US Bank Accounts For Non-Residents: A Buyers Guide
If you have wasted your energy trying to open a US bank account from abroad then read this article for buyers advice about how to avoid the common problems you'll encounter. Despite what many people believe US bank accounts CAN be obtained legally by nearly everybody and there is no need to pay huge application fees or exploit dangerous gray areas which can put your money at risk.
After spending much of June researching how to open a US bank account from outside of America I have created a guide of what you should look for to avoid frustrations, wasted time and to avoid putting your money at unnecessary risk.
If you see companies selling "US Bank Account Kits" online then realize that they are charging you money just to tell you of a bank account that accepts applicants. Their kits usually provides you with application forms and perhaps a quick guide as to what you should write in the application. There is nothing wrong with paying money as a kind of "finders fee" but understand that you will be able to get those application forms for free from the bank. I've provided a list of banks that do accept international applicants below and if you feel the need then you are welcome to contact them yourself.
Be careful about traders selling US Bank Account Packs on EBay. These people rarely have any experience opening these accounts themselves and they have no idea if their product actually works or not. Many of these people have bought the package from somebody else and they will just sell it online without even caring if you waste your money on it. A lot of loopholes have closed recently and often these packs are completely out of date and could get you into trouble.
There is a way to get a US Bank account through E*Trade which you'll see promoted. You'll be told that you can get a check book and, with a $1,000 deposit, you'll be able to get an ATM card too. You won't be told that this bank is E*Trade though but you'll see reference to it because they will mention a $1,000 requirement to apply for the "Platinum Visa Card". What these companies don't warn you about is that you are obligated to open a brokerage account with E*Trade and if you don't regularly trade in stocks then your account can be frozen. It can take MONTHS to get it unfrozen. Thee promoters also claim that you can pay checks into your account which is no longer true.
There are some companies advertising ATM cards that can be used with PayPal and E-Gold. Some of the merchants do not have strong links with any bank and there have been instances where suddenly the agent has been suspended and all his customers cards get stopped. These ATM cards operate as "direct deposit" accounts and although you'll be issued with a card, you will not have your money in your own account.
Be careful about how frequently websites are updated. Check to see if the website updates its bank fees regularly or not. If they don't then it is a sign that the website you are working with is out-of-date and the agent may not really understand the industry any more. Changes happen all the time with bank terms and conditions for international members so if you see fees that do not specify a date, check with the merchant to see if they are still current.
Don't trust websites that are not affiliated with the bank or card provider. Internet fraud is common and it is very easy for a thief to set up a website to collect your details for identity theft. Look for a direct link to and from the banks website. Also make contact with the merchant before ordering to get an idea of their response time and commitment to customer service.
If you make an application using a web form check that the website address for the orders page is secure. A secure website will begin with https:// and (depending on your web browser) should show a closed padlock to show that the site is secure.
Don't pay hundreds of dollars for administrative fees. I do believe that it might be necessary to pay extra to open business bank accounts but some companies charge over $500 just to process your application form. Often you'd be able to apply to these banks directly but the agents won't tell you which bank they will submit your application to so that they can profit from you.
Often Bank accounts for international clients come with additional fees. Make sure you investigate these before registering for any account.
Don't trust any company that doesn't require you to provide them with at least 2 forms of ID. One must have proof of your address, the other must have a photo ID. If a merchant does not request this then they are in breach of US banking laws.
Any bank or service that offers a Visa Debit card will be charged an "international usage fee" by Visa International. The charge is applied if you use your card in a country other than where it was issued. Visa's International Usage fee can be as crazy as 8% and because the fee is not charged directly by the bank many banks avoid mentioning this. Before you do anything you must ask whether you will be charged this fee or whether the bank will waive it. Nearly every bank will require that you pay this fee!
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