In 2019 I shared on the blog that I wanted to open a bank account in the US, mainly to try to apply and get the benefits of US credit cards, but also to start saving some money in US dollars (USD) instead of the Swedish Kronor (SEK) which was globally declining in value.
That’s how I ended up opening an account at HSBC Bank US and getting the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard. At that time, the process wasn’t straightforward: I was a foreigner with no activities in the US, and most banks required an SSN or national ID to open a bank account and start building a credit score. Since I was already an HSBC client (in a different country), and HSBC was a global bank, I talked to my account manager and she helped me with the paperwork until I finally got all settled.
Fast-forward to 2022, there are many more resources that you can use online to remotely get a US bank account as a foreigner or from abroad. In this post, I cover the easiest ways to open a bank account in the US, and eventually get a US credit card.
Why Open A Bank Account In The Us In 2023? (7 Reasons)
Considering the global situation and macroeconomic context, there are more reasons than ever to open a bank account in the US and start saving in US dollars (USD).
1. The USD is the strongest currency in the world right now.
The Euro, British Pound, Swedish Kronor, and others are at historic lows. Given the current inflation rates and turbulent times in the stock market and crypto market, most countries are saving in US dollars or US bonds. This effect is making the value of the USD go up (because more people are “trusting in it”), which has now turned into the most powerful country in the world. These bonds are typically 2-3 years, so the trend is likely to continue for the next couple of years
2. You can get a US credit card.
Credit cards in the US are the dream. They come with big sign-up bonuses after a minimum spending, great benefits for travel and everyday purchases, and there’s a huge offer of free credit cards. Having more credit cards can actually be better to build your credit score, and help you maximize your money.
3. You can build a credit score and access a mortgage.
Once you start building your credit score in the US, you can access personal loans and even mortgages. You can save $10k or $20k USD and use it as a downpayment for a $300.000 USD home with a 15 or 30-year mortgage. Think about having an apartment in Florida that you can rent through Airbnb.
4. You can reduce the risk of losing your money.
Saving in a single currency can be dangerous. Back in 2013, I had 100.000 SEK saved in my Avanza bank account. With that money, I could have bought 15.000 USD and put it in a US bank account, and today I would have 155.000 SEK. Yes, that’s a whopping 55% difference. However, I didn’t.
Splitting your assets into multiple currencies helps you preserve the value of your money during tough times.
5. It’s hard to open accounts in USD in other countries.
Some big banks in your home country (Barclays, SEB, Swedbank, Nordea, etc.) give you the option of opening a bank account in foreign currency, but it is usually expensive to maintain and hard to apply for it. When I first came to Sweden I tried to do it at SEB, but it had fees of over €25 per month to maintain, which was crazy.
There are digital banks and fintech companies like Revolut and Wise that offer accounts in multiple currencies, but not all of them are banks and have insured deposits. You don’t want to make big deposits if those are not insured. It’s simply too much risk.
6. It’s easier than ever to send money internationally.
Today you can use tools like Wise and Revolut to send money from your home country to the US with almost no fees and with currency exchange rates. So, you can buy cheap US dollars and send them to your US bank accounts. Five years ago, it was much more difficult, and sending money abroad incurred expensive fees that were not worth it.
7. You get a sign-up bonus ($100 – $2000).
The banking scene in the US is very aggressive and competitive, and as a result, most banks have strong incentives to attract new customers. They usually offer you free money that ranges from $100 to $2000 if you bring some money to the bank (starting at $500)
How To Open a Bank Account in the US in 2023 (Top 3 choices)
There are multiple ways to open a bank account in the US, but here are my top 3 choices
- Getting an ITIN number (safest). This is definitely the simplest way and it can be fully done online and remotely. It just takes some time. Best option for most people.
- Forming your own company (e.g. LLC, C-Corp). There are many services that help you with this, and it can be a great option for freelancers and people doing business in the US.
- With your passport (restricted to some banks). It can be straightforward but you are only limited to a savings account and a debit card. You don’t build a credit score, and you won’t be able to access mortgages or loans.
1. Open A Bank Account In The US With An ITIN
US citizens are generally required to show their social security number (SSN) to open up a bank account. However, many US banks and credit unions of all sizes will accept an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) to open personal checking accounts, savings accounts, and even loans.
If you are an immigrant to the United States and do not have a social security number (SSN), you can apply for an ITIN from the Internal Revenue Service for free. This number is the key to gaining access to financial services so you can open a checking account or run your own business.
I got my ITIN in 2022 and used the EIN Express to get it. The whole process took about 9 weeks the Sina Bonabi handled the case himself. The company was very professional and quick to process my request. You can read more about my experience with EIN Express in this post.
You can use my code AIRLAPSE to get a $50 discount with EIN Express.
After I got my ITIN, I applied online to a Citibank Gold account (directly using my ITIN in their application). They are running a campaign with a $2000 USD welcome bonus after you deposit your first $10.000 and keep them there for 90 days.
I’m also planning on using my ITIN to get credit cards from Bank of America in the next couple of months.
Banks that accept ITIN in 2023
|Alliant Credit Union||✅ Yes|
|Bank of America||No|
|Charles Schwab||✅ Yes|
|Citi Bank||✅ Yes|
|Citizens Bank||✅ Yes|
|Digital Federal Credit Union (DCU)||✅ Yes|
|Fifth Third Bank||No|
|Santander Bank||✅ Yes|
|Wells Fargo||✅ Yes|
2. Set Up Your own Company
Another way to open a bank account in the US is to set up your own business and form a company (like an LLC). The equivalent in Sweden and the Nordics would be an aktiebolag or limited company.
Setting up an LLC in the US is fairly straightforward these days, given all recent entrepreneurial trends, freelancers, and startups. On the other hand, it also requires some extra work every year compared to option 1 (ITIN), where you need to file taxes every year and do the reporting/accounting. This option might be very attractive for people who already have or are planning on starting their own business or freelancing abroad.
The easiest way to set up a company is by using a service like Doola. You simply provide your ideal company name, a personal address, and your email, then they handle the rest! You get back an LLC formed in any state, an EIN, a registered agent, and help to open a bank account in the US.
3. With Your Passport or ID (not online)
The third way to open a bank account is to go with your passport / ID to a local branch and ask to open an account. The following banks accept your national passport as a form of ID and open accounts for foreigners:
- Bank of America
- Wells Fargo
- TD Bank
- US Bank
DISCLAIMER: keep the following things in mind
- They do not do this online. You’ll need to go to a branch.
- Not all passports or countries are valid. In general, European countries work. Also South American countries like Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.
- Not all branches do this. Even if the bank accepts it, some branches might refuse it.
- You’ll need to pay a maintenance fee. Think about $25 /month
- You won’t build a credit score. You will only get a debit card and savings or checking account. If you want to build credit and access a loan, get an ITIN.
How Does It Work With Taxes?
It’s perfectly legal to save your money abroad and keep it in a different currency. Most often you need to inform your local tax authority that you have a savings account abroad and that’s it. If you earn interest or get free money in the US, you will need to pay income tax on that amount. Just include that in your tax declaration.
For example, if you get $1000 interest in your savings in a year, you will roughly pay $300 in taxes in your home country. Credit card bonuses and credit notes are not included.
In these turbulent times, you might want to open a bank account in the US and take advantage of the benefits of a strong currency, sign-up bonuses, and extra credit lines. Your savings will be backed by FDIC (government), and you can also get investment accounts with no fees attached.
The US banking system is a completely different game. Understanding and opening it can be key to more financial opportunities, making the most out of your money, and helping you preserve your savings against high inflation and turbulence.