accounts too, but we selected the basic entry-level checking accounts for the sake of illustration:

Wells Fargo

Account: Everyday Checking

Monthly fee: $10

Outgoing int'l wire cost: $30 plus an additional 4%-10% (depending on the currency). See more.

Int'l card payment cost: 3%

US residence required: Yes (though not necessarily primary residence)

SSN/ITIN required: Only for US citizens

Citibank

Account: Access Account Package

Monthly fee: $10

Outgoing int'l wire cost: $45 plus an additional 5%-10% (depending on the currency). See more.

Int'l card payment cost: 3%

US residence required: Yes (though not necessarily primary residence)

SSN/ITIN required: Only for US citizens

JPMorgan Chase

Account: Chase Total Checking

Monthly fee: $12

Outgoing int'l wire cost: $40 plus an additional 5%-10% (depending on the currency).

Int'l card payment cost: 3%

US residence required: Yes (though not necessarily primary residence)

SSN/ITIN required: Yes

Bank of America

Account: Advantage Banking

Monthly fee: $4.95

Outgoing int'l wire cost: $45 plus an additional 5%-7% (depending on the currency). See more.

Int'l card payment cost: 3%

US residence required: Yes (though not necessarily primary residence)

SSN/ITIN required: Only for US citizens

Path 2 — International Bank Accounts

Kaung Myat Min on Unsplash

Some banks have an international presence and may allow you to open an American bank account online, even as a non-US resident. These can include the big banks in the US and other multinational banks such as HSBC. These international options are specialized accounts, and you can sometimes open them even if you don’t have a US address. However, these options do come with some downsides:

  • You'll likely have to make a large initial deposit, sometimes in excess of $100,000.
  • You'll need to maintain a high minimum balance in the account.
  • There are likely to be ongoing monthly fees to maintain the account.

Unfortunately, these limitations do put international accounts out of the reach of most people. However, for those interested, we've listed the two international US banks we find most interesting below:

Zenus Bank

Zenus Bank is a licensed and regulated American bank that provides all-remote US bank accounts in almost every country in the world without the requirement to be a US citizen or resident. To open a US bank account from your home country, Zenus Bank will require four pieces of information from you:

  1. A valid government-issued passport.
  2. Proof of address in your home country.
  3. A completed Form W-8 BEN (this is for the IRS).
  4. Proof of employment (or pension or unemployment).

Zenus Bank's USD personal current account costs a one-time application fee of $50 and a membership fee of $50 per month. This fee is admittedly very steep and stems from the fact that Zenus Bank is a full-reserve bank, meaning it doesn't loan out or invest your money and instead charges a higher membership fee to make its money. (In contrast, fractional reserve banks make money from personal customers by loaning out their money and charging lower account fees as a result.)

After signing up with Zenus Bank, you'll be able to manage your finances and transfers with US bank details from the Zenus internet banking app. Here are some of the perks:

  • No minimum balance is required.
  • Complete security with your funds (Zenus doesn't lend your money).
  • No charges on ATM withdrawals.
  • Insurances and other offers and benefits.

Sadly, although Zenus' physical and virtual debit cards are available in many countries, they're not yet available everywhere, so be sure to check in advance if they'll ship to your country. This can be a big limitation if you want to use it to spend USD, but not so much if you simply want the current account itself for the purposes of savings, investments, and transfers.

Moreover, clients who want to deposit money and aren't bothered with withdrawing or transferring out will likely benefit most from using Zenus since incoming payments are all free. On the other hand, ACH payments from the account cost $15 and international wires and SWIFT payments cost $25.

Charles Schwab

The Charles Schwab One International Account in US dollars is another option for US-non residents looking to open a bank account in America. This account is not a formal bank account but a brokerage account in US dollars that gives investors the opportunity to hold dollar account balances, make trades, and transact with their liquified investments using a debit card or wire transfer.

Similar to Zenus Bank, Charles Schwab will request the following pieces of information from you in order to open an account:

  1. A completed Form W-8 BEN.
  2. A valid government-issued passport.
  3. Proof of address in your home country.

The downside is that a hefty $25,000 minimum deposit is required to activate the account. From then on out, the fees are quite low, and in addition to a large investment platform, you'll have access to the following bank-like features:

  • Checking (including monthly account statements).
  • International wire transfers ($25 per outgoing transaction).
  • A Schwab Visa debit card (ATM fees are refunded).

Path 3 — Online Accounts

Scott Graham on Unsplash

Online accounts or "neobanks" in the US are an up-and-coming type of financial services provider trying to disrupt traditional banks by offering low-cost, savvy online banking services. Most of the accounts below are not banks themselves, but fintech accounts whose client's are deposits held by regulated banks.

Typically, online accounts require residence in the US but they tend to be more relaxed about SSN/ITIN requirements than the banks.

Here are a few of the most interesting online account services available in the US:

Chime

Because of its low fees and panel of features (e.g. overdraft protection, expedited direct deposits, etc.), if you’re looking for a digital account to save on banking fees (and as long as you don’t need an extensive list of features), then Chime will probably be the best option for you.

Account name: Chime

Monthly fee: $0

Outgoing int'l wire cost: Not available

Int'l card payment cost: 0%

US residence required: Yes

SSN/ITIN required: Yes

More info: See our full Chime review.

