How to Open a Bank Account in the US - Your Full Guide 2022

If you’re a frequent visitor to the US, or plan on moving there soon, you may be wondering about the best way to open a US bank account from Canada. Your options here will depend a little on whether you are - or you expect to become - a US resident, but the good news is that you’ll be able to open an account in the US which can be used to receive, hold and spend USD either from a traditional US bank, a Canadian bank with cross-border services, or an alternative provider.

This guide runs through all you need to know about how to open a bank account in the US from Canada, as a resident or non-resident, including a look at traditional bank accounts and innovative modern alternatives like Wise and Revolut.

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What documents do I need?

If you’re looking to open a US bank account with a traditional bank based in the USA you’ll usually need at least 2 pieces of documentation:

  • Proof of identity (like a passport or ID card - some banks require 2 separate pieces of ID)

  • Proof of address (often a utility bill or bank statement in your name)

SSN or ITIN

This is easy enough if you’re a resident and have paperwork like bills in your name already, but can be tricky if you’re not in the US just yet. 

It’s also helpful to note that even where traditional banks offer USD accounts for non-resident aliens, you’ll usually need to prove a US address. That can make these accounts feasible if you split your time between the US and Canada, but are non-resident in the US from a tax perspective - but not much use if you don’t have a second home you can use for a US correspondence address.

 

Save the paperwork with alternative solutions like Wise or Revolut

If you’re new in the US, or only there from time to time, you may find it impossible to open a regular US bank account. However, there are options.

If you’re looking for an account which you can use to hold and exchange USD, alongside CAD, alternative providers like Wise and Revolut can help. 

With Wise you can open an account online or in the Wise app, before you leave Canada, with your Canadian ID and proof of address. Wise accounts come with banking details for CAD, USD and a range of other major currencies, to get paid like a local. You’ll also be able to hold and exchange 50+ currencies, send money to 80+ countries, and spend all over the world with your linked Wise card. All currency exchange uses the mid-market exchange rate with low, transparent fees - and no minimum balance and no ongoing charges to worry about.

Revolut is another option if you’re already in the US but don’t yet have full US proof of address. You can open a Revolut account online with your Canadian passport and proof of legal right to be in the US, to hold and exchange 28 currencies including CAD and USD, spend with your linked card, get fee free withdrawals and more. Unfortunately, Revolut isn’t yet available in Canada - so you won’t be able to set this up before your arrival to the US.

Go to Wise

How to open a bank account in the US

Because of strict laws to stop money laundering and financial crime, US banks are usually reluctant to allow customers to open accounts online. That means you almost always have to visit a branch at some point in your application, to show your documents and get verified.

Whether you’re lucky enough to find a US bank which will let you apply online, or you need to make an appointment to attend a branch in person, the route to getting a bank account in the US from a traditional bank is more or less the same:

  • Choose the right bank and account for your needs

  • Check over the eligibility and gather the required documents

  • Complete your application online or in person

  • Get verified by showing or uploading your paperwork

  • Hand over your minimum opening deposit, and receive your account card and chequebook to get started transacting

Can I open a bank account in the US before arrival?

It’s not usually possible to open a US bank account before you have proof of address. That means that opening your account before you physically move to the US is tricky - and often impossible.

One alternative is to open a Canadian bank account which has cross-border functionality. Major providers like TD Bank offer a range of accounts designed for short term or long term travellers to the US, which let you transact in USD daily conveniently. However these accounts usually come with monthly fees - or need a high average daily balance to have ongoing costs waived.

Instead, if you want to transact in USD as soon as possible with no minimum balance or monthly fees, check out alternative multi-currency accounts. These often have online opening processes which can be easier, faster and more intuitive than getting started with a traditional US bank, with no ongoing charges and lower overall fees. More on a few options coming up next.

Which account is best in the US for foreigners? 

If you’re looking for a US bank account - rather than a Canadian bank account which can handle USD, you’ll probably be best off choosing between an online specialist and a resident account from a major US bank. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

ServiceWiseRevolutBank of America*Chase*
Currencies covered54 currencies including USD and CAD28 currencies including USD and CADUSDUSD
Open before you arrive in the USYesNot available to residents of CanadaNoNo
Open onlineYesYesNoNo
Opening fee$0 $0Minimum opening balance $100$0
Maintenance fee$0 Up to $16.99/month

$12/month - avoid this by maintaining £1,500 balance

$12/month - avoid this by maintaining £1,500 balance
International transfersLow fee, varies by currencyFee varies by currency and payment value$30

$5 for online transfers under $5,000 - fee waived for higher value payments

*Bank of America account profiled - Advantage Plus Checking Account. Chase account profiled - Chase Total Checking. Other accounts from these providers have varied terms and conditions

Despite being a huge banking market, US banks are pretty strict when it comes to offering accounts to non-residents or new arrivals. Without proof of address in the US you may struggle, even to open a standard non-resident alien account. Online providers can offer a much more flexible service with an online opening process which is easy to manage from home.

Wise

Open your Wise multi-currency account online or in the Wise app to hold and manage 50+ currencies including both CAD and USD. Accounts come with USD bank details so you can get paid easily, plus an international debit card for easy spending and withdrawals.

Wise has a focus on driving down the costs of currency exchange and international transactions. In fact, Wise currency exchange always uses the mid-market exchange rate with no markups, saving you money when you send a payment or shop internationally. With no ongoing account fees or minimum balance to worry about, all you need to pay is low, transparent fees for the services you actually use.

