Cross Border InvestmentFinancial ToolsInvesting

How to Open a TD Ameritrade Account Outside of the US as a Non Resident Alien

Open TD Ameritrade Account Outside of the USA

Those of us outside of the USA can only wish on the sidelines when Americans and those who have access to the US securities market talk about their plans on investing in some famous blue chip and/or tech stock or how they plan on putting their retirement money in a low-cost index ETF like the VTI (Vanguard Total Market ETF). Well, I’m not about to just read about these amazing investments and be content with my lot in life. So I scoured the web and intensely researched how I, too, can invest in the USA even though I am a Non-Resident Alien (NRA).

Weeks and weeks of research led to me to the conclusion that the easiest way for me to do so is by opening a TD Ameritrade account.

TD Ameritrade is one of the oldest and most well-known US online brokerages and had been in business for 40 years. It has been consistently winning awards, including  the Best Online Broker for 2018 (Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Best Online Brokers Review) and topping Barron’s 2018 Online Survey for Long Time Investing, Novices, and Usability. Most importantly, it’s one of the few US online brokerage that allow Non-Resident Aliens to open accounts.

Want to know what are the tax liabilites of non-resident aliens when receiving dividend payments and when they sell their stocks? Read this article on the Taxation on US Stocks of Non-Resident Aliens.

WHY I CHOSE TD AMERITRADE

I surveyed the few online brokerages that allow Non-Resident Aliens to open accounts and found out the following by checking their websites as well as via emails and phone calls:

  • Vanguard only accepts accounts from a limited number of countries. In Asia-Pacific, people in Australia, China, Hong Kong, and Japan can open accounts.
  • Fidelity only accepts accounts from Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan.
  • Charles Schwab, for those who live in Hong Kong, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. By the way, kudos to Charles Schwab because even though I stated in my email that live in Korea, they still called me the same day just to let me know how sorry they are that I can’t open an account.

So I was basically left with two options: TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers. These are the online brokerages that allow people from the most number of countries to open accounts. Both have no minimum opening balance, unlike Charles Schwab that requires a minimum of $25,000. The trading commission for Interactive Brokers can be actually lower than TD Ameritrade’s because it is based on a percentage of the trade compared to a flat rate. Unfortunately, Interactive Brokers also charge a monthly inactivity fee.  I plan to be a very boring investor by trading only once a quarter in index ETFs and I’d rather not pay inactivity fees. Good thing that despite the TD Ameritrade’s flat trading fee, they don’t charge inactivity fees.

Additionally, I’ve read online reviews about the usability of each brokerage’s platforms and people have been saying that Interactive Broker’s platform can be complicated and unwieldy. On the other hand, I’ve heard many good things about TD Ameritrade’s Think and Swim. Taken all together, I decided to open an account with TD Ameritrade first, and if that somehow fails (documents, too complicated, ect.), I will open an account with Interactive Brokers as a fall back.

TD Ameritrade Interactive Brokers
Minimum Opening Balance No minimum No minimum
Trading Commission $6.95 per trade Tiered based on monthly traded value and country where the account is based OR Fixed at 0.08% of trade value in Asia Pacific. For the full list, go here.
Inactivity Fees None Yes. For computation of this fee, go here.

REQUIREMENTS TO OPEN AN ACCOUNT

To open an account with TD Ameritrade as a Non-Resident Alien, you have to submit the following documents:

1. Bank or brokerage statement dated within the past 6 months exactly matching the full name and address provided on the Account Application. The account does not have to be dollar-denominated. 

If you are unable to provide a bank or brokerage statement, then following documents may be accepted as long as they match the name and address on the application.
– Gas Bill
– Electric Bill
– Water Bill
– Household Register
– Letter from a Bank (must be on bank letterhead and signed or stamped by the bank)

If these documents are not in English, you have to have it translated and certified by a notary/certified translator.

2. Supporting documents: such as current government -issued ID such as your passport, visa, or driver’s license.

3. Filled out and signed application form

4. Filled out and signed W-8BEN form for the IRS

Either mail the documents to TD Ameritrade or send it to them via fax. Personally, I think fax is best because it’s faster.

HOW TO FILL OUT THE APPLICATION FORM

Filling out the application may be a bit confusing for some so I made this tutorial to help. First go to the application form site:

TD Ameritrade application page 1

This is the application form for those outside of the USA, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. So basically, everybody else. Click on No, I’m a new client.

Next you will have the option to indicate that you are a Non-Resident Alien, which means you are not a green card holder or did not have substantial presence in the US for the calendar year or in the past three-year period.

TD Ameritrade application page 2

Then you have to select your country of nationality or citizenship, country of birth, and visa type. For visa type, just select None.

You will then have the option to select what type of account you wish to open. For those outside of the USA, we cannot open Roth and other tax-advantaged accounts, which are only for US citizens and tax residents.

