How To Open a US Bank Account From South Africa
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Are you trying to figure out how to open an American bank account from South Africa? There are a lot of reasons why you might want to do so, from paying for holidays, to diversifying against rand exchange rate risk, to depositing foreign earnings and everything in between.
Whatever your reasons, more South Africans than ever before are looking for ways to open an online bank account abroad, and although the process can be tricky (depending heavily on your needs, preferences, and nationality), the good news is that it's certainly possible to open a US dollar bank account in South Africa. In this guide, we show you exactly how.
If you want to receive dollars in a US bank account and convert it into rands at the lowest rates on the market, we recommend opening a free Wise Multi-Currency Account. On its industry-leading online platform, you'll be able to receive money via US banking details and spend with a multi-currency account in 50+ foreign currencies (including rands and dollars) with a virtual debit card.
What You'll Find in This Guide
- 01. How to open an American bank account from South Africa
- 02. Opening a foreign currency account with a SA bank
- 03. Opening a bank account with a US bank
- 04. Opening a US bank account with Zenus Bank
- 05. Using Wise as a USD current account in South Africa
- 06. Frequently asked questions about opening a US bank account in SA
How To Open a US Bank Account From South Africa
Although it's certainly possible to open a US bank account from South Africa, you'll first need to consider your needs closely. If you're looking to invest in foreign currency, you'll have completely different options (and requirements) than you would if you were looking to open a salary account in USD, for example.
In short, here are the main options you have to open a US dollar bank account in South Africa:
- Open a foreign currency account with a major SA bank such as Absa, FNB, Standard Bank, or Nedbank.
- Open a USD account at a US bank (not strictly possible from SA).
- Open an all-remote account with Zenus Bank.
- Use a fintech forex solution.
We go through all four of these options below:
Option 1 — Via a South African Bank
One option you have for opening a US bank account from South Africa isn't so much to open a bank account in the US, but rather to open up a foreign currency bank account in South Africa. This will probably be the most practical option for most South Africans who're only looking to spend or save in a foreign currency (e.g. for international payments, overseas trips, managing exchange rate risk, etc.) but don't have American documentation such as proof of residence, an SSN, or an ITIN.
To open a foreign currency account in US dollars at a South African bank, we’ll be looking at offerings from FNB, Standard Bank, Absa, and Nedbank — all of which offer foreign currency account products. We outline them below:
FNB is the South African bank that's widely regarded to offer the best forex services. If you already hold an FNB Cheque Account, you'll have the option to open up a Global Account. This flexible account and card come with the following benefits:
- Currencies: USD, GBP, EUR
- Annual fee: $20
- Currency conversion: 1.5%-3%
- Minimum balance: $0
- Card: Visa debit.
- ATM withdrawal: $5
- Int'l payments: Yes
Standard Bank offers the Optimum Account to customers and non-customers alike (not just in South Africa but worldwide.) This excellent coverage sets it apart from FNB's offering, although it comes with a steep minimum balance requirement. Here’s an overview:
- Currencies: USD, GBP, EUR, AUD
- Annual fee: $25
- Currency conversion: 2.75%
- Minimum balance: $7,000
- Card: Visa debit.
- ATM withdrawal: 1.75% (min. $3)
- Int'l payments: Yes
Unlike Standard Bank and FNB, Absa's international bank account offering is quite limited: it can only be used for forex investments and isn't suitable for deposits and checking. Therefore, unless you're wanting to set up larger USD investments, then Absa's Currency Investment Account isn't the right option, and we recommend looking at other options on this list.
Nedbank's Foreign Currency Account allows customers with existing Nedbank accounts to transact in an impressive number of foreign currencies at a very low cost. However, the account doesn't come with a card and cannot be used by itself for foreign currency card spending without first applying for a separate product, the Nedbank Travel Card. An overview of the account can be found below:
- Currencies: USD, GBP, EUR, AUD, CAD, HKD, JPY, ILS
- Annual fee: R0
- Currency conversion: 3%-6%
- Minimum balance: R1,500
- Card: N/A
- ATM withdrawal: N/A
- Int'l payments: Yes
Provided you don't mind the rather high fees, opening a foreign currency account in SA is best:
- To receive a salary in USD and convert it into ZAR.
- To invest or hold money in USD.
- To visit the US regularly.
Option 2 — Via an American Bank
Unlike British, Australian, and New Zealand banks, American banks don't allow applicants from overseas at all — even if they have a residence in the US or are planning to relocate in the near future. In effect, this means that you cannot open a US bank account from South Africa with a big bank in the US without physically going to the US and visiting a branch in person to open one.
