Best Banks for International Students in the U.S. [May 2024]: Waivable Fees, Easy Money Transfers

BANKING - CHECKING ACCOUNTS
The banks we recommend have accounts available to international students or provide value international students can benefit from.
Updated April 12, 2024
Fact checked
International students in the U.S.

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We recommend Chase College Checking and Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking® for international students in the U.S. These two accounts stand out because they have low fees and requirements. Plus, Chase and Bank of America are two large banks with thousands of physical locations.

We also recommend Capital One 360 Checking and Wells Fargo Everyday Checking as two simple accounts with low requirements. We like the HSBC Premier Checking for the various benefits it provides, including complimentary wire transfers; however, this account has steeper requirements.

Let’s explore the best banks for international students studying in the U.S. so you can find the right bank for your needs.

In this article

Key takeaways

  • We like the Chase College Checking account because it’s a simple checking account designed for all students, including international students. You don’t need a Social Security number (SSN) to qualify, and there’s no minimum opening deposit requirement.
  • The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking® account is another excellent option because it doesn’t have any monthly maintenance fee if you’re under 25.
  • It’s common for bank account applications to require an SSN, which is something some international students might not have. That’s why we included a mix of bank accounts that might or might not require an SSN to qualify.
  • If you can’t open a U.S. bank account, we recommend alternative options such as Wise and Western Union, which allow you to access funds even without a bank account.

The best bank accounts for international students in the U.S.

These are the bank accounts we recommend for international students studying in the U.S.:

  1. Chase College Checking
  2. Capital One 360 Checking
  3. Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking®
  4. Wells Fargo EverydayChecking Account
  5. HSBC Premier Checking

We also recommend these two money transfer services for international students who want to access funds but can’t open a bank account:

  1. Wise
  2. Western Union

Compare the best banks for international students in the U.S.

Bank account Description Main features Monthly maintenance fees
Chase College Checking College checking with no monthly maintenance fee for qualified students No minimum deposit to open and access to 4,700+ in-person branches $0 for students aged 17 to 24 who are in school (5 years maximum)
Capital One 360 Checking Simple checking with little to no fees or minimum requirements No minimum deposit to open and access to 70,000+ fee-free ATMs $0
Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking® Everyday checking with no monthly maintenance fee for qualified account holders Low minimum deposit to open and access to thousands of ATMs and financial centers $0 for students under 25
Wells Fargo Everyday Checking Account Simple checking with no minimum daily balance requirement Waivable monthly maintenance fee, low minimum opening deposit, and no minimum daily balance requirement $0 for students aged 17 to 24 or have a linked Wells Fargo Campus ATM Card or Campus Debit Card
HSBC Premier Checking Elevated checking with loads of benefits and high requirements Waivable monthly maintenance fee, no minimum opening deposit, and free wire transfers $0 for accounts linked to an eligible HSBC Premier checking account

1. Chase College Checking

Pros
  • Over 4,700 branch locations
  • $0 minimum opening deposit
  • $0 monthly maintenance fee
Cons
  • The $0 monthly maintenance fee is only for students aged 17 to 24 who are in school (5 years maximum)
  • $15 international incoming transfer fee

Chase is the largest bank in the U.S., making it a popular choice if you want access to in-person locations. With over 4,700 branch locations nationwide, it's likely that there’s a Chase branch near most colleges and universities.

Chase College Checking doesn’t require a minimum opening deposit and there’s no monthly service fee if you’re a student aged 17 to 24 who is currently enrolled in an eligible school. Note that the $0 monthly service fee only lasts until you graduate, up to a maximum of five years.

If you’re 17 or don’t have an SSN, you have to visit a Chase branch to open this account. Bring these documents with you to apply:

  • A primary form of identification with a photo, such as a driver’s license or passport
  • A secondary form of identification with a U.S. address, such as a student ID or I-20 form
  • Your contact information
  • Your expected graduation date and proof of college or university status

The Chase College Checking account could charge up to $15 per incoming wire transfer if you want to transfer money over from a foreign bank account.

Learn more in our Chase Bank review.

2. Capital One 360 Checking

Pros
  • Over 70,000 fee-free ATMs
  • $0 international incoming transfer fee
  • $0 minimum opening deposit
  • $0 monthly maintenance fee
Cons
  • Small number of in-person locations
  • International outgoing transfers are only available in branch

Capital One 360 is a popular bank account because it has few major fees or requirements. This account charges no monthly maintenance fees, no minimum opening deposit, and no minimum balance requirement.

For international students, the online application requires an SSN. However, we chatted with a Capital One customer service representative who mentioned that you might not need an SSN if you have an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) and visit an in-person Capital One location to submit your application.

Receiving incoming wire transfers is free for this account. Note that you need to visit a branch to send an international outgoing wire transfer with Capital One.

Learn more in our Capital One 360 review.

Keep in mind
In some cases, you might have better approval odds for a bank account if you’re able to visit an in-person location. This is because a banker could have more knowledge about the ins and outs of bank account applications than a program set to monitor online applications.

3. Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking®

Pros
  • Thousands of ATMs and financial centers
  • Low minimum deposit requirement of $25
  • $4.95 waivable monthly maintenance fee
Cons
  • No paper checks
  • $15 international incoming transfer fee

The Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking® checking account is an excellent account for students and young adults. In part because you can waive the $4.95 monthly maintenance fee as long as you’re under 25.

Other ways to waive the monthly fee include maintaining a minimum daily balance of at least $500 each statement cycle or being a Bank of America Preferred Rewards program member.

Note that you might not be able to open this account online if you don’t have a legal residency status in the U.S. However, you can schedule an in-person appointment with a specialist at a Bank of America financial center to discuss opening an account.

If you’re a legal resident in the U.S., but have no SSN or ITIN, you might be able to open an account online with your passport information.

You can’t write paper checks with this account, but that might not be a huge worry for many students.

Keep in mind that the Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking® charges $15 per international incoming wire.

Learn more in our Bank of America Advantage Banking® review.

4. Wells Fargo Everyday Checking Account

Pros
  • Over 5,600 branch locations
  • Low minimum deposit requirement of $25
  • $10 waivable monthly maintenance fee
Cons
  • International incoming transfer fees may apply

Wells Fargo Everyday Checking is an excellent checking account for students because 17- to 24-year-olds can waive the $10 monthly maintenance fee.

You can also waive this maintenance fee each statement period by fulfilling one of the these requirements:

  • Maintain a $500 minimum daily balance.
  • Receive $500 or more in total qualifying electronic deposits.
  • Link your account to a Wells Fargo Campus ATM Card or Campus Debit Card.
  • Receive a qualifying monthly military direct deposit with the Wells Fargo Worldwide Military Banking program.

Note that you must open an account at a branch if you’re 17 years old. Additionally, non-U.S. citizens without a U.S.-issued taxpayer identification number need to provide a government-issued ID as evidence of nationality or residence.

The Everyday Checking account might offer a courtesy refund of one incoming domestic or international wire transfer fee with a linked and active Wells Fargo Campus Card. Wells Fargo doesn’t publish its wire transfer fees, but you can talk to a banker or check your fee schedule.

Visit Wells Fargo Everyday Checking.

5. HSBC Premier Checking

Pros
  • Priority service and global reach for you and your family
  • $0 international incoming transfer fee
  • $0 minimum opening deposit
Cons
  • $50 monthly maintenance fee with high requirements to waive it

HSBC Premier Checking provides an interesting opportunity for international students who want access to excellent benefits, including free incoming wire transfers. However, it likely wouldn’t be the student who opens this account but a family member of the student.

That’s because HSBC Premier Checking comes with a whopping $50 monthly maintenance fee unless you meet one of these requirements each calendar month:

  1. Maintain a balance of $75,000 or more in qualifying balances.
  2. Receive monthly recurring direct deposits of at least $5,000 from a third party to an HSBC Premier checking account.
  3. Have an HSBC U.S. residential mortgage loan with an original loan amount of at least $500,000.

Most students wouldn’t be able to meet these requirements, but a family member might. And one of the unique features of this account is that you can share HSBC Premier benefits with up to four family members.

That means $0 incoming wire transfers, priority service, and access to the HSBC Global Transfers network. This network lets Premier or Advance accounts make free transfers (up to $200,000 per day) between their worldwide accounts across 23 countries and regions.

Visit HSBC Premier.

Compare alternative money options for international students in the U.S.

Service Description Main features Monthly fees
Wise Digital multi-currency account and money transfer service Support of over 40 currencies with low international transfer fees $0 monthly fees
Western Union Traditional money transfer service with locations around the globe Fast money transfers with cash pickups at 42,000 U.S. locations Not applicable

1. Wise

Pros
  • Multi-currency debit card with ATM access
  • Support of over 40 currencies
  • Low international transfer fees
  • $0 monthly fee
Cons
  • No physical branch locations
  • Limited customer support options compared to traditional banks

Wise (formerly TransferWise) is an excellent alternative for international money transfers and multi-currency banking. Using the Wise multi-currency account and debit card, you can hold money in over 40 currencies. Your Wise debit card can be used worldwide to spend money or withdraw cash from ATMs.

Wise charges low, transparent fees for converting currencies and sending money internationally. For example, sending $1,000 from Egypt to the U.S. to India costs around $6 in fees with Wise.

To get started, you just need to create an online Wise account and verify your identity. Then you can add money to your Wise account via various options, including bank transfer or debit card.

Visit Wise.

2. Western Union

Pros
  • Extensive global network of physical agent locations
  • Cash pickup option at 42,000 U.S. locations
  • Fast transfer speeds for some services
Cons
  • Higher fees than digital money transfer services
  • Limited online access

Western Union is one of the largest traditional money transfer companies, with over 500,000 agent locations in more than 200 countries. The company also has over 42,000 cash pickup locations in the U.S., which can be useful for international students who need to receive cash transfers without bank accounts.

