If you need a credit card to use during study in the United States, you have several options. The easiest way is to apply for one in your home country before your trip. International banks can provide MasterCard, American Express or VISA brand cards, all of which can be used in the U.S.
However, if you plan to stay in the U.S. after your study, you may want to build credit history in the U.S. through a credit card issued by a U.S. bank. That process can be challenging because most U.S. banks require you to have a Social Security number (SSN). Without a Social Security number, you can sometimes apply for a credit card using your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Here are some of your options for getting a credit card in the U.S. as an international student. Also learn steps you can take if you can't get a U.S. credit card.
- If you don't have a Social Security Number (SSN) to get a U.S. credit card, you can usually use your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
- You can potentially get a U.S. Social Security number if you are studying abroad under a student visa and have lawful employment in the U.S.
- Capital One is among the credit card issuers that allows you to apply for student credit cards with your ITIN number.
- To build credit history in the U.S. without a traditional credit card, you can get a secured credit card.
- Secured credit cards require a deposit, which acts as the credit line.
Credit Card Options for International Students
For foreign students who do not have a Social Security Number (SSN), some credit card companies accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is an IRS tax processing number. Some credit card issuers may also accept your passport with an application.
Here are some choices for credit cards for international students that allow you to apply with an ITIN;
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: You can apply for this credit card with an ITIN number. This card, exclusively for students, has no annual fee and you can earn 3% cash back for purchases for dining, entertainment, streaming services, and grocery store shopping.
Capital One Quicksilver Rewards for Student Rewards: You can use an ITIN number to apply for this cash rewards card. Get 1.5% cash back on every purchase and pay no annual fee.
Petal 2: You can apply for a Petal 2 Visa card with an ITIN, however the card is only available in the U.S. so you won't be able to get it before you arrive. You must have a U.S. phone number and address.
How to Get a Social Security Number
While some student credit cards do not require a Social Security number, you need one to get a credit card with many U.S. banks. You can get a Social Security number as long as you are studying on an F-1 or J-1 student visa, and have lawful employment in the U.S., such as an on-campus, part-time job.
To get a Social Security number, you first need a job. Try to avoid applying for a Social Security number more than 30 days before the start of your employment, or your application could be rejected. For international students, getting a job can be complicated if you can't find employment on campus. Getting a job off campus requires authorization from the Department of Homeland Security.
Secured Credit Cards for International Students
Even if you get a Social Security number, you need to address your lack of credit history in the U.S. Your credit history from another country does not translate to the U.S. If you can't get a U.S. credit card as a foreign student, consider applying for a secured credit card first.
For this kind of card, you generally must deposit the amount of money you will use as a credit line. For example, you will need to put down a $500 deposit for a $500 line of credit. It is not a prepaid card, so your money will remain untouched, earning interest, as long as you pay your bills. Your best option for a bank providing a secured credit card will likely be near the school, serving other students.
Be sure to pay all your bills on time so you build up a good credit history. Secured credit cards, like traditional credit cards, charge late fees for missed payments as well as interest rates.
After six to 12 months, you may have enough credit history to get an unsecured credit card that does not require a deposit. You could either get it from the same bank or another bank.
Other Ways to Build Your Credit History
In addition to starting with a secured credit card, you may be able to build a credit history with regular payments for other bills.
In most cases your utility bills and other bills such as for streaming services and rent are not reported to credit bureaus. However, you may be able to make those payments count toward your credit history. One way is to enroll in Experian Boost, which includes those type of payments in your credit report.
As your credit improves, you should have more choice of credit cards with better terms.
Can You Open a Credit Card in the U.S. if You're an International Student?
If you're an international student, you can open a credit card in the U.S. but the process may be more complicated. Credit card issuers typically review your credit history to approve you for credit, but if you don't have credit history in the U.S., it can be more difficult to get a credit card.
Can You Open a Bank Account as a Foreign Student?
If you are a foreign citizen, you can typically still open a bank account in the U.S., even if you are a foreign student. For students, having a U.S. bank account can make the transition easier by giving you a convenient way to pay for things as well as by reducing foreign transaction fees.
How Can International Students Build Credit Fast?
To start building a credit history in the U.S. without a traditional credit card, international students can get a secured credit card. With secured credit cards, you can put down a deposit that serves as your credit line. Then, your payments will be reported to the credit bureaus.
The Bottom Line
International students face challenges getting a credit card in the U.S. The best way to get a credit card that can be used internationally is to get one from a bank in your home country.
If that is not an option, Citibank offers student credit cards that do not require a Social Security number. Other banks do require that piece of identification. Once you get the credit card, make sure you build a solid U.S. credit history by making all your payments on time.