Key takeaways

  • International students can get credit cards, but you'll likely need an ITIN or someone who'll let you become an authorized user on their card. A U.S. bank account can help, too.
  • If you're under 21, you'll need an adult co-signer or a way to prove you can repay your debts, like a part-time job.
  • Some types of international student credit cards include student credit cards, secured credit cards and prepaid credit cards.

Understanding how to get a credit card can already be overwhelming, and the process can seem even more daunting as an international student. Having access to credit is important for small conveniences like making purchases when cash is not always handy, and it can be a key step in establishing yourself in the U.S.

There are ways to get a credit card as an international student, and some of the most common include getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or Social Security Number (SSN), opening a U.S. bank account, or becoming an authorized user on someone else’s account.

Can international students get a credit card?

In short, yes, though there are notable factors that go into how international students get credit cards. When applying for a credit card, whether you’re an international student or not, most issuers will check an applicant’s credit history. Most applications will also require an SSN, though some issuers will accept an ITIN or even a visa.

The Credit CARD Act of 2009 is a major piece of credit card legislation in the U.S. that prohibits students under 21 years old from being the primary holder of a line of credit unless they have an adult co-signer or can prove their ability to repay their debts. You can usually demonstrate your ability to repay by securing employment, such as a part-time job on campus.

Tips for getting a credit card as an international student

As an international student applying for a credit card, you may need different application materials, including your student visa, ITIN and unexpired identification. Plus, you still need to prove yourself as creditworthy, so here are a few more tips:

  • Open a U.S. bank account: A big part of getting approved for a credit card is proving you have a source of income. Establishing a monetary base in the U.S. by opening a checking account is a positive signal to lenders. And it may be easier to apply for a credit card issued by the bank with which you open an account — the established financial relationship works in your favor and your chances for approval may be higher.
  • Establish credit with new credit reporting tools: Once you have a U.S. bank account, you can use tools like UltraFICO™ and Experian Boost to report positive account activity to credit bureaus — like utility bills, subscriptions and rent payments — which can help boost your credit score.
  • Get a part-time job: Depending on your student visa, you may be able to secure part-time employment, which will qualify you for an SSN and serve as your proof of income for getting a credit card as an international student.

How to get a credit card without an SSN

Though most credit card applications will require an SSN, there are different ways you can gain access to credit without one. Here are three options for getting a card without an SSN:

  • Request an ITIN. Some credit card issuers will accept this number for a credit card application if you do not have an SSN. You can request an ITIN through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
  • Become an authorized user. If you know someone who is willing to let you become an authorized user on their card, you’ll then have access to credit this way. Your primary cardholder should understand that they are chiefly responsible for any debts you accrue. Not only that, but your credit scores will be intertwined. If you use your credit irresponsibly, it can harm the primary cardholder’s credit score, and vice versa.

Credit cards for international students

As an international student, you have options when it comes to applying for a credit card. Some of the most common are the following:

Common cards

  • These cards are crafted with students’ needs in mind, offering modest rewards on popular spending categories like dining, entertainment and streaming services. There are also lower barriers of entry, meaning you may qualify with limited or no credit history. Student credit cards are best for international students who have a steady income that’s already established and who plan to stay in the U.S. for a longer period of time.
  • A secured card is one that is backed by collateral, which is usually a security deposit from the cardholder. This deposit will often serve as the card’s credit limit, shielding lenders from some risk. A secured card can be an excellent credit-building tool over time as you work to establish a credit history in the U.S.
  • With a prepaid card, you won’t need to have a bank account linked to the card in any way, as you’ll load any funds directly onto the card whenever needed, similar to how you would use a gift card. The amount you have to spend on the card will always be the amount you deposit. Prepaid cards best suit international students looking for a short-term option and who don’t have an interest in opening a U.S. bank account or building up a credit history.

The bottom line

It may take some work, but you can access credit cards as an international student. Alternative forms of identification like ITINs, passports and visas can help. International students can open a U.S. bank account, sign up for a prepaid card or become an authorized user on someone else’s card. With a few solid workarounds, there’s a way for most people to access these credit-building tools.