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Posted 23 March 2023

Opening U.S. Accounts as an International Student

Some things might look a little different navigating college life as an international student, including managing your money. If you’ve been hesitant to opening a savings and checking account while in the U.S., or if you have opened an account and aren’t really sure how to use it, we have you covered! Keep reading to learn about the benefits, ways to pick a financial institution, and things to know during the process.

Why open an account?

It’s pretty common to come to the U.S. and to college with an account already established in your home country. However, there are still benefits to having an account with a local financial institution to help easily access your funds and perform basic financial transactions while you’re in school. These include, but aren’t limited to, being able to easily access cash, manage your bill payments, receive refunds from your university, or make everyday purchases. It can also help with establishing and maintaining a budget.

Identifying a financial institution

One of the best ways to start the process of finding a local financial institution is to ask those around you! Talk to your university’s international office or check their website to see if they have a special relationship with any institutions in the area. It’ll also be helpful to ask your classmates, professors, or advisers if they have any suggestions.

From there, you can do a little research to see which financial institution fits best with your current needs, goals, and values. Research what options are available with international accounts, consider how you’ll be receiving funds from your home country, if applicable, and learn about any requirements needed to open or maintain the account. 

Items needed to open an account

While there is typically an option to open an account online or over the phone, sometimes it can be easier to do it in person due to the documentation needed. This can also be a great option if you want to ask more specific questions about your personal goals and account uses. What you need can vary between credit unions and banks, but you’ll typically want to bring the following with you when applying to open a new account:

  • Unexpired passport.
  • Residency documentation (forms I-94, I-20, DS-2019, I-797, or I-765 approval notice).
  • Proof of residency.
  • Secondary form of identification (student ID, driver’s license, etc.).
  • W-8 BEN tax form.

Things to keep in mind

  • Checking accounts are intended to hold funds that are meant to be spent and are connected to a debit card to access funds from an ATM or make purchases. There is typically little to no interest paid for funds held in a checking account.
  • Savings accounts are designed for short- or long-term savings goals. To access the funds from a savings account, you would typically need to transfer funds to your checking account once you’re ready to use them. A benefit of savings accounts is they often offer higher interest returns on funds deposited, allowing you make money while saving.
  • Debit cards allow you to make purchases and access cash when needed. You will have two options generally when using your card — having it processed as debit or credit. Debit means you are using a four-digit personal identification number (PIN) that you create and only you know. Credit means you will provide your signature or five-digit ZIP code for purchases. Please note, when using a debit card and selecting credit, this does not help you establish credit.
  • Credit can be helpful in the United States for obtaining loans, determining interest rates, employment opportunities, and more. Establishing credit requires taking out a loan or opening a credit card.


©2023 Reseda Group LLC, used under license.