How to Open a Bank Account in the US: A Full Guide 2024
There are lots of reasons why opening a US bank account may make sense. Maybe you’re heading to the US to live, work or study, visit frequently, or simply shop online a lot with US based retailers. In any case, having a US bank account can make it easier to transact in US dollars at home and abroad.
Opening a US bank account if you’re a US resident already and have a proof of address should be easy. US banks do offer some account services to non-resident aliens, as well. But if you don’t have a US address just yet, you may find a service like Wise or Revolut is a better option. Open your USD account from New Zealand, and hold, spend, send and exchange USD as well as NZD. We’ll take a look at how to get started with a bank in the US, and with alternative account providers, in just a moment.
What documents do I need?
If you’re a US resident you can usually open your bank account with your US proof of address, ID and tax identification information.
As a non-resident, the process gets a bit harder. For example, to open an account with Bank of America as a non-resident alien:
- You must not be a US citizen or permanent resident
- You must have a physical US address
- You must be able to apply in person for an account, at a Bank of America Financial Center
In terms of documents to open your account, you’ll need to have:
- Details of your non-US permanent address
- Proof of your US address – such as a utility bill in your name or a rental agreement
- One primary ID document – like a passport or national identity card
- One secondary ID document – such as a driver’s license or a credit or debit card
- Your foreign tax identification number from your home country
Finally, once you have all this, you’ll be able to schedule an appointment with Bank of America to visit and get your account opened at one of their financial centers.
Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut
You’ll find it hard to open a US based bank account if you don’t have an address there. And even if you do – as a non-resident alien for example – pulling together all the paperwork to open an account can be tricky.
Instead, hit the ground running with an online and digital account from a provider like Wise or Revolut, which you can open using your New Zealand ID and address, to get US bank details, and easy ways to pay and get paid in both US and New Zealand dollars.
Digital accounts from both Wise or Revolut come with options to hold and exchange USD alongside a selection of other currencies including NZD, as well as international debit cards. We’ll look at this in more detail a little later.
How to open a bank account in the US as a foreigner
US legal residents with a proof of address, ID and a local tax number can open a bank account there relatively easily. There are even online opening options from some banks. However, if you’re a non-resident alien, or if you’ve not moved to the US just yet, you might find the process is a little bit harder.
If you’re already in the US and have a US residential address, the steps you’ll usually take to open a bank account are:
- Choose the perfect account for your needs
- Get all your documentation ready
- Apply online, or in a branch person
- Submit your documents online or in a branch
- Make your minimum opening deposit
- Once your account is verified you’ll be able to start transacting
If you’re not in the US yet, or if you don’t have a US proof of address, choosing a digital service from a provider like Wise or Revolut could be a better option.
What do I need to know before opening a bank account in the US?
As we’ve seen, it’s hard for anyone who is not a US resident to open a US bank account. If you are a non-resident alien with a US residential address (and a document which proves your address) you will find some options. But otherwise, you’ll probably find you’re better off with non-bank alternatives like Wise or Revolut.
Can I open a bank account in the US only with my passport?
You’re unlikely to be able to open a US bank account with just a passport. Usually proof of US address is required, as well as local or international tax identification details.
Which account is best in the US for foreigners?
Let’s take a look at a few examples, covering financial technology companies Wise and Revolut, and US banks Bank of America and Chase. There’s more detail on each of these options coming up later.
|Bank of America
|Available to customers in many different regions
|Legal residents of countries including New Zealand, the EEA, Australia, the US and US
|US residents; non-resident aliens may be able to apply if they have US address
|US residents; non-resident aliens may be able to apply if they have US address
|USD and NZD account options
|No – USD only
|No – USD only
|Open before you arrive in the US
|Check with customer service staff, based on your eligibility and chosen account
|No fee – 25 USD minimum opening deposit
|Fall below fee
|Varies by account tier – Standard accounts have no monthly fee
|Online international money transfers
|Low, transparent fees and the mid-market exchange rate
|Costs vary by destination, value and account type
|No fee to send in foreign currencies online – exchange rate markups may apply
|0 USD – 50 USD depending on the details of the payment – exchange rate markups may apply
- The Bank of America account profiled is the Advantage Safebalance Banking. The Chase account selected is Chase Total Checking, other account options are also available from both banks
Wise multi currency account support 40+ currencies including USD and NZD, and come with a linked debit card for easy spending. Where Wise really stands out is that when you convert currencies to spend or send a payment, you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate and low, transparent fees from 0.43%. There’s no fee to spend a currency you hold, and no ongoing charges to worry about.
