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Guide To Setting Up a U.S. Bank Account

Living in the US as a foreign citizen, a student , someone who is there on a short training period, or as a tourist is not an easy thing to do. After the events of 9/11, US banks have significantly increased the security procedure for opening accounts for foreign citizens. Meaning: as a foreigner, there's no way you'll get an account opened in a US bank without being present in front of the bank officials for a face-to-face interview and conversation. That's why it's good to have some sort of intermediary between you and the US bank to open the account for you, if you're not able to go for that face-to-face conversation. And if you think that setting up a US bank account is hard and scary, it probably means you don't have enough information on how to do it:
1. Research. A lot!

International banking is no joke, and entrusting your money to someone in another country is a serious thing. Also, a US bank will be very careful with you as a foreigner; so be sure they will want to know some things before they allow you to open an account in their bank. First things first:
  • as a foreigner looking to open a basic bank account, you should explore if setting up a US bank account is free of fees. Most banks offer this service for free, but just in case, do your research and be 100% sure.
  • You must know what type of account you want to set. Mainly, you'll be looking for one of the two: checking account – from which you can frequently deposit and withdraw money. This one is perfect for paying monthly bills, receiving stipends, or money from home. The other type is a savings account, on which you deposit money which you can't withdraw for a certain amount of time and you acquire interest for that time. Generally when you open a checking account you'll get a savings account with it as well, so if you have a little extra at some point in time, you have an account to save them.
  • Read a little for the bank you choose; is it stable in terms of services it offers, ATM web across the city, speed of service and especially speed of check clearing; if you have to wait an hour in the bank to clear your check, it's simply not worth it. And another useful tip: if the bank's personnel isn't friendly and eager to assist you personally (trust me, you'll need it) change it. Life is too short for that waste of time.

2.    So, what should you ask?
  • How much is the minimum you should deposit for opening the account – most banks will have a minimum amount of money you should deposit if you want to open an account; that would normally be a minimum amount required to be deposited on the account for a certain long time period;
  • If you're looking for a savings account; what's the interest rate?
  • Is there a maintenance fee and how much is it?
  • What's the check clearing time?
  • Does the bank offer the online banking service?
  • And the most important question: Is there anything I should know before I open the account? , asked straight and clear so there's no confusion later.  
3.   Prepare the documents
There's a list of documents you need to have ready with you for setting up a US bank account quick and easy:
  • a valid passport with J-1 visa;
  • DS-2019 Form
  • DS-7002 Form (Training Plan)
  • I-94 card
  • the social security card if you have it;
  • student ID card
  • The ID card from your government
  • or any other form of identification ( a credit card from another bank is also a good option)
4.   What to expect on the interview
The interview the bank representative is going to conduct will be to get to know you well by asking you some basic biography questions, why are you in the country, how long do you plan to stay and that sort of questions. Don't lie to the bank official, not because you'll get in trouble or something, but because you might mislead him/her and eventually end up with the wrong service or product. So, be relaxed, honest and ask whatever interests you, that's partly why this interview exists.
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