How International Students Can Get Credit Cards [+ Best Options]

Updated on April 9, 2024

Every year, bright and eager international students from all over the world move to the United States to make the country their new home.

Adapting to life in America can be quite perplexing, especially when it comes to concepts that are foreign to you — like building credit as an immigrant.

In this article, we will be helping you understand how you can best manage your financial life in the United States as an international student by getting an international student credit card.

Read More: We’ll cover credits cards for international students here in-depth. If you want to know more about car leases for international students, we recommend our guide, How International Students Can Lease or Buy A Car.

5 Best Credit Cards for International Students [Reviewed]

Since it is nearly impossible to get a credit card without a credit history in the United States, you will have to start building your credit in other clever ways. The solution to eventually getting a real credit card is to start with baby steps: first, get a secured credit card.

These cards are not officially credit cards but they are useful in helping you achieve your eventual goal of obtaining an unsecured credit card.

Below we outline and review some of the best secured credit cards you should consider getting as an international student.

1. CapitalOne Secured Mastercard

With the CapitalOne Secured Mastercard, you could get a $200 line of credit for as little as $49, $99, or $200. As you use your card responsibly, you open yourself up to qualifying for a credit limit upgrade in less than 6 months.

2. Discover It Secured Card

If you want to build credit while earning rewards and do not want to pay an annual fee, consider the Discover it Secured Card! You can earn up to 2% cash back while pumping gas and eating out at restaurants!

3. US Bank Secured Visa Card

This is the best card if you want to eventually move to an unsecured credit card. If you demonstrate a year of responsible use, you can request to upgrade to an unsecured credit card. This card has an annual fee of $29 dollars.

4. First Progress Platinum Prestige MasterCard Secured Credit Card

If you expect to carry your balance over sometimes, then you should opt for this special APR deal. This card has an APR  that’s under 10%, which will make paying back the balance on your card easier if you find yourself strapped for cash.

5. OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card

The OpenSky credit card might be the best option for international students. Not only does it not require credit checks, but it also submits your credit report to the 3 major credit bureaus —great for building your credit!

All in all, there are tons of secured credit cards you can choose to get on the path to building your credit in the United States. Look at all of your options and see which card best fits your needs.

Although it does not come with any rewards and has an annual fee of $35, our favorite secured credit card for international students is the OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card. The card is easy to obtain and is effective for building your credit card reputation in the United States.

For even more options10 Credit Card Options for International Students Without an SSN

It’s Difficult For International Students to Get a Credit Card. Here’s Why.

When a resident alien living in the United States tries to get a credit card, it is normal for him to get declined due to a bad or a limited credit history. You might be thinking:

“But I have wonderful credit back in my home country!”

You might have an outstanding financial record at home, but in most cases, unfortunately, your record does not mean much in the US. Therefore, most people only have the opportunity to get a debit card or checking account and not a credit card in the US, which prevents them from being able to build credit.

The reason your credit history from back home does not count in the United States is that your country most likely does not report its financial records to the major US-based credit bureaus. This would be the only way for your credit record to be accepted in the United States.

How Does Credit Work in the United States?

3 major US credit bureaus evaluate your credit history and that history is used to calculate a credit score that banks and lenders use to assess whether you are a high-risk or low-risk borrower.

If your credit score or FICO score labels you as a high-risk borrower to lenders, you won’t be able to take loans or get credit cards.

If you have come across this article, it is probably because you have faced this exact credit card issue.

Your credit history will have to start at zero.

That means that if you are new to the United States and it is your first time living in America, you will enter the country with a credit history of zero.

Because of this, we recommend that you start building up your credit right away upon arrival to the United States, even if you don’t plan to borrow money from the bank any time soon.

As for your potential future in the United States — even if you plan on returning home after your studies, it won’t hurt to build credit in case you decide to stay for a longer time. You never know what opportunities will spring up at you while you are living in the United States!

When it comes to how credit can affect your life in the United States, we have your answers below!

Why is it Important for International Students to Build Credit?

