When it comes to opening an American bank account, the process should be fairly straightforward. In most banks the likelihood is that you will need to arrange a meeting with a customer service representative at the bank and provide them with a form of ID – a foreign passport is fine – proof of address, and your Social Security number (SSN). A SSN is a nine-digit number issued to all US citizens, permanent residents or those working temporarily in the States. At some larger banks you may be able to open an account online – although you will still need your SSN to be able to do this and will also have to activate the account at a bank’s branch in person.
Depending on the bank you use and the type of account you open, you may be charged a fee/deposit when opening an account. Depending on the type of account you have you may also be subject to monthly service fees. For example, you may be charged for making withdrawals at certain ATMs, or your balance being too low or, in some cases, even too high.
In addition to checking and savings accounts, most banks also have special accounts known as money market deposit accounts (MMDA), which allow you to write cheques and deposit money. Normally MMDAs will give you a higher interest rate than regular checking or savings accounts do, but they also require a higher minimum balance before you start earning the interest. You are limited to six transfers in any month, including only three cheques written in a one month period.
If you wish to open a US bank account prior to emigrating then this can prove problematic due to the insistence from most American banks for their customers to have a Social Security Number. However some banks offer the chance to open a US account at an overseas branch and then transfer your money between your existing account and new US Dollar account. Banks with a significant global presence are particularly good for doing this.
The criteria you will need to meet to open an American account at an overseas branch will depend on your country of origin and the bank. You will also probably be subject to fairly high fees.
Please note, that when looking to open a US account as a non-American resident ensure you use an official bank. There are companies on the Internet that will promise to open a bank account in the States for you, but many of these companies are scams and should be avoided at all costs.