Even then, you'll still usually be required to provide a US ID document (e.g. a passport or a Green Card), a Social Security Number (SSN), or an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), although these requirements can sometimes be more relaxed depending on the state and the bank branch in question.
Because it isn't an option for many people, opening a US bank account from South Africa at a big name bank is usually a write-off. However, if you are a US resident and have the opportunity to visit the country to open up a bank account in person, then you should have an easy time opening a US bank account with big banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Capital One, and many others.
Option 3 — 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 (including South Africa) without the requirement to be a US citizen or resident. To open a US bank account from South Africa, Zenus Bank will require four pieces of information from you:
- A valid South African passport;
- Proof of address in South Africa;
- A completed Form W-8 BEN (this is for the IRS);
- 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 currently not yet available in South Africa. This is a big limitation of the account 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.
How to Fund Your Zenus Bank Account From South Africa
Zenus doesn't publish its daily exchange rates, but it will charge an exchange rate margin if you want to send money abroad. In other words, the currency conversion rate they apply will be weaker than the true rate you see on Google, also known as the mid-market rate.
You can reduce and even avoid many of these hidden fees by using money transfer specialists instead. Monito’s award-winning comparison engine is here to help you find the best money transfer services for you to fund your US bank account from South Africa:
Send Money to the US Cheaply
All things considered, Zenus Bank is a secure and conservative (albeit costly) banking method. In our opinion, Zenus is ideal for those wanting to save large sums of money in stable US dollars and who 1) don't plan to make frequent withdrawals or transfers from the account and 2) don't mind paying high costs of $600 per year in account maintenance.
Option 4 — Wise Multi-Currency Account
The fastest, cheapest, and most flexible option to open a US dollar bank account in South Africa is without a doubt the Wise Multi-Currency Account. This account, run by the UK's leading forex fintech, is a totally free online multi-currency account that gives you bank details in the US and eight other countries around the globe, as well as the option to hold over 50 other currencies and switch between them when you want and make and receive payments across the globe.
A major benefit of the bank details is that they're fully legitimate bank accounts. Your Wise USD account will come with the following:
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 ZAR without being charged exorbitant bank fees.
Registering for the account is straightforward: you simply sign up online or in the app with an email address, or Google, Facebook or Apple account and then verify your ID with your SA ID or passport. Unfortunately, Wise's physical Visa debit card (which normally comes with the account) isn't yet available to South Africans, meaning it will be a cardless account. On the plus side, you'll automatically be given a free virtual Visa debit card, meaning you'll be able to spend online as usual and even pay in-person via Apple or Google Pay.
Once your Wise Multi-Currency Account is set up, you'll be able to take advantage of the following unique perks:
- Hold, exchange and add up to 56 currencies.
- Local bank details in the US, Eurozone, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Canada, Hungary, and Turkey.
- A virtual Visa debit card to pay in foreign currencies without fees.
- Access to Wise’s forex platform right from your account balance.
Transferring Between USD and ZAR
The drawback of Wise is that you'll only be able to convert USD to ZAR in your balance, and not the other way around. In this way, it's a great tool for receiving payments in dollars and converting them to rands (where you can then transfer them into your local bank account), but not ideal for buying USD using ZAR, for example, to pay for an overseas holiday or a foreign investment.
However, if you're looking for USD to ZAR transfers only, then Wise will probably completely meet and even exceed your expectations. For example, let's say you wanted to deposit USD earnings from the US into your SA bank account in rands. The conversion would go as follows:
- Receive US dollars into your Wise USD account;
- Add money to your ZAR balance and specify the amount in rands;
- Convert at an industry-low fee (e.g. 0.71% or $8.73 to add R10,000*);
- Transfer the ZAR balance to your South African bank account, or pay directly with your virtual Wise card.
* Conversion made on 8/2/2022
Frequently Asked Questions About Opening a US Bank Account From South Africa
Can I open a US bank account from South Africa? 🏛
Yes, but it can be expensive and tricky. To do so, you'll be able to choose between opening up a foreign currency bank account in US dollars at one of the big banks in South Africa (FNB, Standard Bank, Absa, Nedbank and others all offer such account packages), using a digital alternative such as the Wise Multi-Currency Account (which is the cheapest option), or opening a current account for savings with Zenus Bank.
Can a South African open a foreign bank account? 💼
Yes, a South African can open a foreign bank account in many countries. This can sometimes be done with a foreign bank, although it's generally much more accessible to open a foreign currency bank account with a South African bank. Another option is to use a digital alternative such as the Wise Multi-Currency Account, which is usually significantly cheaper than traditional banks. However, their service can be somewhat limited for extensive foreign currency banking options.
Learn More About Money Transfers To & From South Africa
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