Banking in the U.S.

Upon arrival to the United States

  • Most businesses accept credit or debit cards, but plan to exchange some money into U.S. dollars when you arrive at the airport in order to pay for transportation to campus, tips for baggage handling, hotel, and other possible expenses. The exchange rate will likely be higher at the airport than elsewhere but it is necessary to have a bit of cash because in some instances credit and debit cards are not accepted
  • Do not carry large amounts of cash
  • If you are staying for an extended period, you can open an account at a bank and draw on funds or arrange for funds to be transferred to a more conveniently located banking institution
  • If you are staying for a shorter period, you can likely pull money out of your bank account from your home country using ATMs and pay a service charge

Transferring money from home

There are many ways you can transfer money from your home bank account to a bank account in the US. Here are some of the most common:

  • Third-party apps such as Transferwise can complete international currency transfers quickly and often with minimal fees
  • You can also work directly with your home bank to request a wire transfer. You will need the following information from the receiving bank:
    • Bank address
    • Account number
    • Routing number
    • Bank SWIFT code
    • Beneficiary name (usually your own)
  • External providers such as Western Union or Moneygram can also provide quick transfer service, usually without the need of a bank account or credit union

Bank options in San Luis Obispo

There are many banks located in San Luis Obispo. These banks offer various types of financial services, such as checking accounts, savings accounts, safe deposit boxes for valuables, foreign currency conversion, international money orders, and electronic wire transfers.


A small selection of banks and branches is listed below.

Bank of America

1102 Higuera Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805) 858-9024

*SSN not required to open account
*ATM on campus


1235 Chorro Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

 (805) 595-5602

*SSN not required to open account

U.S. Bank

995 Higuera Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805) 858-3588

*SSN not required to open account

Wells Fargo Bank

665 Marsh Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805) 541-0143

*SSN not required to open account

Credit Unions


852 Foothill Boulevard
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405

(877) 465-3361

*ATM on campus


3807 Broad Street
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

(805) 543-1816

*ATM on campus

Banks and Credit Unions Explained

When selecting a bank or credit union, it is best to compare your needs to the services that the bank or credit union offers.


  • Banks are for-profit corporations that serve a large number of people
  • Have state-wide or nation-wide branches
  • Have 24-hour customer service
  • Have ATM Locations throughout the USA
  • Have a safe deposit box service
  • Have weekend business hours
  • Offer credit cards for students
  • The drawbacks of banking with large corporations are maintaining a higher minimum balance and having to pay higher service fees and penalty fees.

Credit Unions

  • Credit Unions are non-profit organizations that serve the needs of a specific group of people
  • Usually locally based
  • Maintaining a lower minimum balance
  • Free 24-hour banking service
  • Free checking accounts
  • Free over-draft protection for your checking account
  • Lower service fees and penalty fees
  • Fewer ATM locations
  • Usually no weekend business hours
  • No 24-hour customer representatives to answer questions
  • No credit cards especially for students
  • Usually lack of safe deposit box service

Accounts, ATMs and Digital Wallets

Savings Accounts

A minimum $100 to $300 is usually required to open an account with a bank. Credit Unions usually require about $50 minimum balance. When you open an account, you usually receive an automatic teller machine (ATM) card. This card will allow you to access your account even when the bank is closed. Credit Unions may charge a $5 fee for your first ATM card and for each replacement card prior to your ATM card expiration date.

Checking Accounts

After opening a checking account, which may cost you a monthly fee, you will be given a book of “temporary checks.” Some banks will waive a monthly fee if you are a student. You can write checks against the balance in your account. You will also be given a small booklet with your checks to be used to keep a record of the checks you write and the money you deposit. Good record keeping is very important, but you will be able to view how much money is in your account via online banking services. Banks and credit unions charge a penalty for overdrawing your account. The penalty fee usually starts at $20. Your bank will not honor a check written if the funds necessary to cover it are not in your account, and the business or person to whom you wrote the check may charge you a penalty fee as well.

Writing a check

Checks aren’t used frequently, but you may need to write one in the instance of a security deposit or in order to pay rent.


Automated/Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) allow you to conduct banking transactions after-hours or without going into a branch location.

A service charge of about $3 per month may be charged for the ATM if your account balance goes below the minimum. There is also usually a per-usage charge of $3 to $4 when using an ATM not provided by your bank or credit union. ATMs have a daily maximum allowable withdrawal amount to protect your account in case of theft. The maximum amount is between $200 to $500 depending on your bank or credit union. In the evening, select ATMs that are inside supermarkets or on brightly lit streets. For your safety, save your receipt and wait until you are in a safe place to count your money. ATMs will only accept deposits from customers of their bank or credit union. You can deposit cash or checks into an ATM location, or deposit checks through your bank’s mobile banking app by taking a picture of both sides of the check. Before depositing a check, you must endorse the check by signing your name on line on the back.

ATM Locations on Cal Poly Campus

Cal Poly has 3 ATM locations:

  • Chase Bank provides an ATM machine by their office across from the University store
  • Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank each has an ATM machine behind the University Store near the 1901 Marketplace (formerly The Avenue)
  • Chase and Golden One have ATMs outside the Campus Market

The Cal Poly Cashier, located in the Administration Building, only accepts cash or checks in person. Cal Poly accepts payments through their International Payment Portal (Flywire). You can pay by international wire transfer, foreign debit/ credit cards, eChecks, as well as other local payment options from a specific country. If you pay via credit card online, you will be charged with a 2.75% convenience fee. Payment via eCheck does not have a service charge.

Credit Cards

Ways to build credit and other information on obtaining a credit card.

NerdWallet: Obtaining a credit card and the importance of building credit.

Digital Wallets

Digital wallets such as PayPal and Venmo are typically connected to your U.S. bank account or debit card and allow you to send/receive money between other users.