There is a lot of misunderstanding about how can immigrants open bank accounts. Yes, you can! In the United States, banks should not ask what your immigration status is. Many do not require you to have legal status. There are ways to establish your identity without having status or a social security number.
Opening a bank account is one of the smartest financial moves you can make your first few months as a new immigrant.
Read below to learn more. And for more support, book a free 30 minute consultation with us here: http://immigrantfinance.com/consult
How can immigrants open bank accounts?
This will depend on the bank as each bank can be a little different. Generally, to open a bank account you need to have two things:
(1) an identification number and
(2) proof of your identity and address, for example through a valid, government-issued photo ID.
For undocumented immigrants, there can be challenges meeting both requirements. However, it is possible to find the right proof and bank for your situation.
How do I provide an identification number?
An identification number is needed at most banks to open an account. You can use a Social Security Number (SSN). If you don’t qualify for a social security number (SSN), you can use a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Who can get a Social Security Number
The easiest way to show an identification number is by having a social security number. These groups of people are probably eligible for a social security number:
- lawful permanent residents (“green card holders”)
- people who have been granted asylum (“asylee”)
- people who have a certain kind of visa that allows you them work in the United States
- people who naturalized and became a U.S. citizen
How Undocumented Immigrants Can Get Identification Numbers
If you do not have any legal status and/or you are not eligible to have a Social Security Number, don\’t worry. There is another way to provide a bank with your ID number: through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
The U.S. government\’s tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), gives ITIN numbers to foreign nationals who are working in the U.S. and pay taxes. This is how many undocumented immigrants pay taxes to the government.
You can apply for an ITIN at the same time that you file federal taxes to the IRS. The purpose of the documents you need to include are to show that you are who you say you are. Once you complete all the documents, you can submit your ITIN application along with your federal tax return.
- Fill out the required Form W-7. It is available in English and Spanish.
- Provide proof of identity with an unexpired document that includes a photograph of you. For example you can use an unexpired passport or driver’s license.
- Provide proof of your connection to a foreign country with an unexpired document. The whole purpose of an ITIN number is to allow foreign nationals or people from other countries to be able to pay taxes in the U.S., so to do that you have to show what country you are associated with.
- Complete your federal tax return.
- Attach your Form W-7 and proof of identity with your tax return and submit it.
Practice Pointer: there’s only one document that will satisfy both of the requirements to provide photographic proof of identity and proof of your connection to a foreign country (requirements #2 and #3) all in one step. That is an unexpired passport from your home country. If you do not have an unexpired passport, the IRS has a chart of 13 types of documents that can be used.
For each of these documents, you need to provide an original document or a certified copy. A certified copy is like a copy of the original document from the government agency that is giving it certifying that is a true and correct copy.
The IRS lets you either mail in those original copies to the IRS when you submit your application or you can make an appointment with the IRS on their website to come in and show your original documents. If you mail in your original documents, they will send the documents back to you. However, personally if it was me I would not do that because we never trust handing over original documents to government agencies. You just never know. Things can get lost. We think the appointment is a good way to go.
This can sound complicated at first. The big picture point, however, is that if you are undocumented, you can get your an identification number to open a big account. You can submit Form W-7 to the IRS with a tax return and then provide documentation that shows your identity and what country are from. That documentation has to be unexpired and it has to be either original or certified copy that you show to the IRS either by mailing it in or going to an appointment. At least one of those documents that you use has to have your photograph.
How do I prove my identity and address?
The second thing you need to show to open a bank account in the U.S. is an identification card — a card issued by a government agency showing who you are.
There are Several Types of Identity Cards Immigrants Can Use to Open Bank Accounts
If you have lawful status, such as a green card, you may be able to prove your ID and address through a driver’s license, your green card, or an unexpired passport.
Even if you don’t have any immigration status, you may be able to use an unexpired passport. Your passport from your home country can prove your identification.
If you are undocumented and/or do not have a driver’s license or unexpired passport, you may be able to get a municipal ID to count as government-issued proof of your identification and address if you live in a certain city. Several cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C., have municipal IDs that may not require you to have any legal immigration status.
You can also try using a national identification card from your country or your consulate.
Each bank will be a little different in what they require. It’s important to first contact the bank first to ask about their requirements.
Research Banks in Your Area Before You Open an Account
Before opening a banking account, make sure to do some research first. We recommend that you look at the local banks near where you live and do some research online.
First, look for banks that offer accounts with no fees. You can call the bank and ask if there are any “hidden fees” or “annual fees”. There is really no reason to pay a fee to have a bank account. The bank should actually be paying you because you are letting them hold on to your money!
Second, research to find a bank that will offer you the highest interest rate. The interest rate is what the bank pays you to thank you for letting them hold on to your money. This is because the bank can use the cash you are depositing in the meantime for other purposes. The bank only needs to give you back your money when you withdrawal it. *Note: the rule for bank account interest rates is the opposite for credit cards. For credit cards, you want the lowest interest rate possible. But for bank accounts, you want the highest interest rate possible.*
Third, if you are planning to use an ITIN number or other alternative forms of identification, make sure to find a bank that accepts those alternatives. There\’s actually several reliable national banks with good reputations that do take ITIN numbers. For example, Wells Fargo, Capital One, Chase, and Bank of America are all good options to open a bank account at.
Opening a bank account is a great way to empower yourself and build stability and wealth in the U.S. If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have a lot of other great resources and information at Immigrant Finance like opening credit cards and setting up an emergency fund.
Read our disclaimer here. This article contains general information. We are not providing legal advice to you or representing you in any legal matter.