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US Bank Account For Canadian: How I Found The Best Option For Me

In this post, I will tell you all about my quest “US Bank Account For Canadian” and why I needed one in the first place. It took me about 2 weeks to gather all this info about banks and accounts and I hope it will be useful for you.

Update from April 2017: I am still using BMO Harris as my own US based account and so far, it is going well, I have no complains.

A Need For a US Based Account

But why did I need such account in the first place? As you know from the previous post about my plans I had two reasons to open a US bank account:

  1. receiving payments from my niche websites;
  2. buying a website.

I assume you are already a bit familiar with niche websites and what kind of types they can be. If not, read an in-depth post by Steve Scott about various niche websites. I decided to go with the Amazon affiliate program and build my first niche website around it (fast forward, here are the niche websites I got by the end of 2015.)

Account For Amazon Affiliate Program

For the Amazon affiliate program, I need a US account in the USA in order to minimize banking fees.

Amazon affiliate program supports 3 types of payments:

  •  gift card (clearly not what we need here);
  • checks;
  • the direct deposit paid directly into your account.

Direct deposit is cheapest and fastest way to get money, but it can be done only to a US account opened in a bank located in the US. Meanwhile depositing the checks, which are foreign to Canadian banks, invokes all sorts of international banking fees, delays, and unfavorable currency conversion rates.
This was the first reason why I needed a US based account.

But if only I needed an account for an affiliate program, it would be pretty easy to choose one. But I also wanted to use the same account for buying a website… And this brings in certain requirements.

Account For Buying Online Business

When it comes to buying an online business, I use a dedicated broker. From my point of view, this is a must, and I will write in a separate post why I think so.

One of my favorite brokers is Empire Flippers (again, I will explain what it is and why it is my favorite in a separate post). Every week these guys publish 2-8 online businesses for sale. While it seems like a lot of websites, in fact, the cheap ones (the price is < $15,000 – yes, this is cheap comparing to a few hundred thousand dollar websites!) get sold in a few hours after the publication. The websites disappear so quickly that very often there is no time left to do a proper due diligence. It makes it so hard to buy a non-expensive website!

What’s important in this race is not how fast you tell them that you decided to buy. What matters is the speed with which the payment appears on their account. Empire Flippers accepts wire transfers, and the very first wire transfer that drops on their account wins the race. And their account is in a US bank… You see what I mean, right? No? Let me explain. A wire transfer from a Canadian bank to a US one may take somewhere between 3 to 5 days. Meanwhile, a domestic transfer, from the USA to the USA, takes 4 – 24 hours. Hours! I have no chances to win the race while trying to pay from a Canadian account.

Actually, I did try once. After they published a new set of websites, I spotted a great and cheap one and rushed to my bank, which was only 5 min away from my office. Luckily that morning I did not have any meetings at work. After getting to the bank, I did the wire transfer and crossed my fingers hoping for the best. However, only 12 hours later I learned that the website was sold to somebody else who clearly did not need 3 days for their payment to go through.

This is the second reason why I needed a US based account.

But is it possible to open one if you are not a US resident? If you are from Canada, the answer is yes!

Comparison Of US Banks for Canadians

Many Canadian banks offer accounts in USD currency. However, they are not what I needed, because these accounts are located in Canada. What I needed is a genuine US account from a genuine US bank.

So I had to find a Canadian bank located in Montreal (where I live) that has a US branch or a US bank that could open a US account for a Canadian resident remotely (I did not want to travel to the US for a sole purpose of opening an account). On top of that, the said bank had to provide an option to send wire transfers online or over the phone. This was also a crucial feature because I clearly couldn’t go to the US in person to send a transfer.

 

So, I did a bit of research and made a table with the banks that can open a US account for a Canadian. I called only a few US banks and the majority of them do not open accounts for Canadians, so that’s why you see only one US bank on the list.

Bank Open account Need Canadian
account?
Transfer
CAD – USA
Transfer
USA – CAD
Wire Transfer
BMO Harris over phone no free $10 over phone
RBC Georgia from Canadian branch yes free free over phone
HSBC over phone yes free free online
TD Bank from Canadian branch yes free free in person
Chase (a US bank) from local US branch no n/a n/a online

There are a few banks I did not include in my table, and you can read about them below.

Desjardins Florida

In order to find out how to open an account in a US branch of Desjardins, Desjardins Florida, I called their customer support – as I did for all the other banks. However, the agent could not give me any information regarding the US branch. He suggested to go to one of the local cassies and ask a representative on the spot. Hehe, such an “impressive” customer support!

NatBank (National Bank)

So far my experience with National Bank has been disappointing. From my point of view, their customer support sucks. This time, when I failed to find a customer service phone number for the US branch on their website, I decided to not waste my time with them.

Other Canadian Banks

Other banks from Big Five I did not mention are Scotiabank and CIBC. They simply do not do personal banking in the US.

US Banks
Apart from Chase I also contacted Ally Bank and Capital One 360. However, Chase was the only bank among them that can open an account for a Canadian. Unfortunately, they do not do it online, and I would have to come in person. In person, right, to one of their local US branches. Not very convenient!
So, no US banks for me.

Now let’s look closely at these banks to see what the US accounts they offer.

Comparison of US Bank Account For Canadians

Here is a short overview of basic checking accounts offered by the US branches of the Canadian banks I mentioned above.