However, Western Union's fees tend to be higher than digital alternatives like Wise. Fees are also complex, varying based on transfer method, location, and payment method.

To use Western Union for receiving money transfers, you'd typically need to visit a physical agent location with identification. Your sender initiates the transfer online or at another agent location, and you pick up the cash after it arrives, usually within minutes.

Visit Western Union.

What international students need to open a U.S. bank account

Knowing how to open a checking account or savings account beforehand can save you a lot of time during the application process.

The documents and relevant items an international student needs to open a bank account in the U.S. vary by the financial institution, but some commonly required items include:

  • A primary form of photo identification: A driver’s license, passport, or something similar.
  • A secondary form of identification: A student ID, birth certificate, major credit or debit card, or something similar.
  • Proof of address: Something that shows your U.S. address, such as an ID, utility bill, apartment contract, or something similar.
  • Your contact information: Your name, address, phone number, and email address.
  • Student information: Your expected graduation date and proof of college or university status.
  • Funds: Some banks require a minimum opening deposit to open an account, so you might need cash, a check, or another funding source available.

Keep in mind
Some banks could require an SSN or ITIN to open an account. Make sure to speak to a banker to find the exact list of documents and information you’re required to provide.

How to choose a U.S. bank as an international student

Consider these factors as you compare U.S. banks that you could use as an international student.

1. Application requirements

Each bank has specific requirements for international students who want to apply for a U.S. bank account. In general, you need proper forms of identification, proof of address, and student information. However, some banks might also require an SSN or ITIN to qualify.

If you don’t have an SSN or ITIN and aren’t eligible to apply for one, it makes sense to consider banks that don’t require them.

2. In-person locations and online banking

Having in-person branches can be helpful if you prefer face-to-face customer service. In many cases, speaking to a banker in person could be more helpful than talking to a general customer service agent over the phone.

But brick-and-mortar banks tend to have more fees than the best online banks, so there’s a tradeoff between these features and benefits.

3. Type of bank account

The main types of bank accounts are checking accounts and savings accounts.

Students might find checking accounts more valuable because they’re used to make everyday purchases and money transfers. Still, a working student might use a savings account if they’re saving for specific goals.

Learn more about the differences between checking versus savings accounts.

4. Monthly fees and minimum balance requirements

Nobody wants to worry about bank account monthly maintenance fees or minimum balance requirements, least of all students.

Fortunately, most bank accounts geared toward students have low requirements regarding monthly fees and minimum balances. But always verifying as you compare accounts is still a good idea.

5. Transfer benefits

One of the main concerns for international students having enough money for everyday expenses could be how they receive it. There are often different fees involved with sending money between foreign bank accounts, so minimizing those fees as much as possible is essential.

When comparing banks, consider accounts with low or no wire transfer fees and accounts with an international presence for global transfer benefits. It could also make sense to consider alternative methods, such as using Wise as an international student bank account to access over 50 currencies from one online location or debit card.

FAQ

Can I open a bank account in the US as an international student?

Yes, many banks allow international students to open bank accounts in the U.S. Here are some of our recommendations:

  1. Chase College Checking
  2. Capital One 360 Checking
  3. Bank of America Advantage SafeBalance Banking®
  4. Wells Fargo EverydayChecking Account
  5. HSBC Premier Checking

Is Bank of America or Chase better for college students?

We prefer Chase because it’s the largest bank in the U.S. and offers Chase College Checking, a checking account that’s specifically designed for college students. Chase College Checking has no monthly maintenance fee for students aged 17 to 24 up to their graduation date or a maximum of five years.

Can I open a bank account in the U.S. without an SSN?

Yes, it’s possible to open a bank account without an SSN if you have other eligible types of identification. Depending on the bank, that could include an ITIN or a government-issued ID. Some of the banks that allow you to use information other than an SSN include:

Note that different types of bank accounts from the same financial institution could have different requirements.

Best banks for international students in the U.S.: bottom line

Our recommended banks for international students provide specific benefits and features that could be valuable for college students.

For example, we like that you don’t need an SSN to apply for a Chase College Checking account. This account also offers $0 monthly maintenance fees if you’re in school and aged 17 to 24, up to your graduation day or a five-year maximum.

If our choices don’t seem like the right fit for you, check out our list of the best banks for more banking options.

Methodology

To determine the best banks for international students in the U.S., we evaluated the ease of account setup, accessibility, customer service, and the availability of features beneficial to international students. These features include, but are not limited to, low fees, online banking services, and international money transfer capabilities.

We also chose banks that have a wide service area and/or international presence. However, it’s important to note that the best banks can vary depending on individual needs and circumstances. Therefore, this list of curated options doesn’t follow a specific order. Our goal is to provide a starting point and guide to help international students navigate the U.S. banking system.

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Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI® Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.

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