Majority

Because of its suite of migrant-friendly features (e.g. international calling, wires, exclusive deals, etc.) combined with low fees all around, we think Majority is the best suited online current account for new arrivals and migrants in the US with residence but not yet a SSN or ITIN.

Account name: Majority

Monthly fee: $5

Outgoing int'l wire cost: 0.2% - 2.5% (estimate depending on country)

Int'l card payment cost: 0%

US residence required: Yes

SSN/ITIN required: No

More info: See our full Majority review.

Current

While Current’s basic account doesn’t have as much functionality as some other banks in this ranking, there’s one area in which it has an edge: if you’re looking to open a monitored account for your teens, Current is one of the best online account options out there.

Account name: Current

Monthly fee: $0

Outgoing int'l wire cost: Not available

Int'l card payment cost: 3% (plus $3 for ATM withdrawals abroad)

US residence required: Yes

SSN/ITIN required: Yes

More info: See our full Current review.

Sable

Due to its low fees for everyday use and few registration requirements, we recommend Sable as a secondary bank account for US citizens or a primary account for newcomers and US Visa-holders who don't yet have a SSN. Similarly, we also recommend the Sable ONE credit card, which provides an excellent way to manage your credit score with lower risk.

Account name: Sable

Monthly fee: $0

Outgoing int'l wire cost: $5

Int'l card payment cost: 0.18%

US residence required: Yes

SSN/ITIN required: No

More info: See our full Sable review.

There are also other options to consider, such as OnJuno and Remitly Passbook. You can find out more in our comparison below:

Path 4 — Wise Multi-Currency Account

Wise Wise multi currency account platforms online

Wise isn't a bank in the US but a money transfer operator that's well-known for offering some of the cheapest international transfers globally. However, in addition to money transfers, Wise also offer a Multi-Currency Account, a low-cost foreign currency spending account and a Visa debit card

For many people, this is the fastest and easiest way to open a US bank account as a non-resident, regardless of whether you want to hold money in US dollars, spend money on holidays abroad, shop online, or receive earnings from an American employer.

After opening an account online, you'll only be required to verify your identity through Wise's interface. You won't necessarily need to show proof of residence in the US to sign up and obtain the Visa debit card (although you will need to show proof of residence in the EU/EEA, UK, Singapore, Japan, Australia, or New Zealand).

Product Features

A major benefit of the Wise account is that it comes with legitimate banking details in multiple countries and currencies, including US dollars. Your Wise USD account will be held by Community Federal Savings Bank (CFSB) and Evolve Bank and Trust (EVOLVE) and come with the following details unique to you:

  1. ACH routing number
  2. Wire routing number
  3. Account number
  4. SWIFT/BIC code

This means you'll be able to spend and be paid just like a local in the US, as well as convert your USD balance into your home currency without being charged exorbitant bank fees. Here's an overview of the other features you'll be able to take advantage of with a Wise Multi-Currency Account, once it's set up:

  • Local bank details not just in the US, but also in the UK, EU, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Canada, and Hungary.
  • Hold, exchange, and top-up up to 56 currencies.
  • A multi-currency Visa debit card that's handy for paying in foreign currencies without hidden fees.
  • Access to Wise's powerful international money transfer service right from your account balance.

How To Open a US Account With Wise

  • Step 01

    Go to Wise

    Head on over to Wise's website and select 'Get an account' to start the process. (The signup only takes a few minutes).

  • Step 02

    Enter Your Details

    Enter your full name, address, mobile number, and submit a government-issued ID document.

  • Step 03

    Wait for Verification

    Once you've submitted your details, you'll need to wait for your account to be verified. This is usually completed within 24 hours.

  • Final step

    Start Using Wise (And Wait for Your Debit Card)

    Once your account is verified, you'll be able to use the online account and virtual Visa card immediately. The physical debit card will take a few days or weeks to arrive, depending on where you live in the world.

    Open your account ❯

Transferring to US Dollars

To get a sense of how useful Wise can be for expats and non-residents in the US, let's say that you've just moved from Canada to the US and you need a functional online account to receive and spend US dollars. With a Wise Multi-Currency Account, you'll be able to:

  1. Send Canadian dollars from your regular account to your Wise USD account;
  2. Convert all or part of your Canadians into US dollars at a low fee (0.52% or C$7.58 to add US$1,000*);
  3. Pay with your Wise debit card, and make or receive SEPA (and SWIFT) payments.

You'll also have US bank details to share with an employer. Note that this account does not offer an overdraft, and you won’t earn interest on your balance. A few other limitations on the Wise USD account include:

  • You can't yet set up direct debits.
  • Incoming payments can only be in US dollars, no other currency will be accepted.
  • Incoming domestic transfers take 2 to 3 working days to arrive in the account, while international transfers take 4 to 5 days.
  • The fee to receive wire transfers (domestic and international) is $7.50 per transaction.

* Conversion made on 23/2/2022

Recap: Best US Bank Accounts for Non-Residents

  • Wise Account: Best USD account for non-residents.
  • Sable: Best checking account for residents without a SSN.
  • Majority: Best migrant-friendly account for residents without a SSN.
  • Zenus Bank: Best USD deposit account for non-residents.
  • Bank of America: Best traditional banking experience for residents.

Frequently Asked Questions About Opening a Bank Account in the US

Non-Resident 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:

Other Banking Guides for Non-Residents

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