How to open a bank account in the US as an international student

Learn the details of opening a bank account while studying in the US.

In this article:

Why should you open a bank account in the US?

You will need money to support your cost of living while studying and you will be sending money back and forth between the US and your home country. To do this, you need to have a bank account. 

You can use the account of a bank in your home country, but you will have to pay international transaction fees and currency conversion charges every time you use your credit/debit card. Check to see if your home country's bank has a branch in the US and contact them regarding the plans they offer to international students.

Alternatively, you can open up a new bank account in the US. This will make many tasks like sending and receiving small sums of money from your friends, obtaining your paycheck from your part-time job, paying rent and other bills, much easier. 

What are the different types of bank accounts available for international students in the US?

There are mainly two types of bank accounts in the US:

Checking account – This type of account allows you to withdraw and deposit cash as often as you like.  After opening the account, you will receive a debit card as well. This sort of account is very apt for an international student.

Savings account – This type of account is mainly intended to deposit and save money, but you can also make withdrawals. If you are working part-time or if you are trying to save some money, this account would be ideal for you.

 

Note that most US banks also have a special international student checking bank accounts that offer subsidies and freebies.

 

How to open a new bank account in the US?

Some banks do permit you to open bank accounts digitally via their website, but as an international student, the process may be a little easier if you go in person. Do your homework and finalise one bank before leaving for the US. On landing, go to the bank directly with all the required documentation needed and to start the process.

What are the required documents?

  • Your passport
  • Student visa documents
  • University acceptance letter
  • Student ID proof
  • Some money to deposit while opening the account

Some banks might ask you to submit some additional documents. Check with the bank before you put together your set of documents.

What should you think about before choosing your bank?

State/City 

Having an account in a bank that is popular near your university is always beneficial. You will have bank branches nearby your place of accommodation, making it very easy to pop in for a visit. You will have many ATMs to withdraw money from. You can also avoid the charges of withdrawing money from a different bank's ATM. 

Service charges

Most banks charge around US$6 and $50 per month to maintain your bank account. Many banks waive this fee for student accounts or if you maintain a certain minimum balance or if you have regular monthly deposits. Check to see what you need to do to avoid service charges with the bank of your liking. 

Offers and perks

Many banks give cashback offers and cash bonuses as incentives to their customers for using their card to pay for activities like shopping. Check to see the perks offered by various banks and compare them before selecting one.

Overdraft

In some cases, you might run out of money sooner than you anticipated. If you swipe your debit card while you have insufficient funds in your account, some banks will decline your payment request and charge you a non-sufficient funds (NSF) fee. But if you have an overdraft protection plan in place, you can prevent this from happening. While choosing your bank check if they let you:

  • Link your account to another savings account. This way, when you run out of money in your account, the funds will automatically be transferred from the linked account.
  • Link your credit card to make payments through it after you’ve run out of money in your account.
  • Have an overdraft line of credit. This is a fixed sum of money that you can use as a loan from the bank after running out of your own money. You will have to pay this back with interest.

Note that all these plans come with some amount of fee. Make sure to read all the terms and conditions before deciding.

Top banks in the US

Bank of America, Wells Fargo, HSBC USA, US Bank, Capital One and Santander are some of the top banks in the US. Check their websites and compare the bank accounts offered by them before finalising on one.