Just walk in.
It is that easy.
I walked into a Bank of America branch in Chicago and apprehensively asked if I could open an account even though I was a tourist.
The bank manager (awesome diva named Chenelle) was super nice and said, “Yes, of course.” Like I had just ordered a Big Mac at McDonald’s. With double cheese.
She then sat down and asked me for the following requirements:
– other form of ID (be it a driver’s license or company staff or student ID)
She asked some basic personal info and my preferences in order to know which bank account was the best for me. She also asked if I have a Social Security and Tax ID in the States. I told her I didn’t as I was a tourist and showed her my visa. Satisfied, she then continued to process my application.
Regarding bank accounts, I suggest doing the personal e-banking checking account so you could still easily access it outside the States and PLEASE notify the bank when you’ll be out of the US so they do not freeze your account.
Also important, have a US address and a cellphone number so they know where to send the debit card to. It could be your friend or family. It takes 8 working days to ship the card and sometimes it might even get lost in the mail and never arrive.
Which happened to me.
Oh God, it was a nightmare. I kept waiting for more than a week and I was due to leave the US for Chile in a few days. Finally I called the bank and they agreed to Fed-Ex it (no charge) but the card arrived on the day I left for my flight. So my friend had to ship it to Chile via UPSS where it then proceeded to get stuck in US soil for 2 weeks before it was finally dispatched to Chile. Correo Chile (their mailing system) then shipped it to me in 2 days. Meanwhile all that time I was waiting, I was sweating bullets in Chile fearing I would lack finances.
My advice: If you’re only staying in the States for a short time, have the bank Fed-Ex it to your last destination and you’ll cover the cost – $20. I wish I had known that option existed. It would save me a lot of worries and calling Bank of America customer service repeatedly.
In the process of registering for your bank account, don’t forget to ask for the bank manager’s name and contact info. The branch where you created the account would be the most helpful to you because you’re their customer.
Other branches of the same bank? Fuhgedboutit. Customer Service? If it’s a huge bank, you would have to keep repeating your info again and again because different personnel will handle your case every time you call.
I think smaller banks have better service but not sure if they offer international services.
Secondly, ask for Routing number and SWIFT code of the branch in case you want to make a transfer.
Lastly, ask for the number that handles international cases if you want to call from abroad.
Why a US bank account?
Because I couldn’t use my Unionpay China debit card here in Chile. Also, the banks here don’t allow foreigners to open a bank account. It seems strange as Chile wants to be an international entrepreneurial hub yet they don’t allow extranjeros (non residents) to open accounts.
Secondly, Bank of America has a relationship with Scotiabank here and I don’t have to pay a transaction fee every time I make a withdrawal. So also check which banks your American bank has an affiliation with around the world.
Third, as an international citizen I like the idea of having different offshore accounts. A US account has the cheapest minimum balance for a dollar account anywhere else. And no, I don’t plan on going Jason Bourne and do espionage stuff or cheat on taxes with it. Also, a US account is good for Paypal transactions 🙂
What if you can’t visit the US?
Now that’s a little tricky and involves some paperwork but it can be done.
Some banks that offer online application services.
http://www.valis-int.com is a link that takes you to other international banking resources. (not valid anymore)
Ask if your bank has a sister bank in the States and if you could open an account there through them.
For example, HSBC has branches all over the world and if you have an account (check if you need to have HSBC Premier or Advance type accounts) with them, they can help set up another account for you in one of their branches in that country. http://www.hsbc.co.uk/1/2/overseas-account-opening
If you have an HSBC Premier Account, (staggering minimum deposit of £60,000), you can do online wire transfers to eligible HSBC accounts around the world FOR FREE.
Westpac Australia.- is an Australian bank that allows you to transfer funds overseas via internet banking for a fee of $15 for each transfer.
Chase Bank in the US might do this as well. I think they’re some of very few banks that do this kind of service.
The only downside with the US account is if in the event you lose your debit card, you might have to ask your friends to courier it to you in your home country as the banks will only ship the new cards within the US.
I found there is a lot of information floating around about getting a US bank account if you’re a non-resident, foreigner or living overseas. Some processes can even get tricky – like going through an international bank where you have to keep a certain minimum balance per month, creating a corporate bank account, getting a US Social Security and Tax ID. Researching and getting all that stuff can be a headache! Also, there are sites that help you create accounts but they ask for all these paperwork and huge fees. The simplest and easiest way really is to make a personal appearance. But if the cost of going there just to solely open an account is too expensive, then perhaps you can apply online with some paperwork and do some thumb twiddling with the wait or have your friend in the US open an account in his or her name for you (trust required).
I hope this post can be of help to some people out there looking for information. Good luck!
Other useful sites on how to open a US bank account from abroad or if you’re a non-resident: