I have a friend who is a citizen and resident of Finland. My friend co-owns a rental property in CA. Last year, my friend received an income refund check from the IRS for about $1000. The problem is that my friend has been unable to cash or deposit this check in Finland. Checks – let alone foreign checks – are not used or accepted there, and haven’t been in over 25 years.
On my friend’s behalf, I contacted the IRS and explained the situation. They wrote back saying the only thing they could suggest was that my friend open a U.S. bank account online, arrange with the IRS to have the funds direct deposited into that account, and then wire transfer those funds into her Finnish bank account. They also provided links to dozens of FDIC-insured banks, big and small, which allow for the creation of accounts remotely.
I have contacted more than a dozen of these (and other) banks with no success in finding one that would let my friend open an account. Small banks lack the resources to verify information about overseas customers. Big banks (e.g., BoA, Citibank, Chase, HSBC, etc.) require two forms of I.D.: Social Security number (which my friend does have) and proof of U.S. residency (which obviously cannot be provided). I explored the possibilities of my friend using my address to open an account, or opening a joint account with her, but I am inclined to believe that neither avenue offers a realistic chance of overcoming the proof of U.S. residency requirement.
I also contacted an online brokerage house; while my friend would be able to open an account there, any funds direct deposited into that account would have to list the brokerage house as payee, and not my friend. Although I have not checked with the IRS, I doubt they will accept that as a solution. A second online broker I looked at was simply too expensive, its monthly fees likely eating up much of the balance while my friend waited for the IRS to send her money.
Lastly, I investigated Finnish banks with branches in the U.S. I found one (Nordea) with a branch in NY, but that branch only deals with corporate clients by referral.
Based on this research, I do not believe it is possible for an individual who is a citizen and resident of a foreign country to open a U.S. bank account remotely. As such, my options would appear to be limited to pleading with the IRS to make a hardship exception in this matter, and find some other way for my friend to get the money that rightfully and legally belongs to her. I have no illusions about my prospects for success with that.
Notwithstanding all of that, I doubt my research on this issue has been exhaustive. If anyone here knows of a method whereby my friend might be able to open a U.S. account of some kind that the IRS would be willing to direct deposit into, I would be very grateful to hear about it.