Applying for a credit card as an international student in the United States can be challenging — but it’s not impossible. And if you plan to stay in the U.S. after you graduate, having an established credit history through an international student credit card can be instrumental as you start the next phase of your life, from getting a job to buying a car or a house.
Wondering how to get a credit card as an international student? Our guide will walk you through the typical requirements, and the steps for an international student to apply for a credit card.
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Benefits of Having a Credit Card as an International Student
Getting a credit card as an international student can have a number of benefits:
• Spending with ease: When you’re attending college in the U.S., you’ll have to pay more than tuition. Having a U.S. credit card can make it easier to pay for monthly expenses like groceries and entertainment. Even if you have a credit card issued in your home country, getting a card from a U.S.-based credit card issuer can be a good idea; cards from other countries might charge foreign transaction fees here in the States.
• Establishing credit in the U.S.: International students in the United States likely do not yet have a U.S. credit score. Having a credit history is important for things like applying for a job, getting approved to rent a home, and buying a car. If you plan to remain in the United States after graduation, establishing credit history as a student with a credit card can be a good idea.
• Learning how to manage credit: Whether you plan to remain in the United States after graduation or return home, learning how to use a credit card responsibly can be an important lesson. As a student with fewer bills, now might be a good time to learn how credit cards work and get used to the monthly payments and interest rates.
Disadvantages of Having a Credit Card as an International Student
Applying for an international student credit card can also have its drawbacks:
• Difficult requirements: Getting a credit card as an international student is usually more challenging than it is for U.S. citizens. Students who are already overwhelmed by a new place with a new culture — plus their challenging curriculum — may not have the time or energy to apply for a credit card.
• No effect on credit score back home: Getting a credit card from a U.S. credit card issuer is a good step toward establishing a credit history in the United States. Students who plan to return to their home countries after college, however, will not see a benefit to their credit scores back home by using a U.S.-issued card.
Typical Credit Card Requirements for International Students
So can an international student get a credit card? Yes — but they may have a harder time than the average U.S. student.
Typically, you will need a Social Security number (SSN) to apply for a credit card. Some issuers may accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification number (ITIN), which can be easier for international students to obtain. While most credit cards will require a SSN or ITIN, you might be able to find a credit card issuer that only requires a passport.
Applying for a Social Security Number
Even if you are not a U.S. citizen, you may be able to apply for a Social Security number. For example, if you have an F-1 student visa (or another type of student visa), you might be eligible to apply, though you may need to have a part-time job and receive the proper authorization first.
Review the Social Security Administration’s guidelines , and don’t be afraid to ask a member of your school’s international student office for assistance. The advisors there are likely well-versed in common international student challenges, including applying for a Social Security number.
If you are having trouble getting a Social Security number, try instead to get an ITIN through the IRS. The IRS offers guidelines for obtaining an ITIN as a foreign student, but again, your international student office can likely walk through the process with you.
Applying for Credit Cards
Once you’ve gotten a Social Security number (or an ITIN), you may be wondering, how can an international student get a credit card? Start by looking for relevant credit card offers. Many credit card issuers offer cards specifically targeted at students.
Note that you will need to provide a permanent address for your application. You can use your U.S.-based school address for this field.
Tips for Avoiding Credit Card Rejections as an International Student
Because nobody likes rejection — and because multiple hard inquiries for credit card applications might eventually take a toll on your credit score — it’s important to avoid credit card rejections. Here are some tips for improving your chances of approval:
• Open a bank account. Having a checking or savings account can improve your success rate. It also simplifies money management while you’re here in the States.
• Get a part-time job. Having a job might be a requirement to get your Social Security number. Having a steady income is a sign to creditors that you are reliable enough to lend money to. Just check with your advisor to ensure you are allowed to seek employment as an international student.
• Consider a secured credit card. Secured credit cards require a security deposit, often equal to the credit limit for the card in question. Because these cards are backed by collateral, they pose less risk to the credit card issuer and thus make it easier for those with bad or no credit to get approved. After you use your secured credit card responsibly for several months, you might have a strong enough credit score to apply for an unsecured card. Just make sure the card issuer reports usage of the secured card to the credit bureaus to ensure an impact to your score.
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Using a Credit Card Responsibly
Responsible credit card usage is a good way to improve your credit score. When you get your international student credit card, be sure to follow our general credit card rules to improve your chances of raising your credit score.
In general, responsible credit card usage entails:
• Avoiding impulse purchases.
• Signing up for automatic payments.
• Regularly checking your statements.
Paying your card off in full each month and maintaining a low credit utilization — meaning the amount of credit you’re currently using compared to the total credit you have available — are good ways to build a solid credit history. Following these guidelines can also help you to avoid some of the costs of credit cards, such as late payment fees and interest charges.
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International students can apply for a credit card while studying here in the United States. Doing so can allow you to establish a credit history in the U.S. and spend money more easily during your time here. Applying for an international student credit card is more complicated, however, and typically requires a Social Security number or Individual Taxpayer Identification number.
Are you looking for the right credit card during your time in the U.S.? You might consider getting a credit card through SoFi.
The SoFi Credit Card offers unlimited 2% cash back on all eligible purchases. There are no spending categories or reward caps to worry about.1
What is a good credit card interest rate for international students?
Interest rates will vary by credit card, but some of the best international student credit cards offer APRs between 13% and 29%.
Do I need a Social Security number to open a credit card?
Having a Social Security number is a common requirement for opening a credit card, but many issuers will accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification number instead. Some credit card issuers may even accept only a passport for the credit card application.
Do international students have to use a secured credit card?
International students may have an easier time getting approved for a secured credit card, but it is not the only option. If a student has an established credit history in the United States, they might be able to get approved for a specific unsecured credit card designed for students. Some cards might even offer basic rewards.
1See Rewards Details at SoFi.com/card/rewards.
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1Members earn 2 rewards points for every dollar spent on purchases. No rewards points will be earned with respect to reversed transactions, returned purchases, or other similar transactions. When you elect to redeem rewards points into your SoFi Checking or Savings account, SoFi Money® account, SoFi Active Invest account, SoFi Credit Card account, or SoFi Personal, Private Student, or Student Loan Refinance, your rewards points will redeem at a rate of 1 cent per every point. For more details please visit the Rewards page. Brokerage and Active investing products offered through SoFi Securities LLC, member FINRA/SIPC. SoFi Securities LLC is an affiliate of SoFi Bank, N.A.
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