Opening a bank account in America as a non-resident alien

100 dollar billSo what are your options if you find yourself in need of an American bank account yet don’t actually want to visit America to open one?

There are three basic options that are known to work:

1. Form an American company and then open the account for it. This option is obviously a bit over the top if you’re only making $50 a month from your online empire although it’s probably the best way to go if you’re making a living online.

2. Try opening an account with a bank that operates both in America and your own country. The two most common options for this are HSBC and Citibank as they seem to operate in more countries than most.

3. Open a brokerage account with one of the brokers catering to non-residents.

In practice, the third option is by far the simplest for most people. Most American brokerage firms operating overseas cater exclusively for high net-worth clients (ie assets of $100,000 and more) but two offer accounts for the masses. Schwab has a minimum of $10,000, Etrade has a minimum of $1,000 although you can open it with zero cash upfront. How come the brokers can manage to give you a bank account when nobody else seems to be able to? Simply because the brokerage outfits operate as integrated international organisations whereas the banks don’t (eg Citibank USA isn’t the same as Citibank UK).

The etrade account is free for the first 12 months. After that, it costs $40 per quarter unless you meet their requirements which are either 1) $10,000 balance or 2) $1000 in automated credits per month or 3) one share trade during the period. If you don’t have the $10k and don’t have the $1k going in, then it is cheaper to buy or sell some shares than pay the $40. Our American bank account kit contains all the information you need to do this.

The second option isn’t quite so popular mainly because it isn’t as well known. The easiest way is if you have a premium account with either Citibank or HSBC in your own country as your relationship manager will be able to do it for you. These services are CitiGold and HSBC Premier but the downside is that the rough requirements for them is that you have $50,000 on deposit with them, or have an income of $75,000 or have a mortgage of $200,000 with them (roughly; the requirements vary depending on the country). It has recently become a good deal more difficult to persue this option.

Next easiest (and more economical) is to phone Citibank or HSBC in America and they’ll open an ordinary account for you on presentation of the appropriate ID and, sometimes, a bank reference. Citibank seems more geared up for this: call their International Personal Banking people on 001-813-604-3000. The latest information is that the banks are making this option almost impossible to use.

That’s just saved you between $5 and $250 which is about the going rate to buy the relevant information as above. Swiss bank accounts are slightly more difficult but definitely not worth paying the $1000 or more that I’ve seen quoted to provide you with the information. I’ll be covering Swiss banks in a later article, but if you can’t wait, pop a comment on this post and I’ll pass the information on to you (free!), likewise for other countries.

Don’t forget though that the first question you should ask yourself is: why do I need an American bank account? Google will only make payments into an American account if you live there and Citibank offers a US$ account in the UK (and other countries) which will let you deposit US$ cheques free of charge. It’s really only Paypal that requires such an account and even then that’s only if you live in one of the countries for which they don’t support withdrawals direct to your bank account.

This is part of our series on international banking which covers how to open and use accounts in various jurisdictions around the world including France, Switzerland and various offshore banking centers such as the Channel Islands, Isle of Mann and Bermuda.

An updated version of this article is on our expat banking site which also includes access to the detailed opening instructions that many people have asked for.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

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47 Responses to “Opening a bank account in America as a non-resident alien”

  • Byron says:

    I would like to know if it is possible to open an online account in France, and what is the easiest way of dooing it.

    Kind regards,

    Byron.

  • Arnold says:

    As far as I know it’s not possible to open accounts online in France. However, most of the banks offer an online service once you have the account open.

    I’ve quite a list of these in the directory at http://www.foreignperspectives.com/directory/index.php?c=40 and a run-down on French banking generally at http://www.foreignperspectives.com/livinginfrance/04banking.php which is also worth reading as their banking is quite different from the norm in several key areas.

    The true internet banks in France are Ing and AxaDirect but they won’t let you open an account if you aren’t resident in France.

