How to open a US bank account

Do you visit America often, or are you planning to relocate? Therefore, you are thinking about opening a bank account in the USA? This guide explains what you need to consider and helps you choose the right bank.

Who should open a US bank?

If you travel to America regularly or stay in the United States for a longer period of time, it is worthwhile to open a bank account in the USA. This way, you can save on credit card fees for foreign transactions and fees for international transfers, for example.

In general, opening a US bank account is recommended for:

  • Entrepreneurs who regularly do business in the USA
  • Students and Au-Pairs in the USA
  • New Green Card holders who are in the process of moving to the USA
  • People who frequently travel to the USA

How to open a US bank account

The most important banks in the USA

If you want to open a bank account in the USA, you can choose from a huge variety of financial institutions. The US banking system features four major national banks, ten major regional banks, and over 5,000 local banks.

Particularly when you are new to the States, we recommend that you open your first US bank account in one of the established national banks. They offer many advantages, such as a large network of branches and expertise in advising international customers.

The “Big Four Banks” of the United States are:

1st place: JPMorgan & Chase

According to the business magazine Forbes, the New York City-based bank JPMorgan & Chase is the most important in the US. The world's third-largest company listed on a stock exchange reported total assets of more than $2,821 billion in 2020.

2nd place: Bank of America

Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the most important credit institution in the USA until 2006. Today, the second oldest US bank ranks second behind JPMorgan & Chase.

3rd place: Wells Fargo Bank

Wells Fargo Bank, headquartered in San Francisco, California, ranks third among the major US banks. The bank, in its current form, was created through the merger with Norwest Corporation and the acquisition of Wachovia.

4th place: Citibank

Citibank was the first major American bank to have a foreign division. With total assets of $1,634 billion, the New York City-based credit institution ranked fourth among US banks in 2020.

What documents are required?

To open a bank account in the US, you will need several documents. Before you make an appointment with a bank, check that you have all the documents together. These include:

  • Identity document (e.g., Green Card, driver's license, passport, ID card)
  • Residence permit (e.g., visa, Green Card, work permit)
  • Proof of address (e.g., rental contract, utility bill)
  • Photo
  • Deposit (amount varies from bank to bank)
  • Social security number, if applicable
  • if necessary, documents proving that your money comes from legal sources

In general, it is possible to open a bank account in the USA via online registration. However, some US banks refuse the option of online registration for people who have not lived in America for long and only have a short credit history.

For this reason, it is advisable to make an appointment with the bank where you wish to open an account. This way, you can also clarify possible inconsistencies in the application or ask questions directly on-site to an advisor.

Pitfalls when opening a bank account in the USA

In the USA, credit history is of great importance: it provides information on how reliably a person has paid his bills and installments in the past years. It helps banks to assess the risks associated with a potential customer and the conditions on which they can offer to open an account.

If you have not lived in the US for long, you have the great disadvantage of relatively short credit history. For this reason, it is unlikely that you will be able to get a credit card or that the bank will grant you a credit limit. However, it is possible to get a chargeable credit card for the first couple of years.

Open a US bank account remotely

Some internationally operating banks such as HSBC, Barclays, or Credit Suisse have branches or correspondent banking relationships in the USA. It is best to check with your bank to see if this is the case. They may be able to help you open a bank account in the USA.

In addition, the American Citibank is known for having branches all over the world. If there is a Citibank branch in your hometown, you can get advice and open a bank account before you travel to the US.

What fees are charged?

While prices for banking services in the US vary from bank to bank, the following fees are generally to be expected:

Account maintenance fees

A monthly account maintenance fee is charged by most US banks. Usually, it ranges from $10 to $15. Exemptions and discounts are available for students, for example. Some banks also waive account maintenance fees if a set minimum amount is deposited in the account each month.

Withdrawing money

In this case, it depends on whether you want to withdraw money from an automated teller machine (ATM) of your own bank or from another bank. If you have an account at a US bank, you do not have to pay any fees when withdrawing money. Having a bank account with a major national bank gives you an advantage because they have a wide network of branches all over the country. You can find an ATM in practically every US state, allowing you to withdraw money free of charge.


Checks are still the preferred means of payment for many Americans when it comes to settling larger payments or regular expenses such as rent, electricity, or gym membership. You get your first checkbook when opening a bank account in the US. When you run out of checks, you can buy more from your bank for a fee. Depending on the bank, there are big differences in the number of checks and the price per booklet.

International bank transfers

If you want to transfer money to or from America, you have to expect long transfer times and high fees of more than €10. Online services like TransferWise or WesternUnion can help you to reduce these costs significantly.

More tips for the USA

Do you need more information about money? Then don't miss out on our extensive guide to the tax system in the US, or learn all the important facts about the currency of the United States.

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