Getting a credit card can be difficult when you’ve recently moved to the U.S. and don’t have a local credit history. Many credit card companies want to review applicants’ credit, and without a credit history, you might get turned down even if you’ve always paid your bills on time.
Fortunately, that’s not always the case, and there are great credit cards that you can get without a U.S. credit history.
Top picks if you can bring your credit with you
- Best no annual fee rewards card: American Express Cash Magnet® Card
- Best cash back grocery card: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Best luxury travel card: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Top picks if you have no credit history
- Best cash back card: Petal Cash Back Visa® Card
- Best cardholder benefits: Deserve® Classic
- Best student card: Deserve® Edu
Top secured card if you have no credit
- Best option without a bank account: The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
- Best low APR card: Green Dot primor® Visa® Classic Secured Credit Card
- Best rewards card: Discover it® Secured
Top picks if you can bring your credit with you
Traditionally, you had to use stepping stones to build credit in the U.S. before you could qualify for an unsecured (i.e. “normal”) credit cards. You could do this by starting with a secured card, taking out a credit builder loan or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card.
Now, you have a new option thanks to a partnership between American Express and Nova Credit.
If you don’t have a credit history in the U.S., but you established your credit in Australia, Canada, India, Mexico or the UK, you can now apply for an American Express® Card using that credit history. You don’t even need a Social Security number (SSN).
Best no annual fee rewards card: American Express Cash Magnet® Card
If you’re looking for simplicity and rewards while you build credit, a flat-rate rewards card that doesn’t have an annual fee could be a good fit. The American Express Cash Magnet® Card offers this, and more.
What the card offers:
There’s no annual fee to worry about, and you can earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase. You’ll earn the cash back in the form of rewards dollars, which you can redeem for a statement credit once you’ve accrued at least $25 in rewards.
Additional cardholder benefits include extended manufacturers’ warranties on eligible purchases and purchase protection, which could give you a refund when an item you buy is damaged or stolen within 120 days. Also, depending on when you sign up for the card, you may be eligible for an intro bonus.
Potential cons to beware of: There’s not much of a downside to the American Express Cash Magnet® Card. But one thing to watch out for is the card’s 2.7% foreign transaction fee, which could make it a poor choice if you frequently travel outside the U.S.
There are cards from other issuers that offer equal or greater flat-rate rewards without an annual fee, and they could be better picks overall. However, you’ll likely need to build your credit before you can qualify for the flat-rate cards from other issuers.
Best cash back grocery card: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
While the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has a $95 annual fee, the card offers cash rewards on many common purchases. It could more than pay for itself if you’re looking for a credit card for everyday use while you build credit.
What the card offers: The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is a cash back rewards card. Using it, you can earn:
- 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 in purchases every year (1% cash back after that).
- 6% cash back on qualifying U.S. streaming subscriptions.
- 3% cash back on transit and at U.S. gas stations.
- 1% cash back on other purchases.
The 6% cash back is a great rate, particularly for families who spend a lot of money on groceries. There’s also often an intro bonus on the card, which could help you boost your cash back earnings early on.
Potential cons to beware of: The card does have a $95 annual fee, which Amex doesn’t waive the first year. You’ll want to calculate your potential cash back earnings to see if you’ll likely come out ahead after paying the fee.
Keep in mind that Amex decides what counts as a supermarket, which doesn’t include specialty wine shops, butchers, superstores or warehouse clubs. Also, beware of the 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
Best luxury travel card: The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the most well-known premium cards available. It offers big benefits, but with its high $550 annual fee, you’ll want to consider the pros and cons carefully before applying.
What the card offers: The Platinum Card® from American Express is a best fit for frequent travelers who want more pleasant travel experiences. The card offers a lot of benefits and statement credits that can help justify the annual fee:
- Earn five Membership Rewards points per dollar you spend when you buy airline tickets directly from an airline or through American Express Travel. You’ll earn one point on other purchases.
