General Information

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For New Foreign National Employees

Banking Information

It is recommended that you open a bank account as soon as possible after your arrival.  Most   financial institutions require a Social Security number to open a bank account.  However, after your arrival in the U.S. you may not receive your Social Security number for several weeks.  To assist you in working through this requirement, BNL has made special arrangements with two local financial institutions (Teacher’s Federal Credit Union (located on site) and Astoria Federal Savings Bank (located about 5 miles from BNL) to waive having a Social Security number to open an account. 

You may want to consider opening a bank account prior to the start date of your new job; perhaps while you are visiting BNL.  U.S. bank documents can be used as a form of identification which may make other activities (like obtaining a driver license) easier. 

Money paid into new accounts by check may take a few days to clear (even when drawn from a U.S. bank in another state). Wire transfers from U.S. and foreign banks tend to take two (2) days, provided the funds transferred are in U.S. dollars.* (It is recommended that foreign currency be changed abroad, as these transactions tend to be more expensive when conducted at U.S. banks). *See info provided below regarding Chase Bank (a commercial bank with international router availability for wire transfers).

U.S. banks can offer both checking and savings accounts. If you exhaust all of the funds in your checking account, the bank, with prior arrangement and possibly a fee, will transfer funds from your savings account into your checking account.  It is recommended that you sign up for on-line access to your banking information so that you can transfer funds between accounts as necessary.

Teachers Federal Credit Union (TFCU) - On-Site at Brookhaven Lab

 Building 400, Research Support Building, Brookhaven Avenue – Ext. 2790

https://www.teachersfcu.org

Hours of Operation:
Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday: 9:00am to 4:30pm
Thursday: 9:00am to 5:00pm
Friday: 8:30am to 4:30pm

One of the benefits of using TFCU is that it pays cash immediately against BNL issued checks.

TFCU accepts the following forms of identification to open an account.  Please note: expired, photocopies, notarized photocopies and non-certified copies of identification are not acceptable.

  • BNL Identification badge (ID) issued on first day of employment.  BNL ID valid only at the BNL branch.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) documents
  • Valid non-US passport
  • Permanent Resident Card

You may cash your paychecks at TFCU with a BNL ID badge.

TFCU members may cash traveler’s checks, in whole dollar amounts only ($20, $50, & $100).

Traveler’s checks in foreign currencies cannot be cashed on-site. You may do so at either a commercial bank or at the airport.

TFCU may issue you a credit card with an initially low spending limit.  Credit limit will increase with time spent working in U.S.

TFCU offers free checking, share savings, and money market accounts, as well as travelers’ checks, VISA credit cards, loans, mortgages, and share certificates of deposit.  Laboratory employees and facility-users with BNL ID badges can cash BNL payroll checks at TFCU. 

All BNL and BSA checks can be cashed at TFCU with proper identification even without having a banking account.

Off – Site Banking Options

Astoria Federal Savings

located within five (5) miles of BNL
https://www.astoriafederal.com

1880 Middle Country Road
Ridge, NY 11961 – 2401
(631) 924- 4200

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Thursday (Inside) 8:30 am – 3:00 pm;
Monday – Thursday (Drive – up) 8:30 am – 4:00 pm;
Friday (Inside & Drive – up) 8:30 am – 7:00 pm;
Saturday - (Inside & Drive – up) 8:30 am – 3:00 pm
ATM hours:  24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Astoria Federal Savings has agreed to assist BNL’s Foreign National employees with setting up a bank account.

Acceptable Forms of Identification at Astoria:

Your signed offer letter from Brookhaven National Laboratory

You will need to provide two (2) forms of identification (if you do not have a Social Security number).  They are:

Primary ID

  • Valid passport with a valid visa

Secondary ID — One of the following:

  • Employer ID (your BNL ID Badge)
  • Medical Insurance Card

Chase Bank

located within seven (7) miles of BNL
https://www.chase.com

645 William Floyd Pkwy
Shirley, NY  11967

(631) 399-1992

Hours of Operation:

Mon: 8:30-6:00
Tues: 8:30-6:00
Wed: 8:30-6:00
Thurs: 8:30-6:00
Fri: 8:30-6:00
Sat: 9:00-3:00
Sun: closed
ATM 24 hours

You will need to provide the following to open a Chase account:

