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If you want to emigrate to America or stay in the United States frequently or for a long time, you need an American bank account. However, there are a few things to consider when opening a bank account in the USA.
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Not only Green Card winners starting a new life in the United States need an American bank account. Even if you stay in America on a regular basis or for a longer period, having a bank account in the USA is worthwhile. This way, high costs for international bank transfers or credit card fees for international use can be saved.
Opening a bank account in the USA is beneficial for:
The banking sector in the United States is enormous. The services offered are diverse and, above all, very heterogeneous. In addition to about ten large regional banks and more than 5,000 local institutions, there are four major national banks.
In most cases, it is advantageous, especially for newcomers, to choose one of the larger, well-established banks for a bank account in the USA. They not only have a widespread network of branches but are also well prepared to advise international customers.
The four major US banks at a glance:
If you are already in America, you can open a bank account either in a local bank branch or by registering online. However, it is advisable to make an appointment on-site, as any possible problems can be clarified more easily that way. In addition, some banks refuse online registration if you have not lived in the USA for long and have only a short credit history.
What documents you specifically need to open a US bank account depends on the bank and the offer you choose. But most likely, you will need to provide the following documents:
Immigrants have a major disadvantage when it comes to opening a bank account in the USA: their credit history is short. It tells the banks whether you have reliably paid your bills in the past. This way, the bank can assess how risky it is to accept you as a new customer and at what conditions to offer you a bank account in the USA.
For the same reason, access to credit cards is also very difficult or impossible for newly immigrated people or non-Americans. Banks will only give you a credit limit if you have a good credit history. However, a chargeable credit card (Secured Credit Card) can help you build a credit history after arriving in the US.
It is also possible to open a bank account for the USA already from your home country. Many international banks (e.g., HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, or Credit Suisse) have branches in America or maintain correspondent banking relationships with American banks. So check with your bank in your home country before you relocate. They may be able to assist you with a bank account in the USA.
Furthermore, some of the major US banks, e.g., Citibank, also have branches all over the world. There, you can already get advice in your home country and, if necessary, open an American bank account.
Although prices and regulations vary from bank to bank, you can expect to pay the following fees for banking in the USA.
You can usually withdraw cash from your own bank's Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) without being charged any additional fees. If you withdraw money from ATMs of another bank, however, this will cost you some extra money.
This is another reason why it is advisable to open a bank account with one of the four major American banks. These have an extensive network of branches and ATMs throughout the whole country. Most likely, you will quickly find a bank or machine where you will not have to pay any additional fees.
Most US banks collect a monthly account maintenance fee. The larger banks charge between $10 and $15. However, some banks will waive the fee if a certain minimum amount is deposited into the account each month. Students are often offered discounted rates as well.
While paying for smaller amounts in everyday life is usually done by credit card, checks are widely used in the US to pay for larger or regular expenses (e.g., rent payments, electricity bills, gym membership). Bank transfers and recurring transfers are less common in America.
Checks are provided by your bank when you open an account in the United States. In most cases, there is a fee per checkbook. The amount of the fee varies from bank to bank depending on the bank's pricing and the number of checks included in the checkbook.
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