Bank Account Name Min
Deposit
Min amount
to wave fees
Monthly
Fee
# free
transactions
Extra
Transaction
Cost
Interest
RBC Georgia Direct Checking $50.00 n/a $3.95 10 $1.00 no
RBC Georgia Premium Checking $50.00 n/a $9.95 unlimited n/a yes
TD US TD Simple Checking $0.00 n/a $5.99 unlimited n/a no
TD US TD Convenience Checking $0.00 $100.00 $15.00 unlimited n/a no
BMO Harris Everyday Checking $100.00 $1000 / $500 in during a month $10.00 unlimited n/a no
BMO Harris Select Checking $100.00 $5,000.00 $15.00 unlimited n/a yes
Desjardins Florida Low Cost Checking $50.00 n/a $7.00 unlimited n/a no
Desjardins Florida Regular Checking $50.00 $850.00 $8.00 unlimited n/a no
HSBC Basic Banking $0.00 n/a $3.00 8 $0.35 no
HSBC Choice Checking $0.00 $1,500.00 $15.00 unlimited n/a no

As you can see TD Convenience Checking account has a very good plan with a very small minimal amount to wave fee and unlimited amount of transactions. It is too bad they only allow to do wire transfers in person 🙁

So there are only three banks would allow me to easily open an account and to do wire transfers remotely: RBC, BMO Harris and HSBC.

RBC

Pros: wire transfer by phone
Cons: no way to waive monthly fees

This is a virtual bank without physical branches.
It does not matter how much money you keep in a checking account, you will have to pay a monthly fee anyway. This is a big drawback for me, especially in the long term perspective.

HSBC

Pros: wire transfer online
Cons: hard to open a US account (need a proof of the reason) and expensive ($200 one time fee)

HSBC has strict requirements when it comes to international banking. They need a good reason for opening a US account and a proper proof of said reason. The reasons they consider to be good enough can be one of the following:

  • often travel to the US;
  • buying a property in the US;
  • receiving an income from a US employer.

None of these reasons was applicable to me, so I told them the truth about buying an online business. Once I mentioned the word “business”, the agent immediately said I had to go to the business department and refused to continue the conversation. After looking up the fees for business banking, I decided against it (too expensive!). So I called the personal banking department again, and this time I said I needed an account to get money from affiliate programs I use on my blog. The agent said it was a good enough reason, but they would need to see the proof of said income. Geez! Feeling my disappointment, the agent revealed that it may be easier to open an account if I go directly to a US branch. Apparently, physical branches have fewer requirements. Mmmm… no, thanks!

BMO Harris

Pros: wire transfer by phone; the monthly fees can be waived by keeping $1000 on the account or by having $500 coming in during the statement period.
Cons: Cannot transfer money to Canadian BMO “in-house” for free, and the fee is $10.

BMO Harris does not require a Canadian resident to open a Canadian account beforehand. This is definitely an advantage (though for me it does not matter because I already have a BMO account).

Conclusion

I decided that HSBC is too cumbersome and expensive to deal with, so the short-list had two items: RBC and BMO.

So, RBC vs BMO! Who wins?

BMO of course. The fact that RBC does not allow waiving the fees was a big downside for me.

What about not being able to transfer funds from the US to Canada for free? Nah, it is not important. I do not plan to use the bank for that; instead, for transferring money I will be using Canadian Forex (I will write about it very soon!)

How To Obtain Valid Information About Banks And Accounts

While doing my research, I realized one thing: To not put too much trust into what support agents tell me. The best way is to call and then compare the answers from various agents and with the info from the bank’s website. When an answer sounds weird or undesirable, the best thing is to call back and ask the question again. It is frustrating, but the answers too often depend on the professional level of the agents or maybe how they felt or their mood.

I have heard so much bullshit!

And I believed it at first. But then at some point, I found out that some of the answers did not match to some information from the website. After that, I started calling the same banks 2-3 times to ask the same questions again and again. I also changed my questions based on the information I already learned.

It all helped to obtain the truly valid information about banks and accounts they offer.

Opening a US Bank Account From Canada

So, I decided to go with BMO Harris.

BMO Harris is a US branch of BMO, but they are pretty independent of the Canadian division. They do not require Canadian residents to have an account with the Canadian BMO. And they can open an account over the phone.

The only thing that they need to open an account is a $100USD check as a hard deposit. The easiest way to do it would be to open a US account with BMO, deposit the money and write a money order to yourself.

If you are already with BMO, of course. Like me. My banking plan at BMO (Plus Plan) allows me to open additional accounts for free, and it was great. I opened a USD account online, took $140CAD cash from my regular account and exchanged it for $100USD at a good currency exchange office (not a bank). Then I put it on my new USD account and immediately made a money order to myself. All this took about 1 hour, most of it waiting in line at the currency exchange office 🙂

After opening an account on the phone, I got a package from BMO Harris by mail in one business day. I signed the papers and sent them back along with the check and a copy of my driver license from both sides. Once they received the papers, my account got opened. Hurray!

But it was only a half of the task. The other half was to set up the wire transfer process over the phone.

In a few weeks, I found a website to buy and paid for it using a wire transfer. Here I wrote how it went.

International Banking Markups

It’s important to remember that sending money from the USA or Canada in foreign currency is extremely expensive.
The wire fees are at around USD 25-50 per transaction, but above that, banks charge at around 2% of the lump sum in markups.
If you are lucky enough to be successful at what you do, this 2% markup can become hundreds or thousands of dollars annually.
The alternative is a bespoke currency service, with lower margin and no wire fees.

Disclaimer
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I received a small fee in order to publish them. Thank you for supporting my blog by visiting it!

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