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Can New Immigrants Get a Credit Card?

Last Updated: April 7, 2022
4 min read

Let’s Learn 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 cards will accept applications from immigrants without a Social Security number, but some of those cards may require an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)

  3. Immigrants who don’t qualify for a standard credit card may qualify 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 not as 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 creditor 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 will 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 how much existing debt you have, your payment history, and other factors.

However, new immigrants may not have a U.S. credit score yet, due to differences in the credit reporting systems between different countries. If you do not already have an existing credit card or other 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.

To see what’s recorded in your U.S. credit history, you can request a free credit report. For immigrants, building a credit history is an important step in getting established within the U.S.A.’s financial system.

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, it’s possible to apply for some credit cards without a social security number. Some credit card applications will accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a social security number, but 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 will depend 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 would be to become an authorized user on someone else’s credit card. Most credit card issuers will accept immigrants with social security numbers as authorized users, and some issuers will accept foreigners without a social security number. Bear in mind that if the primary card member on this account (typically a family member or friend) fails to make payments on time, that negative credit history may be reflected on the authorized user’s credit report as well.

Secured credit cards

If you lack U.S. credit history or have a poor credit history and have not been able to qualify for an unsecured credit card, you might consider applying for a secured credit card. For example, the Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a real credit card, but requires a refundable deposit.1 You choose the deposit amount up to the credit line approved. Using the Discover It® Secured Credit Card helps build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus (generally, prepaid and debit cards can’t do that). Get your deposit back after 6 consecutive on-time payments and maintaining good status on all your credit accounts.2

Student credit cards

As an international student in the U.S., you may be eligible for a social security number, and you may qualify for a student credit card if you have the required income.

Unsecured credit cards

If you have a positive U.S. credit history, you can apply for an unsecured credit card, with rewards programs and perks, such as cash back or miles.

Credit card rewards immigrants should consider

When comparing credit cards, new immigrants should consider whether they can earn rewards on their spending.

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 pay for extra spending.

Travel credit cards

Travel rewards credit cards may be especially appealing for new immigrants who make trips home. Foreign travel tends to be expensive, and a card like the Discover it® Miles Card can help you earn Miles and then redeem them as a statement credit for your travel purchases like airfare, hotels, rideshares, gas stations, restaurants and more.3

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