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Getting an American Bank Account

It is a good idea to get a bank account when you first arrive in the U.S. so that it is easy for you to pay for expenses such as tuition, fees, insurance, rent, and other necessities like food and transportation. It is typically easiest to set up an American bank account by going to the bank in-person with your immigration documents. you should bring the following documents with you when you go to meet with a bank representative:

  • Your unexpired passport
  • Your I-20 or DS-2019
  • Your address here in the United States - Bringing a utility bill or lease can be helpful in this situation.
  • Your local U.S. phone number
  • Your I-94 (available online)
  • Money to deposit – Check with the bank first to see what their requirements are. Some banks only require $1, but others may have a higher requirement.

Most students set up a Checking and Savings Account to help them manage their money. Different banks may have different offers or restrictions, so make sure to talk to a bank representative to get a good idea of what to expect from your bank account.


Major Banks vs. Credit Unions

Major U.S. banks, such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are often popular choices for international students. There are some major advantages to having a bank account with a large institution. It is very easy for you to find a bank, even if you are not in Denver, and they often have ATMs in many convenient locations for you to quickly withdraw cash from your bank account. The online banking options for major U.S. banks are typically very convenient and easy to use. However, major banks are often “for profit” entities, so some members may not feel that they receive the customer service that they want, and you often will not get as high an interest rate on your savings accounts.  

Here are some examples of popular banks in the U.S.:

Credit Unions are also popular with some students. Credit Unions often provide more presonalized customer service than larger banks because they are typically smaller institutions with a focus on a local community. If you plan to stay in the same area of the U.S. for most of your studies, a Credit Union may be a good option for you. Unlike major banks, Credit Unions typically do not have many branches outside of the main institution and finding an ATM that does not charge you a fee for withdrawing cash can sometimes be difficult. Additionally, their online banking systems are usually not as advanced as a major banks. However, Credit Unions are not-for-profit, so they often offer higher interest rates on savings accounts, and lower interest rates on loans or credit cards. As a member of a credit union, you are technically a part owner since a Credit Union is technically a “co-op” (cooperative). If you want to join a Credit Union, you should read about the membership requirements to better understand if you will be accepted – some Credit Unions are very particular about who can be a member based upon location, employment, and other factors.

Here are some examples of Credit Unions in Colorado:

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