Primary ID

  • Passport w/Photo (Foreign)
  • Canadian Driver's License or ID Card w/Photo
  • Permanent Resident Card w/Photo (Green Card)
  • US Employment Authorization Card w/Photo 
  • Mexico Voter Registration Card w/Photo 
  • NEXUS Card
  • USA B1/B2 VISA/BCC w/Photo 

Secondary ID

  • Employer ID w/Photo (your BNL ID badge)
  • Employer Pay Stub/Pay Check/Letter w/name & address Foreign National ID 
  • Other US Federal/State issued ID w/ or w/o Photo
  • SENTRI Card
  • State Issued ID Card w/Photo (US)
  • Student – Form I-20
  • Temporary Resident ID w/Photo
  • United Nations Letter
  • US Immigration VISA (except type C)
  • Utility Bill  or Lease/Rental Agreement  w/name & address dated within 60 days

One of the ID’s must  have an address, whether it be here in the US or foreign address.

Wire Transfer Fees:

Chase is a commercial bank with a Swift number (CHASUS33)

Domestic and Foreign Incoming:             $15.00

Domestic Outgoing:   $30.00 per item if made at a branch or $25.00 per item if made through www.chase.com

Foreign Outgoing or Remittance Fee:   $45.00 per item if made at a branch or $40.00 per foreign outgoing wire transfer if made though www.chase.com

If you have any questions, please contact the Branch Manager at 631 399 1992.  

The Use of Cash

You will need a considerable amount of money in your first month here, not only for living expenses but also for advance deposits on apartment rental, telephone, and other utilities and for buying or renting a car. Regulations require that you may not bring more than $10,000 cash or other negotiable monetary items into the U.S.  Initial costs involved in your relocation can potentially use up these funds quickly.  Your first paycheck will come at the end of the first month of employment and subsequent checks at the end of each following month worked. In the U.S. many people use cash only for small purchases and services. Few people carry more than $100.00 in cash with them. Larger payments are sometimes made by personal check, credit card or debit card.

The most convenient way to access your money is with the use of an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card. ATMs can easily be found throughout the area, one at Berkner Hall and another in the lobby of building 400. Exchange rates are often better and transaction fees lower than if using a bank. If you are using an ATM outside of your banks system, there may be additional charges. Be aware of daily limits.

Both on-site ATM locations are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The ATM accepts both credit and debit/ATM cards within the following networks: CIRRUS, HONOR, NYCE, and PLUS. The amount that can be withdrawn using the ATM will depend upon the limit pre-set by your bank.  If you have any questions about the on-site ATM, please contact the on-site branch of Teachers Federal Credit Union at ext. 2790, Monday through Friday.

An alternative is to purchase U.S. travelers checks (such as Ameri­can Express from Teachers Federal Credit Union). They are well worth the small fee of $1.25. They can be cashed at nearly all stores and banks. The best denominations are $50 or smaller because larger check amounts may not be accepted everywhere.

Please be aware that it is difficult to change foreign currency here on Long Island (most local banks cannot do it). You may want to consider changing money while at the airport (International Terminal at LaGuardia or John F. Kennedy Airport) or an HSBC Bank or Bank of America.

Credit & Debit Cards

It is extremely helpful to have a credit card in the United States, even if you use it only as a credit reference. However, it is not easy to get one when you are here as a temporary visitor. If you currently possess an American Express Card, for a year or more, you may be able to transfer this credit card to your new US home address.  TFCU will issue you a low credit limit credit card upon the opening of an account.  Please check with them for more details. It is a good idea to start using a U.S. credit card as early in your stay here as possible, especially if you will be here for more than a few months since it is important to establish a "credit rating" which can be checked before making larger financial commitments. 

Debit/ATM Cards, issued by your bank, are also widely used. A debit card is an automated teller machine (ATM) card displaying a VISA or MasterCard logo on it. [VISA calls them "CheckCards" and MasterCard calls them "MasterMoney" cards.] With a debit card, money is immediately drawn from your account to pay the bill. Many find this convenient, but the use of a debit card may not contribute to establishing a credit rating.

Things to remember when using a debit card are:

  • When you use the card like a credit card (with a signature, but not with a PIN), banks take a hefty fee from the merchant.
  • Never use a debit card on the Internet. It is too risky. Only use a credit card for Internet transactions. In addition to greater legal liability protection with a credit card, you have greater legal protection if goods are defective or don't arrive.
  • Unlike a credit card, if your debit card is used fraudulently, the thief robs your bank account. Potentially, all your money is depleted from your account. It could take the bank 10 days or more to investigate and refund your money.

