American Citizens Abroad
T h e V o i c e o f Ame r i c a n s Ov e r s e a s
5, Rue Liotard – 1202 Geneva, Switzerland – Phone/Fax: (+41-22) 340 02 33
Maintaining Bank Accounts in the United States
While You Are Living Abroad
Recommended steps for overseas Americans to follow if a U.S. bank refuses
either to open an account or to maintain an account
because of the client’s foreign address
Meetings were held with the American Bankers Association (ABA) and with FinCen in the Treasury
Department (Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the office that develops regulations for U.S.
banking operations). We discussed the multiple complaints that our organizations have received from
Americans overseas claiming that U.S. banks either forcibly closed their accounts on short notice or
have refused to open a new bank account because of their foreign address, most often citing
the Patriot Act as the reason.
Both the ABA and FinCen confirm that there is no provision either in the Patriot Act or
in the FinCen regulations that prohibits banks from opening and maintaining accounts
for American citizens with a foreign address.
The ABA also made a telephone survey with top officials in large American banks to find out if there
existed anywhere an official internal bank policy to refuse overseas Americans as clients. The answer
was no. It was specifical y stated that if one has a U.S. bank account and moves overseas, there
should be no problem in maintaining that account.
Yet the problem exists. Below we have designed a plan to deal with business decisions or
internal regulations at lower levels in the bank organizations which are apparently leading to
this blockage, whether justified or not.
Recommended procedure to open and maintain U.S. bank accounts
We believe the best way to rectify banking problems is to work on a case by case approach.
If you are refused a bank account or receive a notice of forced closing in the U.S. because
you have a foreign address, here are some suggested steps to take:
1. Confirm al of your verbal communications to the bank in writing, whether or not you
obtain redress. Maintain a file with al communications so you can prove your case
with specific dates and steps taken.
2. Cal or write to the account manager to ask if you can provide additional information
which would satisfy the bank’s requirements for opening/maintaining an account
since you have a foreign address – such as a Social Security number, a passport
number, name and address of a family member living in the United States or a P.O.
Box address in the United States. You may have to travel to the U.S. to open an
account to satisfy the bank’s “Know Your Client” rules.
Explain why you need to open or maintain a U.S. bank account – to pay U.S. taxes,
to receive Social Security payments, to make payments in the U.S., to have an IRA,
to handle estate issues in the family, to invest in U.S. securities, etc. Attach a copy of
their letter or notification to you for easy reference.
3. Once you have received the written statement from the bank or if you have not
received a written statement within a reasonable period of time, contact the bank’s
branch manager to make your case for a reversal of the decision and give clear
reference to the account manager in question; confirm any conversation in writing.
4. If the bank manager maintains the decision, tel him that you are going to report this
decision to the bank’s headquarters management as you have been informed that
there is neither an official bank policy nor a legal reason for the bank to refuse you an
account or close an established account.
5. If stil refused, fol ow-up and contact the bank’s headquarter management, first by
telephone to see if you can obtain redress and to obtain the name and address where
to write if you are still facing a refusal.
6. If you have an account with a national bank, go to the ombudsman page on the site of
the Office of the Control er of the Currency to see if you can find help there. The site
is www.occ.treas.gov. Click on Customer Complaints and Assistance to go to the
ombudsman website and helpdesk. There is an on-line complaint form you can
complete and a telephone number if you have questions or would like to discuss the
case first before filing the complaint.
7. Inform ACA of the problem and outline the specific steps you have taken. Include the
bank’s name and address, the name of the account manager, the name of the bank
managers and copies of any correspondence you have received or sent to any bank.
Also provide your general appreciation of the account’s nature – i.e. personal or joint
account, cash account, money market account, securities account or loan account
with a debit balance, your evaluation of the significance of the account size (smal ,
medium, large but no numbers). If you are facing a forced account closing, provide
the length of time that the account has been opened. Inform us as early as possible,
with updates as you proceed through the various steps.
8. Our organization will transmit, with your approval, each case to our contacts at the
ABA and at FinCen, which wil al ow them to review them and dialogue with the bank
in question. This approach will make the banks clearly aware of the fact that the key
banking association and regulatory organization are fol owing specific cases of
Americans overseas being refused U.S. bank accounts because of their foreign
ACA along with other organizations sponsoring Overseas Americans Week is also going to
contact the large banks in the United States to obtain policy statements based on the cases
that have already been reported to us. Depending on the frequency of particular problems
with certain banks or consistent favorable reception of American clients with foreign
addresses by certain banks, we wil keep you informed of the general experience
encountered with different banks to help guide you in choosing a bank in the U.S.
Please keep ACA informed of your efforts so that we can follow-up if necessary in
Washington D.C. Send your emails to email@example.com.