How to open an account in the United States without being a resident?

Currently, most conventional banks in the United States ask for documentation that you are a U.S. resident. And if you are not, it can be difficult or impossible to open an account with them.

The solution to open an account in the United States without being a resident is to use Wise. Their multi-currency account allows you to obtain U.S. account information (account number and routing number) that you can use exactly as if you had an account with any U.S. bank.

When is someone considered a nonresident alien?

A nonresident alien in the United States is a person who has not become a U.S. citizen or resident alien for tax purposes.

U.S. law considers as residents those foreigners who have obtained the right to reside in the country by obtaining a Green Card or a conditional residence permit. If you do not have either, you are a non-resident.

So, can I open an account in the USA without being a resident?

Yes, you can open a US bank account without being a resident by opting for a US account for non-residents in a US bank. Although there is no law against offering an account for foreigners, it is quite complicated to open one with traditional banks because the process cannot usually be done remotely.

In addition, another problem is what documents are needed to open a bank account, since as a non-resident you will not have the possibility to present the main documentary evidence needed and you will have to try to get them to accept other supporting documents as foreigners. So, in general, you will have to go to several offices, explain your particular case to the agent who will attend you and have a bit of luck.

Wise, on the other hand, allows you to open an account in the United States without being a resident completely online and you only need to identify yourself with an official document such as your passport or driver's license, as you can see in this guide on how to open an account for foreigners only with a passport.

Open a non-resident account step by step with Wise

To open your US bank account for non-residents, follow these steps:
  • Go to the Wise website and click on "Sign up" or download the mobile app.
  • Enter your email, your password and specify whether you are a private user or a company.
  • Access the "Balances" section in your personal area and click on "Get started".
  • Verify your identity by receiving an SMS message on your cell phone.
  • Choose the currency you are interested in, in this case, US Dollars.
  • Click on "Activate".
  • Complete the identity verification by uploading a photo of your ID card, driver's license or passport
  • By going back to the "Balances" section you will be able to see your account number and wire and ACH routing numbers.
Registration is free and will only take a few minutes. However, before you can start using your account, your identity documents will need to be verified. This usually takes a minimum of a few hours and a maximum of 5 working days.

Can I open a non-resident account online?

Yes, you can open an account 100% online with Wise, which will provide you with a multi-currency account with access to local US bank details and the ability to send and receive money in US dollars, as you can see in this guide to opening a free online bank account.

As far as traditional banking is concerned, entities such as Bank of America, Chase or Wells Fargo allow the opening of an online account, although only to residents. Normally no online bank in the United States is prepared to accept the documentation of a non-resident in an automated way, so you will only have to go in person to one of the offices of the banks named or try to contact by email or telephone to get someone to manage the opening of the account and process your documentation.

Documents needed to open a bank account in the USA with a traditional bank

It is very common not to know what documents are needed to open a bank account, especially when dealing with a US bank

Banks are obliged to ask for information that proves that their clients have an address in the country, that their identity is true and that they are in a legal situation in the United States. To do so, at the moment of opening an account they will ask you for:

An address within the United States and some proof that you reside there (an electric, water or gas bill is usually sufficient).
  • Your Social Security number
  • A driver's license or state ID card.
  • In addition, foreign nationals are usually required to provide:
Copy of your passport
  • Copy of your visa or residence permit
  • If you have any doubts, you can consult more information about what documents are needed to open a bank account in the linked guide.
Most common fees for non-resident accounts

While Wise only charges for currency conversion, traditional banks usually charge fees1 for:
  • Account maintenance: this is a monthly fee for keeping your account active. It depends on each bank and the type of account you sign up for. It usually ranges from USD 4.95 to USD 35.
  • Debit card maintenance: this is free at most U.S. banks.
  • Withdrawing money at ATMs within the country: most commonly, you will not be charged as long as you use the bank's own ATMs. If you use another bank's ATMs, your bank will charge you a fee, usually between $2.50 and $3.00.
  • Withdrawing money from ATMs abroad: this is usually a flat fee of around US$5. In addition, you will usually be charged a 3% commission on the amount withdrawn as a currency exchange fee.
  • Purchases with a card in another currency: 3% of the amount.
  • Sending transfers abroad: usually between 40 and 50 USD. In some banks, the fee may be different depending on whether you send USD or foreign currency.
  • Receiving international transfers: you will usually be charged 15 or 16 USD for each transfer you receive from abroad.
  • Sending a domestic wire transfer: depending on the bank, you will pay between $25 and $35 USD.
  • Receive transfers from another account in the USA: the cost is usually 15 USD.
Also, remember that conventional banks use exchange rates with surcharges. This means that every time you make a payment or withdrawal in a currency other than your account currency, you will pay an additional hidden fee.

Wise: An online account for global citizens

With the Wise account you only pay to convert money from one currency to another. There is no maintenance fee, no card fees. And your fees are low and completely transparent.

In addition to having US account details, you'll also have local banking details for the Eurozone, UK and more. You'll be able to exchange and hold your money in over 40 currencies. And whenever you perform a currency conversion, the real (Google) exchange rate is used.

With their debit card you can shop online and pay or withdraw money anywhere in the world. The Wise account is the perfect choice for you if you live, work or travel without borders.