Understanding all the rules and regulations surrounding Credit and Debit cards is important so that you do not pay any unnecessary fees.

Prepaid "Credit" Cards or “Gift Cards”

A prepaid credit card is not a credit card, since no credit is offered by the card issuer: the cardholder spends money which has been "stored" via a prior deposit by the cardholder or someone else. They may be issued to a specific store or may carry a credit card brand (Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover) and can be used just as though it were a regular credit card.

Prepaid cards can be issued to minors (above age 13) since there is no credit line involved. With prepaid credit cards, you are not charged any interest but you are often charged a purchasing fee plus monthly fees after an arbitrary time period. Many other fees also usually apply to a prepaid card. Check out the rules on either the back of the card or by going to the card's website.

Credit Card versus Debit Card

Action Credit Debit
Make Purchases Yes Yes
Money leaves Bank When you pay your bill once a month Immediately
Credit History Yes No
Ease of Use Need ID and signature Need Personal Identification Number (PIN)
Withdraw Cash from ATM Yes – interest will start accruing immediately Yes – Taken directly from the bank account of your choice (Savings/Checking)
Fraudulent Use Can challenge purchases on the bill that you have not made Takes money directly from your account; could take the bank 10+ days to investigate and refund your money
 Internet purchasing Yes – for security additional information is needed like billing address and the 3 digit security code DON'T – very risky
Cash Back NO - need to use ATM. Yes directly at point of sale can request additional cash (Usually limit of $60).
Debt Potential for overspending Cannot overspend as you cannot withdraw more money than is in the account

Credit Card Applications

Prior to applying for a credit card, you should fully understand the following terms.

Annual fee - A flat, yearly charge similar to a membership fee. Many companies offer "no annual fee" cards today, and lenders who do charge annual fees are often willing to waive them to keep your business.

  • Finance charge - The dollar amount you pay to use credit. These are interest costs and cash-advance fees which are usually higher.
  • Grace period - A time period during which you can pay your credit-card bill without paying a finance charge. This does not apply if you carry a balance forward or take cash advances, only if you pay your balance in full each month. Check with your specific lending institution.
  • Annual Percentage Rate (APR) - The yearly percentage rate of the finance charge. The rates change regularly and are printed on each monthly statement.
  • Introductory rate - A temporary lower APR that usually lasts for about six months before converting to the normal fixed or variable rate.

 Safe-Deposit Boxes

To protect certain documents and other valuables from loss by fire, theft, or negligence, commercial banks can offer you the benefit of their safe deposit vaults. Safe deposit boxes, of almost any size, can be rented for approximately $30-50 per year, depending on the bank’s rate.

Loans

It will initially be difficult to procure a loan in the US because of your lack of US credit history.  If you have a relative or close friend in the US, you can request that he/she be your co-signer, which ultimately means that he/she will be responsible for repayment of the loan if you are unable to pay back the loan amount. 

Important information about the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) & Obtaining a Social Security Card

Driving Privileges in New York State with a Driver License from Outside the US or Canada

If you are a resident of another country and have a valid driver license issued by that country, you can operate a motor vehicle in New York State (NYS).  You can operate the same types of vehicles in NYS that you operate in your home country.  The Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) recommends that you keep your driver license from your home country.  You are not required to immediately obtain a NYS driver license. Do not apply for a NYS driver license unless/until it is necessary.  A NYS license becomes necessary 30 days after you become a resident of NYS. Consider speaking with some of your foreign national colleagues who have navigated the driver license process.  We have received conflicting personal experience information regarding the requirement to obtain a US drivers’ license if you are on a visa.  Your colleagues can be a valuable resource for you.  If you have a driver license from any country except Canada, to get a NYS driver license you must:

  • Apply for a NYS driver license as a new driver
  • Take a vision test and a written test to get a NYS learner permit
  • Take a pre-licensing course and a road test to get a NYS driver license
  • Surrender your foreign driver license when the DMV issues your NYS driver license

Driving Guidelines for Foreign Nationals

New York State will recognize your foreign driver license if you remain a resident of the nation that issued the license. If you plan on maintaining your foreign drivers’ license, it is recommended that you get an International Driving Permit. The International Driving Permit verifies, in several languages, that you hold a valid driver license in your home country. A police officer who cannot read the language on your foreign driver license can read the permit. To apply for the International Driving Permit, you should contact the authorities in your home country. If you are planning on becoming a resident of New York State, you will need to obtain a NYS driver license. For more information regarding obtaining a valid New York State driver license, visit the Department of Motor Vehicle website at www.nysdmv.com/license.htm

Purchasing a Car in the U.S.

