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June 30th 2023

Great credit cards for international students

Looking to build credit as an international student in America? A credit card designed for students might just be the answer.

Nova Credit is a cross-border credit bureau that allows newcomers to apply for U.S. credit cards, phone plans, and loans using their foreign credit history.

Many of the card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which Nova Credit receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). Nova Credit does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

Louis DeNicola
Personal Finance Writer

As an international student to the U.S., a credit card can unlock many possibilities. Not only can you earn rewards as you spend on day-to-day expenses, but you can also start to establish and build a credit history by responsibly managing the card.

However, figuring out the right credit card can be tricky, especially if you do not yet have a U.S. credit history. Credit card companies will often check if you have a credit history and may ask you to start with a secured card if you do not have one in the U.S. yet.

This article digs into some of our top picks of credit cards for international students, so you can focus on your studies with a great card in your wallet. 

Our pick for international credit history

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Why we chose it: American Express doesn’t have a student-specific card, but it does offer a rewards card without an annual fee, which could be interesting to students. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card is a particularly good option for students who often shop at supermarkets and commute by car, since it has 3% cash back at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations.

It used to be virtually impossible for students to obtain this American Express Card, because most AmEx credit cards require a credit history. However, thanks to Nova Credit’s partnership with American Express, international students from select countries can now use their foreign credit history to apply for any American Express Card.

Important Note: On the American Express application page, you will have the option to click "I don't have credit history in the U.S." in the Social Security Number (SSN) field on the application page. When clicking this, you may be able to qualify for the card using your credit history from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

If you do not have an SSN, you can input your Independent Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in the field asking for an SSN instead. Applicants will need either an SSN or ITIN to apply for an American Express Personal Card, including the Blue Cash Everyday®. 

As an international student, you can apply for an ITIN if you have non-wage income like scholarships or investment income to pay taxes on.

Our pick for student rewards cards  

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Why we chose it: As one of the top international student cards in the U.S., the Discover it® Student Cash Back card offers a variety of rewards (including some for good grades!), without many fees. Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined quarterly purchases at a changing list of merchants each quarter, and earn 1% cash back on all your other purchases.

While there is no annual fee, Discover does require an SSN from international student credit card applicants, so this is a good option for students who are already working—on-campus or otherwise.

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Our featured pick for frequent travelers: 

Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

Why we chose it: The Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students offers a large intro points bonus, good flat-rate rewards on every purchase, and extra rewards for Bank of America customers who have a checking or savings account. You earn a healthy 1.5 points per dollar, and there is a solid 25,000-point intro bonus offer if you make $1,000 worth of purchases within 90 days of account opening.

The best part for students: it does not require an SSN to apply. Instead, you can apply for Bank of America credit cards and bank accounts using an ITIN or your passport by visiting a bank branch or calling customer service. 

Our featured pick for everyday purchases: 

Citi Rewards+SM Student Card

Why we chose it: If you expect to use your new international student credit card for everyday purchases, the Citi Rewards+SM Student Card’s rewards program could be especially appealing. You earn 2 points per dollar on the first $6,000 in purchases in each year at supermarkets and gas stations, so the rewards dollars add up quickly for big spending students.

Also, the points you receive from purchases get rounded up to the nearest 10 points. For example, a $2 coffee gives you 10 points, while an $11 lunch turns into 20 points. There is no annual fee, and you may be able to apply for using an ITIN or passport at a Citi branch. 

Our featured pick for motivating on-time payments: 

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

The Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® offers cash back rewards to cardholders, and incentivizes international student credit cardholders to make on-time payments with an offer of extra cash back. You can apply using an ITIN or SSN.

There is no annual fee, no transaction fee, and a potential credit line increase after fine on-time monthly payments. Beware, though: there is a late payment fee of up to $39 and a higher annual percentage rate (APR) than some other international student credit card options.

Additional features to consider 

As you compare credit cards for international students, also review the cardholder benefits from the card issuer (e.g. Bank of America, Citi, and Capital One) and card network (e.g., Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or Discover). 

The benefits can vary depending on the credit card, even when you’re comparing two cards from the same card issuer or that are part of the same network. 

Some of these may include:

  • Extended warranties on purchases you make with the card

  • Cell phone insurance if you pay your monthly phone bill with the card

  • Zero liability on unauthorized purchases 

  • Free access to your US FICO credit score

  • Travel accident insurance

Additionally, some international student credit cards offer a 0% intro APR on purchases. When you open a card with a 0% purchase APR offer, your purchases won’t accrue interest during the intro period as long as you make at least the minimum monthly payments. After the end of the introductory period, the standard APR will apply to your card’s balance and any additional purchases.  

While the intro APR feature might save you money if you have to make a large purchase now and pay it off over time, it’s best to get in the habit of paying your credit card bill in full each month. This type of responsible use can save you money on interest and help you establish a positive credit history.  

Having trouble getting approved? Try a secured card instead

Student credit cards are designed for college students, and credit card companies realize that students might not have a long credit history, high credit score, or large income. In some cases, a student credit card will be the cardholder's first credit card and the applicant might not have any credit history. 

However, card issuers will often still try to pull an applicant’s credit report and might not approve an application from someone who doesn’t have good credit or shows other signs of poor creditworthiness, such as a low income compared to their monthly bills.  If you have a credit score abroad, Nova Credit can help you qualify for the best credit cards for international students that are available to you.

If you’ve tried to get a student card as an international student and were denied, you might want to consider a secured credit card instead.  

Credit card issuers create secured credit cards for international students who are rebuilding their credit or have no credit history. With a secured credit card, you’ll need to send the issuer a refundable security deposit, which will generally determine your card’s credit limit. A larger security deposit can lead to a higher credit line, but you can find options that allow you to get started with a $49 to $199 deposit.

Secured cards work like unsecured cards and paying your bills on time can help you build credit. Depending on the issuer, you might receive a credit limit increase or get your security deposit back after you show consistent, responsible use. Otherwise, you’ll get the money back when you close your account, assuming it’s in good standing and you don't have an outstanding balance.

The takeaway

If you’re studying in the United States, you probably have plenty of reasons for wanting a credit card. A credit card can be a convenient and safe way to make purchases online and it can give you access to extra funds if you’re in an emergency situation and need money. Additionally, having a credit card can help you establish and build credit in the US, which could be important if you plan on staying in the U.S. after your studies or might want to return later. 

Fortunately, Nova Credit lets you use your foreign credit history from certain countries to apply for several essential products and services from our partners in the U.S. 

This means that you can not only apply for credit cards, but also student loans, phone plans, and more from using your hard-earned credit history from back home—rather than starting from scratch. 

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Currently, Nova Credit serves individuals coming from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K.

Moved to the U.S. from India, Canada, U.K., and more?

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.

More from Nova Credit:

Credit Cards for No Credit

Credit Cards Without SSN

Credit Cards to Build Credit

How to Build Credit

How to use your international credit report to get credit in the U.S.

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