How international students and immigrant workers can get a credit card – Forbes Advisor


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Obtaining a credit card as an international student or immigrant can be difficult, but a few options are worth exploring. Foreigners in the United States can theoretically be approved for a credit card as long as they have a Social Security Number (SSN), an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), or know someone willing to add them as. as an authorized user.

Credit cards are not only useful for purchases, they can be essential for those planning to stay in the country for the long term. Credit cards are an essential way to build credit. Credit cards are useful for those who someday want to buy a car, take out a mortgage on a house, or take out a loan. Keep in mind that most credit card companies review the applicant’s credit history as well as their citizenship status. If applicants do not yet have a credit history because they have just moved from another country, they can still apply for a secured credit card or a credit institution loan until they increase their credit score.

Credit card approval challenges for international students

Some banks or credit card companies offer specific credit card products for the student market. But many have requirements that all students, whether foreign or not, must meet.

A student’s age, for example, is an important factor. Credit card companies have stricter rules for applicants under the age of 21 due to the CARD Act of 2009. Young students will need proof of independent income or bank statements showing regular deposits. Having a co-signer is also beneficial in showing the credit card issuer that the student is able to make payments on time, but not all banks allow co-signers.

Most credit card applications require an SSN, or at least an ITIN instead of an SSN. International students with an F-1 visa that provides authorization to work in the United States can apply for an SSN and thus be able to qualify for most student credit cards. Conversely, this means that students who are not working cannot benefit from most credit cards.

Credit card issuers analyze an applicant’s credit history before approving an application. International students probably don’t have a history yet, which will make the application process more difficult.

Tips for getting a credit card approved

Before applying for their first credit card, international students should start building a financial profile. The best methods to achieve this include:

  • Opening of a current account in an American bank. Having a checking account tells a credit card company that the applicant has monetary assets in the country. It may also be easier to apply for a credit card from the same bank later.
  • Sign a lease with a roommate. This shows that the student is responsible and lives locally.
  • Put utility bills in their name. International students can put utility bills in their name to start building a responsible financial history.
  • Find a part-time job. If a student qualifies for a job based on their visa, a part-time job will not only qualify them for an SSN or ITIN, but also prove that they are able to pay their credit card bill on time.
  • Speak with the international student office. The university’s student office probably has a lot of experience helping young international students strengthen their finances, including getting a first American credit card.

Credit card options for international students

Student credit cards

Student credit cards are designed specifically for young students who are very likely to apply for a first credit card. Most student cards offer good benefits like no annual fees, average interest rates, and cash back rewards.

International students must have a credit history (or at least a co-signer) and an SSN or ITIN to apply.

Secured credit cards

If an international student does not have a credit history, secured credit cards are the best solution.

Secure cards require a deposit which becomes the cardholder’s credit limit (usually at least a few hundred dollars). The card can be used like any other credit card to make purchases that do not exceed the credit limit. Monthly payments will be reported to one of the major credit bureaus.

Cardholders need to use their credit at a low level and make payments on time in order to establish their credit score. Most secure credit cards require an SSN or ITIN to apply.

Become an authorized user

Becoming an authorized user on someone else’s credit card account excludes the need for an SSN or ITIN. Anyone with no credit history can begin to build their credit score, but doing so is very risky for the original cardholder who will be financially responsible for all purchasing activities of authorized users.

If a student knows someone who is willing to take this risk, it is a good idea to have a spending and payment plan in place so that the original cardholder does not ruin their own credit. Call the number on the back of the card to make sure the credit card company reports authorized user activity to a credit bureau.

Challenges for immigrants

Permanent residents and immigrants can face challenges just like international students, but with another level of difficulty. While permanent residents may already have an SSN, undocumented immigrants likely do not have any legal ID to apply for a credit card. A lack of credit history is a no-starter for most types of credit cards.

Stay away from predatory lenders who tend to target vulnerable populations like immigrants. These loans may seem like a great way to get money fast, but they usually come with extremely high interest rates and additional fees that regular lenders don’t charge.

Tips for getting a credit card approved

Permanent residents can follow these tips to have a better chance of getting approved for a first credit card. Undocumented immigrants may not be able to do this:

  • Request an SSN or an ITIN. Permanent residents or immigrants authorized to work in the United States should apply for an SSN as soon as possible. This will allow them to get a job and apply for a first credit card. If an immigrant does not qualify for an SSN, an ITIN may still be an option.
  • Open a checking account at a US bank. Like international students, recent immigrants should open their first bank account in the United States as soon as possible to show that they have monetary assets in the country. Regular deposits will show that a person is able to repay any future credit card payments.
  • Apply for a builder credit. Credit loans are designed to help people build their credit history by lending the applicant a predetermined amount of money in a savings account. The loan holder then repays the loaned amount in monthly installments. As long as the payments are made on time each month, the loan holder will establish a positive credit history.

Credit card options for immigrants

Credit cards that accept ITINs

Some credit card companies accept ITINs instead of SSNs. These are a good option for those who do not yet qualify for an SSN. Applicants can check if ITINs are accepted during the application process or they can call ahead to find out.

Secured credit cards

Secured credit cards are a great option for immigrants who do not yet have a sufficient credit history to apply for a regular credit card. The applicant will have to pay a security deposit to the card issuer which then becomes the credit limit of the card. The card can be used like any other credit card to make purchases. Once the cardholder has accumulated a positive line of credit over several months, they can pay off the balance, close the account, get their deposit back, and then apply for a better credit card.

Become an authorized user

Just like international students, immigrants also have the option of becoming an authorized user on someone’s credit card account. This will allow the user to create a positive credit history until they get their own credit card.

Only ask a trusted friend or family member to do this, as this poses a significant financial risk to the original account holder. Make sure you have a spending and payment plan in place to prevent the account holder from ruining their own credit. Call the number on the back of the card to ensure that the credit card issuer reports authorized user activity to a credit bureau.

Options for undocumented migrants

Undocumented immigrants are generally not eligible for an SSN or an ITIN, which makes obtaining a credit card much more difficult. Finding a credit card that doesn’t require at least some form of legal financial identification is nearly impossible.

There is technically no law that explicitly prevents banks from issuing credit cards to undocumented workers. Some local community banks or credit unions can help undocumented migrants find a credit card. Local advocacy groups can help.

Final result

International students and all types of immigrants face challenges when applying for their first credit card. Typically, they must have an SSN or at least an ITIN to apply. A positive credit history may also be required to be approved.

Fortunately, there are a few options. If they don’t qualify for a regular credit card, international students and immigrants can apply for a secured credit card, become an authorized user on someone else’s account, or create credit with a loan from credit. After building up a positive credit line and receiving an SSN, a future cardholder can apply for a first solo credit card.


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