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- International students who don't have a Social Security number (SSN) can typically apply for a U.S. credit card if they have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
- The best credit cards for international students will come with rewards on spending and no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
- If you're unable to qualify for an unsecured credit card, consider applying for a secured credit card, which requires a security deposit to open an account
Applying for a credit card can seem daunting when you don’t have a Social Security number (SSN), and that’s especially true if you’re a non-citizen who is pursuing higher education in the U.S. After all, the lack of an SSN can put you out of the running for many of the best credit cards available, and having no credit history doesn’t help, either.
Fortunately, there are credit cards for international students available, and some of them don’t require a Social Security number or a lengthy credit history. The key to getting a credit card as an international student is knowing which cards you may be eligible for and then figuring out what information you need to apply.
Best credit cards for international students in the U.S.
Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students: Best for Amazon Prime benefits
The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students* doesn’t require applicants to have a Social Security number, making it a great choice for international students. It also doesn’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees, and it doesn’t require a security deposit since it’s an unsecured credit card.
As a welcome offer, you can get an Amazon Prime Student subscription reimbursement (worth up to $59) after spending $500 in the first three months of card membership and using your card to pay for an Amazon Prime Student subscription. You’ll also earn 1 percent cash back for each dollar you spend.
Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card: Best for credit limit potential
The Petal® 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa® Credit Card lets you apply without a Social Security number, provided you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The ITIN is commonly used by international students and other non-citizens for the purpose of federal income tax reporting.
If you have an ITIN, you can apply for the Petal 2 Visa Credit Card and begin earning 1 percent back on all your spending. You’ll even graduate to 1.25 percent with six months of on-time payments on your card, and then 1.5 percent back after 12 months of on-time payments. This card comes with a minimum credit limit of $300 and the limit can go up to $10,000 depending on creditworthiness. The card doesn’t charge an annual fee or any foreign transaction fees, and it has a mobile app that lets you track spending and payments on the go.
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for dining and entertainment
The Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card allows you to apply with an ITIN, and it offers a stunning 3 percent cash back on categories students can take advantage of. Categories include dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and grocery stores (excluding superstores like Walmart and Target). You’ll also earn 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, 8 percent cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases, 10 percent cash back on purchases made through Uber and Uber Eats and 1 percent cash back on everything else.
Plus, cash back rewards accumulated with Capital One cards don’t expire as long as the account is active and in good standing. There are also no foreign transaction fees or annual fees, and students may be able to qualify with fair credit.
Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat cash back
The Capital One Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards Credit Card lets students apply with an ITIN instead of an SSN. Cardholders can earn a flat 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases and 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.
The Quicksilver Student Cash Rewards doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees or annual fees, and it’s available for students with fair credit or better. Cardholders can also redeem rewards in the form of statement credits, checks, gift cards or purchases on Amazon or via PayPal.
Chase Freedom Student credit card: Best for earning additional rewards
As an international student, you can apply for the Chase Freedom® Student credit card* using an ITIN instead of a Social Security number. You can earn a flat cash back rate of 1 percent on all purchases, plus 5 percent cash back on Lyft rides (through March 31, 2025). Further, you can earn $20 in Good Standing Rewards after each account anniversary (for up to five years) and a $50 sign-up bonus after making your first purchase within three months of opening the card.
Other benefits include free credit score access and no annual fees. The downside is that this card does charge a 3 percent foreign transaction fee, which could make traveling outside of the U.S. a pain.
Journey Student Rewards from Capital One: Best for studying abroad
The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One* lets students apply with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number. It also doesn’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fees. Cardholders will earn 1 percent cash back on all purchases (1.25 percent back when they pay their credit card bill on time) and gain access to Capital One Travel. Plus, Capital One will also automatically review your account for a credit line increase after six months.
How to get a credit card as an international student
If you’re wondering how to get a credit card as an international student, there are some best practices that can increase your chances of success. Consider the following tips as you decide when to apply:
- Consider looking for credit cards in your home country first. If you go this route, make sure to look for a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
- If you want a U.S. credit card for international students, wait until you arrive in the United States. Many U.S. credit cards require a stateside address before you can get approved.
- See if you can get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Without an SSN, you’ll be more likely to get a U.S. credit card if you have an ITIN. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a page on its website with information for international students who want to apply for an ITIN.
- See if you can qualify for a Social Security number. Some students, including those with F-1 visas, may be eligible for an SSN, which could open the door to a wider variety of credit cards. Once again, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a dedicated webpage for students who want to apply for an SSN.
How to choose a credit card as an international student
Students who are hoping to build credit or earn rewards should make sure to compare several credit card options to find the right fit. For example, international students will want to give preference to credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees. That way, they can use a credit card within the U.S. and when they head home for visits without worrying about racking up extra charges.
Other key benefits for international students to look for include rewards for spending and no annual fees. Some credit cards for students also offer automatic credit line increases after making enough on-time payments.
However, if you’re struggling to get approved for the credit card you really want, you can also consider a secured credit card at first. This type of credit card requires a cash deposit as collateral, but your on-time payments will be reported to the three credit bureaus, so it can help you to build your credit.
A secured credit card can be a great first step to establishing a credit history in the U.S. Not only can it help you build credit, but it can also help you access higher credit lines. Later on, you might be able to qualify for a better rewards credit card.
As long as the credit card issuer accepts Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) as a substitute for Social Security numbers, international students that have an ITIN are eligible to apply for credit cards. However, if a student has a very limited credit history or no credit history at all, it may be difficult to get approved.
Yes. Some credit card issuers, like Capital One and Chase, accept ITINs in lieu of Social Security numbers for student credit card applications.
The best credit card for international students in the U.S. is one that is accessible to students who don’t have a Social Security number, has high rewards rates in the categories they spend in and charges no annual fee or foreign transaction fees.
The bottom line
Choosing a credit card as an international student in the U.S. all comes down to finding the best one for you. If you prefer to dine out with friends, stream Netflix or Hulu and go to concerts, then choose a card that will reward that type of spending. However, plenty of credit cards for international students also offer unlimited, flat-rate cash back rewards for all spending, which can be a good choice if you don’t want to keep track of rewards categories. As long as the credit card issuer accepts ITINs as well as SSNs, you should be able to apply for a credit card from a U.S. card issuer and build your credit as a student in the U.S.
*The information about the Chase Freedom® Student credit card, Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students and Journey Student Rewards from Capital One has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.