    In practical terms, the easiest option is probably http://www.britline.com which is a phone & internet banking branch set up by Credit Agricole in Normandy. They do full service (for France) banking.

    You don’t need to go to France to open the accounts. What they will require is a photocopy of your passport and a utility bill (ie landline phone, electricity, gas). One seemingly minor question that they will ask is “why are you opening this account?”. Be careful what you say on this one as it is recorded and may be used should you subsequently want to get a mortgage in France, for example.

  • Raul says:

    Hi!
    I’ve read your article recently and I think its important to support this kind of topics because the knowledge its the key for success. Great work!

    I’m interested in open an account in Switzerland and I would appreciate if you could send me the information you’ve mentioned in the article. If you know how to open an US account I will thank if you share that information too.

    Thanks a lot

    Kind Regards

  • Pat says:

    The main reason I want to open bank account in America is their high interest rate on internet account like ING direct, or HSBC direct.

    I’m not sure they allow foreigner who doesnt live in the US to open account though.
    I live in ASIA where interest rate is meager 2% on saving

  • Agim says:

    Hi,
    A very revealing and comprehensive post on opening a US account as a non-resident.
    Could you please furnish me with information on how to open a switzerland bank account as indicated on your post? I reside outside switzerland

    Thanks
    atakon2000@yahoo.com is my email address

    The Swiss info is coming soon (probably during September). I’m researching it as some of what were previously the best options are no longer available.

  • Peter Knight says:

    I am a writer, a British Citizen, living in Argentina and my work will be published in the US – naturally I want to collect my pay which is in small amounts at a time (say a few hundred dollars) and not constant, but frequent enough. What are my best banking options?

    Ordinarily the simplest option would be to open a Citibank US$ account in Argentina but they don’t seem to offer the type of account there that you need (the normal dollar savings accounts won’t do). It would be worthwhile asking them if they would cash a US$ cheque free as they may do but just don’t publicise it very well; they certainly appear to offer the appropriate account elsewhere in the world.

    Second option would be to call Citibank/HSBC in America (see above for contacts) and open an account with them directly. Check out the charges on this though as non-resident accounts often have charges which resident accounts don’t. If they say no initially, ask if it makes a difference if you already have a Citibank/HSBC account elsewhere (it usually does).

    If those don’t work and you still have an address that you can use in the UK, you could open a sterling account with Citibank in the UK, then once that’s opened, open a US$ savings account and deposit your cheques there. You can link the Citicard to the US$ savings account and thereby withdraw your cash in Argentina more or less free (you’d just need to post your cheques to the UK).

    The final option would be to go for the etrade account, but watch the account charges which run to $160/year unless you meet their criteria as above.

    Incidently, the UK offshore accounts (Channel Islands etc.) won’t do as the US$ accounts offered charge to deposit US$ cheques.

  • Arnold says:

    As it seems to be the most popular choice after an American account, I’ll be posting the relevant information for Switzerland next, probably in early September. I’m current looking into the various options for that.

    Up until last year, the best option by a long was SwissPost, the Swiss Post Office. Sadly, although you’ll still see that on various websites, you can only open accounts with them if you live in Switzerland. They do say on their website that you can open accounts if you live in the surrounding countries (ie France, Germany, Luxembourg and Italy) but this is not the case as I tried it out and they simply won’t do it.

    The current front runner is an account based in Switzerland that lets you hold balances in various currencies plus gives you an optional Visa debit card (there’s a, relatively small, charge for that).

    As for America, the Citibank/HSBC options also exist but I gather that they are quite expensive (I’m looking into this).

    High street banks are also an option but come with a charge of SF 75 (about US$60) per year if you live outside Switzerland.

    I’ll be covering “numbered” accounts too… these aren’t quite what most people think they are.

    Anyway, unless you’re in desperate need of an account in Switzerland right now, it’s probably best to wait ’til September instead of paying up to $1000 for the information that’ll be provided here for nothing.