With Wise you can also send payments to 160+ countries, and get local bank details for up to 9 currencies including both NZD and USD, to get paid conveniently by others.
How to open an account with Wise
Open your account with Wise online or in the Wise app, by adding your personal and contact information and uploading your ID and address documents. The process shouldn’t take long, and there’s no minimum balance required to set up your account.
Revolut describes itself as a financial super app, which already has over 35 million global customers, and which recently launched in New Zealand. Revolut accounts can hold and handle a selection of currencies including NZD and USD, and come with a linked card you can use for in person and online payments.
Revolut New Zealand currently offers its Standard plans which have no ongoing fees. However, Revolut is planning on offering at least 3 different account tiers for New Zealand customers, including some with monthly fees which unlock extra features. Keep an eye out for more options being launched here soon.
How to open an account with Revolut
To open an account with Revolut you’ll need to download the Revolut app, register using your personal and contact information, and upload images of the required ID. You’re guided through the process using onscreen prompts.
Bank of America
Bank of America has a broad range of account products and connected financial services. Not all Bank of America accounts are available for non-resident customers. If you’re applying for your Bank of America account from New Zealand, it’s worth looking at the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Account, which is offered to non-resident aliens with a US address.
Bear in mind that you’ll still need to visit a Bank of America financial center to open your account, and you’ll need a valid US address to apply – making this one you can’t apply for if you’re still in the process of moving.
How to open an account with Bank of America
Open a Bank of America account as a non-resident alien with a US address, by visiting a Bank of America financial center in person.
Chase is a large and trusted bank which also offers some accounts and services to non-resident aliens with a US address. You’ll need a set of ID documents to apply, and may have to visit a branch in person – this depends on the specific account you pick and your personal situation. The Chase Total Checking account is the most popular checking account available from Chase, and offers easy ways to waive the monthly account keeping fees, so all you have to worry about is transaction costs.
If you’re already a US resident you’ll have a full selection of accounts to open which come with ways to set up online easily.
How to open an account with Chase
Chase offers some online account opening options – but whether or not you’re eligible for this will depend on the documents you have and your residency status. If you can’t open your account online you’ll need to visit a Chase branch in person.
What is a bank account in the US needed for?
Having a US bank account can be handy if you spend in USD frequently – and it’s pretty much essential if you’re moving to the US for any length of time. With a USD account you’ll be able to transact more conveniently and with fewer costs, plus USD accounts also offer the following features:
- Easy to receive payments from others in USD
- Hold USD and other foreign currencies to make transacting internationally convenient
- Spend conveniently with a local bank card in the US
- Access other financial services in the US like credit cards or loans
Benefits of opening a bank account in the US
The US is a huge global economic power, and an attractive location for tourists and people travelling for work, so there are plenty of benefits to having a USD bank account. You may use it when you’re in the US in person – but it can be equally useful if you spend online in USD. In either case having a USD bank account means you don’t need to exchange from NZD to USD every time, which can cut down on the overall costs of currency conversion significantly.
Can I open a bank account in the US before arrival?
To open a bank account in the US you’ll usually need a US residential address, and proof that you live there. In effect that means that you can’t open a bank account in the US before arrival in most cases. Some banks offer US bank account opening to expats immigrating to the US, but this service isn’t usually extended to residents of New Zealand. Double check with your preferred bank if you think this may be an option for you based on your residency.
If you want something more flexible, check out multi-currency accounts from popular providers like Wise and Revolut, which you can open from New Zealand and use at home and abroad in a range of currencies.
Can I open a bank account online?
If you live in the US full time – so you hold a Green Card or similar – you can usually open a bank account online as soon as you have a valid proof of address. However, if you’re a non-resident alien you’ll need to visit a branch in person in most cases – and if you’re not moving to the US you may struggle to find an account at all. That may make non-bank alternatives which offer online account opening, like Wise and Revolut, a more straightforward option.
How long does it take to open a bank account in the US?
If you open a bank account in the US online you’ll be able to complete the process quickly, but you’ll then have to wait a few days for your connected card to be mailed to you. Opening an account in a branch could take longer but you should be OK to get all your account documents and card on the same day as long as verification is complete.
What are the types of bank accounts in the US?
