Sunday, February 27, 2011

All I want is a non US citizen bank account!

You’d think it would be easy!  Having jumped through all the hoops presented to me by the USCIS in order to get my immigration visa, I rather naively expected it wouldn’t be too much of a problem getting a non US citizen bank account.  Especially as all I wanted was to be added to my wife, Abby’s account as a joint account holder.  But when Abby rang up her branch’s information hotline to ask them what I.D. we should take along to our local branch, the people at the other end seemed bewildered.  Yes, I was a resident but not a citizen, she told them.  No, I didn’t have a social security number, but I could prove my identity and legal entry to the country with my passport and visa stamp.  Yes, we had a marriage licence to prove that we had recently been married in the US (Florida).

After a conversation that went on for nearly thirty minutes, with Abby being passed around five different departments, she was finally told that provided we took along my passport and visa, plus our marriage certificate and my wife’s social security card, the branch would add me to her bank account.  As Abby works fulltime, the only time we could make it to the bank was Saturday morning.  We got there, with all our documents and information not foreseeing any problems, but the young woman who served us seemed completely confused and uncomfortable.  We went through the same questions that my wife had answered during her 30 minute phone call with our young server getting more and more uneasy.  You’ve heard of the expression, “rabbit in the headlamps”?  Anyway, eventually she disappeared for ten minutes.  When she came back she told us that she’d spoken to the deputy manager and I couldn’t have a bank account unless I had both a US Social Security Card and a US green card, because of the Patriot Act.  That was it.

I looked it up when I got home, using the website, which is my bible on immigration matters.  Rather than going into the ins and outs of the Patriot Act, I’ll quote from “Under the Patriot Act, banks are required to 'know their customers' as part of anti-money laundering provisions. Most banks have adopted policies that require at least a Social Security Number before you can open a bank account IF YOU ARE A US CITIZEN, along with some other forms of identification and proof of residence. Citizens of other countries have different procedures, such as passport numbers or drivers licenses or other things to prove they are who they are.”  According to the problem of immigrants wrongly being turned down for accounts is really common, with lots of American bank workers not knowing their own rules!

Me with my British bank card.  I naively expected that getting an American one wouldn’t be too much of a problem.

There is no direct equivalent of a social security number in the UK (where I’m from).  The nearest equivalent is probably our National Insurance number, but we only really use that for when we get a job, pay tax, or claim benefits.  The US social security number (SSN) is used much more extensively.  As well as being used for jobs and benefits and tax, the US Social Security Card is also used as proof of ID for many, many things, including opening a bank account, if you’re an American citizen.  I decided to go about getting one.

The Social Security office was pretty similar to a British one in most respects, with an atmosphere of dowdiness, boredom and despair hanging over it.  The only two differences were that firstly you are checked over for guns before you entered (I am beginning to realise that this is a regular occurrence in USA, they even made us go through airport-style security before we were married!) and secondly, the overwhelming proportion of claimants were Afro-Americans (which maybe says something about the general structure of the US socio-economically?).  Anyway, after a long wait, they called my number and all went well.  I received my social security card 10 days later.  Yippee.  But what I really wanted was a bank account!

Three weeks after our first attempt to get a joint account and armed with the same I.D. as last time plus my brand new social security card, we set off to Abby’s bank.  Following our treatment the last time, however, we elected to go to a different branch on this occasion.  The difference in our experience was remarkable.  Our server this time was a friendly chap called Marcus.  He was relaxed and seemed to know what he was doing.  He photocopied our forms, got us to sign some printouts and that was it.  Apparently, I will be sent a bank card very soon.  I won’t believe it until I’m holding it in my hands though!


  1. Actually Paul I had all sorts of similar problems when I tried to open a second bank account over here.

    I only wanted a simple account with no cheque book and no credit card, but a cash card.

    They made it so difficult that in the end I gave up!!!


  2. The banks always make themselves sound so flexible in their adverts!

  3. I'm glad you didn't give up trying to get your U.S. bank account - you need a place to deposit your Adsense cheques when they arrive in the post. I think it's a "huge thing" moving house, let alone to another country and you're doing great, I think.

    A few tips for this blog:

    Once you have a few posts up, I suggest you display only one or two per page (set this in your settings) (people have to click "older posts" at the bottom of your homepage to see more) - that way, you have more pages showing your Adsense ads.

    Also, I recommend allowing the, hm, I think it says "URL/Website" or something like that in the "comment as" section as some people would like to leave a direct link to their website when they comment, and not just their Google Blogger account. It's the first thing I look for when commenting on a blogger blog, and if it's not there, I don't always bother to comment.

  4. Thank you for your comment and technical advice, Teresa, which I have followed. I feel fairly okay with the "words thing" but some of the technical elements of blogging I am definitely happy to receive help with! :-)

  5. You're welcome, Paul. I still have so much to learn myself, but anything I do already know, I'm pleased to help you with - and I see you've now allowed the URL thinggy for people who comment on your blog - cool!

    Also, speaking of Twitter (on HubPages) I think you can add a Twitter Updates gadget to your Blogger blog - yes, lol, I just went and added one to one of my blogs.

  6. @Teresa I've been blogging on and off for years and I enjoy it. i wrote a lot on MySpace during its peak. But as I am income-less at the moment, I figured I'd try joining adsense. I know about the Twitter updates widget. I'm wary of making things too cluttered though, and some of my tweets just duplicate what's in my hubpage widget.

  7. Damn leaves you longing for the good old days...and believe me, it has gotten way more inconvenient for US citizens too...sorry it was such a pain!

  8. @Ashleigh - Well, I got there in the end. I have a bank card and everything now! :-)

  9. I find this really interesting, because on the flipside it took a really long time (at least 3 months?) to open a bank account in the UK - they seem to be nervous about foreigners laundering money? So interestingly, we had similar problems as you but for different reasons.

    In the US, you can get a free stuff (like an iPod) for opening a bank account. And they practically give credit cards away in the US - not in the UK :)

    Glad you have your bank account XOL

  10. @HappyH

    The frustrating thing with opening the bank account for me is that they didn't know their own rules. People who work on the counter often unfortunately aren't aware of their bank's policy and interpretation of things such as the Patriot Act. I double checked that we'd got it right and that the bank's main help service had given us correct info when I got home, and they had. From what I have read on the expat sites, this is unfortunately a common prob.

    They gave credit cards away in the UK too, before the financial crash.

    The big freebies in the UK tend to be limited to specific target groups, like university students, in my experience.

    Many American banks tend to give offers, but they rake the money back through charging big prices for their services. The general advice I've received from Americans and Brit expats regarding banking in the USA is to take your time and shop around.

  11. It's funny how the US has an overbearing ss number to get you through the day and the UK does things less intrusively it seems. I thought the UK was less free but now I'm wondering...

    They do make you jump through hoops here don't they? I was planning on starting flight training and because of 911 I have to apply with the FAA to get permission to receive instruction. The price for all this paperwork is several hundred dollars and I am a permanent resident with a green card!

    Glad you were able to get that SS card so easily and get your account set up. Sometimes the solution is to speak to someone else as I discovered when I went to INS to update my green card.

    I don't know if this is the price of freedom or paranoia, but at least these are hoops you are able to jump through.