Some US insurance carrier will not issue car insurance to foreign nationals.  We are aware of two companies that may:  Allstate (www.allstate.com) and State Farm (www.statefarm.com).  The use of either of these companies is not an endorsement or recommendation.  We suggest you speak with your foreign national colleagues for recommendations. 

Tip:  Prior to your arrival, and while still in your home country, consider requesting a statement from your current insurance company that provides information about your safe driving record and policy history with them (amount of time you have had your policy).  This may reduce your insurance rates in the U.S.

Three important resources when purchasing a new or used car:  Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com) Car Fax (www.carfax.com) and Auto Trader (www.autotrader.com).  These services allow you to compare prices, find the true worth of your current car, provide free dealer quotes and find local dealers. These sites also provide safety and quality ratings and consumer reviews.        

Cell Phones

It is likely that your home-country cell phone will not work with US cell-phone networks.  The three largest cell companies in the local area are:

Verizon: www.verizonwireless.com

AT&T: www.att.com

Sprint:  www.sprint.com

All companies will require some form of credit history, therefore, initially, your best approach to obtaining a cell phone may be to purchase a disposable cell phone (available widely in the area) that allows for the easy addition of minutes to your plan.

How to Obtain a Social Security Card

Foreign nationals need to possess a Social Security card in order to work in the United States. Although you do not need to have a social security number prior to the start of your job at Brookhaven, you must apply for a social security card (and show proof of such application), shortly after you begin work.

You may apply at the nearest Social Security Office which is located at 75 Oak Street, Patchogue. Identification such as a passport, visa, employee ID card, original USCIS/Immigration documents (like I-797 Approval Notice, DS-2019, Form I-20) or other original forms of identification will be required at time of application. Photo copies are not acceptable.  For more information, visit the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov or call 1-800-772-1213.  

BNL’s “The Guide”

Please take some time to review “The Guide” www.bnl.gov/visitorinfo/.  “The Guide” provides an enormous amount of information that may prove helpful to you in getting to understand ways to get things accomplished in the U.S.    Of particular interest (included in “The Guide”) may be the following topics:

  • Housing On/Off – site
  • Schools
  • Airports / Train stations
  • Occupational Medical Clinic
  • Post Office

Tax Treaties and Social Security Tax Exemptions

Foreign Nationals arriving in the U.S. on certain J-1 and F-1 visa may be eligible for exemption from federal and state income tax withholding for a period of time.  The United States has tax treaties in effect with many countries that contain terms permitting an individual “…conducting research at a recognized research institution…” to be exempt from income taxes for terms of two or three years.  While BNL may not grant the exemption for every country, many do apply.  There are other restrictions based on prior usage of treaty exemptions, prior visits to the U.S., or stays in excess of five years.  For additional information, see IRS Publication 519 (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p519.pdf), and a list of countries with tax treaties (http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/International-Businesses/United-States-Income-Tax-Treaties---A-to-Z).  The Fiscal Services Division can provide additional assistance with eligibility for tax treaty exemptions (contact Rolf Lageraaen, Assistant Fiscal Officer, x2301, rlageraaen@bnl.gov).

In addition, eligible J-1 and F-1 visa holders may be entitled to an exemption from social security tax withholding for a period of up to two and five years, respectively.  Foreign nationals who may not be eligible for a tax treaty exemption may still be eligible for an exemption from social security taxes.  Additional information is available at these two IRS website pages: http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Foreign-Student-Liability-for-Social-Security-and-Medicare-Taxes and http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/International-Taxpayers/Aliens-Employed-in-the-U.S.-%E2%80%93-Social-Security-Taxes.

Disclaimer:  some information provided in this document is based on the experience of foreign national employees.  We cannot vouch for the accuracy of this information, so always check for validity.  We hope you find this information helpful.  Because this document will be routinely updated, if you find through your experience that there is additional information that could prove helpful to others, please contact the Talent Acquisition Manager at Sobrito@bnl.gov.  Thank you.