Call me ignorant if you will, but I wasn’t sure what the procedure was for a Canadian citizen to open a US bank account in the United States. I was under the impression that you probably needed a US mailing address, but this was not the case when I took a short road trip to Bellingham.

The main objective for this trip was to go shopping and see if I could score any good deals — I ended up buying a pair of shoes, jeans, and a couple other things — but I figured since I was going, I might as well look into opening a US account.

As a freelance writer, most of my projects are done over the web and several of these are for clients based in the United States. I typically accept payment via Paypal simply because it’s so convenient. The biggest shortcoming of this arrangement, however, is that I cannot withdraw money from that account directly. You see, Paypal refuses to send US funds to an account based in Canada, even if it’s a US dollar account. As a result, if I take money out, I get dinged with a ~3% exchange fee and that’s on top of the US-Canada exchange rate. With the currency parity, the Canadian dollars I’d receive would be less that their stated value in US dollars.


So, by opening a US dollar account in the United States, I am now able to take money out from Paypal directly. Well, after transferring out of my Paypal account but there are no fees to do that. After the money is in my US dollar account — I opened with Key Bank because they have a location across the street from Bellis Fair in Bellingham — I can either spend it through a debit card when I travel through the States or I can withdraw the cash and do with it what I will.

For Canadian citizens to open a US bank account in the United States, all they need are two pieces of identification. You do not need a US mailing address to open a bank account.

Yes, that’s it. For my two pieces of ID, I gave the account representative my driver’s license and my passport. We sat down while she collected other bits of information like my employer (myself), my phone number, and (Canadian) mailing address. I opted for the zero fee checking account. On the downside, the rep said that I could not make use of their online banking services, because I needed a social security number (SSN) for that. I could, however, access my account via telephone and I’d receive statements every month. That’s a bummer, because I’ve come to rely on Internet banking for most of my banking needs.

So, the long and the short of it is that the process for a Canadian to open a US checking account in the United States is fundamentally no different than opening a bank account here in Canada. There are no complications (or at least none that I encountered). No tax return forms or proof of income were needed. The entire meeting with the Key Bank account manager took maybe 15 minutes.

I’m not sure how this extends to citizens of other areas of the world like Asia, Europe, or Australia, but I now know that the process is very easy for Canadians.

UPDATE (05/16/08): I just received an email from reader Kamil Jiwa, saying that “in lieu of an SSN, you can obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) by mailing Form W-7 per the instructions on this page.”