TD Ameritrade application page 3Choose whichever applies to you, click to indicate that you have read the TD Ameritrade Privacy Statement, and click on Continue.

TD Ameritrade application page 4

So that was page 1. For page 2 You have to fill out with personal and financial information.

TD Ameritrade application page 5

TD Ameritrade application page 6

TD Ameritrade application page 7

Page 3 is to review all the information you put in. Make sure that your status is listed as Nonresident Alien.

TD Ameritrade application page 8

Page 4 has all the Forms and Agreements. You can download them for later reading. Click to acknowledge that you read and understood the terms of your application.

TD Ameritrade application page 9

Here, you decide what you do with the idle cash in your account (sweep). I chose FDIC-insured deposit. Then click on continue.

TD Ameritrade application page 10

For the last page, you are given the instructions one last time as well as the printable version of the filled out form. You can also download the W-8BEN form from this page.

TD Ameritrade application page 11

After printing application and the W-8BEN forms, you can mail them to: TD Ameritrade New Accounts Department, PO Box 2760, Omaha, NE 68103.

Or better yet, fax it to +1-866-468-6268, Attn: New Accounts Department. No, emailing the documents will not work.

MY EXPERIENCE IN OPENING AN ACCOUNT

First of all, I want to say that even though the process took me months to complete, the delay was mostly on my part. I had some problems with one of the requirements and then procrastinated in following up on some things. The entire process took me around 4 months. The main cause of the delay of my application was the requirement to have the bank statement reflect my address. Banks in South Korea do not put people’s addresses on statements. Still, I tried submitting my bank statement hoping that TD Ameritrade will accept it if I can provide another document. They didn’t.

So I changed the names on my utility bills to reflect my name in FIRSTNAME, LASTNAME format used in the US instead of the LASTNAME, FIRSTNAME format in Korea. I then waited until my next bill came in. While waiting, I had an epiphany that TD Ameritrade does not actually require that the account is US-denominated. So I contacted my other bank where a fellow Pinoy works. With her help, the branch manager kindly added my address on the bank statement as a special accommodation. I started at the end of November and I finally got all the requirements together by mid-January.

The long(ish) wait

After putting together all the requirements, I faxed the documents to TD Ameritrade. I received an email within a week asking me to fill out my W-8BEN form correctly. After sending it back, they emailed asking me to send a bank statement with my address reflected. Apparently, they can’t find my mailing address on the statement I sent. So I emailed them a photo of the statement with the address highlighted in red. They finally accepted all my documents and endorsed my application for processing. That was Feb 1.

I was told that processing is 3-5 working days but 2 weeks went by and there’s no update from TD Ameritrade. On Feb. 18 I sent them an email following up on status of my application. On Feb. 28, I finally got the much-awaited notification that my application has been processed and that my account number and password/PIN will be sent via snail mail separately.

So everyday in March I’ve been pestering our security guard if he received letters addressed to me from TD Ameritrade. I received the letter for the password/PIN and waited for the account number to come in. After waiting for 2 weeks, I finally gave up and called TD Ameritrade customer service and requested for my account number over the phone.

My TD Ameritrade account finally went live on March 28. I immediately devoured the tutorials and downloaded Think or Swim on my laptop.

FINAL THOUGHT

Having an online brokerage account with access to US securities will allow me to diversify my investments and will help me achieve my financial goals faster. I think that the wait and minor inconveniences I experienced were totally worth it. I’ve dreamt of investing in US index funds even as a teenager and I always thought that this goal will be always beyond me. Now, with a TD Ameritrade account, I feel that I have more freedom in choosing my investments and I am no longer confined to investing in funds with astronomical management fees and with somewhat limited growth. I can now put my money in higher-yielding and more stable securities than what’s available to me previously when I can only invest in the Philippine market. I am sooo excited!

UPDATES FROM READERS

Since posting this article I have talked to a lot of readers who went on to open accounts with TD Ameritrade. Some, however, were unable to do so. Here I will post updates from readers who tried, but, alas! failed. The following countries do not allow residents to open an account with TD Ameritrade:

  • United Arab Emirates
  • Australia

Applicants may now also upload their forms through https://moveit.tdameritrade.com. Thank you Alexandra for alerting us about this development.

To the readers who alerted me (you know who you are!), thank you so much!

No time to read now? Pin for later!

Open TD Ameritrade pin

44 thoughts on “How to Open a TD Ameritrade Account Outside of the US as a Non Resident Alien

  1. Great post as usual, Katie Scarlett. Thank you for sharing!

    You mentioned being able to buy VTI ETF. Would your account also allow you to invest in mutual funds like VTSAX?

      1. hello I almost had the same experience. It took me more than2 months to finally open an account after reconciling the address matching issue.

