Top Credit Cards For International Students
If you want to use credit cards while you are studying in the United States, the easiest way to do that is to apply for credit cards in your home country prior to coming to the U.S. Many international banks offer credit cards under the American Express, MasterCard or VISA brand names that can be used in the U.S.
But, if you are planning to stay in the U.S. after finishing your study, you should take the time and effort to build an American credit history. That can be challenge because most U.S. banks require you to have a Social Security number. Let’s take a look at your options.
The Easiest Credit Card: Citibank
Once you get to the States, applying for a credit card can be daunting. The best option is Citibank. Most U.S. banks require a Social Security number before they will issue a credit card to an international student, but Citibank does not. It offers a no-annual-fee credit card for international students, as well as no-monthly-fee bank accounts.
The Citibank Global Transfer service also makes it easier for you to send money back and forth between your accounts and your parents’ bank in your home country. You can see full details of the credit card requirements on Citibank’s website.
Getting a Social Security Number
To get a credit card with other U.S. banks, you must first get a Social Security number. As long as you are studying in the U.S. on an F-1, M-1 or J-1 student visa, and are authorized to work in the U.S., you can get a Social Security number.
The best kind of card to get requires that you first obtain a job. This can be complicated if you are not able to find employment on campus. To get a job off campus requires authorization from the Department of Homeland Security.
A letter of authorization from your school or future employer allows you to apply for a Social Security card that permits you to work. If you are not able to find employment, you can get a different type of Social Security card (and number), but your Social Security card will be marked that you are not eligible for work. This may be your only option if you can’t find a promise of employment. And it will enable you to get a credit card from banks that offer them to international students.
Expect a Secured Credit Card at First
After you get a Social Security number, your next hurdle will be your lack of credit history in the United States. You will most likely have to apply, at least initially, for a secured credit card.
For this type of card, you generally must deposit a sum of money equal to the credit line that you want at the bank that issues the card. For example, a $500 credit line will require a $500 deposit. It's not a prepaid card, so your money will remain untouched, earning interest, as long as you pay your bills. Your best option for a secured credit card will likely be a bank near the school that services other students.
Be sure to pay all your bills on time, so you build up a good credit history. Six to 12 months later you should have a strong-enough history to get an unsecured credit card – either from the same bank or someplace else. For advice on choosing cards, see A Smart Approach To Student Credit Cards.
Other Ways to Build Your Credit History
In addition to paying your secured credit card on time, you may be able to build a credit history with other regular payments you make. For example, if you are living off campus, you can ask the apartment complex to report your regular rent payments to the credit reporting agencies to show you pay bills on time. You may also be able to request that your payment history for your cell phone and other utilities be reported to help build your credit history more quickly. Some of these entities may agree to do that reporting, but not all do. For more on this, see Start Building Solid Credit At A Young Age. As your credit improves, you should have more choice of credit cards on better terms.