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    What International Students Should Know About U.S. Banks

    Setting up a U.S. checking or savings account requires some extra paperwork if you’re an international student, but using a financial institution makes it easy to track and access your money.
    Published: December 2, 2016

    What You'll Learn

    • What benefits bank accounts provide international students.
    • How checking and savings accounts differ.
    • What you need to bring when you open an account.
    A woman inserting her bank card at an ATM.

    Having an account at a U.S. bank or credit union allows you to track your finances and access your money quickly and easily. Setting one up may require some extra paperwork if you're an international student—but that doesn't mean you have to live without their benefits.

    Why A U.S. Bank Account Makes Sense

    Perhaps the best reason to have an account at a U.S. bank or credit union is the convenience. You'll be able to withdraw cash for daily expenses and deposit any earnings, financial aid awards, loans, stipends, or money from home that you receive. Depending on the financial institution you choose, you can also use your account to write checks and manage your bill payments online—making it significantly easier for you to manage your finances and maintain your budget.

    If you have a job while you're in school, you may be able to automatically deposit your paychecks into your account. You'll also be able to cash checks for free and avoid international banking fees for any transactions made within the United States. Most banks and credit unions also provide you with a debit card, which is different than a credit card, but can be used to make purchases anywhere that accepts credit cards.

    Checking And Savings Accounts

    If you decide that a U.S. bank account makes sense for you, the next step is to choose the kind of account that will meet your needs. In most cases, this will be either a checking or savings account—or both.

    Checking accounts let you deposit and withdraw money easily and quickly. They also allow you to write checks for your monthly bills and usually come with a bank card to access cash from ATMs and make purchases from vendors that accept credit cards. Many financial institutions also provide secure online websites and mobile apps that make it simple to keep an eye on your finances at any time of day.

    Some checking accounts require you to maintain a minimum amount of cash in your account. Some also charge monthly fees. These amounts vary depending on the institution you choose and the type of checking account you open.

    If you’re setting aside funds for emergencies or major purchases, or if you have some extra money you don't need to access for your daily expenses, a savings account may be the right option for you. These accounts earn interest, which helps your money grow over time. But they may also be subject to fees and account balance minimums. Interest rates, fees, and minimums all vary from bank to bank and may depend on the amount of money you keep in your account.

    Some financial institutions don't allow you to write checks from a savings account, or they may charge fees for doing so.

    How To Open A Bank Account

    Although many banks allow customers to open new accounts online, it may be best to open yours in person at your local branch. International students need to provide some additional documentation, and you may have some questions a bank associate can answer. Many banks employ multi-lingual associates at their branches, so you may be able to talk to someone who speaks your native language.

    Different institutions require different documentation to open an account, so call ahead to find out exactly what you'll need with you. Here's a list of items that may be required:

    • Your unexpired passport, taxpayer identification number, or alien identification card number
    • Your Student ID card, birth certificate, state driver’s license, or a letter addressed to you from your school's International Students Office (as a secondary form of identification)
    • Official proof of your current address (like a utility bill or a copy of your lease)
    • Your mobile telephone number (and your landline telephone number if you have one)
    • Your I-94 record
    • Your I-20, DS-2019, or I-797 approval notice
    • An enrollment verification letter from your school
    • Any funds you want to deposit into your new account

    The benefits of opening an account at a U.S. bank or credit union will likely outweigh any hassle associated with the application process. Just be sure to research the financial institutions and types of accounts you're considering before you set up an account to ensure you choose one that meets your needs.

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