      2. Hi KatieScarlett,

        Thank you for your insightful article. I just have a quick question on the W-8 BEN from because I already made an online application but I got lost when I filled-up the W-8 BEN from specifically the No. 10 part of Part II. What did you put on it? I am from the Philippines as well.

  2. Thank you for this informative post. I’ve been looking for ways to buy Vanguard ETFs and this post helps me out! Are you buying SPY? Or other ETFs as well? How are you funding your account? Really worried about fees on funding.

    1. Hi Cholo,

      Yes, there are other ETFs available not only from Vanguard but also from other companies. I buy Vanguard’s VOO S&P 500 ETF. For funding I just do wire transfer. The fees can be annoying but I think it can be mitigated if you transfer higher amounts, like in the thousands of dollars instead of hundreds so you can maximize the fees.

  3. Hello. Thanks a lot for sharing what you’ve researched!!! By any chance, have you tried comparing the costs of buying vanguard etf/index funds with feeder funds that track the said funds? For example, security bank has a feeder fund that tracks the vanguard total stock market etf. Do you think it is worth it opening a TD Ameritrade account to buy the said etf instead of going through security bank? Why? Thanks!

    1. When you buy through a feeder fund you basically pay double fees. One fee to the target fund (usually 0.04%) AND to the feeder fund, which is ridiculously high. So if you have the means to do it, just open a TD account that will let you invest directly.

  4. Wow, great info! Does investing in US index funds offer greater advantages or returns than investing in the PH like philequity, sun life, metro index funds etc?

    1. The US equities market is the biggest and most creative in the world. It’s past growth rate and potential future growth are enormous. I can’t imagine (although I hope) that the PH market will outstrip the US market.

  5. Hi Scarlett! Appreciate the detailed post and I share in your excitement as this is among my bucket list as well. What was the first US stock that you purchased? How does the payout work? Does TD ameritrade remit to your local bank account? In what currency / are there any charges to fund your TD account/ charges to withdraw from your TD account? Sorry that’s a lot of questions I am curious would love to read more!

    1. Hi George,

      I bought Vanguard ETFs, VTI and VOO (one’s for me and the other is for my son’s college fund). I haven’t cashed out yet because I’m holding the shares for long-term. TD should be able to transmit the funds to any USD denominated account anywhere in the world (except those under sanctions). There are associated transfer fees from my bank to the TD account since I don’t live in the US. I think if you have a US bank account you can link it to TD and transfers are free.

      1. Do you know how large you can wire transfer from PH bank to TD? Im just worried I will be flagged or investigated under AMLA if its too big – I would really like to just transfer one big amount to avoid expensive transfer fees.

        1. When I was working in finance people usually get flagged for money laundering when transferring money more than 10,000 usd at a time. I imagine they still follow the same threshold.

  6. Hi Katie,

    Thank you for this article! I’ve been wanting to invest in Vanguard for a while now and this gave me hope! May I ask how did you fill-up your W-8BEN and if it’s ok, can you share why yours was sent back the first time? I’m planning to send mine via DHL and it’s kind of pricey and I want to make sure that I fill it out correctly the first time. Thanks in advance!

  7. Hey,
    I just turned 18 and my bank account opens in two weeks so I wont have previous 6 months of statement since it was just made, amd all the utility bills except internet bill is to my father’s name, so how do I go past that step? Thanks.

  8. Amazing article! This is very helpful. I’ve always wanted to buy Vanguard ETFs but got no straightforward answer on the internet. A few questions Ms. Katie, were ALL your documents faxed (not mailed)? Second, what bank do you use for wire transfers and how much is the fee? What other fees do you pay in TD Ameritrade aside from the $6.95 per trade (which is actually expensive in terms of pesos)? I’m wondering if it’s worth the extra step to just open a US bank account.

    1. Dear Alexandra,

      I faxed ALL my documents.

      Regarding the bank fees, I’m using a Korean bank which has a branch in the US. Their rate depends on how much you will send, usually a small percentage of the total.

      Other than trading fee, there are no other fees charged by TD Ameritrade. I usually trade once a quarter to save on fees.

      Hope that helps.

  9. Hi Ms. Katie! Thanks for the detailed article. I have the same question as Alexandra regarding adding funds to my account. I’ve estimated the total charge if I go with Ameritrade to be about half of the total charge if I use Security Bank’s feeder fund (as long as I accumulate a certain amount first). I was wondering if you have suggestions on which bank to use and if you’ve found a cheaper way?

    1. Hi Pau,

      I, unfortunately, do not have any recommendations for you on which Philippine bank to use since I’m based overseas. Hopefully, other readers can sound off on this issue. Anyone?

  10. Hi Katie,

    Thank you for this inspiring article!
    I have become so excited to open an NRA trade account with Ameritrade, however, I have some concerns and I hope you may have some answers.

