How to Open a U.S. Bank Account When You're in Another Country

open overseas bank account image / Flickr

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.

Quick answer: Most U.S. banks require U.S. government issued ID and a Social Security number/ITIN when applying for an account. Otherwise, you'd have to fill in an application in person at a branch.

What Banks Require When Applying for an Account

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.).

Find a Bank With Foreign Branches

One way to get a bank account before arriving in the U.S. is to find a bank in the foreign country 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.

In-Branch Visit Likely Required

If you're trying to open a U.S. bank account without Social Security number or ITIN, most banks will require that you visit a branch to submit an application in person.

While the necessary documents may vary by bank, expect to show at least your non-U.S. passport and a mailing address. It could seem like a hassle to have to make a trip to the bank, but there is no other way for the bank to verify your identity without this procedure.

Prepaid Cards Can Be a Short-Term Option

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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Ask a Question

Friday, 30 Dec 2016 10:59 AM
<p>Are there limits on amounts to be loaded onto a prepaid debit card?</p><p>If so, what is the limit?</p>
Tuesday, 08 Nov 2016 2:01 AM
<p>Thanks Simon for your Article "How to Open US Bank Account Overseas"</p>
Monday, 07 Nov 2016 11:34 PM
<p>Generally, if you are not a resident of the U.S., you have to be present at a bank branch when applying for a bank account -- it doesn't matter if it is an individual or joint account.</p>
Monday, 07 Nov 2016 12:26 AM
<p> To open US Joint Bank account online or through the phone, can he or she uses a friend or fiancée using a U.S. address and a social security?</p>
Sunday, 13 Sep 2015 7:39 PM
<p>ubl bank of pakistan</p>
Monday, 03 Aug 2015 3:09 PM
<p>mssparkle, are you in England and looking to open a U.S. bank account? Or, are you looking to open a bank account in England?</p>
Monday, 03 Aug 2015 1:34 PM
<p>I inherited some money overseas; I wish to open a bank account in England but am having difficulty doing so. Do you know of any banks that will allow me to do this?</p>
Tuesday, 28 Jan 2014 12:44 PM
<p><a href=";cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener" title="">http://share.payoneer-affil...</a><br>U can open an account without going out of ur house..from the place where u r will be sent a debit mastercard for free too to ur doorstep..available for more than 200 countries..sign upbusing the above link..i will get $25 for reffering u and u too will get 25 dollars for signing up using my link..thanks</p>
Monday, 19 Aug 2013 3:40 PM
<p>I live in South Africa but travel throughout Africa where I pay all my accommodation and bills (often in US$) 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.</p>
Sunday, 21 Apr 2013 6:47 PM
<p>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.</p>
Thursday, 18 Apr 2013 8:35 PM
<p>Use HSBC rather than Citi and you can have a credit card before you arrive.</p>