By Simon Zhen Wed Apr 17, 2013
Simon Zhen is an analyst, staff writer and columnist for MyBankTracker.com. His columns draw focus to all aspects of personal finance and to bank rates, products, and services. More Columns »
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Q: I’m a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong who will be traveling to the U.S. for classes. I want to open a bank account through the phone or Internet and transfer money before I travel to the U.S. Is there any way to do this?
- Christina W.
A: To open an account online or through the phone, most U.S. banks require that applicants provide a U.S. address and a social security number. Unfortunately, without these two pieces of information, you’ll have to sign up for a bank account in person.
At a branch, the bank will be able to verify your identity through other personal documents (e.g., passport, student visas, etc.).
One way to get a bank account before arriving in the U.S. is to find a bank in Hong Kong with a presence in the U.S.
For example, in Hong Kong, Citibank has more than 40 branches and HSBC has more than 50 branches. They also happen to be two of the largest banks in the U.S.
Citibank and HSBC allow cross-border account opening of overseas bank accounts. You can fund these accounts ahead of time so that you don’t have to carry large amounts of cash during your travel. You’ll also avoid fees and delays if you wait to open an account in the U.S. and request a funds transfer from home.
While these two banks offer a very convenient service for customers who are looking to travel abroad, they may not be the right fit for you. It may be that there are no Citibank or HSBC locations near your place of study. Or, you simply want to go with a different bank.
If you’re going to wait until you coming the U.S. to open an account, you may consider getting a prepaid debit card — found at many supermarkets and drug stores — immediately upon arrival. It’ll come in handy if you need to swipe for a purchase. (However, don’t load too much money onto a prepaid card as it is likely to have a slew of fees.)
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Use HSBC rather than Citi and you can have a credit card before you arrive.
Simon’s suggestions are excellent — as usual. When I worked in the Middle East I used an account with Citibank opened from my NY account. Before I started working in the UK, I opened a new account with the local NY branch of HSBC, to which I had easy access in London and Norwich. As you will be travelling, a prepaid card from Western Union or MoneyGram would appear to be ideally suited to your needs. There are few places in the US with the types of schools offering exchange programs where you would not find local agents of these 2 global remittance companies.
I live in South Africa but travel throughout Africa where I pay all my accommodation and bills (often in US$) and use ATM to draw down money locally. I have an HSBC international debit card (Visa) which suits me perfectly. Now HSBC say I am not entitled to bank with them (some agreement with South African Reserve Bank). So I don’t have a debit card anymore, but I still travel throughout Africa! How do I get a US$ account/ debit card without having to stack punitive minimum funds into the account? I just need to get around Africa. US$ are the way to do it.