    Firstly, Should I fill out line-6 “foreign tax identifying number ” on the W-8BEN form?

    Secondly, Do you think they could offer a paid mail express shipping for the User/PIN, instead of regular post mail which is slow and unreliable?

    Finally, Is it safe to send such sensitive information using an online fax service, or do you think that information in the application form even if they include a verbal password, have no potential risk without the User/PIN?

    1. Hi Dina,

      Leave that item blank.

      I don’t think that there’s an option to use paid express mail for the PIN.

      I personally haven’t used an online fax service yet so I cannot answer your question. I used an old fashioned, dial fax machine.

      In any case, they send the user name and PIN separately to lessen risk.

      Good luck!

  11. Hi Katie,

    I have been working on my paperwork to get registered with TD Ameritrade, thanks to your article!
    But, I would rather start with a minimal investment just to test the water since I plan to ride the next economic expansion cycle, that should follow the next expected recession in late 2020, with some substantial investments 🙂

    As you know, the recession signals are now stronger than ever before and it might be unwise to own large equities in the US market now.

    Especially knowing that the “New York Federal Reserve’s probability model”, one of the most reliable recession indicators, is expecting recession pretty soon and it has never failed in its prediction over the last 60 years!

    You might want to take a look at this warning article, which provides more details:

    https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/next-recession-forecast-new-york-fed-model-highest-since-2009-2019-7-1028338398

    I just thought to think out loud with you.

  12. Hi Katie,

    This blog is the only sane investment advice blog for Pinoys that I’ve read. The rest of our financial pundits fail to inform readers about our crazy management fees. And few even bother to mention PERA accounts. The most you get are these useless “ano ang mutual fund” type advice. So thank you. This blog is the closest Pinoys will get to a Ramit Sethi or a JL Collins.

    Just a question about investing in VTI: what are your thoughts on using EToro to buy VTI shares?

    1. Thank Leloy!

      I’m not sure why they fail to mention the crazy management fees because those can sap your gains.

      Wow closest to Ramit and JL! I love those two writers!

      Regarding using EToro, I haven’t used it myself but according to its website you can’t trade VTI shares directly. Instead what you’re trading are CFDs or Contracts for Difference, which is an entirely different instrument from ETF. So you don’t directly trade VTI.

      I hope that helps and thanks for reading my blog.

  13. Hi Katie, thanks for this insightful article.

    I tried to sign up to TD Ameritrade today but seem to be struggling, seems like there is a slight difference to the forms now for us Australians that don’t live, work or reside in the USA??!!

    Are you able to walk me through this again please?

    Much thanks!

    1. Hi Jeff,

      As far as I know Australians can use the regular application form on the link I provided. Can you let me know what exactly are the differences? You can send me DM in my Facebook page or email in the contact box.

  14. Thanks po for answering! I did my homework and they now allow you to upload documents via https://moveit.tdameritrade.com, so no need to go back and forth with mailing in case something’s missing. Now the big headache is figuring out the taxes. They don’t deduct any capital gains so you have to declare that in the Philippines, and the default dividend tax rate for non-US residents is a whopping 30%(!) unless I can find the actual tax rate from the Phil-US tax treaty. They said I have to declare that on the W-8BEN. I’m wondering if you have any insights po on the taxes.

    If that’s the tax rate on dividends, I might have to opt for index funds that don’t pay dividends. ☹️ I know most Vanguard funds pay dividends though.

    1. Thank you so much for the update, Alexandra and it was also nice talking to you in reddit. I will write more about the IRS regulation and PH-US tax treaty in one of my next posts.

      Just to answer here what I explained in reddit, the PH-US tax treaty charges up to a maximum of 25% gross of the dividend. So we will not be charged 30% (which I believe is the maximum for non-treaty partners). You will be able to claim treaty status through the W-8BEN form since you’ll be able to put your address and nationality in there.

      Regarding the tax rate, although we have to take all measures to legally avoid pay taxing higher taxes, I think paying the dividend tax is a reasonable exchange for the privilege of being able to participate in the US’ very active and stable (in terms of the US government not seizing your property without cause) stock market.

    1. You need to be more specific about your question. Better than what? Than TD Ameritrade? If you mean to compare eToro to TD I think TD is better for long-term investing that eToro for the simple reason that TD has been around for a longer time. TD also has less fees than eToro.

  15. Hi Katie,
    I’m an OFW planning to invest in US stock market. I’ve open a paypal account so I could fund my stocks account if everything goes well. Base on my research Fedility investment is one of the best US stock broker but Filipino is not allowed. May I know from your experience any other US besy stock
    broker?

  16. Great post! So helpful.
    I do have a question. Are restricted to buy fixed income. As a non us investor can you buy fixed income products such as us treasury bonds, notes and bills?

    Thank for your answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *