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 country after your study, you may want to build an American credit history 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). Here are your options:
Citibank simplifies steps
Applying for a credit card in the U.S. can be daunting. Citibank is one of the best options because it offers an easy process. Most U.S. banks require a Social Security number to issue a credit card to an international student, but Citibank does not. It has a credit card for international students with no annual fee. And its bank accounts also have no monthly fees.
The Citibank Global Transfer service allows users to easily send money from the U.S. to another country, so you can easily move funds back and forth between your accounts and your family's accounts in your home country.
How to get a Social Security Number
While Citibank does not require a Social Security number, you need one to get a credit card with most other U.S. banks. And you can get a Social Security number as long as you are studying on an F-1, M-1 or J-1 student visa, and are authorized to work in the U.S.
The best kind of credit card requires that you first obtain a job. This can be complicated if you are not able to find employment on campus. Getting a job off campus requires authorization from the Department of Homeland Security.
A letter of authorization from your school or future employer allows you to apply for a Social Security card that permits you to work. If you are not employed, you can get a different type of Social Security number, but your card will be marked that you are not eligible for work. However, it will still enable you to get a credit card from banks that offer them to international students.
Expect a Secured Credit Card at First
After you get a Social Security number, you need to address your lack of credit history in the U.S. You will most likely have to apply, at least initially, for a secured credit card.
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. After six to 12 months, you should have a strong-enough 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. (See also: A Smart Approach To Student Credit Cards.)
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.
For example, if you are living off campus, you can ask the managers of your apartment complex to report your regular rent payments to the credit reporting agencies to show that you pay your bills on time. You may also be able to request that your payment history for your cell phone and other utilities be reported to help build your credit history more quickly. Some of these entities may agree to do that reporting, but not all do. As your credit improves, you should have more choice of credit cards on better terms. (See also: Start Building Solid Credit At A Young Age.)
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.