As you may have already experienced, it’s difficult to take part in the U.S. 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 (SSN) isn’t always easy. Not having an SSN can make it difficult to get a credit card and build U.S. credit, open a checking or savings account, 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. Here are some options that you can do.
1. Apply for American Express credit cards with international credit history
If you are a newcomer to the U.S., and international student or another noncitizen, American Express might have you covered: You can apply for all American Express personal credit card online without an SSN if you have credit history in one of the following countries: Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the UK. Even if you are not from one of these countries, Amex still accepts ITINs as part of their applications.
You do NOT need a Social Security Number to start your U.S. credit history.
Experian and TransUnion will track and attempt to match your name, birth date, and address to your credit history. However, specified personal information like an SSN and ITIN make it easier for credit bureaus to report information accurately.
American Express also reports to all 3 major credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian and Equifax), so you should start building U.S. credit history when approved for a card and using it responsibly.
To choose a card, consider how you want to use the card, your normal purchasing habits, and your lifestyle. Here are a couple of our featured picks:
American Express Blue Cash Everyday®
If you’d prefer to avoid an annual fee, the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express might be a good choice for you.
Here's why the card is awesome:
No annual fee.
Buy Now, Pay Later: Enjoy $0 plan fees when you use Plan It® to split up large purchases into monthly installments. Pay $0 plan fees on plans created during the first 15 months after account opening. Plans created after that will have a plan fee up to 1.33% of each purchase amount moved into a plan based on the plan duration, the APR that would otherwise apply to the purchase, and other factors.
Low intro APR: 0% for 15 months on purchases from the date of account opening, then a variable rate, 13.99% to 23.99%.
Earn 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 in purchase each year, then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and U.S. department stores, and 1% cash back everywhere else. Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be easily redeemed for statement credits.
However, depending on how you’ll use your credit card, you may be able to earn more rewards with other cards that have an annual fee.
American Express Platinum Card®
If you frequently travel and want to enhance your experience, the Platinum Card® from American Express could be a good fit.
Unlike typical credit cards, this card allows you to carry a balance for certain charges, but not all. While the Platinum Card® from American Express has a high $695 annual fee, you can:
Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on the Card at restaurants worldwide and when you Shop Small in the U.S., on up to $25,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership.
Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
Get a $200 Hotel Credit: Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings with American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
Get a $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 in statement credits each month when you pay for eligible purchases with the Platinum Card® at your choice of one or more of the following providers: Peacock, Audible, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
Get a $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax.
Get a $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
Get a $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
Get a $300 Equinox Credit: Get up to $25 back each month on select Equinox memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
Use the Centurion Lounges. American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide.
Sometimes, your circumstances dictate which cards you should consider. If you’re in the United States for school, 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.
2. Find other 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 Jasper (formerly 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.
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 scoreable 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.
Moved to the U.S. from Australia or India?
Apply for U.S. credit cards with confidence
Access your free international credit report to see which U.S. credit cards you could already be eligible for. No SSN required.
Getting a credit card without an SSN can help you build credit in the U.S.
You can have a credit history and credit scores in the US regardless of whether you have an SSN or are a U.S. citizen because the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — don’t require an SSN to create and build a U.S. credit history.
Once you open credit cards and loans in the U.S., 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.
More from Nova Credit: