US bank account outside the US
May 19, 2009 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Assuming I'm a US citizen with no bank account, what's the best way to obtain a debit card, bank account, or credit card within the US? I'll need it for online ID verification, online ordering, paypal, and the other standard slough of uses a debit card is good for.

I haven't been home to the US in years, and I haven't used my debit card in ages. The bank, probably rightfully, has placed my account on hold until I can show up in person at a branch to withdraw cash. I still haven't fully investigated my options there, but from the phone calls I've made, it seems like they mean it, and it looks like it'll just have to stay that way until I find my way back to the States again, which likely won't be for awhile.

In the meantime, I'd like to start picking up freelancing work outside China, where I am. China has silly currency and reporting restrictions that I'd really rather not deal with. The easiest way to facilitate this, then, is with a USD paypal account, online bank account, or some other payment system that I'm not familiar with. I'd also like to order things online, obviously, which China's local Unionpay doesn't do very well outside the mainland. If I'm not in the US to apply directly, though, I'll need some form of online application.

Ideally, I'd like a Visa or Mastercard debit card tied to a bank account that I can apply for and manage from here. I can use my parents' address in the States and have them forward my mail if need be. What are my options?
posted by saysthis to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can get a secured cc by fronting a deposit for the CC. Whether or not you can do this without a bank account, I'm not sure.
posted by stratastar at 1:56 PM on May 19, 2009

I'd like a Visa or Mastercard debit card tied to a bank account that I can apply for and manage from here. I can use my parents' address in the States and have them forward my mail if need be. What are my options?

I don't know of any of the details around the legal/tax issues, but if you have a US SS# and a US address then you can sign up for bank account, credit card, or most other financial services online without ever having to show up in person. For example, I have an online savings account from HSBC and all I had to do to get it setup was fill out an online form. I don't have a debit card from them but I know they have them and signing up would probably be similar. You can also sign up for paperless statements and do all of your communication through email with most accounts these days.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:02 PM on May 19, 2009

ING Direct is all online. They'll mail you a debit card.
posted by desjardins at 2:22 PM on May 19, 2009

Are you eligible for USAA?
posted by oaf at 2:23 PM on May 19, 2009

ING Direct requires you to have a bank account already.
posted by oaf at 2:26 PM on May 19, 2009

From my quick research it looks like you need a valid US address (your parents' may work), social security number and a valid US driver's license number, issue date and expiration date. You will also need the routing and account numbers for another bank account so you can transfer in an opening balance. I assume you could use your parents' and have them front you $50. It takes a few minutes and you end up with a Visa branded debit card.

Google "open bank account online" and take your pick from the text ads. The sticking point is going to be a US driver's license. I imagine it is a PATRIOT Act requirement.
posted by ChrisHartley at 2:26 PM on May 19, 2009

Response by poster: Just to clarify, the legal/tax issues are a bridge I'll cross when I come to it. The embassy tends to be very helpful in providing proper forms and good advice. The China side of the law is a teensy bit grey, but basically that if a US company is paying me in USD for services provided in the US under a US contract, it's none of their business, and they will happily welcome my foreign exchange into their coffers.

Driver's license! I'm seeing that too, now that I'm looking...and guess what, mine's expired! I'll keep looking.
posted by saysthis at 2:50 PM on May 19, 2009

Don't you have a passport?
posted by desjardins at 2:52 PM on May 19, 2009

HSBC USA made it very easy for me to open a U.S. bank account when I was in the UK. They did want a reference, which I was able to supply from the HSBC UK branch where I held an account.
posted by grouse at 3:25 PM on May 19, 2009

Something like the Wells Fargo IPB [pdf], perhaps? Those kinds of accounts generally require a higher balance to open and/or avoid monthly fees -- four figures as a rule of thumb -- but are designed around the needs of expats.
posted by holgate at 3:29 PM on May 19, 2009

Have you asked the embassy about this issue? You can't be the first expat to deal with this.
posted by lunasol at 8:27 PM on May 19, 2009

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