- You’ll receive gold status in the Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors loyalty programs.
- Receive a $100 statement credit once every four years for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓ membership.
- Get $15 Uber statement credits each month, and an extra $20 in December.
- Twice per year, receive a $50 Saks Fifth Avenue statement credit.
- An annual $200 statement credit for airline incidental fees from one eligible airline of your choice.
- Complimentary access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection®, which includes access to Centurion® Lounges, Delta Sky Club® lounges and Priority Pass Select lounges.
There are additional benefits as well, which is why the Platinum Card® from American Express consistently ranks as a top choice among premium cards. Plus, the card doesn’t have a foreign transaction fee.
Potential cons to beware of: You’re not getting all of these perks for free, and the $550 annual fee is one of the highest you’ll find. While the statement credits can help offset the fee, but they’re sometimes difficult to use before they expire.
Top picks if you have no credit history
A few card issuers use alternative methods to review credit card applications. For example, you may be able to let the issuer analyze your bank account transactions and make a decision based on that information. If you don’t have a credit history, this may be one of the best routes to getting a credit card that has low fees and good benefits.
Best cash back card: Petal Cash Back Visa® Card
Petal will consider your credit history, if you have one, or can review your linked bank information instead. The card offers a rewards program, cardholder benefits and there are few fees to worry about, making it an easy-to-use and helpful credit card to keep in your wallet.
What the card offers: The Petal Cash Back Visa® Card has a few appealing features:
- There are no annual, foreign transaction or late payment fees.
- Earn 1% cash back when you first get the card, 1.25% cash back once you make six on-time payments and 1.5% cash back after making 12 on-time payments.
- Petal reports your account information and monthly payments to all three major credit bureaus.
Your credit limit can range from $500 to $10,000 depending on your creditworthiness, and a higher credit line could be helpful if you want to frequently use the card to earn rewards.
Additionally, the mobile app has helpful tools and controls, such as the ability to lock or unlock your card (so it can’t be used if it’s lost or stolen) and a budgeting feature you can use to set goals and track your spending.
Potential cons to beware of: If you don’t have a credit history, the Petal card application process requires you link an eligible U.S. bank account. If you've yet to open a bank account in the U.S., here are a few top picks to consider. However, check Petal’s exclusion list because some banks, including major international banks, won’t work for the application.
Best cardholder benefits: Deserve® Classic
Deserve offers several cards that it created specifically for people who are new to credit or new to the U.S. If you don’t have a credit history, the company may be able to approve your application based on other factors, such as your job or bank account balances.
What the card offers: While you won’t earn rewards with the Deserve® Classic card, you’ll receive the same basic benefits that you get with all of the company’s cards:
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fee
- A waiver on your first late fee
- Extended warranties on eligible purchases
- Up to $600 in mobile phone insurance in case your phone is lost or stolen (you must pay your phone bill with the card to qualify)
The Deserve® Classic doesn’t offer anything extra, but it’s a basic no-fee card that can help you reach your credit goals.
Potential cons to beware of: The main con is that Deserve only reports your account and payments to TransUnion and Experian, two of the three major credit bureaus in the U.S. As a result, you won’t be building credit in Equifax’s (the third bureau’s) system, which limits the card’s credit building benefits.
If you apply for a loan or credit card, the company won’t get any results if it tries to pull your Equifax credit report. It might be able to check your TransUnion or Experian credit history instead, but this could still delay or sideline your application.
Best student card: Deserve® Edu
If you’re in the U.S. as a visiting student, you may be eligible for a student credit card. Deserve created the Deserve® Edu card with international students in mind, and it could be one of your top choices.
What the card offers: The Deserve® Edu doesn’t require an SSN, which can be helpful if you’re studying in the U.S. and don’t have a job or taxable scholarship that makes you eligible for an SSN.
