College Connect: How to open a bank account in the U.S.

Posted By sabew

by Alex Missick Life as an International Student

Having a U.S bank account is a great way to manage your finances while being away from home. However, there are some challenges that international students must overcome.

Wiring money back and forth, looking for an ATM that carries a Cirrus logo, going back to the same ATM the next day to withdraw more money because of a limit set by your bank back home are all issues and even routines international students face when it comes to financial transactions in the U.S.

My first thought after experiencing all of the things above was to open a bank account. I figured since I had a student visa and lived in a college town, this would be a piece of cake-boy was I wrong.

I visited four banks and all of them had the same answer when I asked to open an account, “do you have a social security number?” My answer was always no as I had no clue what this was and to my dismay I was not allowed to open an account. The only way to obtain this social security number was to get a job. However, I did not want to compromise my purpose in school-to study, so I kept on searching.

Experts like Office for Financial Services Director, Ryan Law, at the department of Personal Finance at the University of Missouri, suggests to always do your research first.
“You should always shop around and find out what different banks require and if they accept a visa, then great. That goes for students who have their social security card as well. After that they can get a bank account pretty much anywhere,” Mr. Law said.

I had spent weeks not just searching for a “perfect bank” but one that would accommodate my international and student status. My searching led me to Bank Of America, who were gracious enough to accept my I-20 and even had a student account of which I set up my first checking account.

When you do find a bank that suits your banking needs, you need to do a few things before you get there.

How do I choose a bank?

Banks offer many different financial services. Compare the services and costs of several banks before choosing one at which to open an account. Some banks ask for $50 others $25 and so forth. As a student, the cheaper option is sometimes the most attractive. You will need a checking account for proper money management such as online bill payment, writing checks, etc., and if you know you will have large amounts of money in your account, it makes sense to open a savings account with the same bank too.

How do I choose the right account?

Investigate the accounts the bank has available, and inquire about how much it could cost you to keep the account. There may be a monthly charge for keeping the account open depending on the type you have. There may also be a minimum balance that has to stay on your account as well so ask the bank for this information. You should also ask how long it will take to “clear” a check – that is, how long from the time a check is deposited in your account to the time you are allowed to withdraw your money. This is crucial if you have a scholarship fund that sends you money via check or even a job.

What should I bring?

Bring your passport and the funds you want to deposit and open the account with. Also, bring as many documents or ids as you have such as your school id, your I-20, your state driver’s license or id, and your visa.

When all is said and done, make sure this bank is a bank that caters to your needs and has exceptional customer service as you are a student first and foremost. Having a bank that understands your needs and knows that finances plays a big role in your future money management is the best way to go.

Alex Missick is a junior majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri. She’s an international student from the Bahamas.

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