America is indeed the land of opportunity, and thousands of immigrants come to the US every year to fulfill their version of the American dream. Many of these individuals left successful careers in their home countries or are students. Still, they all find that without a social security number (SSN), applying for a new credit card is difficult, if not impossible. Keep reading to learn what are the best credit cards options for immigrants and what you need to apply.
What We'll Cover
- Credit Decisions Rely Heavily on Your Credit Score
- How Non US Citizens or Undocumented Immigrants Can Get a Credit Card
- Best Credit Cards for Immigrants in The USA
- American Express Blue Cash Every Day®
- Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
- Tomo Credit Card
- Petal 1 Visa
- Petal 2 Visa
- Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
- Why a Non-US Citizen Should Have a Credit Card
- How to Apply for an ITIN
- The Bottom Line on the Best Credit Cards for Immigrants
Credit Decisions Rely Heavily on Your Credit Score
Lending in the 21st century is entirely automated, and credit decisions are made almost instantly. When you fill out an application for a credit card, whether in person at your bank or online, the lender relies on your credit score to determine whether you qualify for a credit card. If you're new to the US, you don't have enough of a credit file built to create an acceptable credit score for lenders. Credit reporting is not universal, so unfortunately, your excellent credit history doesn't transfer to the US credit reporting companies.
How Non US Citizens or Undocumented Immigrants Can Get a Credit Card
Non-citizens and new residents to the US can work around that lack of a social security number and credit score, and you can apply and be approved for a credit card. If you want to know how to get a credit card in the USA for new immigrants, carefully research your options. There are several cards available to immigrants that don't require a social security number to apply, and you may even have seen some advertised online. Access to these cards is a huge benefit, especially for students who have no credit history or SSN.
Here's a secret. Card issuers can't legally require you to provide a social security number on your application. The US does not have a federal ID system, so businesses use citizens' social security numbers instead.
What you'll do as an immigrant is apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which is used just like the SSN. It's a nine-digit number, and you'll use it when you fill out work forms, school forms, or any other documentation that asks for an SSN. The ITIN doesn't change your immigration status or make you eligible for social security benefits, but it does pave the way for credit cards and other loans. (We also include in this guide all the requirements and steps on how to apply for an ITIN)
Other Requirements for a Credit Card
Of course, you need more than an ITIN to get a credit card. Card issuers want to know that you can pay the monthly bill and that you are responsible enough to manage your credit limit. The card companies have other algorithms they use to determine credit worthiness, like how long you have had your job and if you pay your rent on time.
Best Credit Cards for Immigrants in The USA
Some credit cards are designed for new US residents and don't even ask for a social security number. Some of them may ask for an ITIN, and they each use a different formula for approving your application. These are the best credit cards for immigrants to the US.
American Express Blue Cash Every Day®
In 2019, American Express partnered with Nova Credit to translate some foreign credit reports to a US equivalent credit score. If you have a credit report in your native country, you don't need an SSN to apply for an AmEx. These are the countries that participate in this AmEx program:
- Dominican Republic
- United Kingdom
There's a lot of AmEx cards that don't charge an annual fee and the Blue Cash Every Day Card is one of them. But that is not the only good thing, if you spend $2,000 on your new card within your first 6 months, you will earn a $200 statement credit. Additionally, as its name states "Cash Everyday", you'll have the option to receive cash back whenever you shop at gas stations, grocery stores, and any other purchase you make with your card
- Zero annual fee
- 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases, then 14,24%-24,24% variable rate
- 3% Cash Back at grocery stores, 2% at gas stations and 1% any other purchase
- Has a Buy Now, Pay Later option plan to split up large purchase into monthly installments
- It has a 2,7% foreign transaction fee
- It does not include superstores, warehouse in the United States, consequently you'll only get 1% cash back on these stores
Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students
This card is designed for students studying abroad in the US. You can apply with your visa, passport, or other school-issued documents. They consider where you're in school, your major and future earnings potential, and what your bank balance is to make a decision.
- Zero annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
- Reports to three major credit bureaus
- High Annual Percentage Rate (APR)
Nerdwallet calls this the best card for international students.