In addition to the basic Deserve® benefits, you can earn 1% cash back on all your purchases and get 12 months of Amazon Prime Student for free.
Potential cons to beware of: As with the Deserve® Classic, your account and payments don’t get reported to Equifax. You also can’t use the card to take out cash advances or transfer balances to the card from other credit cards.
However, a cash advance with a credit card often comes with a fee and high interest charges, so it’s best to avoid these in general. And, if you’re looking for your first credit card in the U.S., you won’t need to make balance transfers anyway.
Top secured card if you have no credit
With a secured card (versus the unsecured cards above), you’ll need to send the credit card issuer a refundable security deposit to open your account. The deposit will generally equal your card’s credit limit, and it decreases the issuer’s risk because the company can hold onto the money if cardholders don’t pay their bills. Sometimes, you can raise your line of credit after opening your card by making an additional deposit.
Secured cards used to be one of the go-to options if you had limited credit history or bad credit. While there are now more options available, a secured card could still be a good pick if you haven’t established credit that you can bring to the U.S., or if you don’t have a bank account.
However, the cards are also created for people who’ve made credit mistakes and are rebuilding their credit, and they’re sometimes loaded with fees and unfavorable terms. They’re not all bad, though, and here are some secured cards that you may want to consider:
Best option without a bank account: The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card
The OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card stands out as one of the few secured cards that doesn’t require a bank account. Although you can send your security deposit with a debit card, you can also use a money transfer or mail a money order or check. Additionally, there’s no credit check, so not having a credit history won’t impact your application.
What the card offers: The main benefit is that Petal reports your credit account activity to all three major credit bureaus, and the monthly reporting can help you establish and build credit. Beyond that, the card doesn’t offer any notable rewards or benefits.
Potential cons to beware of: When you open the OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card, you’ll need to send a security deposit of $200 to $3,000, which will be your card’s credit limit. You can get the security deposit back if you, or the issuer, close your account while it’s in good standing (i.e., you don’t owe any money).
The card also has a $35 annual fee. Overall, while you can use the card to build credit, it’s not particularly helpful for much else.
Best low APR card: Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card
Green Dot Bank is best known in the U.S. for offering prepaid cards. With prepaid cards, you load money into your account and can then use the card to spend it—similar to a checking account and debit card.
However, prepaid cards don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and don’t help you build credit. Green Dot bank’s’s secured credit cards are real credit cards and Green Dot Bank reports your account to all three major credit bureaus.
What the card offers: The Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card doesn’t have a minimum credit history or score requirement, although you’ll need a bank account to apply.
Many secured cards have a high annual percentage rate (APR), which impacts how much interest accrues when you don’t pay your credit card bill in full. The Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card’s rate is relatively low compared to other secured cards, which could make it a good option if you might occasionally carry a balance. However, you should still try to plan ahead and pay your balance in full whenever possible.
Potential cons to beware of: The Green Dot primor® Mastercard® Classic Secured Credit Card has a $39 annual fee and 3% foreign transaction fee. The security deposit starts at $200, although you can send up to $5,000 if you want a higher credit limit.
There’s also a $29 replacement card fee, which you’ll have to pay to get a new card if yours is lost or stolen. You’ll almost never see a fee like this on cards from major credit card companies, banks or credit unions. However, it’s somewhat common on cards that are targeted at subprime (i.e., no or bad credit) applicants.
Best rewards card: Discover it® Secured
The Discover it® Secured card isn’t aimed at U.S. newcomers and it requires a SSN, credit check and U.S. bank account to apply. However, if you can get the card, it’s one of the better secured cards available.
What the card offers: The Discover it® Secured is one of the few secured cards that doesn’t have an annual fee and offers rewards on purchases. There’s also no foreign transaction fee and Discover waives your first late payment fee.
Using the card, you can earn 2% cash back on up to $1,000 in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each quarter, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. Plus, at the end of your first year, Discover doubles all the cash back you earned.
