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 expats.com website, which is my bible on immigration matters. Rather than going into the ins and outs of the Patriot Act, I’ll quote from britishexpats.com: “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 Britishexpats.com 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
(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 UK 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. US
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!