Whether you’re temporarily moving to the U.S. for school or work, or making a long-term transition, you may be looking to open a new credit card. However, even for citizens and permanent residents, it can be difficult to get a credit card if you don’t already have a credit history in the United States.
Fortunately, you may have several credit card options. Some cards are designed specifically for people moving to the U.S., and others are more generally created for people with no credit or a poor credit history. If you already have a card, your credit card issuer may also be able to help you get a card based on your history with the company.
Here are a few of our top picks:
- Best for International Undergraduate Students: Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students
- Best for International Graduate Students: Discover® it Secured
- Best for Young Professional Expats: CreditStacks
- Best for Experienced Professional Expats: Ask Your Current Card Issuer or Employer
Best for International Undergraduate Students: Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students
Deserve, originally named SelfScore, was founded to help international students get a credit card while in the U.S. The company now offers three different credit cards, including two cards that don’t require a Social Security number or credit history to qualify for.
What the card offers: The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students could be a good fit for international students studying in the U.S. You don’t need to have a Social Security number or U.S. credit history to qualify (although, if you do, it will be considered). Instead, you can link your bank account during the application process and Deserve will analyze your financial history to determine if you qualify for the card and your credit limit.
Cardholders will be eligible for a variety of perks, such as discounted renters insurance, free cell phone insurance and a lifetime total $59 reimbursement to cover the annual cost of Amazon Prime Student.
The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students doesn’t have an annual fee or foreign transaction fees that some cards charge on purchases made outside the U.S. or in non-U.S. Dollars. You’ll also earn 1 percent cash back on all your eligible purchases.
Potential cons to beware of: The Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students has a high annual percentage rate (APR). The APR can help you understand the annual cost carrying a balance based on your card’s interest rate.
If you pay your bill in full each month, the interest rate won’t be applied to your balance. However, if you think you may make large purchases and then take several months to pay off the balance, you might wind up paying a lot of interest based on your APR and a different card could be a better fit.
Deserve will also only report your account and payments to two of the major three U.S. credit bureaus, TransUnion and Experian. As a result, you won’t establish or build your credit history with Equifax. if you apply for a loan or different credit card in the future and the company wants to review your Equifax credit report and a credit score based on that report, it might not find anything, and you might not be able to get approved.
Best for International Graduate Students: Discover® it Secured
Discover doesn’t have as much of an international presence as Visa, Mastercard, or American Express, but most major retailers and online stores will accept it in the U.S. The Discover® it Secured card is a secured credit card, which are created for people who have a poor or no credit history and want to build or rebuild their credit. They work just like unsecured cards, but require a refundable security deposit when you open the account.
What the card offers: The Discover® it Secured Card is one of the few secured cards that’s part of a rewards program. You can earn 2 percent cash back on your first $1,000 worth of combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each quarter, and earn 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. Discover will also double your cash back earnings at the end of the first year.
The card doesn’t have an annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Discover also reports your payments to all three major credit bureaus and can send you a free FICO® Score based on your TransUnion credit report with your monthly statement, allowing you to track your credit score over time.
Potential cons to beware of: As with other secured credit cards, you’ll need to make a refundable security deposit to open your card account. The card’s credit limit will be equal to your security deposit (e.g., a $500 security deposit means your account will have a $500 credit limit). Once you’ve built your credit history in the U.S., you may qualify for an unsecured credit card. You’ll get your refundable security deposit back when you close this card account (assuming you’ve paid off your credit card bills).
You’ll also need a bank account and Social Security number to apply. You may be able (and required) to get a Social Security number if you’re eligible to work at your university or off-campus with the school’s approval.
As with other rewards and secured credit cards, the Discover® it Secured Card has a high APR, which can make revolving a balance especially expensive.
Best for Relocating Young Professional: CreditStacks Mastercard
CreditStacks was founded in 2015 and offers just one credit card. However, that credit card is created specifically for professionals who are relocating to the U.S.
What the card offers: The CreditStacks Mastercard will have a $5,000 credit limit, no annual fee, and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. It also comes with Mastercard cardholder benefits, including travel and mobile phone insurance.
One of the potentially most appealing factors is that you can get approved for the card up to 60 days before you move to the U.S. As a result, you’ll be able to move knowing you have a card available to help you buy whatever you need during and after the transition.
While revolving a balance can still be expensive, the CreditStacks Mastercard has a lower APR than some other cards for people who don’t have credit in the U.S.
Potential cons to beware of: You can’t earn rewards with the CreditStacks Mastercard, which may make it less appealing than other credit cards. CreditStacks also only reports your account and payment information to Equifax, and having the card won’t help you build a credit history with TransUnion or Experian.
Best for Relocating Experienced Professional: Ask Your Current Card Issuer or Employer
As an experienced professional relocating to the U.S., you could have years of experience using credit cards in your home country. Depending on your card issuer, you may be able to use your current financial relationship to get approved for a new card in the states.
For example, American Express has a global card transfer program that can help you get approved for an American Express card in the U.S. once you relocate. You’ll need to have your U.S. home address, phone number, bank account, passport info, SSN or ITIN, and employment details to get started.
Other card issuers and financial institutions have similar opportunities for relocating customers, including Citi, HSBC, and BNP Paribas. Additionally, some employers have relationships with local credit unions or banks that could help you get approved for a credit card. You could ask your company’s human resources department, or whoever is helping you with the relocation, about options.
If you don’t currently have a credit card and there aren’t any employer-based options, consider one of the non-student-specific cards listed above.
How to Get a Credit Card Without a Social Security Number
Many credit card applications will ask you for a Social Security Number (SSN). However, you don’t necessarily need a SSN to complete an application or qualify for a credit card.
Some issuers, such as Deserve and CreditStacks, are very clear about being able to apply without a SSN. Other major card issuers may also let you apply using a non-U.S. passport or another form of government identification to verify your identity.
If you’re not eligible for a SSN, you may be eligible for an Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs). For example, if you received a taxable scholarship you’ll need an ITIN to file your United States tax return. Depending on the card issuer, you may be able to use an Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITIN) rather than a SSN during the application process.
Effectively Using Your New Credit Card
There are many reasons to want a credit card. Perhaps you want to be able to easily shop online, you’re building credit in the U.S., or you’re planning on making a large purchase and paying it off over time. You might just want a line of credit in your pocket as a backup in case of an emergency.
Whatever your reason for getting a card, responsible and proper card use can help save you money and improve your credit profile. Here are a few simple tips to remember:
- If you can, pay off your balance in full each month to avoid paying interest. And don’t worry, you don’t need to carry a balance to build credit (that’s a myth).
- Even if you can’t pay the monthly bill in full, be sure to always make at least your minimum monthly payment. This will help you avoid late payment fees and negative marks on your credit reports, which can hurt your credit scores.
- Read your credit card’s terms and agreements pages, which will list the card’s fees, APR, and details about its rewards programs.
- Using a large portion of your available credit line can hurt your credit scores, even if you pay off the balance each month. If you’re focused on improving your scores, try to only use a small portion of your credit line or making early payments and bringing down the card’s balance before the end of each monthly statement period.