Helping Refugees Setup a Checking Account


Since every refugee will receive some kind of cash assistance, he/she will need a bank account in which to deposit funds (and out of which to pay his/her own bills).


Regular banking hours; once the refugee has a State I.D. or an employment authorization document (E.A.D.) volunteers should call Ms. Patricia Miller at the Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Wells Fargo to request an account set-up appointment.


WRD has an established partnership with Wells Fargo. We recommend Wells Fargo because they have free over the phone interpretation for customers, low monthly fees ($10/mo after first few months free), and no monthly fee if the refugee sets up a direct deposit (they can do this with cash assistance and/or income from a job) or uses their debit card at least 10 times a month. Refugees can use any bank they want, and if they plan to move they may know which banks are readily available in their new town.

Suggested branch

Wells Fargo 2821 Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd. Durham, NC 27707

What to Bring

  1. Social Security Card

  2. State ID

  3. A check that the refugee needs to deposit (Must have the refugee’s name on the check)


The same as setting up a bank account for a non-refugee. NOTE: Volunteers should let the refugees take the initiative, letting them figure out where to go (“information” or “customer service”) or how to ask to set up a bank account. Volunteers should see if they can fill out the paperwork; they should help them along without taking the lead and doing things for the refugees. The goal is to familiarize refugees with this process as well as setup a bank account.

NOTE: Refugees are highly encouraged to do online banking with a free checking account. Just open a checking account unless the refugee really understands banking. Otherwise people accidentally deposit funds in the wrong account and think it's missing. The refugees should try to use their bank account at least 10 times per month and opt-in into receiving their monthly bank statements online. Otherwise, there is a $7 service fee for receiving monthly bank statements in the mail and for using the account less than 10 times per month. Don't set up online banking unless the refugee uses email and is capable of using online banking. NOTE: Turn off overdraft. Refugees can owe serious money if you don't turn this off.

Teach them to use the ATM before you leave. Deposit a check if they have one, deposit cash if they have it. Withdraw money if there's any to withdraw and have cards sent to our office.

NOTE: Refugees can use an I-94 and TSA Travel Letter to open an account. They don’t need a social. Some bankers have never seen these documents and you might have to do a little education and advocacy. They can always check USCIS’s website to understand the documents. The alien registration number is essentially the same as a passport number and should work in their system.

NOTE: Some refugees will receive checks before they receive a bank account. This is okay. Refugees will have to wait for the bank account to be established in order to cash the checks. WRD helps with necessary ‘pocket money’ (their initial ’welcome money’) until refugees are able to withdraw from the bank on their own.