Building credit in the US is like building your reputation —and your reputation is key to achieving financial success in America.

Here’s a real example of why it’s important to build credit:

Let’s say you move to the USA to attend a university, and then decide to keep living in the United States after finishing your studies. You will most likely have to think about:

  • Leasing or buying a car
  • Renting or buying a home
  • Paying off big-ticket items for your new home
  • Getting a phone plan
  • Getting a job

When you get to this point, you will need to get a loan to make your large monthly payments for what you want to purchase. (Unless you have thousands of dollars to spend at your disposal, which is usually not the case.)

In order to get a loan approved for such a large amount of money, you will have to show banks and lenders that you are capable of paying back such large sums of money.

For instance, if you want to rent an apartment, you will need to show adequate credit history that demonstrates to your landlord that you can pay your rent on time. If you don’t have a credit history, there is no proof of how you deal with your finances, and hence, you probably won’t be able to get the apartment you had your eyes on.

In other cases, your future employer might check up on your credit history to see whether you are a reliable person he can contract for the job, making your credit history an important factor even in securing your dream job.

In any case, having good credit will definitely improve your life in the United States, which is why it is important to think about it once you decide to make the move across the pond!

Is all this credit talk starting to make a bit more sense? We hope so!

Now let’s get down to the nitty and gritty of it and go over what you should know before getting a credit card, as well as what options are available to you!

And if you want to know more about the basics of credit and how to establish it here in the U.S., check out our guides!

How to Build Credit

No Credit History vs Bad Credit: What’s the Difference and How Do You Fix it?

Other Options For Getting Your Credit Card in the United States

If you have trouble getting a normal or secured credit card, there are some other options for you to build up your credit in the United States. We’ve listed those options below.

1. Obtain a Credit Card From Your Home Country

In case you need a credit card in the United States for traveling and any other spending, consider bringing a credit card from back home with you. They might have high exchange rates and charge you higher amounts, but these cards can help you out in case of emergencies. Remember to use your credit card from your home country only when necessary.

2. Use your International Bank

Take advantage of your international bank account if you have one. You or your parents may have an account at an international bank in your home country that you can use to open an account in the United States. This could make getting a credit card even easier if you are already a customer of the bank and thus have a financial record.

3. Get a Debit Card

Getting a debit card in the United States is something any international student can do, regardless of credit. Although a debit card will not build your credit, the bank you get your card from might consider issuing you a credit card if you can show responsibility by managing the finances of your checking account.

4. Take Advantage of Credit Card Offers for New Immigrants

Nowadays, there are several financial institutions that pride themselves in giving out credit cards to new immigrants.

One of these companies is called Deserve (formerly known as “Self Serve”). The company offers a special credit card for international students only. In addition, they report your credit card activity to the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Any credit card institutions where you get a credit card offered needs to report your credit activity to these bureaus. If they don’t, you won’t be able to build up your credit history!

Build your credit with theseBest Credit Cards for No Credit History.

5. Get Help From a Cosigner

Similarly to a loan, you can get an international student loan cosigner if you want to have a credit card but can’t get one by yourself. If you have any family members living in the US, you can try to convince them to cosign a credit card for you.

Remember that your cosigner needs to have a good credit history in order to co-sign for your card. Your cosigner will be the owner of your debt if you are not able to pay for it.

6. Rent an Apartment and Build up Your Credit

Some apartment landlords report your monthly payment history to credit bureaus. If you are getting an apartment, ask your landlord if he will be able to report your finances to a credit bureau. This is a really great opportunity to start building your credit as an international student somewhere other than a bank.

Requirements for a Secured Credit Card

The only problem with a secured card is that the credit card issuer might want to see:

  • Your permanent address
  • Your taxpayer ID number: Although you might not need to provide a social security number, you might be asked for your taxpayer ID number. A social security number is given out to individuals who are authorized to work in the United States. If you are a student, you might not have this number.
  • Your job: This shows whether you have the funds to pay back your credit.
  • Your checking account

When you arrive in the United States, you need to prepare these things ahead of time in order to get your secured credit card. Look at the different requirements for a secured credit card and see what you can prepare ahead of time.

