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Helping international students navigate U.S. banking system

Banking Corner Sponsored by U.S. Bank
Students from abroad, attending college in the U.S., have a lot to assimilate. More than likely they have to deal with a new culture, perhaps master a new language, learn their way around campus and more. They also possibly have to learn a new currency and probably how to deal with this country’s banking system.

That’s where a school’s banking partner can help. In the case of U.S. Bank, it has even set up special seminars for international students during orientation.

“They need a unique orientation separate from other incoming freshmen,” explains Whitney Bright, vice president, campus banking for U.S. Bank. “A lot of times international students are notorious for bringing large quantities of cash. I’m always amazed how many show up with cash, even as much as $10,000. So their immediate need is to open a bank account.”

The orientation session is conducted at the beginning of the semester because usually these international students are coming in all at one time, adds Bright.

For international students, a lot depends on where they’re coming from. “Many foreign students need more help due to the language barrier. While they speak English, they’re not as fluent in banking terminology. It’s not something they’re normally taught when they’re learning another language,” says Bright.

U.S. Bank tries to bring bankers who speak other languages to these orientation sessions. “They’re not always available, but we try to make them available where possible,” she adds.

At these sessions, international students are given a general understanding of how our banking system works, says Bright. “We teach them to use the Internet to manage money, how to write checks, most importantly how to use their debit cards. And we explain about wiring money because it gets there more quickly. We also encourage them to open an account in the United States to make access to funds more convenient,” says Bright.

Bright points to one of its partners, Xavier University in Cincinnati as an example of how these orientation sessions work. “We’re very involved with the international student programs at Xavier. When these students come in, one of the things we also do with them is take them into a computer lab and show them how to log in, how to get their accounts open and walk them through it, screen by screen. That’s been really successful. Different schools have different ways we can work with their students.”

Interestingly, it was one of those international students who first came up with the idea for working closer with this group of students. “There was an international student studying at Xavier who ended up working at U.S. Bank who eventually became branch manager of the branch on campus. This was a group of students near and dear to his heart and he was one who thought of training them in the computer labs,” says Bright.

The bank is also flexible enough to customize these sessions “and tailor it to whatever time frame they (the college) have,” she says.

For example, at one of the bank’s partners where there is no on-campus branch, international students are transported by bus to the nearest U.S. Bank, says Bright. “We do that after hours or on a Sunday so we open that branch especially for these students to give them the individual attention they need.”

The bank also has a “banking guide” written specifically for international students, she says.

The guide covers how to open a bank account and what’s involved. It answers the question, “What form of identification will I need to open a U.S. Bank checking account?” Answer: Any two of the following, a U.S. visa, a college ID card, or a U.S. driver license/state-issued ID card, plus a Social Security number or an international tax identification number or a completed W-8 (an IRS form granting a foreigner exemption from certain tax reporting requirements).

The guide also covers how to go about making an international wire transfer, obtaining a money order, making an actual bank deposit, banking basics, including how to identify the various parts of a check, how to fill out a check, how to read the checking account statement, how to manage the checkbook register and, most importantly, how to balance the checking account.

Another tip suggests not keeping large amounts of cash either on you or at home. The various types of ATMs–those that require the card be inserted for the entire transaction while others that scan your card and return it immediately–are also described as well as methods students should take to prevent ID theft, such as shredding any documents that contain personal information–credit card receipts, insurance forms, physician and bank statements, and even credit card offers. There’s also a section about phishing, the act of trying to get a bank customer by phone or email to turn over personal information or PIN numbers.

What about students in the U.S. who go abroad? The university will try to work with them two to three months in advance, telling them what they need in the way of vaccinations, money, etc.

U.S. Bank has answers to frequently asked questions, for such students. It covers how parents can make deposits, and helps students determine whether they should carry credit cards, debit cards, cash or traveler’s checks. The short answer is credit cards, since not all areas accept particular brands of traveler’s checks. Still, they’re a good backup source of money.

Another suggestion that students or parents may not think about is that Banks should be notified that you’re traveling abroad since your spending habits will suddenly change. This could red flag your card as possibly stolen. Students are also strongly advised to bank while abroad using the Internet, if the bank offers this service (and most of them do). Students should also know the conversion rate of the U.S. dollar versus other currencies. Check www.xe.com/ucc/, the universal currency converter site.

It’s pretty obvious that first year students of all stripes can benefit from many of these same guidelines. In fact, other than the extra amount of time spent with international students coming here, many of these tips are included in the normal U.S. Bank-sponsored orientation session for all new students, says Bright.

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