Opening a US bank account for non-citizens is a different process for residents of the United States and for those non-citizens who reside outside the United States.
For non-citizen residents of the United States, temporary or otherwise, who seek to open a United States bank account, all that is required is two appropriate pieces of photo identification, one of which will usually be your passport, the other a driver’s license or student card. Some banks may require a valid Social Security Number, but this is a matter of individual bank policy and can be waived by the bank manager. You will also require proof of your current residence. As with opening any bank account, there will also be paperwork to complete, the forms for which will usually be provided by the bank.
It is sometimes easier to open such an account in an international bank which maintains branches both in the United States and in your home country. In fact, if you already have an account in such a bank, you may be able to access all the usual services of that account in the United States without having to open up a new account.
Where large numbers of non-citizen residents may need to open up bank accounts at the same time, as at a university, local banks will often set up kiosks on-site to make the process as easy as possible. Employees of international companies arriving on a working visa will usually be helped through the process of opening a bank account by their sponsoring company, although in this case the parallel need of acquiring an SSN may delay the ability to access bank funds by as much as a month.
For non-residents of the United States, the process is much more difficult. In fact, very few banks which do not have an international presence, such as HSBC, Citibank, or Bank of America, will be equipped to manage it. Financial institutions other than banks which sometimes offer international accounts include savings and loans companies, credit unions, and brokerage firms.
As a non-citizen non-resident, you will require two pieces government-issued identification acceptable to the bank, at least one of which includes a photograph. Again, passports work well. In addition to the W-8 form which declares your non-residency, you will also require proof of your permanent address, which may be required to be a street address rather than a postal box. Additionally, you will be required to fill out a great deal of paperwork to meet the various requirements of banking law and the Patriot Act. You may be required to turn up in person for some of these steps, although some banks only require photocopies or faxes of the required documentation. Despite the many advertisements for on-line bank accounts, you will not be able to open a new United States bank account solely through the Internet.
Once you have opened your new bank account, you also can begin building a US-based credit rating. This, in turn, will open the doors to credit cards and personal and business loans. Of course, if you start earning more than $400 USD a year in interest, you will have to declare this amount on your taxes, which opens up an entirely different can of international worms.