There's a couple of philosophies about this. My philosophy was that I want a big bank that exists in every state, so that if I go to another state I could maintain my banking relationship. Larger banks have the power to implement better services, more ATMs, and national coverage. These are all things that in Canada you just automatically assume with the big five (Toronto Dominion, CIBC, Royal Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, and Bank of Montreal). Also location is important too, in walking distance from my apartment was a Bank of America.
The other philosophy is that a large bank doesn't care about the little person, and smaller banks are more eager to earn your business, so with that theory it's possible that you would have an easier time getting a loan from a smaller bank.
In either case, you're starting fresh like you were a 15 year old punk starting a new account, your income means nothing. The bank will want you to apply for their credit card, decline this, because they'll decline you garaunteed. Use the methods of transferring Canadian credit cards to American ones as I stated earlier in the Pre Move Preparations. After a couple of months when you have some history, then you can start applying for credit cards, but I would give it a good year before doing that.
As luck would have it, there are three banks that recognize Canadians. Security First National Bank (thanks to San Mehat for that tip), Harris Bank (thanks to Asma Ahmed for that info), and TDWaterHouse Bank. SFNB is an internet bank like Net B@NK, but is owned by the Royal Bank of Canada, and Harris Bank is with the Bank of Montreal. Harris seems to be more of an East Coast type deal, and SFNB has no physical representation (if that matters to you).
TDWaterhouse Bank is relatively new, and I think is God's gift to Canadians in the United States. They originally were purely a North American brokerage firm that has now become a full fleged bank specifically for Canadians in the United States. As a bonus they give you direct access to your American TDWaterhouse and TDBank accounts, which makes it easy to transfer funds back and forth. You also get to have your full credit rating back from Canada, and they are completely a web based banking system so you can do everything online. The fun doesn't stop there, they also have complete discount stock brokerage services.
Moving From Canada to California FAQ writes:
Wells Fargo has had the best reviews so far, from many sources. Citibank is also a good bank, although they don't have as many branches. Both banks will check your Canadian credit (for your credit card), but you must insist, even though your application may be rejected on the first pass. When applying for a credit card, make the application at the branch and note on it that your Canadian credit be checked. Wells Fargo's cards will cost $18/year for the regular Visa/Mastercard, though the fee can be waived the first year. Canadians I know here have gotten their Wells Fargo card free for perpetuity. A number of these have had their first application to Wells Fargo rejected, in spite of including Canadian credit information on the application. Don't despair - all of these people eventually got a card after calling Wells Fargo and really insisting that their Canadian credit be checked. Citibank's cards are free - make sure you use the application that indicates this. Citibank also puts your photo on the credit card.
Feedback from Readers.
Dan Fraser writes: About banking, I applied for a TD Waterhouse account but it too long to come so I opened one at Wells Fargo. Besides, my employer is in the stone age with their payroll. They actually cut a paper check every week. TD Waterhouse is only set up for direct deposit.
Here's the stupid thing. Before I left, I went to a web site to get moving quotes. Stupidly, I registered accurrately. While I was selling my house, lo and behold, a lady from Wells Fargo called me and said since I was a home owner in Canada, I was pre-approved for a mortgage in California for $220,000 minimum and I only need put 3% down.
Great I thought, I got US credit. Now I get here and I figure that since Wells Fargo pre-approved me for credit, I'll open an account with them. There were a little "formal" with me opening an account but the size of the weekly pay check convinced them. However, when it came to getting a credit card, I did not even bother fighting them. I deposited US$1500 from my Canadian bank account and applied for their credit card. While my 2 Canadian Visa cards still work fine, I felt it would be easier to have a US Card.
Them 3 weeks latewr I get a letter from Wells Fargo in Nevada saying they turned down my card application because they were unable to access the money in my account with their own bank. They also spelled my name wrong. However, after lighting a fire under the but of the asst. manager at the branch, I got my card.