Tomo Credit Card
Even if you don't have an ITIN, you can apply for a Tomo credit card. You do need a passport and can link your bank account to Tomo through a third-party servicer so the Tomo employees don't have access to your banking information. Tomo is a fintech company that has developed an underwriting algorithm to review your financial data to determine your creditworthiness. They look at things like your income and account balances instead of a credit score. Tomo does report to the credit bureaus, so you can start building your history with this card.
Tomo requires that you pay off your balance every month, so there is no APR.
- No credit check
- No security deposit or annual fee required
- Credit limit up to $10,000 or more
- 1% cash back rewards
- Balances cannot carry over; you must pay it in full every month
Petal 1 Visa
Petal Visa cards are great starter cards. You can apply online with your ITIN. Both carry no annual fee and report to all three credit bureaus. Petal 1 is a good choice if you have no credit history but good income since that's the primary qualifier. Both Petal Visas report to the three credit bureaus.
Here are the pros and cons of the Petal 1 Visa.
- Credit limit of up to $5,000
- No foreign transfer fees
- No annual fee
- 2-10% cash back from participating merchants
- High APR—up to 29,74 APR
- Rewards are limited to participating merchants
Petal 2 Visa
You can also apply online for a Petal 2 Visa. To do so, you will need your ITIN to apply. You will also need to be at least 18 years old and be a legal US resident. Here are the pros and cons of this card.
- No annual fees
- 1-1,5% cash back on eligible purchases
- No international fees
- Credit limit to $10,000
- Potentially high interest rate, up to 27,24%
Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
A secured card is one that requires a deposit into a savings account held by the card issuer, and your credit limit is typically the amount you have on deposit or secured. Capital One has the best secured program since a $49 deposit can get you a $200 credit limit. You do need a limited credit history for approval, but Capital One accepts a credit score as low as 300.
- You can get a higher credit limit than your deposit
- No annual fee
- No foreign transaction fees
- Capital One reviews your account after six months, and a good history could move you into an unsecured card where you get your deposit back
- High APRDeposit required
- No rewards program
Why a Non-US Citizen Should Have a Credit Card
In the US, credit is a way of life, so it’s important to find the best credit cards for non-U.S. citizens. Almost anything you do, from buying a new smartphone to buying a house, requires a lender to agree to loan you either money or equipment. If buying a house is your dream, then start by getting a credit card and building a good payment history. Don't get new credit cards just because you can, and pay off your balance every month. Here are some of the reasons you need a credit card (especially one of the best credit cards for immigrants):
- Cards are safer than cash and have fraud protection built in.
- You can handle a financial emergency, like a car repair or medical bill.
- You can rent a car.
- Potential employers check your credit report.
- You can get loans for cars or a house.
- Build your credit history.
How to Apply for an ITIN
Here's the easiest way to apply for an ITIN.
Go to the Internal Revenue Service website—IRS.gov.
- Search "apply for ITIN."
- Download and print the form, Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
- Complete the form.
Return the completed form and documentation to the IRS by US mail, or take it to any approved IRS acceptance agent, usually an accounting firm or IRS taxpayer assistance center for processing. You can find these agencies, listed by individual states, on the IRS.gov website.
Documents You'll Need to Submit to the IRS
The documents you’ll need to submit can include:
- Passport or visa
- National ID card from your home country
- Civil birth certificate
- Driver's license
- Voter registration card
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) photo ID
The IRS will send you your ITIN within six weeks, and you can apply for a credit card using that number.
The Bottom Line on the Best Credit Cards for Immigrants
If you're a recent arrival to the US, getting your ITIN is something you should do right away. It's not just a workaround to not having a social security number. You'll also need it to get a job and pay income taxes. There are some good credit cards you can get by simply linking your bank account (checking, saving, or investment accounts are all acceptable) to the card issuer, so you don't have to wait until the IRS issues your ITIN card.
Don't worry if the cards you can get as a new resident aren't as strong on cash back or rewards as the cards you used to have. You can get a strong start with many of the best credit cards for immigrants listed in this article. Then, as you rebuild your credit history in the US, you may be able to qualify for better reward and/or cash back cards after six months or a year of solid use and payments.