In the US, everyday accounts are known as checking accounts, and come with a physical checkbook for payments. You can also open savings accounts including easy access options, CDs (certificates of deposit) and similar. Get familiar with the terms and the range of options by browsing the website of one of the major US banks, to see what there is.
How to choose a bank account in the US
Choosing a bank in the US will probably come down to what your personal preferences are. There are plenty of banks to choose from, so starting from a practical point of view, and picking one which has branches in convenient locations for you, and a decent online and mobile banking service will probably make sense. As account terms, conditions, features and fees can vary widely you’ll also need to compare the specific account options available to make sure you pick one with all the services you need at a good price.
How much does it cost to open a bank account in the US?
US bank accounts often need a minimum deposit to open, but there’s not usually a specific account opening fee. However, most accounts will come with transaction fees which apply based on how you actually use your account, so you’ll still need to read the fee schedule before you sign up to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Is it possible to open a fee-free account in the US?
It’s common for checking accounts in the US to have a monthly fee which can be waived relatively easily by fulfilling certain conditions. These may include holding a certain balance or transacting with the account a set number of times. However, even when you manage to have the monthly fees waived, transaction fees can still apply.
If you’re looking for an international account which has transparent pricing for services, compare the bank options you’re considering against Wise and Revolut, as non-bank services with clear and simple pricing and low costs.
What are the additional costs?
Opening your account with a bank in the US may be free, but you could come across a range of other costs including:
- Checking fees – to get a checkbook, and pay in checks
- Foreign transaction fees – when you spend with a card overseas
- Withdrawal fees for ATM use – at home and abroad
- International payment fees – which can vary by destination and payment type
- Charges for receiving funds into the account – particularly for international payments
- Overdraft charges and interest – usually higher if your overdraft has not been arranged in advance
Tips for transferring money
Living overseas comes with some extra costs, including high fees for sending international payments. However, sending money overseas is usually a fact of life for an expat, so it’s important to be aware of some of the ways your fees may mount up when you use a bank:
- International payment fees can be higher when sending a payment by phone or in a branch
- Expect charges for both sending and receiving payments
- Bank exchange rates usually include a markup which is an extra fee hidden in the rate applied
- Third party costs may be deducted from the payment as it is processed, unless you opt to cover all additional charges when you initiate the transfer
Having a US bank account can be handy for anyone who travels there regularly, or even if you shop online and pay in USD frequently. Having ways to pay and be paid in USD is also essential if you’re planning on moving to the US – but unfortunately, opening an account with a US bank can be hard if you’re not already a full time legal resident there with a proof of US address.
As an alternative, check out providers like Revolut and Wise for multi-currency account options you can open online or in-app, using your New Zealand proof of address. Hold and exchange NZD and USD side by side, to hold, send, spend, receive and exchange US dollars, even if you’re not a resident.
FAQ – how to open an account in the US
Can a non-resident foreigner open an account in the US?
Non-resident aliens with a US residential address can open a US bank account in some cases. However, if you don’t have a US address – and proof of it – you may find a non-bank option like Wise or Revolut suits you better, with accounts which can be opened from New Zealand, and used to hold and exchange both NZD and USD easily.
How much do I need to open a bank account in the US?
There are not usually fees to open a standard US bank account, but it’s common to need to make a minimum opening deposit. Plus, transaction fees will apply which can be steep, particularly if you need to complete any international transactions. Compare your options and read through the fee schedules carefully to avoid surprises.
Can I open a bank account in the US online?
Once you’re in the US as a full time legal resident and have a proof of address, opening an account online is easy and means you can pick from pretty much any account offered by the bank. If you’re not a full time US resident with a local address, you probably can’t open a US account online with a bank – consider alternative providers like Wise and Revolut instead.
How to apply for a bank account online in the US?
If you’ve got a proof of your US address, photo ID documents, and a valid tax ID, you may be able to apply for your bank account in the US online. However, if you’re not already a resident in the US, an online provider like Wise may be a better bet for a flexible account you can use to transact in USD as well as NZD.
Can I open a bank account in the US before landing?
You usually need a US address to open a bank account there, making it pretty much impossible to open an account before arrival. Instead, check out online providers like Wise and Revolut for a low cost multi-currency account which supports NZD and USD among a selection of other major currencies.
Can a foreigner open an account in the US?
Yes. If you have a local address in the US, ID and a tax ID, you’ll find it easy to open a bank account. If you don’t have a local proof of address you may decide to use an online multi-currency account instead.