As you may have already experienced, it’s difficult to take part in the US financial system without a Social Security number. Many financial institutions require an SSN on an application for a new account, but getting yourself a Social Security number isn’t always easy. 

If you’re new to the US, or came here without work authorization, you might not qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN). That can make it difficult to open a checking or savings account, credit card, or get a loan, but there are other options. 

However, some credit card issuers open up their applications to residents who don’t have a SSN. The key is knowing where to look and how to apply.

1. Find card issuers that don’t require an SSN

Some issuers will let you use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of an SSN on your application. An ITIN allows people who don’t qualify for an SSN to file a tax return in the US. You may qualify for one if you’ve worked in the US (including as a contractor) or receive a taxable scholarship. You can apply for an ITIN when you file a tax return or in-person at IRS-authorized locations.  

Once you have an ITIN, you may be able to use it in place of an SSN for some credit card applications. A few issuers will also accept a passport if you apply over the phone or at a branch. 

Some credit card issuers, such as Deserve and CreditStacks, also offer credit cards specifically for international students or professionals relocating to the US for work. They allow you to apply using other forms of identification, such as your passport and visa information.  

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Alliant Credit Union

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: No
  • Accepts Passports: No 

American Express

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes 

Bank of America

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: Yes, over the phone or at a branch

Barclays

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: No
  • Accepts Passports: No 

Capital One

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: No 

Chase

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: Only for J.P. Morgan Private Bank clients 

Citi

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: Yes, but or certain cards and at a branch

CreditStacks

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: Yes

Discover

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: No
  • Accepts Passports: No

Deserve

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: Yes

PenFed Credit Union

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Yes
  • Accepts Passports: No

US Bank

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Only for secured cards
  • Accepts Passports: No

Wells Fargo

  • Accepts SSNs: Yes
  • Accepts ITINs: Only for secured cards
  • Accepts Passports: No

2. Compare credit cards

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of potential card issuers, you can start comparing specific cards and their features. . Consider how you want to use the card, your normal purchasing habits, and your lifestyle. 

For example, if you frequently travel and want to enhance your experience, the Platinum Card® from American Express could be a good fit. 

Important Note: On the American Express application page, you will have the option to click "I don't have credit history in the US" in the Social Security Number (SSN) field of the application page. When clicking this, you may be able to qualify for the card using your credit history from Canada, the UK, Australia, India or Mexico. No need to have built U.S. credit, yay!

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While the Platinum Card® from American Express has a large $550 annual fee, you’ll receive:

  • Up to $500 in statement credits each year
  • Uto $100 every four years for a Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ membership 
  • Access to lounges 
  • Gold Elite status in the Marriott BonvoyTM and Gold status in the Hilton Honors hotel loyalty programs.
  • Access the American Express Global Lounge Collection®, which includes access to Centurion® Lounges, Delta Sky Club® lounges, and Priority Pass Select lounges. 

Or, if you’d prefer to avoid an annual fee, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express might make more sense. 

Important Note (same as above): On the American Express application page, you will have the option to click "I don't have credit history in the US" in the Social Security Number (SSN) field of the application page. When clicking this, you may be able to qualify for the card using your credit history from Canada, the UK, Australia, India or Mexico. No need to have built U.S. credit, yay!

Even without an annual fee, the card offers 3% cash back at US supermarkets (for the first $6,000 you spend annually), 2% cash back at US gas stations and US department stores, and 1% cash back on other purchases. You may also be able to earn an intro bonus when you first get the card. 

Apply for the now for the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express.

Sometimes, your circumstances dictate which cards you should consider. If you’re in the United States for school, you a student card might be best. Or, if you don’t have a credit history in the US (and aren’t applying with a card issuer that considers your credit history from your home country) you might want to try for a secured credit card. To open a secured card, you’ll need to give the card issuer a refundable security deposit. 

No matter the type of card you want, consider:

  • The card’s fees: Cards may come with a variety of fees. Such as an annual fee that you’ll have to pay to keep the card open or a foreign-transaction fee on purchases outside the US or in non-US dollars. Think about how you expect to use your card when reviewing the fees.
  • The benefits: Many credit cards are part of a rewards program and allow you to earn cash back or travel rewards when you use your card for purchases. Cardholders may also receive additional perks, such as extended warranties on purchases, travel insurance, and statement credits to offset certain purchases. 

The interest rate: You may have to pay interest if you revolve part of your credit card’s balance. A lower interest rate and annual percentage rate (APR) will lead to less interest accruing. However, if you pay your bill in full each month you won’t have to pay any interest.

3. Submit the application

Once you’ve decided which card you want, you’ll have to submit the official application. Often this can be done online and only takes a few minutes, but many card applications will ask for an SSN. If you have an ITIN, you may be able to put this in place of the SSN and submit your application.

If you have an ITIN, you may be able to put this in place of the SSN and submit your application. If you don’t have an ITIN or SSN, you may be able to apply using other identifying documents, such as your passport. 

If you’re unsure of how to apply online, call the card issuer and ask to speak with a representative or visit a local bank branch. 

4. Meet the credit card issuer’s requirements

Being able to apply is important, but you’ll also need to qualify for the card. Credit card companies consider a variety of factors when reviewing your creditworthiness, and the best credit cards may require a good credit history and low debt-to-income ratio. 

You may be able to get approved for a student card (assuming you’re a student) or for a secured credit card even if you don’t have a credit history in the US and aren’t scorable by FICO or VantageScore. However, card issuers may still consider your income as they want to know that you can afford to pay the credit card bill.

If you have a good credit history in your home country, some international banks and card issuers may be able to review that credit history when considering your application.

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Your new card can help you build credit in the US

You can have a credit history and credit scores in the US regardless of whether you have an SSN or are a US citizen because the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — don’t require an SSN to create and build a US credit history. 

Once you open credit cards and loans in the US, your payments can be reported to the credit bureaus. The bureaus can then generate credit reports by matching you with your accounts based on identifying information, such as your name and address. Credit scores can also be created based on those credit reports. 

If you’re still in the early stages of building credit in the US, you could still benefit by using your credit history from your home country. Nova Credit helps you bring your credit history with you, and creates a Credit Passport® that lenders, card issuers, and property managers can use to review your application based on your foreign credit history.