  • look says:

    i am from nigeria and i would like to open an account in the US and i would greatly appreciate it if you can help me out if i can get a us accout thanks

  • Denver says:

    I am also interested in info on opening Swiss bank accounts fro non-residents

  • Mohammad Ali says:

    Hi how can i have an us account as non resident?
    please hehp me at this.
    thanks

  • okwudiri says:

    i need a usa account but i from nigeria.

    ———-

    Try the e-trade one. It doesn’t appear to exclude Nigerians.

  • South African says:

    Unfortunately paypal doens’t pay out to us here in south africa. So I think I contact citibank. I am also intrested in the swiss bank account information. Its almost october now, so hope the info is availlable. Thank you. Kind regards,

  • Catsmart says:

    The online option of Etrade seems to have vanished as I can’t find any account whcih doesn’t have this requirement:

    “Eligibility Requirements
    Applicants must be 18 years of age or older
    Only U.S. residents with valid Social Security numbers may apply online”

    Only on the global trading account is there an option for non US residents and it limits the aplicants to Europe/Africa, Middle East, Asia/Pacific, No local continent applications (Latin America, Brazil) apparently… and a minimum $1000 for a cash account or $2000 for a margin account. It also only seems to be a trading account, no banking account associated with it…

    ————–

    You could never apply online unless you lived in America. The references here require you to post off the application form along with a photocopy of your passport.

    It might state that the minimum is $1000 but in practice they let you open it with no balance.

    Most American brokerage accounts have an associated cash account ie a bank account. The account that e-trade will open for you with the form referred to here is such an account although as e-trade are a registered bank in America it’s directly via themselves which isn’t the case for all brokerage type accounts. You can use this account exactly as you would a normal American bank account because it is a normal bank account (many Americans do this), despite being referred to as a “trading account” and similar things. You can certainly register it with paypal and do credits to it and you can also get the debit card. The only downside is that because it is, as you say, primarily a trading account then there are charges for not trading with it (see the post for these).

    My understanding is that you can open the account from any country in the world with the exception of, probably, Vietnam and Cuba. For the American account, there is nothing excluding South/Central America as such and indeed they offer account servicing in Spanish which certainly implies that they have quite a large Latin American client base. However, if there is a problem in Latin America, Citibank operate in most of those countries so that should be a viable alternative.

  • david garmin says:

    hello

    i am looking for a way to

    1 detailed information on how to open a u.s account as a non resident…….

    2 detailed information on how to open a free swiss account as a non resident

    3.as i will soon be travelling on tourism to nigeria …i want to know how comfortably i can cash my money

    4 i was thinking if u can give a good list of banks that open this non-resident account in the u.s & uk

    thanks
    look forward to your response
    david

    ————

    I’ll be scanning in completed forms for the e-trade account later this week.

    I’m just back from Switzerland so will be adding info on that in the next few weeks.

    For travel money, see our holiday money article which is very comprehensive.

    There are only three American banks that will definitely open accounts for non-residents: e-trade, Citibank and HSBC.

    Most UK banks will open non-resident accounts. Depending on your nationality and country of residence, your best bets are generally Citibank and HSBC in that they own banks in most countries of the world. Other suitable options are Barclays, LloydsTSB, Halifax/Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland which all have offshore banking centres (I’ll be covering those soon). It is usually easier to open an account in one of the UK offshore islands (Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man and Gibraltar) than in the UK itself as banks based in those islands are more accustomed to dealing with international customers. Minimum deposit is usually £1,000 to £5,000 but some accept as low as £1 (but that one has an annual charge of £50).

  • Bim says:

    Can this e-trade account do direct debits? The reason for this is because I own an Investment property in Florida and need a bank that does direct debits to pay the mortgage. Also for the Management company to pay rent into.

    ————–

    Sadly, no, it doesn’t support direct debits although you can pay money into it by wire transfer and so on.

    For direct debits, your best bet would be either the Citibank or HSBC accounts in that both let you do free international transfers to Citibank/HSBC accounts in your own country.

