Skip to main content

International student? Why you should open a U.S. bank account

Books. Bedding. Bags of late-night snacks.

These college essentials – and many other items–can quickly add up, especially if you’re an international student using a foreign bank account. If you’re accessing your home country account while in the U.S., you’re likely to get hit with charges such as international transaction and currency exchange fees.

Opening a U.S. account will put an end to those added fees, while providing a host of other benefits. For instance, you can:

  • Easily pay rent, utility or mobile phone bills. It’s simple to keep the bill-paying convenience going by setting automatic transfers for recurring payments.
  • Receive funds from another U.S. account in a speedy manner. You’ll get that paycheck, financial aid or scholarship money faster through a U.S.-to-U.S. transaction than you would if it were going into a foreign account.
  • Keep your money safe. A bank checking or savings account is a much better option than hiding any large amounts of cash you brought from home in your dorm room dresser.
  • Take the first steps to establish a U.S. credit history. Responsible use of a secured U.S. credit card will help you to build a strong domestic credit score. The issuers of secured cards often require an applicant to have a bank account.

Sounds interesting. How do I get started?

First, you’ll need to do a little research. Ask fellow international classmates and the school’s international student office for bank suggestions. Check out bank websites and read online reviews. Study up on the location of cash machines (also known as Automatic Teller Machines, or ATMs) to make sure they are near campus. You’ll pay fees if you use an ATM that is outside your bank’s network.

Then call or stop into a bank to get more details. Inquire about all potential bank fees. If you plan to travel outside the country, ask the bank for information on international in-network ATMs.

Got it. How do I decide what type of account is best for me?

The primary accounts to consider are checking and savings. Of those, a checking account should be your priority. It keeps your money readily accessible, which makes it easy to pay bills and make purchases.

You can tap into your cash by writing a check, using a debit card or transferring funds online. With your debit card, you can also withdraw and deposit money from an ATM and get cash back from some stores.

Look into adding a savings account if you’ll have large amounts of money that you won’t need to spend right away. This way, you can earn interest on your balance.

What do I need to know about receiving wire transfers from home?

Family members and others can send money electronically to your U.S. checking account from their local bank via a wire transfer. It’s secure and you can receive the funds relatively quickly. But keep in mind that you may be charged fees for receiving, and sending, any international wire transfers.

I’m always on the go. How can I stay on top of my banking?

Through mobile banking apps and online account access, you can monitor transactions, check account balances and pay bills from any place and at a time that works for you.

However, banks’ digital tools vary, so be sure to see what yours offers.

Some banks allow you to pay others from your mobile phone–say, to cover your portion of a restaurant bill–through what’s known as a peer-to-peer payment system.

And if you like to travel light, you can load your debit card information into your mobile phone’s digital wallet, freeing yourself from having to carry cash or cards.

Many banks will also give you the ability to opt in to text or email alerts about important account-related activities, such as a low balance or unusual activity.

Okay, I understand the banking basics. What do I need to know about U.S. credit?

Unfortunately, any credit record from your home country won’t transfer to America. You’ll have to start fresh. Fortunately, there’s a great tool to do this: a secured credit card.

These cards are different from conventional, or unsecured, credit cards because you can deposit cash into an account as collateral.

Before you apply, make sure the card provider will report your payments to the three major U.S. credit bureaus. Not all do this. These credit bureaus generate credit scores that indicate your level of financial responsibility. After several months of making timely payments, you may qualify for a conventional credit card, which will have a larger credit limit.

Over time, you can bolster your credit score. Like having a high grade point average, having a high credit score can set you up for success. It’ll help you get low-interest loans and favorable rates on car insurance, as well as show payment competence to a potential landlord.

Close Disclaimer

The material provided on this website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial, tax or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its affiliates, and Khan Academy, assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one’s reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional and tax advisor when making decisions regarding your financial situation.

Up Next

Contact Us