With most secured cards, you’ll only get your security deposit back after the account is closed. However, Discover monitors your credit and account history while you’re building credit. After you’ve had the card for eight months, Discover does automatic reviews and may upgrade you to an unsecured card—you keep the same card and benefits but get your security deposit back.
Potential cons to beware of: Although you may be eligible to get your security deposit back later, you’ll have to send a $200 to $2,500 security deposit when you first open your account.
Discover cards also may not be as widely accepted as cards that are part of the American Express, Visa or Mastercard networks—especially outside the U.S. Merchants that accept UnionPay, JCB and Diners Club International cards will accept Discover as well. But if you plan on frequently traveling, consider whether shops in your destination countries will take your card.
What to consider before choosing a credit card
As a newcomer to the U.S. without any credit history, you may have limited options when opening a credit card. The nine cards above may be good options, but choosing the right one will depend on the card details and how you plan on using your credit card.
Here are a few features you should compare and consider as you look over the various credit card offers.
- The fees: Credit cards can have a variety of fees, including an annual fee that you have to pay to keep the account open. Additionally, look for usage-based fees, such as foreign transaction fees or cash advance fees.
- A grace period: Most credit cards have a grace period that’s around 21 to 25 days long. During this period, which goes from the end of your purchase period to your bill’s due date, interest won’t accrue on your credit card balance that comes from purchases. It also won’t accrue during your statement period. However, balances from cash advances and balance transfers generally don’t have a grace period and start accruing interest right away.
If you pay your bill in full by the due date, you keep your grace period and never pay interest on your purchases. However, if you don’t pay your bill in full, you lose your grade period and your purchases start to accrue interest right away. Additionally, some cards that are targeted at people with no or poor credit don’t have a grace period.
- The rewards: Many credit cards offer rewards as either cash back, points or miles in partner travel companies’ loyalty programs. The best rewards cards often require excellent credit and may have an annual fee. However, some of the cards above have good rewards programs that you can use to earn cash back.
Many rewards credit cards also have an intro offer. This sign-up bonus can give you big rewards after making a certain amount of purchases within an introductory period. The intro offers can change over time and from one card to another.
If you have large purchases coming up, you could also look for a card that has an intro APR offer. These offers let you make purchases with the card but pay no interest during the introductory period, which generally lasts 12 to 18 months. But have a plan for paying off the balance before the promotional interest rate ends. Otherwise, your balance and new purchases will accrue interest based on your credit card accounts’ regular APR.
- The cardholder benefits: Many credit cards offer benefits to cardholders simply for having and using the credit card. These can range from elite status in hotel loyalty programs and access to airport lounges to protections when you use the card for certain purchases. Most credit cards also come with zero liability for unauthorized purchases. If someone steals your card or uses your account’s information, you won’t have to pay for any of the purchases.
How to use your new card to build credit in the U.S.
Getting a credit card can help you establish your credit profile in the U.S. Once you’ve got your new card, here are three things you can do to practice responsible card use and work your way to an excellent credit score.
- Regularly use your card. Try to use your credit card for a small purchase each month. People who are focused on building their credit, rather than earning rewards, sometimes use their card to automatically pay for an inexpensive subscription service.
- Only use a small portion of your credit limit. Using a small portion of your available credit limit can help improve your credit scores. In contrast, maxing out your card (using the entire credit limit) may hurt your scores. A helpful rule of thumb is to only make purchases that add up to one third of your credit limit. For example, if your card has a $300 limit, try to keep the balance below $100.
- Pay your bill in full. Try to pay off your credit card bill in full each month. The payment might not directly impact your credit scores, but it’s still responsible use that can keep you from paying interest.
As you learn more about credit and discover there different types of credit scores in the U.S. (such as FICO Score and VantageScore scores), you’ll discover there are many factors that can impact your credit profile. However, these three basic steps will set you on the path to responsible card use and good credit.
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