How international students can apply for a credit card

Learn what to expect if you’re studying in the US and are interested in a credit card.

As an international student, you’re probably busy immersing yourself in all America has to offer. But between studying, exploring and taking weekend road trips, it’s important to consider and plan your finances, too. And a credit card can help when you use it responsibly. 

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions international students may have about credit. And if you’re planning to stay in the U.S. after your studies, you may not be aware of how helpful it can be to start building credit. So here’s an overview of questions you may have—and some things you can do to apply for a credit card as an international student.

Can international students get a credit card in the US?

The short answer is yes—but things can be a little difficult for international students. That’s because when issuers consider credit applications—whether the applicant is from the U.S. or not—they will want to know about your credit and borrowing history. If you don’t have a U.S. credit report and credit score, it’s more difficult for them to see if you’re qualified. But it’s worth checking with individual card issuers about how to apply for a credit card as an international student.

Do international students need a Social Security number?

Credit card issuers may ask for a Social Security number when you apply for a card. If you don’t have one yet, you may be able to use your student visa to help you get a Social Security number. 

That’s because students with F-1 or other student visas may qualify for a Social Security number. But you may need to get authorization and have a job lined up first—a job at your school or a part-time job may be enough. Your student adviser or your school’s international student services office may be able to help.

If you can’t get a Social Security number, there are still options. You may be able to request an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). Some credit card issuers allow applicants to use an ITIN instead of a Social Security number on card applications.

Will international students have to use a secured card?

Every situation is different, so the credit cards available vary from student to student—and issuer to issuer—based on a variety of factors.

Student credit cards from Capital One, like SavorOne Rewards for Students and Quicksilver Rewards for Students, could be two options. When used responsibly, students can use them to build credit and earn rewards while in school.

But you might lack a key variable needed to qualify for most credit cards: an established credit history. But there are ways to start building credit. One way to start building? International students can apply for a secured credit card. It can be a great first step to establishing credit in the U.S. And if you show responsible credit use over time, it can help you access higher lines of credit and unsecured credit cards.

A secured card looks and functions much like a traditional credit card, but you’ll pay a security deposit to the issuer first. This tells the issuer you’re serious about paying back what you borrow. And the deposit is usually refundable. After the security deposit, many require no other monthly or annual fees.

What kind of card should U.S. students look for if they're planning to travel abroad?

If you're an American looking to study abroad—or just have a global adventure—there are also credit options for you. When it comes to travel, credit cards designed with students in mind can be a great tool. 

SavorOne Rewards for Students and Quicksilver Rewards for Students might be good fits. In addition to student rewards and the ability to build credit with responsible use, they have great features for making purchases if you're on the go in another country. Those features include: security alerts, a card lock feature in case a card is lost or stolen and no foreign transaction fees. View important rates and disclosures.

Apply for a credit card that’s right for you

International students may need to put in a little work to qualify for a credit card. But the opportunity to fund your purchases, build credit and earn rewards could pay off in the end. 

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You may want a credit card to use for some of your monthly expenses while in school. You may also want to start building credit if you have long-term plans in the U.S. This can help you down the road when you apply for a job, rent an apartment or apply for a mortgage. 

Need more help exploring credit card options? Explore credit cards for people with less-than-perfect credit.

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