Keeping your finances organized is an important part of beginning your new life as an asylum seeker in the United States. But, can asylum seekers open a bank account?
This is a great questions and you do need to find a safe place where you can store your money. On top of building good credit, making purchases, putting away savings, and paying bills, you know that your money is secure in a bank.
However, for people who are undocumented or do not have legal status, they may be intimidated to go to a bank and ask to open a checking or saving account. But don’t be.
An asylum seeker can absolutely open a bank account even without a social security number or citizenship. In fact, banks cannot ask you about your immigration status. However, you do need proof of your identity which will be discussed later in the following section of this article.
Documents Asylum Seekers Need to Open a Bank Account
Every bank requires that you have specific forms of identity, however, some banks may vary and may not accept certain forms of identity. You will need to do your own research online before going onto a bank and meeting with a representative. You want to ensure you go in prepared.
Every bank requires you to show proof of:
- An identification number ( many times you can use a valid passport and address only)
- Proof of identity
- Proof of physical address
Let’s review what these look like.
1. Identification Number
An Identification number is a number that banks need in order to identify you. This is where they will ask for your social security number (SSN), but since you are an asylum seeker, you may not have it just yet. Instead, you will present them with what is called an ITIN known as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (more on this below). You can also use an alien identification number or any other government-issued identification proving your nationality or proof of residency.
2. Proof of Identity
Proof of Identity can be a valid or government issued photo ID. For example
- A driver’s license (including foreign license),
- Any government issued identification,
- Unexpired passport (from country of origin),
- Birth certificate, and/or
- Consular ID.
Ensure your name and date of birth is noted. If you are in a city that issues municipal IDs, such as in Chicago, New York, or San Francisco you can use it as a form of identification.
Proof of Address
All banks require that you give a physical address, this is where you will receive bank statements and your debit or credit card too. You will be required to submit proof in order to open an account. You can submit a
- Utility (gas bill, electric bill, electricity, etc.) or contract/lease statement
- Or use a valid driver’s license with your current address
Other forms of proof may be acceptable, just make sure you ask your banker what you can submit.
What is an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) and How Do Asylum Seekers Get One?
An ITIN is a number the IRS issues for individuals who are non-citizens and are not eligible for social security (SSN). In your case, since you are an asylum seeker and have not yet gone through the process of obtaining lawful permanent residence (a green card), you will be required to apply for an ITIN.
In addition, the IRS will also give your dependents and spouses a ITIN number who are claimed on the tax return. ITIN are given out regardless of your immigration status.
The ITIN number is used for filing taxes, real estate, online business, or many other purposes you can use it towards. Remember that if you work and file taxes in the United States, you need to have an ITIN number (if you do not have a SSN).
To apply for an ITIN number you will need to fill out Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), along with your federal income tax return. In addition with your application, you will need to submit proof of identity, which can be any of the examples listed above or any of the following listed here, and your completed federal tax return.
You can either mail in your application or take it to any IRS office and have it processed there by an “acceptance agent”. Unfortunately, you cannot apply for a bank account online with an ITIN, you will need to visit the nearest bank location and do it with a bank representative.
What Banks Accept the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?
As mentioned, most banks accept the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Here are the top major banks listed below that accept the ITIN.
- Bank of America
- Wells Fargo
Additionally, most small banks also accept the ITIN since it's a legal form of identification for tax purposes.
Remember that there are many non-citizens like yourself that have debit and savings accounts. Don’t let the fact that you do not have a social security number (SSN) intimidate you. Many asylum seekers who have fled their countries have been able to start a new life, begin working, and take control of their finances by opening a bank account.
Can Asylum Seekers Open A Bank Account FAQs
Can Asylum Seekers and Refugees Open up a Bank Account?
Yes, an asylum seeker can open up a bank account. In fact, regardless of your immigration status, you can apply for a bank account. You will need to have proof of identification and an identification number.
Can I Open a Bank Account with Just a Passport?
Yes, some banks will allow you to open a bank account with just a passport. However, your passport must be current.
Can I Open a Bank Account without Proof of Address?
Unfortunately, you cannot. Every bank needs proof of a physical address and proof of identity to open a bank account.