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Compare savings accounts for residents on a temporary visa

A local bank can make your money more accessible while you're in the US.

Understanding the intricacies and getting used to a foreign country’s banking system can be daunting. Fortunately, banking in the US is straightforward, especially when it concerns savings accounts. Some financial institutions will even let you open an account online before you arrive.

What is an expat or non-resident?

An expatriate, or expat, is an individual who lives in a country other than that of his or her citizenship, temporarily or permanently, as an immigrant. The word comes from the Latin term ex patria, which literally translates to “out of country/fatherland.”

Expats tend to reside in their host countries temporarily. However, an increasing number of expats now choose to continue living in their host countries because of reasons such as higher standards of living, career opportunities and marital relationships.

As long expats don’t become permanent residents of the US or get US citizenship, they remain, for legal purposes, non-residents.

What types of accounts are available?

As an expat or a non-resident you can open different types of bank accounts:

  • Checking accounts. These accounts give you access to a debit cards so you can make everyday purchases. You may have to pay ongoing monthly fees, although you may also qualify for fee waivers. These accounts usually provide access to online banking but don’t offer interest, though you can usually link them with an interest-earning savings account at the same institution.
  • Online savings accounts. Online savings accounts tend to earn much higher interest rates than you’d get at a brick-and-mortar bank. You usually won’t get access to a debit card, but you can access your funds through on online banking portal.
  • International student bank accounts. Some financial institutions offer bank accounts for overseas students that they can apply for even before arriving in the US. Access to your money can come in different ways such as a debit card, online banking and phone banking. Students can find accounts that don’t charge ongoing account fees.

What are the pros and cons to opening a savings account as an expat?


  • Access funds easily. Opening a local bank account in the US ensures that you have access to your money any time you need it. An account that comes with a debit card will also make it easier to purchase things.
  • Earn interest. If you pick the right account your money can earn interest.
  • Save on fees. If you plan to use your overseas bank account when you’re in the US you may end up paying a tidy sum as fees. These can come in the form of overseas ATM fees and currency conversion fees.


  • Limited choices. When you’re looking to open a savings account in the US as an expat you get limited options to choose from. This is because financial institutions don’t provide non-residents their complete range of offerings.

How do I compare expat savings accounts?

When you’re comparing expat savings accounts, pay attention to these aspects:

  • Sending money back home. If you plan to send money back home every now and again, look for an account that lets you make international electronic fund transfers easily and find out what fees you’ll have to pay.
  • Foreign exchange services. While many US financial institutions provide foreign exchange services, they vary in terms of the exchange rates they offer as well as turnaround times.
  • Ability to open instantly. The time taken to open a savings account can vary from one financial institution to the next. Some that let you apply online before you arrive open your account on the day you submit your application.
  • Online banking. While most US banks offer online banking, what you can use these platforms for requires your attention. For example, in some cases you can pay bills online — even when paying a company that requires a check by mail.
  • Fees and charges. Find out if the account you want to open attracts any monthly fees or debit card fees. Also check for any overdraft fees or penalties if your balance dips below the account’s stated minimum.

How to open a savings account before arriving in the US

Some banks will allow you to fill out an application for a savings account online without a US address. Once the bank opens your account you can transfer funds into it from anywhere in the world. You should get access to online banking, which lets you view your account balance at any time.

You’ll have to complete an identity verification process before you can access funds from your new savings account. You can do this by visiting a branch of the bank you choose, in your country, if it has one there. You may also be able to verify your identity online, through a certified notary or at a US embassy, though not all banks will allow that. For banks without counterparts in your current country of residence, it may be easiest to wait until you get to the US and can verify your identity in person.Back to top

Bottom line

If you’re moving to the US as an expat, you have options for finding the personal banking account that works best for you. Once you find an account you like, take some time to go through its terms and conditions before applying and take notes of any fees. If everything in the contract seems fair, then congratulations on your new account — and welcome the the US.

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