In order to comply with provisions of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, banks in the United States are required to have written rules on file that detail the methods that bank employees can use to identify new customers. Typically, banks require new customers to produce one form of government issued identification at account opening. To comply with tax reporting requirements, banks also have to obtain each account signer's Social Security number. Finally, when you open an account you must sign a signature card that doubles as an account agreement. Due to state contract laws, banks have to obtain the signature of all account signers at account opening and must keep the signature on file.
Many banks allow resident aliens, who have permanent addresses overseas to open bank accounts with foreign passports. Foreign nationals who do not have Social Security numbers can still open joint or single ownership accounts if they complete a W8 tax form, which exempts them from having to pay taxes in the United States. Since the PATRIOT Act requires banks to obtain each account owner's permanent address, the bank must keep a record of each account owner's foreign address although an account owner can also use a United States postal box for mailing purposes. Foreign owners do have to go to a United States branch location in order to sign a signature card at account opening.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains a list of nations on which sanctions have been placed by the United States. The extent of the sanctions varies from nation to nation but in some instances, financial institutions are barred from dealing with citizens of certain nations. As of 2011, sanctions are in effect on a number of countries that include Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. The compliance department of the bank must review the latest OFAC instructions before opening any accounts that involve citizens of these and other impacted nations. Additionally, certain individuals who belong to terrorist groups or foreign political organizations are barred from opening accounts in the United States. Banks regularly receive updated lists containing the name of these individuals.
While U.S. based banks usually only open accounts for foreign persons who come to the United States, some multi-national banks do allow people based overseas to act as co-signers on joint accounts. These banks have overseas branch locations and foreign nationals can go to these locations and provide employees with the information needed by the bank. The exact rules and procedures vary from bank to bank although despite having worldwide locations, some multi-national banks do not have procedures in place to facilitate such transactions.