How to open a bank account in the US: A full guide

If you’re relocating to the US – or even if you simply love to visit – you may benefit from a smart way to manage your money in USD. You might find it hard to open an account with a traditional bank in the US if you don’t have a local US proof of residence – but there are some great alternative ways to get US bank details to hold, send and spend dollars easily.

Read on for all you need to know about opening a USD account as a non-resident or new arrival in the US, including the documents you need, eligibility and the common costs. We’ll also take a look at modern alternatives, like Wise and Revolut, which can be a better option for some customers.

Go to Wise Go to Revolut

What documents do I need?

Different US banks have slightly different requirements when it comes to documents for a checking account. However, you’ll normally be asked for:

  • Proof of identity (like a passport or ID card – some banks require 2 separate pieces of ID)
  • Proof of address (often a utility bill or bank statement in your name)
  • SSN or ITIN

Some US banks will allow non-resident aliens in the US to open an account. However, you’ll still probably need a proof of US address, so this option only really works if you’re resident in the US for at least some of the year, with paperwork available in your name. PO Box addresses are not usually accepted.

If you’re trying to open a USD account from overseas – or if you’re a new arrival and don’t have a proof of address document available yet, you might struggle to get an account with a regular US bank. Instead check out specialist providers which offer multi-currency accounts to receive, hold, exchange and spend USD. These accounts are usually cheap, convenient and flexible – and can be opened using your proof of address from Australia before you relocate. More on that, next.

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

Most US banks need customers to show a US proof of address to open an account. That means that a traditional bank may not be able to help you if you just moved to the US or if you’re opening an account as a non-resident. That’s where specialist services like Wise or Revolut can help.

Specialist providers like Wise or Revolut are designed with people living internationally in mind. That means they’re able to accept proof of address documents from a range of countries, with a straightforward online verification process.

Apply for an account using your Australian documents and proof of address, to get local US account details, and a fully functional multi-currency account which can hold and handle USD and a range of other currencies. It’s simple, and you won’t even need to leave home to get started.

Go to WiseGo to Revolut

How to open a bank account in the US

Different US banks have different account opening processes. Some will allow you to open an account online, but it’s surprisingly common to need to visit a branch in person to get started. In fact, even some banks which let you start your account application online will need you to pop into a branch with your paperwork before you can actually use your account properly.

Whether you’re opening your account in person or online the process will be fairly standard:

  • Choose the right bank and account for your needs
  • Check over the eligibility and gather the required documents
  • Complete your application online or in person
  • Get verified by showing or uploading your paperwork
  • Hand over your minimum opening deposit, and receive your account card and checkbook to get started transacting

Can I open a bank account in the US before arrival?

You’ll usually need a local US proof of address to open an account with a traditional bank. This is pretty much impossible to get hold of before you’ve physically moved to the country because the documents which are usually needed are things like a rental agreement, utility bill or government ID.

To make your move to the US easier you could get a head start by opening a multi-currency account with the option to open a USD balance through a specialist provider like Wise or Revolut. Depending on the provider you select, you could get US bank details to get paid for free into your account, as well as an international debit card and low cost international payments in USD and a range of other currencies. More on that coming up in a moment.

Which account is best in the US for foreigners?

You won’t struggle to find a US bank account if you’re already in the country and have a proof of address document available. There are plenty of big banks to choose from, many of which are huge global brand names.

However, if you’re new in the US or a non-resident you might be better off looking at  specialist financial technology companies. These tend to be cheaper and more flexible than traditional banks.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Service Wise Revolut Bank of America* Chase*
Currencies covered 54 currencies including USD and AUD 28 currencies including USD and AUD USD USD
Open before you arrive in the US Yes Yes No No
Open online Yes Yes No No
Opening fee $0 $0 Minimum opening balance $100 $0
Maintenance fee $0 Up to $16.99/month $12/month – avoid this by maintaining £1,500 balance $12/month – avoid this by maintaining £1,500 balance
International transfers Low fee, varies by currency Fee varies by currency and payment value $30 $5 for online transfers under $5,000 – fee waived for higher value payments

*Bank of America account profiled – Advantage Plus Checking Account. Chase account profiled – Chase Total Checking. Other accounts from these providers have varied terms and conditions

Traditional US banks mainly serve people who already live in the country – non-residents aren’t a big market, so the options here are pretty limited. 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

Wise is a financial technology company created to make it easier and cheaper to transact internationally. Wise currency exchange always uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markups, making it much cheaper than a traditional bank when you send a payment or shop internationally.

With a Wise multi-currency account you can hold and manage 50+ currencies including both AUD and USD, right from your phone or laptop. You’ll be given US bank details including an account and routing number, to get paid for free in USD, and a linked debit card for easy spending around the world. Because it’s a true multi-currency account you can also access local bank details for 9 other currencies, to get paid easily and with no fees from around 30 other countries.

Account types: 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.

