2022’s Best Credit Cards for International Students: Rewards, Low Fees & More

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The number of international students in the U.S. has hit an all-time high – nearly 1.1 million in 2019. Many of these students want to use credit cards and build credit, especially if their plan is to stay in the States after completing their education. However, getting a card as an international student can require a bit more research or a few more hurdles to jump.

This is because of a few things:

  • Lack of credit history in the U.S.: Creditworthiness is usually a key factor in card approvals. If you don’t have a FICO® Credit Score or any good credit history in the U.S. credit system, it can require some additional considerations or steps to get a card.
  • Restrictions for those under the age of 21: The CARD Act limits the availability of credit cards for those under the age of 21. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explains, “Among other things, the Act prohibits credit card issuers from extending credit without assessing the consumer’s ability to pay, with special rules regarding the extension of credit to persons under the age of 21.”
  • Requiring a Social Security number (SSN): Not all international students have an SSN, so if a card issuer requires it, you may not be eligible for its cards. Card issuers including American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi and U.S. Bank all note on their websites that they’ll accept applications with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Can an International Student Get a Credit Card in the U.S.?

Yes! It’s possible to get a credit card in the U.S. even if you’re only studying here temporarily. And it’s not necessarily difficult.

Several of our favorite cards for international students allow you to apply using your passport. This eliminates the need for an SSN or an ITIN, which many non-student cards – and some student cards, require.

With that said, you might be able to get an SSN if you’re studying with an F-1 or an M-1 Visa, opening up the possibility to apply for other great credit cards. Depending on your situation, however, you may also need other documents. For thorough, personalized help, try contacting your school’s international services department.

What Are the Best Credit Cards for International Students?

Here’s a quick snapshot of some cards tailored to international students (more to come about them later in this article):

  • Best for Easy Access for International Students: Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students
  • Best for Building and Monitoring Credit: Capital One Journey Student Card 
  • Best Secured Card with an ITIN: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
  • Best Secured Card with Rewards: Discover it® Secured
  • Best for Domestic Travel Rewards: Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Best for: Easy Access for International Students

Deserve® Edu Mastercard for Students

Pros

  • No SSN required to get approved: If you’re an international student, you’ll need to provide a copy of your student visa, passport ID, school document (e.g. I-20 or DS 2019), and proof of a U.S. bank account balance. However, you should submit your SSN later if you get one so Deserve can report your payment activity to the credit bureaus.
  • Other factors considered when applying: Your education, future employability and earning potential can help when the company is reviewing your application.
  • Rewards: You receive 1% cash back on everything you buy. It’s not much, but for those with no credit history, it’s not too bad.
  • Intro bonus: You receive a one year Amazon Prime Student subscription for spending $500 in the first three billing cycles
  • Added perks: Various statement credits. Also, like with many other credit cards, you get purchase protection, an extended warranty and other protection benefits.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Better rewards offered by other cards: Many travel reward cards offer better benefits for frequent international travel (if you can get approved for them).
  • Requires bank account access: Deserve may require access to your bank account transaction details as part of the underwriting process.

How international students can best use the card

This card is very accessible to most international college students because it doesn’t require an SSN, and Deserve weighs in some extra factors in the application decision that students usually benefit from as more education improves your future earning potential.

You can also save on costs that many students incur, like Amazon shipping and cell phone insurance. If you put your cell phone bill on the card, you’ll get up to $600 in cell phone insurance for theft and damage coverage.

Best for: Building and Monitoring Credit

Capital One Journey Student Card 

Pros

  • No SSN required for approval: You can apply with an ITIN or passport from your home country.
  • Rewards: You receive 1% cash back on everything you buy, which goes up to 1.25% when you make on-time payments.
  • Credit monitoring: Keep tabs on your credit with the Capital One CreditWise® credit monitoring service, which is a bit more comprehensive than similar services from some other issuers. You can see your FICO® Score 8 based on your TransUnion® credit report whenever you’d like, plus other info from that report. Actually, anyone can sign up for this service for free – no need to be a cardholder.
  • $60 streaming credit: You receive $5 per month for 12 months on select streaming services, when you pay on time
  • Higher credit line access: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months. A credit limit increase may help you build credit faster because it can keep your credit utilization lower. If you have available credit you’re not using, potential lenders and creditors may see you as a lower credit risk.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Better rewards offered by other cards: As mentioned above, other travel reward cards offer better benefits for frequent international travel. But other than that, we don’t really have any gripes with this card.

How international students can best use the card

This is a pretty solid student card, although you don’t actually have to be a student to apply for it. As long as you pay your credit card bill on time (which is always a good idea to avoid late fees and interest, as well as build a solid payment history), it can help you improve your credit scores more quickly since you may be considered for a credit limit increase after six months of card use.

This can improve your overall credit utilization – the sum of all balances compared to the sum of all credit limits. But that’s only if your typical monthly credit card spending remains about the same.

Best Secured Card With an ITIN

Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card

Pros

  • No SSN required for approval: You can apply with just an ITIN.
  • Made for limited or no credit: Secured cards are tailored to consumers who need to build or rebuild credit, so there are usually fewer requirements; the main thing you need is a deposit to cover your credit limit.
  • Higher credit line access: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months. (It’s still important you pay off your card balance each month on time).
  • Added perks: You can use Capital One’s CreditWise® service to monitor your credit and see how it improves over time. Plus, for a secured card, you also get a decent selection of shopping and travel protections.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • No rewards: Secured credit cards don’t usually offer rewards.
  • Deposit needed: As with any secured credit card, you need to make a security deposit at the time of account opening. Make the minimum required deposit ($49, $99 or $200) and you’ll get an initial credit line of $200. If you deposit more before your account opens you can get a higher credit line – up to $1,000 for a $1,000 deposit.

How international students can best use the card

This card is helpful for students who don’t have an SSN and just want an opportunity to build credit. You can use a secured card to establish a solid credit history, and then apply for another card that offers better benefits when your situation allows.

Best Secured Card With Rewards

Discover it® Secured

Pros

  • Made for limited or no credit: As with the above-secured credit card, this Discover card is tailored to consumers who need to build or rebuild credit. So, the main factor is being able to make a deposit to cover your credit limit amount.
  • Rewards: You earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations in the U.S., up to $1,000 spent per quarter. You earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Discover even doubles your cash back the first year you have the card.
  • Balance Transfer APR: Rare for a secured card, but there are better offers out there if you have decent credit.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • SSN needed to apply.
  • Deposit needed: The minimum required deposit is $200 and the maximum is $2,500. Your credit line will be equal to your deposit. Here, your maximum credit limit will be determined by factors like your income and ability to pay.

How international students can best use the card

You’ll need an SSN for this card, so it might not be accessible to many international students. But it should be on your radar if you’re planning to get one or already have.

If you spend a lot of money on gas and/or eating out, you can earn a decent amount of cash back as you work to improve your credit. This is one of the only secured cards offering rewards, and they’re pretty good rewards at that!

Best for: Domestic Travel Rewards

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Credit Card for Students

Pros

  • No SSN required for approval: You can apply with just an ITIN.
  • Rewards: You get 3% cash back in one category of your choice, which you can change each month. Choose from travel (which can be nice if you’re planning trips within the U.S.) and other categories, like online shopping and dining. You get 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs as well as 1% back on everything else (3% and 2% rewards are limited to $2,500 spent per quarter).
  • Introductory bonus: You can earn a $200 cash reward bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days with the card. This is one of the few credit cards international students may get with a sign-up bonus, which is a pretty big one.
  • Other perks: You receive a 0% intro APR for 15 billing cycles (then 13.99% – 23.99% Variable) and free FICO® Score 8 from TransUnion®.
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Changing categories might be a hassle
  • Foreign transaction fee: At 3%, this card might be best for domestic travel only.
  • Fees: While you should always pay your bill on time, if you do pay late, you’ll be hit with a $39 late fee and a higher penalty APR. Other cards in this post are more forgiving.

How international students can best use the card

This card can help you rack up rewards quickly if you travel a lot within the U.S or can make good use of the other bonus categories. However, if you’d prefer a more simplified rewards structure, another card may be a better fit.

What Makes a Great Credit Card for International Students?

There are a few things that international students should look for in a credit card:

  • No fees: Look for a card with no annual fee or foreign transaction fees to get started.
  • Available to non-U.S. citizens: Each credit card has different requirements for getting approved. Some are available for non-citizens and students with an ITIN or SSN. According to the IRS, “Most foreign students and scholars in F-1, J-1, M-1, Q-1, and Q-2 nonimmigrant status are eligible to be employed in the [U.S.], and are therefore eligible to apply for an SSN if they are employed in the [U.S.].”
  • Offered to people with little or no credit: People new to the U.S. are more likely to get declined for a card because of a lack of credit history. Secured credit cards and starter credit cards often have fewer requirements to get approved, as they’re made to help those in this credit situation.
  • Helps build credit: A debit card won’t help you build credit, whereas a credit card can and provides access to more credit options in the future. If you get a card that reports to the three main credit bureaus (all of the major card issuers do), you can build credit history – always assume the caveat “if used responsibly.” Just make sure to make on-time payments and pay off your balance each month to avoid paying any interest.
  • Rewards: Many students can benefit from rewards on food and travel (for visiting family back home or other trips abroad). While many starter cards don’t have great rewards, you may be able to find something that works for you.

The Bottom Line on Cards for International Students

It’s no surprise that secured, student and starter cards offer your best bet to get approved for a credit card and build credit in the U.S.

Students in the States don’t have to get a new credit card while in the country, of course. You can often use a card from your home country (though it’s important to check for any foreign transaction fees). Another option is getting a debit card from a U.S. bank. Though, you should know that neither of these options will help you build credit with the U.S. credit bureaus (Equifax®, Experian and TransUnion®) and U.S. credit scoring models (e.g. FICO®, VantageScore®).

If you get a bank account with a smaller local bank, credit union or even major bank, like Bank of America, you may be able to work with it to get a credit card by leveraging your personal bank account. It may help to go into a branch to speak with a representative.

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