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International Students: set yourself up for U.S. banking success

Having a domestic bank account up and running can make for a smoother adjustment to university. By banking in the U.S., you eliminate foreign transaction fees and gain a convenient way to pay for books, food, rent and other essentials.

And though setting up a U.S. account may feel intimidating, it’s really not that complicated. Check out this step-by-step guide, and consider it one of your early assignments.


Explore bank options

Haven’t left for the U.S. yet? Start with a little banking homework before you head over. If you’re in America already, the same research principles apply. Look for a bank that has branches or fee-free cash machines (known as ATMs) close to campus. Fees vary from bank to bank, so ask for a list of charges associated with the accounts you plan to open. Review them closely.

Check in on any student benefits. For example, some banks waive maintenance fees on student checking accounts. Also, ask about a bank’s online and mobile tools to be sure you can access your accounts whenever it suits your schedule.


Get your documents in order

The information that banks need to open an account varies, but in general, you’ll be asked for two forms of identification (typically a passport and a secondary document such as a driver’s license, birth certificate or student identification), government forms related to your domestic studies and a letter proving you are enrolled in university. Be sure to find out what your bank specifically requires.


Open a checking account, and consider a savings account

With a checking account, your money is readily available for purchases and bill payments.

You can tap into funds by writing a check, using a debit card or transferring money online. Your debit card gives you the ability to buy goods and services at many merchants globally, as well as to withdraw and deposit money at cash machines.

You can also securely store a digital version of your debit card in your mobile phone’s digital wallet. Through this, you can use your smartphone to make purchases at participating merchants and get money from cardless cash machines.

If you expect to have a large amounts of money that you won’t need to access immediately, look into opening a savings account as well. You’ll earn interest on the funds and can transfer money from savings to checking to pay your bills.


Get a credit card

Once you’re living in the U.S., it’s important to create a credit history to show lenders that you are financially responsible. Your credit history at home does not follow you to America.

A strong U.S. credit record can help you rent an apartment, qualify for a low-interest loan and get favorable rates on car insurance. Some employers will also look at the credit of a prospective employee.

Upon your arrival, you may have no credit history in the U.S., making it hard to get a conventional credit card. An alternative is to apply for a secured credit card. This card works like a regular credit card – and helps to build your credit history – except that you would deposit money into an account as collateral.

One of the best ways to create a favorable credit history is to use that card and pay off the balance each month. After a few months of making payments on time, you can qualify for a traditional credit card.

Note that irresponsible use, such as making payments late, will negatively affect your credit score. It’s worse to have a bad credit history than to have a no credit history.


Safeguard your accounts

There are vital security-related steps you can take to keep your financial information secure. Use strong passwords and vary them, delete any emails requesting account information – they aren’t legitimate – and regularly update digital devices to install the latest security protection.

Opt to receive text, email or phone alerts for large cash withdrawals, debit-card purchases, password changes and potentially fraudulent activity on your account.

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.

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