Best credit cards for international students in the U.S.

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Applying for a credit card can seem daunting when you don’t have a Social Security number, 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 top rewards credit cards, and having no credit history to speak of certainly won’t help.

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, then figuring out what information you need to apply.

Bankrate created this guide to help in your search for the best credit card for international students. If you’re ready to build credit and access cardholder perks or earn rewards, read on to learn more.

Bankrate’s best credit cards for international students in the U.S.

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

  • 1 percent back in rewards for each dollar you spend
  • Get one-year Amazon Prime Student membership when you spend $500 on your card within three billing cycles of account opening
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • No security deposit required
  • 18.74 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Deserve EDU Mastercard does not require applicants to have a Social Security number.

The details: The Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students doesn’t charge an annual fee or a security deposit, yet you’ll get benefits like one year of Amazon Prime Student when you spend $500 in the first three billing cycles, as well as no foreign transaction fees. You also get a flat 1 percent back in cash rewards for each dollar you spend, as well as $30 in rewards for each friend you refer.

Petal 2 “Cash Back, No Fees” Visa Credit Card

  • 1 percent (or up to 1.5 percent cash back on transactions when you make 12 on-time payments), plus 2 percent to 10 percent cash back at select merchants
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Earn more cash back at select merchants
  • 12.99 percent to 26.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Petal 2 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.

The details: 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 $500 and can go up to $10,000 based on creditworthiness. It 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 Platinum Credit Card

  • Pre-qualification without a hard inquiry
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • Available for fair credit
  • 26.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: You can apply for the Capital One Platinum Credit Card with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number.

The details: While the Capital One Platinum Credit Card doesn’t offer any rewards, it is available to individuals with fair credit or limited credit history. You only need an ITIN to apply, and Capital One will automatically review your account for credit line increase after six months of on-time payments. The fact there’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees is also a major plus.

Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

  • 1 percent back on all your purchases, or 1.25 percent back when you pay your bill on time
  • Available for fair credit
  • $5 credit each month (for 12 months) toward streaming services charged to your account (within the first 18 months of card ownership)
  • No annual fee and no foreign transaction fees
  • 26.99 percent variable APR

Why we chose it: The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One lets students apply with an ITIN instead of a Social Security number.

The details: The Journey Student Rewards from Capital One doesn’t charge an annual fee, yet cardholders earn 1 percent back in rewards, or 1.25 percent back when they pay their credit card bill on time. Approved applicants can also get $60 in credits toward streaming services charged to their card in the first 18 months, given out in increments of $5 per month. Capital One will also automatically review your account for credit line increases after six months. As an added bonus, there are no foreign transaction fees.

How to get a credit card for international students

If you’re wondering how to get a credit card for international students, there are some best practices that can increase your chances at success. Consider the following tips as you decide when to apply:

Consider looking for credit cards in your home country first.  It may be possible to get a credit card in your home country that you can bring to the U.S. 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 U.S. Many U.S. credit cards require a stateside address before you can get approved, so it can make sense to wait until you’re in the United States to apply.

See if you can get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). 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 (SSN). Some students, including those with F-1 visas, may be eligible for an SSN. Make sure to check whether you are since having an SSN could open the door to a wider variety of rewards credit cards. Once again, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a dedicated webpage for students who want to apply for an SSN.

What to look for in a student credit card

Students who are hoping to build credit or earn rewards should make sure to compare several 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, you can use your credit card within the U.S. and when you head home for visits without worrying about racking up extra charges.

When it comes to credit cards for international students, other key benefits to look for include no annual fee and rewards for your spending. Some credit cards for international students also offer automatic credit line increases after you make enough on-time payments.

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, yet your on-time payments will be reported to the three credit bureaus.

A secured credit card can be a great first step to establishing a credit history in the U.S. Not only can a secured credit card help you build credit, but it can also help you access higher credit lines and build credit so you can get approved for a better rewards credit card later on.

Written by
Holly D. Johnson
Author, Award-Winning Writer
Holly Johnson began her career working in the funeral industry, which may make you wonder why she works in personal finance now. Yet, the funeral industry taught the author everything she needs to know about the value of one's money and time. Johnson left the mortuary business a decade ago in order to explore her passion for personal finance and travel the world, and since then, she and her husband have built a debt-free lifestyle that has them on the path to retire very wealthy in their 40s. Holly's love of budgeting also led to the creation of her debt payoff book, “Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love."
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