  • vinylmaniac says:

    Im Brazilian and I had an account in TheBancorp, in Delawere. After Patriotic Act my account was closed. If I remember well I could open that account (with ATM debit card) through a company named Valis but I could not find it again Googling them on net. I read all post and comments here but does anyone knows another way to open a non-resident American bank account? I have a website and an Ebay store. Just need to transfer my money to a bank and withdrawl it at any ATM machine, thanks.

    ———–

    You can still open accounts via Valis (they are http://www.valis.org) and many other companies. Their method involves creating a company in America (usually in Delaware) and then using that to open the bank account. However, as I implied in the original post, this is going to cost a fortune and isn’t worthwhile unless you are making a lot of money online (say $1000 or more per month) as you will need to prepare accounts for the company which in turn probably means getting an American accountant.

    I’ll be adding full details of how to open the e-trade account within the next week or so (I have all the forms and will be scanning in completed versions; it can’t get any simpler). This is by far the simplest and cheapest way to go for most people.

  • Eezy says:

    Hi

    I too would be very interested in these forms for the e-trade account.

    Many thanks.

    Alan

  • Steve says:

    Where are the full details on the e-trade account?

  • Blue says:

    Hello,

    I called Citibank for an ordinary account and their monthly fee is $50 (you need to credit $25,000 each month in order to avoid this fee), and the minimum credit to open the account is $25,000. I checked Schwab site for an International account and again, minimum credit required to open the account is $25,000, but they don’t charge a transaction fee. Etrade is $0 to open, but they don’t give a debit or ATM or credit card and to activate the account, you need to credit $1,000. And you can accept payments free to this account but each out-transfer is $25. I need an account with no transaction fee, low opening limit and an ATM, debit or credit card. If anyone helps, thank much in advance.

    —–

    Call Citibank again. They offer accounts from as low as $1 opening balance. However, not all their customer service people are as clued up on the accounts as you would expect them to be. It may be slightly easier to open one of these accounts if you already have a Citibank in your own country.

    You can get a debit card from e-trade. Once you open the account you can login and request it (unless they’ve changed the rules fairly recently – others have been able to do this even with a zero balance). Transfers out aren’t really an issue in that you could write yourself a check or just use the debit card. Transfers within America are free, international ones attract the $25 fee.

    Unless you have to have an account in America or one in dollars, my personal favourite is the Pathfinder Worldwide account offered by the Co-Operative Bank in Guernsey. It is £1000 (about $2000) to open BUT you don’t need to maintain that balance. It comes with a debit card and there are no transaction fees for normal operations (as always, international transfers don’t count as “normal transactions”).

    As a general point, bear in mind that holding accounts outside your own country almost always means paying more than you would do for a domestic account. Also, most people who think they need an overseas account usually don’t (a very broad generalisation!).

  • Chika says:

    Thank you sc much for information on opening a u.s.bank account.I look foward to the step-by-step procedure needed to get an e-trade account.Thank you once again.

  • Grant says:

    People can contact Etrade directly by phone, i personally delt with the USA customer service and then the Hongkong branch that deals with asia pacific area as i live in New Zealand.
    contact us by phone at (+Dial out code for your country) then dial 1 678 624 6210.
    The hong kong branch customer service guy was amazingly positive and helpfull, he sent all the forms i needed with in 3 minutes of hanging up the phone to my email.
    I am all set apply for the account now so we can sell our books on Amazon and another USA based online stores etc.

    Etrade seems to have many answers to issues in the finance world small business options and fits in with our company philosophy, http://www.positiveenergy.info

    Great stuff and good luck to you all

    Best Regards
    Grant Simpson
    New Zealand

  • alan says:

    By far the easiest method of accepting USD is to contact Standard Bank Isle Of Man and set up an account with them, they will open accounts in EUR GBP and USD if you want. When payments are made to your account in USD they will give you a clearing bank in the USA making it appear as though you do have a US account, this will then be re-routed free to your IOM account and stay in USD.

