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Can New Immigrants Get a Credit Card?

Last Updated: May 21, 2023
4 min read

Key points about: credit cards for immigrants

  1. New immigrants to the U.S. don’t have to be citizens to qualify for credit cards.

  2. Some credit card companies may accept applications from immigrants without a Social Security number, but those cards may require an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

  3. Immigrants who don’t qualify for a standard credit card may be eligible for a secured credit card or a student credit card.

Immigrants to the United States may face challenges in getting credit cards. Some immigrants come from countries where credit cards are less commonly used, so they may not have an established credit history recorded by U.S. credit bureaus. Other immigrants may not have all the documentation needed to apply for certain credit cards.

But, new immigrants to the U.S. may get a credit card if they meet the credit card issuer’s requirements. New immigrants should keep these points in mind when applying for credit cards.

What does an immigrant need before applying for a credit card?

While non-U.S. citizens may find it difficult to qualify for a credit card in the U.S., knowing the steps in the process could help make applying for a credit card as an immigrant easier.

Credit history

U.S. credit card issuers consider your credit report and credit score when deciding whether to approve you for a credit card.

Your credit score is based on your current debt, payment history, and other factors. But, due to differences in the credit reporting systems among different countries, new immigrants may not have a U.S. credit score yet. The good news is that there are credit card options with no credit history required, like secured credit cards.

If you don’t already have an existing credit card or another credit account — like a car loan or home loan in your name — that has been open for at least six months, you might not have any credit history in the U.S. credit reporting system. For immigrants, building a credit history can be an important step in getting established within the U.S. financial system. So, a credit card that requires no credit history to apply could help you start that process.

You can request a free credit report to see if you have a credit history or what’s recorded in your U.S. credit history.

Social Security number or ITIN

While most credit card issuers ask for a Social Security number to verify your identity and check your credit history, applying for some credit cards without a Social Security number is possible. Some credit card applications may accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which the IRS may issue to individuals who are ineligible for a Social Security number. Still, according to Experian, even immigrants without either of these numbers may be able to apply for certain credit cards.

How to get credit cards for foreigners, non-U.S. citizens, and international students

Getting credit cards can be challenging for immigrants, but acquiring a credit card can be an important step to helping secure your financial future in the U.S.

Immigrants to the U.S. have several options for acquiring a credit card. What’s available depends on that person’s particular financial situation. Some of the more common credit card options for immigrants include:

Become an authorized user

One option to start building credit history may be to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card, as long as the creditor reports to the credit bureaus. Check with the credit card issuer to see if it accepts immigrants with or without Social Security numbers or ITINs as authorized users. Remember that if the primary cardmember on this account (typically a family member or friend) fails to make payments on time, that adverse credit history may also be reflected on the authorized user’s credit report.

Secured credit cards

If you lack credit history in the U.S. or have a poor credit history and haven’t been able to qualify for an unsecured credit card, you could consider applying for a secured credit card. A secured credit card is a real credit card account that requires a cash deposit. With a Discover It® Secured Credit Card, your credit line will equal your deposit amount, starting at $200.1 Discover secured cards also offer cash back rewards on eligible purchases.

Did you know?

The Discover It® Secured Credit Card  helps you build your credit history.2 You can also get your deposit back after six consecutive months of on-time payments and maintaining good status on all your credit accounts, and if you qualify, we will increase your credit line.3

Student credit cards

As an international student in the U.S., per the Department of Homeland Security, you may be eligible for a Social Security number and qualify for a student credit card if you meet the creditor’s requirements.

Unsecured credit cards

If you have a U.S. credit history, you may qualify for an unsecured credit card with rewards  such as cash back or miles, like the Discover it® Cash Back Credit Card.

Credit card rewards immigrants should consider

When comparing credit cards, new immigrants should consider whether they can earn rewards for their spending. At Discover, every credit card offers rewards on each eligible purchase.

See if you're pre-approved

With no harm to your credit score5

Cash back rewards

Some credit cards may offer cash back rewards, which let you earn rewards based on your spending. As a new immigrant, you may have extra relocation expenses, and redeeming your rewards as a statement credit can help you cover the costs.

Travel credit cards

Travel rewards credit cards may be especially appealing for new immigrants who make trips abroad. Foreign travel tends to be expensive. A card like the Discover it® Miles Card can turn Miles into cash. Or redeem as a statement credit for your travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more.4

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  1. Minimum Security Deposit: If approved, you must make a minimum security deposit of $200 (or more, in increments of $100 up to $2,500), which will equal your requested credit limit. Discover will determine your maximum credit limit by your income and ability to pay.

  2. Build/Rebuild Credit History (Secured Card): Discover reports your credit history to the three major credit bureaus so it can help build/rebuild your credit if used responsibly. Late payments, delinquencies or other derogatory activity with your credit card accounts and loans may adversely impact your ability to build/rebuild credit.
  3. Getting your deposit back: Monthly reviews start your seventh month as a customer. We will refund your security deposit if you have made all payments on time for the last six consecutive billing cycles on all your Discover accounts including any loans, and you've remained in “good status” on all credit accounts you are responsible for whether they are Discover accounts or not. “Good status” means: (1) your credit report shows no delinquencies, charge-offs, repossessions, or bankruptcies for the six months prior to our review; and (2) your Discover Secured Card is not in a prohibited status at the time of our review, including, but not limited to: closed, revoked, suspended, subject to tax levy, garnishment, deceased, lost/stolen, or fraud. Monthly reviews may be delayed if you change your payment due date. When you qualify to upgrade to a standard, ‘unsecured card’, Discover will also consider you for a credit line increase. We typically process your refund in 2-3 business days based on your delivery preference. If you close your account and pay in full, we’ll return your deposit within two billing cycles plus ten days.
  4. Redeem Miles: Starting at 1 Mile, you can redeem your Miles as a credit to your account to pay for all or part of your bill, for cash as an electronic deposit to your bank account, or for a credit for Travel Purchases made on your statement within the last 180 days. Travel Purchases include airline tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals, travel agents, online travel sites, commuter transportation, restaurants and gas stations. Restaurant purchases include those made at merchants classified as full-service restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, fast-food locations, and restaurant delivery services. Gas Station purchases include those made at merchants classified as places that sell automotive gasoline that can be bought at the pump or inside the station. Gas Stations affiliated with supermarkets, supercenters, and wholesale clubs may not be eligible. Even if a travel purchase on your statement appears to fit in a Travel Purchase category, the merchant may not have a merchant category code (MCC) in a Travel Purchase category. Merchants and payment processors are assigned an MCC based on their typical products and services. Discover Card does not assign MCCs to merchants. Certain third-party payment accounts and digital wallet transactions may not be eligible for credit redemption if the technology does not provide sufficient transaction details or a qualifying MCC. See Terms and Conditions for more information.
  5. There is no hard inquiry to your credit report to check if you’re pre-approved. If you’re pre-approved, and you move forward with submitting an application for the credit card, it will result in a hard inquiry which may impact your credit score. Receiving a pre-approval offer does not guarantee approval. Applicants applying without a social security number are not eligible to receive pre-approval offers. Card applicants cannot be pre-approved for the NHL Discover Card.

  • Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.