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Banking and Money Matters

You will encounter some expenses when you first arrive in the U.S. Some likely costs include transportation from the airport, a hotel stay while you search for more permanent housing, meals out, a deposit on a rental unit, first and last month's rent, furnishings, etc.

U.S. Currency

U.S. paper currency is the same size and color for all values. Cash is available in denominations, $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. U.S. currency is based on the decimal systems, with 100 cents per dollar. Coin currency is available in $.01, $.05, $.10, $.25 and $1.

You should arrive with some U.S. currency for any immediate needs upon arrival. There are currency exchange services available in most international airports, but not in Merced (you may be able to exchange some currency at a local bank). 

Bringing large amounts of cash is not ideal, some safe options include:
  • Traveler's Checks - have them issued in U.S. dollars, large denominations are harder to use. 
  • ATM/Debit Card - make sure you are aware of your bank's fees/charges and restrictions on using your card in U.S. ATMs; alert your bank as to your travel plans.
  • Credit Card - check for fees and restrictions, be sure to alert your credit card company of when and where you will be traveling. 
  • Bank Check/Draft - useful for transferring a large sum of money, but can take up to a few weeks to become available. 
  • Wire transfer - safe and available quickly, but a U.S. bank account must be opened first. 


Opening a bank account in the U.S. is recommended for several reasons. It is a safe place to keep your money. Banks and credit unions are government regulated and FDIC insured. In the U.S., you can use a combination of check writing, Debit/ATM, and Visa/MasterCard to make purchases and pay bills. Once you open an account, you will receive an ATM/Debit card that also can be used as a Visa/MasterCard. A bank account also allows for you to receive wire transfers. You will want to do your research to determine the financial institution that best suits your needs. Each bank or credit union will have different products and services, with differing requirements and fees. Some of these banks will require a Social Security number or an ITIN, while others may open accounts for students and scholars without a social security number. When opening a new account,  students and scholars will generally be required to submit documentation that proves their identity and residence in the local area, such as a lease agreement or telephone bill. 

Find a list of local banks


Even if the international student/scholar is not paid in the U.S., there may be some U.S. tax forms that should be completed each year. The UC Merced International Students and Scholars office does not answer any U.S. tax questions. There are; however, general handouts on U.S. taxes, and UC Merced's Business and Financial Services office does offer tax workshops at least once a year. For questions about tax questions and other tax treaties, the International Student/Scholar should contact UC Merced's Tax Services. You can email the tax services department