If you find yourself out of luck, there other options available to you for getting a credit card in the US, so do not freak out!

Example of how to build your credit with a secured credit card:

Let’s say you want your credit card limit to be $500. You would have to put $500 in as a deposit for your credit card and then spend time paying it off through the month.

If you are not able to pay back the card, the credit card issuer simply takes the $500 from your deposited money to pay back the charges. This completely removes the risk from the credit card issuer since you cannot spend more than you deposit.

How do you build up your credit with a secured credit card?

Virtually anyone can get a secured credit card depending on the credit card issuer. On top of the easy eligibility requirements, the process of getting one is pretty simple considering the fact that you don’t need to show your credit history.

When you want to open a secured credit card, the only thing you will need to do is place a deposit on your card; this deposit will double as your credit card limit.

Beware of These 3 Things When Choosing a Credit Card

When you first get your credit card, there are a few things you need to consider before signing the papers:

1. The Credit Card Institution Should Report to Credit Bureaus

If you decide to get a credit card, make sure that your desired company actually reports to the main credit bureaus. Your main goal is to build up your credit, and that can only happen if your credit history is getting reported to a credit bureau on a monthly basis.

2. Credit Card Fees

As you probably know, all credit card institutions offer different credit card fees. Make sure that the fees you pay are reasonable and that you don’t have to pay more than $40 a year for your credit card.

When it comes to balance transfers, a reasonable fee is somewhere between 3% and 5%, and a fee of 3% for foreign transactions. Make sure to keep an eye on this number when choosing your credit card since there are many credit card institutions that take advantage of immigrants with unreasonably high fees.

3. Going From a Secured Credit Card to a Normal Credit Card

Another important thing you have to investigate is whether the credit card institution lets you go from a secured credit card to an unsecured credit card. Ask your institution when you will be able to get an unsecured card and whether you will be required to open a new account or not.

You want to look for a credit card issuer that does not require you to open a new account because opening up a new account might drop your credit score. Make sure to always ask about this, and read the terms and conditions carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How can international students apply for a credit card in the U.S.?

International students can apply for a credit card by finding banks or credit card companies that offer products tailored for people without a U.S. credit history. They typically need to provide identification documents, proof of enrollment, and sometimes proof of income or a Social Security Number (SSN).

Do international students need a Social Security Number to get a credit card?

While many credit card applications require a Social Security Number (SSN), some companies offer cards to international students without an SSN. In such cases, you may need to provide your passport, visa information, and proof of academic enrollment.

What types of credit cards are available to international students?

International students can access secured credit cards, student credit cards specifically designed for college students, and cards offered by banks specializing in services for international students.

What is a secured credit card?

A secured credit card requires a cash deposit that acts as collateral and usually becomes the credit limit. This type of card is often more accessible for those with limited or no credit history.

Are there credit cards without annual fees for international students?

Yes, there are credit cards available for international students that do not charge annual fees. It’s important to read the terms and conditions to understand the fee structure.

How can international students build credit with a credit card?

International students can build credit by using their credit card for small purchases and paying the full balance on time every month. Maintaining a low credit utilization ratio (below 30%) is also key to building a good credit score.

Can international students apply for credit cards with major U.S. banks?

Some major U.S. banks offer credit card options for international students. It’s advisable to compare offers from various banks and financial institutions to find the best fit.

What documentation is needed to apply for a credit card as an international student?

Typically, international students need to provide their passport, student visa, proof of college enrollment, address in the U.S., and sometimes financial documents like bank statements or proof of income.

How does the application process differ for international students?

The application process for international students may involve more documentation related to their immigration status and academic enrollment. Banks may also have specific products tailored to the needs of international students.

What should international students be cautious of when applying for credit cards?

International students should be aware of high-interest rates, hidden fees, and the implications of not paying the balance in full. It’s important to understand the terms of the credit card to avoid getting into debt.

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