Eligibility: Open an account using your proof of address documents from Australia, to get an account which lets you receive, send, hold and spend USD . Full details of availability by location available on the Wise website.

Is it safe? Wise is FinCEN registered and trades in the US using its own license, or through its partnership with Community Federal Savings Bank, depending on location. Wise is also overseen by a range of global regulatory bodies around the world.

Go to Wise

Revolut

Revolut is a technology services provider which describes itself as having the world’s only financial super app. Open a Revout account through the app to hold 28 currencies, plus get a linked debit card, and some free transactions which vary by account plan.

You can either stick with the free standard plan, or upgrade if you use your account often and want to get higher fee free transaction limits and perks like lounge access and travel benefits. Other services available include kids accounts, budgeting and saving tools and up to $1,200 free out of network ATM withdrawals a month.

Account types: Standard account plans are free or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to $16.99/month.

Eligibility: Available to customers with addresses in the UK, the EEA, Australia, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan, and the US[9].

Is it safe? Revolut’s banking services are provided through Metropolitan Commercial Bank, which is a member of the FDIC.

Go to Revolut

Bank of America

Bank of America is a large, well known bank with a great range of popular accounts and products. Non-resident aliens who have a US address but are not full time resident, can open a Bank of America account. However, to get started you’ll need to prepare a set of documents and visit a Bank of America location – accounts can not be opened online.

To open your account you’ll need proof of your US address, as well as 2 forms of identification. Popular checking accounts include the Bank of America Advantage Banking Account which has several different tiers aimed at different customer types.

Account types: Full range of personal checking and savings accounts available.

Eligibility: Non-resident foreigners will still need a US address to be able to open an account.

Is it safe? Yes. Bank of America is a large global organization which is regulated and trusted around the world. Deposits are FDIC protected.

Chase

Chase is the largest bank in the US, and has a full suite of banking services to choose from. When you open an account you’ll typically be asked to prove your US address, which means this may not be a good option for non-resident customers. However, if you have all the paperwork required you might be able to get your account up and running online for convenience.

Popular accounts include the Chase Total Checking Account which is a good every day account with a range of ways to waive monthly fees.

Account types: Full range of personal checking and savings accounts available.

Eligibility: You’ll usually need to provide a US based proof of address to get an account, which means you’ll likely need to be a US resident to get an account.

Is it safe? Yes. Chase is publicly traded, regulated in all countries it operates in, and FDIC insured.

What are the costs?

US bank account costs can vary widely depending on the product you choose. It’s common to find accounts have a monthly fee, but also a range of options to have the fee waived by depositing into the account, or using your linked card often. Read the terms and conditions carefully before you sign up to an account, and look out for common costs like these:

  • Monthly maintenance fees – or fall below fees
  • International payment fees
  • Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card
  • Overdraft fees
  • Credit card costs including cash advances and interest
  • Account dormancy or early closure fees

Specialist providers often offer more flexible accounts with no minimum deposit or monthly fees. You might also be able to access lower transaction fees, and a more intuitive user experience through online and in-app services.

Tips for transferring money

You might be surprised to learn that sending a payment internationally with a US bank can be expensive and slow, with a range of fees applying to a single payment. Before you move your money, check out these tips:

  • 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

Instead of sending your payment with your regular bank you might be better off sending your transfer with a specialist service like Wise.

Conclusion

There’s no shortage of great American banks. However, to open a US account with a traditional provider you’ll almost always need a US proof of address document. This can be tricky if you’re not in the country yet – or if you just arrived and simply haven’t had the time to get US based services set up into your own name yet.

Get started with a USD account right away by choosing a multi-currency account with a specialist online service like Wise or Revolut. Depending on the specific account and provider you choose you may be able to get your own US bank details to receive local USD transfers, with an online application and verification process that uses address documents from your home country. You’re likely to also benefit from lower fees and better exchange rates compared to a regular bank.

FAQ:

Can a foreigner open an account in the US?

It’s easy enough to open a bank account in the US if you’re already there and can provide a local US proof of address document. However, if you can’t get a US proof of address you’ll probably find it easier to open an online USD account with a specialist provider.

How much do I need to open a bank account in the US?

It’s common to find that regular US bank accounts have minimum opening deposit and minimum balance requirements. Fall below fees may apply if you fail to hold the agreed minimum balance in your account.

On the other hand, specialist services may be completely free to open with no minimum  balance – compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

Can I open an American bank account online?

Account opening processes vary between US banks. It’s common to need to visit a branch to show your documents at some point in the application process – but a handful of US banks do allow eligible customers to get set up online.

If you’re struggling to get set up with a US bank it’s useful to know specialist providers allow customers to open accounts using a  laptop or mobile device, with a more flexible verification process.

Can I open a bank account in the US before landing?

Without a US proof of address document you’re unlikely to be able to open an account with a regular US bank. Instead, why not get a smart and flexible account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revolut instead.

By Ileana Ionescu Updated March 29th, 2022