Account types: Both personal and business customers can open a Wise multi-currency account with no minimum balance or monthly fees to pay. You just pay a low, transparent fee for the services you use.

Eligibility: Open an account using your Canadian proof of address, to get an account which lets you receive, send, hold and spend USD . Full details of availability by location available on the Wise website.

Is it safe? Wise is FinCEN registered and trades in the US using its own licence, or through its partnership with Community Federal Savings Bank. In Canada, Wise is registered with the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) and the Authorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF). 

Go to Wise

Revolut

Revolut offers free and fee paying accounts which can hold 28 currencies, including CAD, USD and a whole host of other major global currencies. You’ll  get a linked debit card, and some free transactions, even with the basic account which has no monthly fees. 

If you use your account often you might benefit from upgrading to a fee paid account which can mean a bill of up to $16.99/month. However, fee paid accounts have higher fee free transaction limits and perks like lounge access and travel benefits. 

Account types: Standard account plans are free or you can upgrade to a paid plan for up to $16.99/month.

Eligibility: You won’t be able to open your account from Canada, but you can get set up once you arrive in the US 

Is it safe? Revolut’s banking services are provided through Metropolitan Commercial Bank, which is a member of the FDIC.

Bank of America

Bank of America has plenty of choice for accounts, and a range of financial services covering mortgages, credit, loans and more. One popular option as a day to day account is the Bank of America Advantage Banking Account. There’s a monthly fee to pay for this product, but you could have this waived if you’re a student or enrol in one of the Bank of America Preferred Rewards programmes.

Account types: Full range of personal checking and savings accounts available.

Eligibility: Non-resident foreigners will still need a US address to be able to open an account. 

Is it safe? Yes. Bank of America is a large global organisation which is regulated and trusted around the world. Deposits are FDIC protected.

Chase

Chase is a huge organisation with a great range of account products. If you’re already a US resident and need a way to manage your USD finances day to day, you might like the Chase Total Checking or Chase Premier Plus Checking accounts. Both of these accounts come with monthly fees which can be waived by maintaining a minimum balance amount. 

Alternatively, have a look at the Chase Secure Banking which has no overdraft fees with access to 16,000 Chase ATMs and 4,700+ Chase branch locations.

Account types: Full range of personal checking and savings accounts available.

Eligibility: You’ll usually need to provide a US based proof of address to get an account, which means you’ll likely need to be a US resident to get an account.

Is it safe? Yes. Chase is publicly traded, regulated in all countries it operates in, and FDIC insured.

What are the costs?

Accounts from traditional US banks are normally free to open, although it is common to need to deposit a minimum amount at the point of applying. You may also find there are monthly fees which you can have waived if you maintain a minimum balance - although the actual balance amounts required can vary significantly from one bank to another, and between account types.

All accounts will come with a range of transaction or service fees, which you may need to pay depending on how you use your account. Read the terms and conditions carefully, looking especially for fees like these:

  • Monthly maintenance or fall below fees

  • International payment fees

  • Foreign transaction fees when spending or withdrawing with your card

  • Overdraft fees 

  • Credit card costs including cash advances and interest 

  • Account dormancy or early closure fees

Don’t forget to shop around for the right USD account for your needs. Alongside traditional bank account products from major US banks, take a look at some specialist online providers which can often offer similar perks with lower fees and better exchange rates.

Tips for transferring money

Transferring money overseas is one of the more expensive transaction types when you live internationally, travel often or have a second home abroad. If you’re sending money with a regular bank don’t forget:

  • Banks will almost always impose a transfer fee, which can vary depending on how you set up your payment

  • Exchange rates used by banks will usually include a markup - this is a fee wrapped up in the rate applied, making it tricky to see, and more expensive the bigger the payment

  • Third party fees often apply to bank transfers, especially SWIFT payments. These push up costs and can’t usually be accurately predicted in advance

Conclusion

As a Canadian who travels frequently to the US, owns a second home south of the border, or is planning on a permanent move, opening a US bank account can be very handy. It’ll make it easier to hold and spend USD without needing to convert back to Canadian dollars every time, cutting costs and making it easier to spend when you're in the US.

However, US banks don’t make it easy for non-residents and newcomers to open USD accounts. And even where you can get a US account from a regular bank, you’ll likely pay monthly fees for the privilege.

Instead, you’ve got a couple of other options. Open a cross-border banking arrangement with a Canadian bank, or choose a lower cost, more flexible alternative from an online provider. Compare a few different accounts - using this guide as a starting point - to find the right option for you.

FAQ

Can a foreigner open an account in the US?

Yes - but you’ll usually need a local US proof of address document. If you don’t have this yet you’ll probably find it easier to open an online USD account with a specialist provider.

How much do I need to open a bank account in the US?

US bank accounts often have monthly fees or fall below fees, plus transaction charges as you use your account.

Specialist services often come with no minimum balance and no monthly charges. Compare a few providers to get the best deal for your needs.

Can I open an American bank account online?

You’ll usually need to visit a branch to show your documents to get set up with a US bank. As an alternative, look at specialist providers which allow customers to open accounts online, with a more flexible verification process.

Can I open a bank account in the US before landing?

Without a US proof of address document you’re unlikely to be able to open an account with a regular US bank. Instead, why not get a smart and flexible account from an online specialist service like Wise or Revolut instead.

By Ileana Ionescu
Updated September 1, 2022