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March 29th 2023

How to Apply for U.S. Credit Cards for Canadian Citizens

If you're a Canadian citizen moving to the U.S, you can now use your Canadian credit history to apply for a U.S. credit card—rather than needing to wait to build a U.S. credit history. Learn more in this article.

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.

Nova Credit receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but this content is not provided by them. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

Louis DeNicola
Personal Finance Writer

If you’re a Canadian citizen moving to the U.S., you can benefit immensely from having a U.S. credit card.

While you can use Canadian credit and debit cards while living stateside, you may end up paying a foreign transaction fee (often around 2.5% to 3%) on every purchase. You may also miss out on high cash back rewards from American cards and definitely will miss out on the opportunity to build your U.S. credit history by managing your new credit card.

This last bit—building a U.S. credit history—is critical if you plan on spending considerable time in the U.S. Whether you’re planning to move for good, go back and forth, or only have plans to stay temporarily, your U.S. credit history will make it easier to rent an apartment, start a business, and eventually get a mortgage in the U.S. 

In this article, we explain how you can get started with your first U.S. credit card using your Canadian credit history. 

Open a U.S. bank account 

While you won’t necessarily need a U.S. bank account to apply for a credit card as a Canadian citizen, having an American bank account can simplify your financial life.

You won’t need to worry about currency conversion fees (or do the mental math on exchange rates!) as you track your income and expenses. And if you’re working or receive a stipend at school in U.S. dollars, you’ll want a secure place to store and save your money.

Although you’ll need a Social Security number (SSN) before you can qualify for some bank accounts, that’s not always the case. You may be able to apply with other identification documents, such as your passport, visa, or Independent Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). 

You can also initiate the process of opening a U.S. bank account before your big move, as many major Canadian banks offer accounts specifically for people who will frequently travel between Canada and the U.S. If you’re already banking with one of the Big Five—BMO, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank or TD—ask a banker about their cross-border accounts. 

Also read: Opening a Canadian Bank Account from the U.S.

Establish your U.S. address

You’ll need a U.S. address to apply for a U.S. credit card as a Canadian citizen. 

The address can be your home address or the address of school-provided housing if you are an international student. Even if you’re temporarily staying with a family member or friend, you may be able to use that address if it’s where you’re receiving mail at the time.

If you haven’t found a permanent home yet, you may be able to sign up for a post office box (P.O. Box) and receive all your mail at a local post office. However, due to customer identity verification laws, you can’t use the P.O. Box address to apply for many types of financial accounts and products. 

You can always update your address with the credit card issuer if you move again, and you can sign up for electronic statements to avoid the paper mail. 

Did you know?

You can use your foreign credit history to apply for a U.S. credit card

Credit history used to stop at the border—until now. Your existing foreign credit history could help you get credit in the United States.

Get an ITIN or an SSN

To apply for a credit card in the U.S. as a Canadian citizen, you’ll generally need either an Independent Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or Social Security number (SSN). You’ll enter one of these tax identification numbers on the application, and the credit card company will use it to help verify your identity and pull your credit history.

The government assigns U.S. citizens a SSN when they’re born, and the number acts as a national identification number that enables access to a variety of services.

As a non-U.S. citizen, you can qualify for an SSN if you’re authorized to work in the U.S. For example, if you’re in the U.S. on an F or M student visa and have work authorization, you should also apply for an SSN. 

In contrast, an ITIN is issued to people who don’t have work authorization in the U.S. and aren’t eligible for an SNN, but still need a number for federal tax forms. Students with an F or M visa that receive a scholarship or grant while studying in the U.S. can apply for an ITIN. 

You may also be able to apply for an ITIN if you have other types of non-wage income while in the U.S., such as lottery or gambling winnings, or income from contract work or self-employment. Dependents and spouses of U.S citizens, resident aliens and nonresident alien visa holders can also apply for an ITIN.

The Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. federal agency that collects taxes, has an online tool you can use to see if you’re eligible for an ITIN and information on the three ways you can apply. 

Once you receive either an SSN or ITIN, you can use the number when filling out your credit card application. Even though it’s also nine digits long, don’t use your Canadian SIN in its place—that could be fraud as you may be entering a U.S. tax identification number that doesn’t belong to you. 

Also read: How to get a credit card without an SSN

Use Nova Credit and your Canadian credit history

Most U.S. credit card companies will want to review your credit history before approving or denying your credit card application. 

Unfortunately, they’ll only look at U.S. credit history, which you likely don’t have if you’ve never taken out a loan or opened a credit card in the U.S.

Fortunately, thanks to a partnership between Nova Credit and American Express, you can now apply for any U.S. Amex credit card using your Canadian credit history.  

To do so, look for the checkbox under the Social Security number section of the American Express card application. Clicking the box allows Nova Credit to share your Canadian credit history with American Express to evaluate as part of their approval decision process. You’ll generally find out if you’re approved or denied within a few minutes. 

Here are a few of the best credit cards from American Express, which include cards that offer rewards programs, feature great cardholder perks, or don’t have an annual fee. As with any credit card application, review the card’s terms, features and fees before applying. 

Other credit cards for U.S. newcomers 

In addition to applying for an Amex credit card using your Canadian credit history, you can also look for cards that are part of the Visa, Mastercard, or Discover credit card networks. There are some issuers that don’t require a strong U.S. credit history, or, in some cases, any credit history.

Should you have problems with your Canadian credit history, secured U.S. credit cards are also an option. These are generally targeted at people who are building their credit for the first time (U.S. citizens and newcomers alike). However, secured cards require you to send the issuer a refundable security deposit, and they may have higher interest rates and more fees than unsecured cards.

You can review the Nova Credit card shop to see the card offers that we recommend for newcomers to the U.S.—whether or not we can help them use your foreign credit history. 

We’ll customize the results after you indicate that you are moving from Canada, and you can filter the results based on your preferences (such as no annual fee or cash back rewards). Click the “Apply Now” button to start a new credit card application when you see a card that matches your needs.

Apply for an American Express ® Personal Card using your foreign credit history

Nova Credit has partnered with American Express to help newcomers to the U.S. to use their foreign credit history from Australia, Canada, India, Mexico and the UK to apply for Personal Cards.

Use your card to build your credit history 

Once approved for your first U.S. credit card, you can begin building your credit history by responsibly managing that credit card.

However, a U.S. credit card will only help Canadian citizens build credit if the card issuer reports your information to at least one of the three major consumer credit bureaus in the U.S.: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These companies gather and organize all your information and create credit reports, which are the basis of your credit scores in the U.S.

If you’re trying to build credit in the U.S., try to get a card from an issuer (like American Express, Chase, Citi, and Petal) that reports to all three bureaus. Most major banks and credit card issuers do this, and it’s generally not a big concern. 

However, a few smaller issuers and secured card companies only send your information to one or two bureaus, or none at all. When your information doesn’t get sent to a credit bureau, the bureau can’t use it to create a credit report for you, or add it to an existing credit report.

Use your foreign credit history to start your U.S credit history

New to the U.S.? Check if you can use your country's credit history in the U.S. to apply for credit cards and start your U.S credit history using Nova Credit.

More from Nova Credit:

Credit Cards for No Credit

Credit Cards for International Students

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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