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Getting a bank account as an international student

Katie Schenk - January 08, 2019

International student bank account

Headed overseas for your masters? Expect one of the most incredible experiences of your life. The rewards are huge.

But, don’t expect it to be easy.

You’ll need to put in plenty of effort. There are daily tasks that provide both laughter and exasperation – such as the grocery store. And then, there are parts of ordinary life that you need to take more seriously. That includes setting up a bank account in your host country

Why do you want a local bank account as an international student

There are plenty of reasons you'll want a local bank account as an international student; some are immediately obvious, while others may surprise you.

  • Save on cash conversions: You don't really want to pay all those bank and conversion fees by using an account from home, do you? Typically, you'll save when you transfer larger amounts and work within the local currency as much as possible. 
  • Get your living expenses: If you secure loans or scholarships that can be used towards living expenses but are paid directly to the university, the bursar's office will need somewhere to deposit those funds. Almost without exception, they'll transfer your money to a local bank account as soon as you have one.
  • Build a local credit history: If you're keeping your post-graduation employment options open, you may well find yourself living in your host country longer than expected (or you may already hope for a long stay). Either way, opening a local bank account is the first step towards building your credit in a new country
  • Easier loan repayments: Just as you don't want to use your home account for living expenses, having a bank account in the currency of your student loan can be a big savings. 

Can you open a local bank account as an international student?

In most countries, opening a local bank account is totally doable. But, it’s unlikely to be as easy as you want it to be. And, you’ll need to wait until you arrive in your host country before you can open an account.

That does put a little pressure on you for the first couple of weeks. You’ll need to use your international accounts and whatever cash you’ve converted to get yourself set up and pay for entertainment during orientation. 

But, the sooner you open your account, the better it will be for you in the long run. 

What you'll need to open an international student bank account

A very few countries require additional information, such as proof of bank accounts in home countries. This is something you need to investigate before leaving home. If you need a certified letter from the bank, for instance, you’ll pay through your teeth to have it couriered to you. 

Typically, you will need:

  • Your passport, with the relevant student visa,
  • A second form of photo ID - often a driver’s license or your student card,
  • Proof residence and residential address,
  • Proof of enrollment in your university (which is why the student card works so well), and
  • Some money to deposit (keep in mind that each bank and account will carry it's own minimum deposit).

A very few countries require additional information, such as proof of bank accounts in home countries. This is something you need to investigate before leaving home. If you need a certified letter from the bank, for instance, you’ll pay through your teeth to have it couriered to you. 

What banking options are available?

Every country has a different banking system, and you shouldn't expect it to operate the same way it does in your home country. Your best bet is to do some research before you leave so you know what to expect when you arrive and need to hustle. 

North American bank accounts

In the United States there are private banks and not-for-profit credit unions, both of which you'll spot on or near your campus. 

There are likely to be differences in the accounts and flexibility you have in opening them between the two types of banking institutions, but the regulations will be similar for each system. 

Also, you don’t need a social security number to open an account, but you will be issued with one if you secure paid employment off-campus.

In Mexico, on the other hand, you will find big differences between all the banks and will need to shop around before deciding which account you want to open. 

European bank accounts

You’re likely to find more international banks, and you may want to look for one of those as they’ll provide opportunities as you travel around the continent.

Keep in mind that some countries, like France, don’t impose restrictions on non-nationals opening bank accounts. But, you will need to speak French to manage the setup process.

In the UK, you can open and maintain a bank account as long as you’re a legal resident. Once you leave, you may find the banking restrictions force you to close your bank account. There are some banks that still allow non-residents to maintain accounts, and you’ll want to consider one of these if you’re hoping to use it to repay your loan

Using university resources to open your international student bank account

Universities that strive for international diversity are well-equipped to assist the students they admit. And, you may need to get in touch with a couple of departments for assistance: 

  • The registrar's office will provide you with your student ID or confirmation letter which you'll definitely need to open a bank account. 
  • If you're living on-campus, you may also need to contact the housing department for proof of residence. 
  • The international student office is likely to point you towards the most accessible banks and perhaps even assist with opening accounts when you need a native speaker (such as in France).

Even though you can’t do much about opening a bank account until you’ve arrived, don’t wait until you leave to consider this crucial step of your education. It could mean the difference between almost immediate access to living funds and a long wait until you can get a hot meal.

Need an international student loan that covers living expenses?

Prodigy Finance offers international student loans at competitive rates. Depending on your programme, location and finances, you could qualify for a loan covering the total cost of attendance (as provided by the school). 

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