    Minimums… i was able to set mine up with no minimums but that was through the company i worked for at the time.. im not sure.. you will have to check.

  • Matthew Shelley says:

    Citibank details are now as follows for Alien Residents – Call 1-813-604-3000.

    Min balance is $25,000 require 2 forms of ID and a reference letter from you existing bank that you have been with for at least 1 year.

    Matthew

  • Ionut Grecu says:

    Hello,

    I want to opne an personal bank account in USA.I want online acces and ATM credit/debit card. I’m from Europe-Romania.Please note that i want to opne this account without travel in USA.So,please let em know how it works?Please answer at this questions:

    1. I will have an Bank of America account?If not provide the banks that are availabel?
    2. I will have online acces and ATM card?
    3.What is the limit card on day?
    4.How much take the procces?
    5.I will receive all the papers including the ATM card home at the address that i will provide?
    6.My account accept to link PayPal?
    7.I will cal receive transfers from any USA bank account?

    Please let em know how can we start.I wait your email with the steps and all instructions.

    Thanks!

  • Arnold says:

    1. In principle you can do Bank of America but see http://www.wholeearthguide.co.uk/i-weg-zr-er101-en.htm which includes the link required to get the bank account opening kit.
    2. Yes. It’s a Visa Debit card which you can use to buy things or to withdraw cash.
    3. It’s a debit card so there isn’t a credit limit as such. As far as I know there is no limit on it so long as you have the funds in your account.
    4. It doesn’t cost anything to open the account. Obviously you need to put some money in the account but that remains your money.
    5. They post everything to you.
    6. Yes, it’ll work fine with PayPal.
    7. It’s a proper bank account so you can receive bank transfers from America or anywhere else in the world.

    Arnold

  • catherine fortune says:

    hi there we have purchased a property in New York state which we rent out on a permanent basis, and intend to keep it for the forseeable future. we cannot see us managing to fly there for at least 6 months we need to open a bank account in order to pay in the rentors monies $800 USD p.c.m. someone is holding monies for us till we can open an account and they are willing to pay monies into account each month thanks hope you can assist

  • Tom Odenweller says:

    I’m looking for information on bank accounts in Switzerland. Pro’s, con’s, how to select the bank.

  • Nana says:

    Hell could you please send me detailed information to open a Bank of America account or any other American account .I live in Ghana.I would appreciate it very much

  • teeluck says:

    i want to open a account in bank of america

  • anthony says:

    i wish to open an account in america how do i do that

    ————

    The post above gives all the necessary information. For more complete information, check out the link re our information pack.

  • cosmin says:

    at this moment there is no way to open a bank account in the US without having a Social Security Number at least. I’ve called over 30 banks and this is the answer…bank of america will not open an account if you are not an us citizen, HSBC bank will not open a personal account if you want to withdraw PayPal money since that is considered a business withdraw..

  • Patsy says:

    I want to know more about the swiss account option. I am curious about how to get business credit cards on a swiss account with the non-disclosure rules

    I have a US company so just need a US dollar account so I am option one and will try Etrade. Ultimately I will apply for business credit cards so please let me know what other options you know of that I can try.

    Thank you in advance and thank you for imparting this knowldedge to begin with. Keep up the good work
    Patsy

    ————————-

    For the Swiss accounts see our article at http://www.wholeearthguide.co.uk/t-weg-zr-er105-en.htm .

    If you have a US company you should be able to open any of the American bank accounts online that a normal US resident would be able to open. I wouldn’t bother with etrade if you have a company as other banks are more likely to meet your needs better (eg the business credit card).

    Arnold

  • sholay says:

    how on earth will i open a us bank accout here in nigeria please help out

    —————–

    I suspect that it would be virtually impossible to do this basically because Nigeria is seen as the fraud capital of the world.

    Having said that, if you could open an account with HSBC in Nigeria, it might be possible to use that as a way into opening an account with HSBC in America. Worth looking into: let me know if you succeed with that one.

