I’ve searched for a long time and finally found a US regular bank that will let me open a free checking account. It is BBVA Compass bank.
All these services are free: ATM withdraw and deposit (BBVA’s and AllPoint ATMs), full featured Internet banking, full featured mobile banking, Visa debit card, Apple Pay and more. The non-free services are listed here and exact rates depend on the US state where the account was opened.
To open a checking account, you must personally visit a physical branch in US and spend 40 minutes on an interview. You will leave the branch with an open account and routing numbers containing a $26 balance plus valid user and password that can be used on BBVA’s app and Internet banking. Free Visa debit card will arrive to some US address in a week or two, so no ATM until then.
They have 2 free checking account types. The NBA Checking type is better – and this is the one you should open – because it gives you free access to AllPoint ATMs, which are very popular throughout US, and can be found in almost every 7 Eleven store. Use the AllPoint app to find one near you.
Requirements to open the account
Here is a list of informations you need to bring to the interview on the branch to open an account. Bring them written and printed on a piece of paper to speed up the work of the branch employee:
- Home country address
- Some US address that can receive your debit card and other physical mail
- Telephone in home country
- E-mail address
- Home country work address
- Name of referring person – you can give mine: Aviram Alkalay
- Home country bank name, account and phone
- Annual income converted to USD
- Total personal estate converted to USD (cash, investments, real estate etc)
- $25 in cash as initial minimum deposit
- The NBA team you want to use to decorate your debit card
Before leaving the branch, they gave me the opportunity to test their mobile app on my smartphone with a $1 check they provided for deposit. So pre-install their app before coming to the branch. The AllPoint (ATM finder) and BBVA Wallet (debit and credit card manager) apps are also useful to have installed.
A US bank account with a debit card is useful for travels to US where I don’t need to bring cash in the pocket: I can make an international money transfer prior the trip. Also, it helps me avoid some home country credit card taxes. Not to mention that US citizens and services can make and receive money transfers to and from me.
Additional setup after the account is created
- For the NBA checking account, use the app to set you want to “go paperless” to avoid receiving monthly paper statements that would cost $3/month. Same information on the paper statements can be seen in the mobile and Internet banking.
- I had problems activating PopMoney, Visa Checkout and Bill Pay. PopMoney, by BBVA, is a free service that lets you send money for free to any US bank account using only the credited person e-mail address. Very practical. I needed to provide a valid US address to be able to activate this. Even so, there was an inconsistency in their system related to my country against the US address. I had to visit a branch again and talk to the branch manager to fix this. Still fixing. The customer service over the phone was very helpful too.
Additional info for fellow Brazilians
To have a US bank account is the cheapest way to buy dollars. Lets review your options for your next business or vacations trip to US:
Without a US bank account
- Use your Brazilian credit card and be a victim of ⓐ credit card exchange rates (that you’ll know probably only after your trip) and ⓑ 6.38% of additional IOF taxes.
- Buy dollars in cash from an official exchange service (as Socopa or Daycoval) using the “dollar turismo” exchange rate (which is always higher than the “dollar comercial”). Pay only 0.38% of IOF taxes. And then travel with all this cash and worry about hotel lockers and safes and hidden pockets. And pay everything in cash through your trip.
With a US bank account
- Buy dollars from an official exchange service (as Socopa or Daycoval) using the “dollar comercial” exchange rates (which are lower and better than the “dollar turismo”). Get it wire-transferred to your US bank account prior your trip. Pay only 1.10% of IOF taxes (even after January 2016, because the transfer is between same-owner accounts). Pay additional about US$30 for the international wire transfer service for your exchange service. BBVA will also charge you US$45 for the international wire transfer reception. And then pay for restaurants and goods with your US bank debit card, have better control of your expenses through mobile banking apps.
- Buy dollars from a friend that has a US bank account using the the “dollar comercial” exchange rates and make a US Electronic Transfer between accounts. This is a very cheap service, about US$3 per transfer, but usually takes a few days for the money to reach your account. Manually pay 0.38% IOF in Brazil (via DARF) but avoid the US$45 wire transfer costs. Have same benefits and ease of use as item 3 above.
- As #4, but instead of an Electronic Transfer, popular banks also provide free money transfer services. A friend with a Bank of America account once have sent me money with BoA’s ClearXchange service. My friend only needed my e-mail address, then I filled an online form on the ClearXchange web site and the money was available on my BBVA account on the next day. For free for me and for her. PopMoney, by BBVA, is a similar service for BBVA account holders that want to send money to others in the US.
Clearly options 4 and specially 5 are the best, cheapest and most practical.