Opening a bank account in the US is quick and easy. Just follow these steps:
1. QUICK TERMS
First, familiarize yourself with some English banking terms:
A Checking Account is the main account used for writing checks and other daily transactions (e.g. deposits and cash withdrawals). Generally you receive no interest on deposits made into this account. In other countries, a Checking Account may be called a Current Account or a Transactional Account.
A Savings Account is an account that pays interest but cannot be used directly as money. In other words, you cannot use this account to write checks. However, transferring money between savings and checking accounts is easy and instantaneous.
A CD (Certificate of Deposit) is a deposit made for a period of at least 3 months, during which your money is cannot be withdrawn but on the other hand entitles you to a higher interest rate compared to a regular Savings Account. At maturity, the money may be withdrawn together with the interest accrued.
An ATM Card (or Bank Card) is plastic card used to withdraw money from ATMs (Automated Teller Machines, or cash machines). It is also your main form of identification when making transactions at your bank branch. The ATM Card requires identification through a PIN (Personal Identification Number). The PIN is a confidential 4-digit number that you choose when opening your bank account.
A Debit Card is a plastic card used to make purchases. It is similar to a credit card, with one main difference — the sum paid in the transaction is withdrawn immediately from your bank account. Often your debit card will also act as your ATM card. When paying with a debit card, some merchants will offer you Cashback or Cashout, where you can withdraw cash along with your purchase.
Note: As an international student without a Social Security Number, you may not have access to some types of savings accounts or other products. Research the bank in advance of opening the account.
2. CHOOSE A BANK
Many Columbia students choose to bank with Citibank. However, here are some guidelines for your own research.
Location: Choose a bank in a location convenient for you to make deposits, withdraw cash, or just drop in to ask questions. If you live in the Columbia area, there are five banks around campus: Citibank, Chase, TD Bank, Washington Mutual and Banco Popular.
Fees: As a student, you are entitled to open a free checking account which has no fees, no matter what your balance is. However, there are two fees that generally do apply: cash withdrawals from ATMs not affiliated with your bank and international wire transfers.
Interest: Different banks offer different interest rates on savings accounts and CDs.
ATM Accessibility: Most major banks will charge you a fee for withdrawing money from ATMs not affiliated with their bank. Citibank is the only bank that has ATMs on campus – one in Uris and several in Lerner Hall. Chase has ATMs in every Duane Reade (popular NY drugstore). Smaller banks with fewer ATMs may waive ATM fees.
After-hours Banking: Since you will be spending most of your time at school, choose a bank with online access and 24/7 phone service.
3. GO TO THE ISSO
If you are on an F or J visa, take your passport and all immigration documents (I-20 or DS-2019 and I-94) to the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). You should ask for a bank letter, which is a document that confirms your address in the US. Note: You can get the same letter also from the Office of Student Academic Affairs (first floor of Uris Hall to your left) if you bring your lease with you.
4. OPEN THE ACCOUNT
Proceed to the bank of your choice with your ISSO letter, passport and other immigration documents. You do not need a social security number in order to open a bank account.
After you fill out the application, you will be given an account number (or two, if you also open a savings account), and an ATM card. If you choose, a debit card and a checkbook will be mailed to you.
Important: If you plan on wiring money from abroad, don’t forget to ask for the Swift Cod and ABA / Routing / Transit numbers of your account.