    Alternatively, in principle you could set up a company in America and use that to open an account. Once you’ve got the company set up it’s definitely no problem but you might run into problems in setting it up in the first place.

    Arnold

  • Lynda says:

    My 20 yr old son is presently in the US with his band. They have a visa which entitles them to work as musicians legally.
    He needs to open a bank account so any money he may earn can be paid into it for safe keeping.
    What requirements does he need to do this. He already has an HSBC account in the UK, but like a lot of young folk, not much money in it.
    Please help.

    ————

    If he’s actually in the US then he should be able to simply walk into a bank and open an account. The difficulty in opening US accounts is mainly down to them not being able to identify non-American customers but that is not supposed to apply if they actually walk into a branch. I suspect that it would be a lot easier if he could go into an HSBC branch but they aren’t that common in America outside the north east. Failing that, Bank of America would be useful (free cash withdrawals in Barclays in the UK) or Citibank. However, in theory any bank (not necessarily a savings and loan) should do it.

    In terms of opening an account in person, it’s not so much his UK HSBC balance that matters but simply having an HSBC UK account as it should show to HSBC America that he is an existing customer which generally eases things.

    Arnold

  • Abdur Rahman says:

    I Am Bangladeshe resident, I wont A Visa Cash Card.

  • Joe says:

    Hello, there, i want to sell china products online, especiallyt amazon and the like, how could i do?
    i am just a month starter, but those goods seem popular on alibaba, ebay… is that possible open a US bank account for chinese seller?
    how about e-trade, is it still work in this way? or any other banks else? which quite fit my situation?
    what i should provide for the procedure?
    thanks a lot!
    Best Wishes
    Joe

  • Facundo says:

    Hello! Great info. I’m from Argentina and i’d like to know what options do I have to open an US bank account being a non resident alien. Does the Etrade option still working? What should I do? Thanks a lot

  • Robert says:

    I want to know, is it possible for a indian to create a bank account is America. I don’t have any relatives, or anything like that.. But to extend my business, I am required to have a account there. Can you help?

    You can also mail to robertu06(AT)gmail(DOT)com

    Thank you.

  • Lawrence says:

    I need an account cause I use paypal, and it is not avaiable in my country. So, I need an american bank account to withdrow my money…

  • Aadhil says:

    Hi. I am from Maldives. I am selling on ebay using Moneybookers right now as in Maldives we can’t withdraw funds from our paypal accounts. Still, paypal is the most important method of payment in ebay and I really need it to work for me. This method of opening a US account is very interesting. Can I open an account in the US and withdraw funds from paypal to that account and later transfer the amount I need to my Maldivian bank account?? Do give me a clear answer as I have been communicating with paypal, ebay and anyone I can to find a way to be a successful seller on ebay. Thankx for the replies. I’ll be waiting….

    ————–

    Assuming that you open the US bank account, yes, you can transfer the money elsewhere. In practice you will probably find it cheaper to use the debit card to buy things locally rather than do an actual money transfer.

  • ashley says:

    i am in Ghana but i want to open acount in america.how do i do so

  • ubiku ovuokerie says:

    please direct me on how to own and operate a us account online from ghana, but i am a nigerian, havin ga domicilliary account in nigeria

  • tony says:

    Hello,I am from Nigeria and i would like to open an account in the US or Switzerland.and i would greatly appreciate it if you can help me out if i can get a us account thanks

  • Damien says:

    I don’t think this no longer works because i tried with Citibank a few days ago and according to the US Patriots Act, i was declined in opening one up. I am from Sydney Australian trying to establish an American Account.

  • Sonia says:

    Hi ,

    I have opened a LLC company in Delaware , have got the EIN number and now i would like to open a bank account in USA. Which banks can open account for Non Resident US citizens ?
    Thanks ,

    Sonia

  • ipolito says:

    hi, does your American kit apply to Ugandan residents? because as i read more on the website of etrade, its like we are not eligible to apply.

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