Living or Working Overseas Series: Part 2 – How to Set-Up a Bank Account While Overseas

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This series of posts is written by the Wandering US Expat, who’s lived in Australia and Panama.  And applied for cards from there!

Don’t let living abroad stop you from getting miles and points bonuses from credit cards!

It’s no secret that US banks lead the world in promotional point bonuses for new customers.  They give away lots of points to get a new customer in the hopes that you’ll remain, and spend, with them for years.  Lots of non-US folks wish they could get access to the same deals!

But many US citizens and ex-permanent residents, known as expats, often wonder whether they can still get credit cards if they leave or have already left the US.  Perhaps they’ve relocated for a job or have gone for an extended trip abroad.  Some expats have left permanently to start a new life.

You Can Set-Up a Bank Account in the US While Living Overseas to Qualify for Miles & Points Credit Cards

Are you or someone you know in this category?

Figures are hard to determine because the US does not track expats who are traveling or living abroad.  But a recent report estimated the number to be living overseas at about 2 to 7 million. There are millions more who leave, or “visit” outside the US for months at a time all year round.

This series will help folks living outside the US have Big Travel with Small Money!

“Living or Working Overseas” Series Index

Use Your Social Security Number

All new credit card applications ask for lots of information.  But above all, the banks require your social security number (SSN).  Your entire past financial health and future potential to a bank is largely determined by this 1 number.

Your social security number and associated credit history stays in the US system even if you haven’t used it for many years.

Although You’re Abroad, Find Your Social Security Number Because the Bank Requires It

These numbers are never reassigned.  You might still have your old US social security card, or an old US tax return to help you locate your social security number.

You may want to establish, or re-establish your credit before applying for cards.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

You Need Access to a US Bank Account!

To be approved for miles and points credit card promotions, you’re going to need access to a US bank account to pay the bills.

But what if you DON’T have an account?

Some folks living overseas have shut down their US bank account because they weren’t using it anymore or they wanted to avoid monthly fees.

So what can you do now?

Become a User on Someone Else’s Account

A family member or friend with a US bank account can add you to their account.  Of course, not just anyone is going to add you to their account so you can pay your bills!  But if you do know someone who trusts you enough, you can pay your new cards from their account.

How you can repay them, perhaps even from abroad, is something I’ll cover in a future post.

But it would be much easier to have your own US bank account.

Open Your Own US Bank Account

There are too many US bank account options to cover here but you should have no problem opening an account with the larger banks online.

Almost all require a US driver’s license, a social security number, and a valid address.  You don’t live in the US so the address will have to be a family member’s or friend’s.  Or you can set up an Earth Class Mail account before leaving!

The Charles Schwab Bank has incredible value for its free or very limited fees.  But it still requires you to receive a signature card and return it to them before they will open the account.  This can be a real problem if you are already overseas.  To get around that, someone could forward the signature card to you, and then you could mail it back to the US.

Mail Your Signature Card to Back to Charles Schwab Bank From a US Address.  Carrier Pigeon Not Recommended.

However, Bank of America has less restrictive requirements for new accounts.  They do NOT require a US driver’s license or state ID to open a new account.  And that’s helpful if you’ve been away from the US for a long time!

Bank of America’s fee structure is reasonable.  And you can sign-up online.

You can apply online to Bank of America with your US social security number and US physical address.  And just as with Charles Schwab Bank, they’ll send a signature card to your US address which you’ll mail back to the bank.

You can still get a US bank account if you have (or ever had) a US social security number and still have a physical US address you can send your mail to.  And now you’ll be able to meet the minimum spending requirements and pay the bills from your new credit cards.

Bottom Line

If you don’t already have a US bank account, you may be able to pay your credit card bills for your new card through another person’s account.  Or you could open your own US bank account.  It takes some work, but the payoffs in free flights and hotels will be worth it!

Now that you have a bank account, it’s time to re-establish or reactivate your credit history if you no longer have a one.  I’ll covered that in the next post.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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