Can international (F-1) students / non-resident aliens (H-1B visa holders) apply for credit cards?

Yay! I'm an alien!!!
Yay! I’m an alien!!! Cool, huh?

Absolutely! I applied for my Bank of America BankAmericard secured credit card as an H-1B visa holders, and I wish I had obtained my first credit card when I was an international student at Colgate. By the way, to my American readers who may not be well-versed about immigration stati, any foreign citizen that is living in the US is classified by the IRS as an alien. Those like me that don’t have permanent residency either are called non-resident aliens. Someone from the IRS has a good sense of humor.

I know that I asked myself this question at some point while being a college student, and so did many of my friends who were international students. So for the future generations of international students, let’s settle this once and for all. The answer is, again: Yes you can!

In order to apply for a credit card in the US, the only strong requirement is a Social Security Number (SSN for short). In addition, you’ll be asked to provide a permanent address, for which you can use your school address. If you have a campus job that provides you with some income, great! If you have a checking or savings account, awesome! Having some income will boost your chance, and your best shot would be with your bank’s credit cards, especially their secured credit cards:

https://hiepsfinance.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/credit-cards-for-credit-builders-what-are-your-options-part-2/

https://hiepsfinance.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/credit-cards-for-credit-builders-what-are-your-options-part-3/

I’ve had great experience with Bank of America’s credit cards thanks to the banking relationship I have with them. Definitely talk to your bank if you are looking for a credit card.

So what if you don’t have an SSN? Well, too bad …. Actually, I know at least one bank that issues credit cards without requiring an SSN: Wells Fargo. If your bank cannot waive the SSN requirement for you, I would talk to Wells Fargo.

Feel free to check out this section of my blog: https://hiepsfinance.wordpress.com/credit-builders/ for more information on building credit. Everything I write applies to both US citizens and aliens. And of course, if you have questions please leave a comment!

It’s great to be an alien!

Best,

Richard (Hiep Tran)

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21 thoughts on “Can international (F-1) students / non-resident aliens (H-1B visa holders) apply for credit cards?

  1. Thank for your information. I have some questions to ask you since I do not have SSN, which is offered while working on campus.
    I had checking and saving account, but they are both under F1 visa when I opened them, so my question is how can I apply for a credit card since the bank knew me as an F1 visa??
    In addition , what do you mean some incomes ??? If I had student funds, does it counts as an income to apply for credit cards?

    I hope you understand my point since my writing is not great!

    Thank you so much

    Dao Ta

  2. As long as you have an SSN you can apply for a credit card regardless of your immigration status. Since you do not have an SSN, I recommend that you talk to Wells Fargo if there is a Wells Fargo branch near your school. So far I only know this bank that would give you a credit card even if you do not have an SSN. I’m not sure what you mean by student funds; if it is something that you earn I’m pretty sure that would be considered income.

    Welcome to Hiep’s Finance! Let me know if you have further questions!

    Best,
    Richard

  3. I am an H1B visa holder, been here for 6months. I have tried a couple of times but always being denied. I applied at US Alliance, Chase (I maintain my payroll account in Chase), and some partner establishments (Banana Rep, VS) already. Now, I am thinking to just not apply at all…

  4. Hi Cecille,

    If you’ve read my previous posts you’d know that Chase generally requires a minimum of one year of credit history for credit card applications. I was denied by them twice during my credit building process. But once I hit the one-year mark, I was approved for two really good cards at once. You can read more about my experience here: https://hiepsfinance.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/chase-finally/
    What you need is the first card to start building credit with. I would suggest that you either have someone add you as an authorized user on his/her card or apply for a secured credit card yourself. Feel free to check out this series: https://hiepsfinance.wordpress.com/credit-builders/applying-for-credit-cards/ for more information.
    Building credit requires patience, but is a necessary part of financial success in this country. I’ve been through what you are going through right now. It’s tough at the beginning but will get better soon if you take the right steps. I’m glad you came to my blog amid your financial journey. Please let me know if I can further assist you.

    Best,
    Richard (Hiep Tran)

  5. Hi Hiep Team.,

    I did read a lot of the blogs uploaded here, i first want to appreciate the work done here.
    its really insightful. And from what i read, for a beginner a secure card is the way to go forward.
    Please do leave ur suggestion on this.

    i do have few questions of my own.

    But before that, i think i should give you my info.
    I am a student on F-1 Visa, i have been here for over a year in USA now.
    I have my SSN, and a paying job( 3 months internship ) for now, and i i have 1 more year to finish my studies.

    1) What if i apply for a credit card after my internship. Will that reduce my chances of getting a credit card, since i wont be having a paying job at that time?
    2) If i apply for a credit card in the bank i do banking in, Is it mandatory to apply for it in the same state(ex. Arizona/California ) where i opened my bank account?
    3) Also, how does online application fare with respect to going to a bank and speaking to an individual, i prefer the latter might boost my chances, what is your take on that?

    Regards,
    Vishwas

  6. Hi Vishwas,
    Thank you for stopping by and showing your appreciation. Just wanted to help! To answer your questions:
    1. A secured card is your most likely option – I had to go this route myself, and I don’t know any international student that didn’t, actually.
    2. Your income as filled on the application should be annual income, so what time of the year you apply doesn’t matter in that respect. However, I would advise applying as early as possible so that you get an earlier start. When you have a thin credit profile, even an extra 1-2 months is going to help.
    3. Where you apply for the card doesn’t matter, but you normally have to provide some sort of address verification.
    4. I applied in-person for my first card. I suspect that if you apply online they’ll ask you to show up in person and show your documents, but I’m not certain. Applying in person always helps, if you ask me. Make sure you bring your legal documents in case they ask for them.

    Let me know if you have further concerns!

    Best,
    Richard

  7. Hi anh Richard ,

    I just want to bring up good news for those who do not have SSN , want to apply credit card as convenience .

    Have you known Citi???

    Citi DOES OFFER credit card for international students without SSN 🙂 . No annual fee and foreign transaction fee.

    Before I apply credit card , anh Richard, can you give some detailed instructions how you can build good credit ?? [ pay the debt monthly before due date? use credit daily ? ]

    Thank you so much

    1. My wife tried to get a Citi student card (online) and got denied because she is not a permanent resident. The oficial response:
      “We reviewed your application and can’t approve it because:

      • You have a permanent home address or permanent home telephone number outside the United States. While our accounts may be used worldwide, we issue accounts only to people who reside within the United States. Please be assured our decision is not a reflection of your creditworthiness.”

      AFAIK she didn’t provide an address or phone outside the USA, but I’m sure that information was provided to BoA because they need 2 years of address (she is only 1.6 years in the USA). She will stay at least a couple of years more in USA.

      Maybe if she visited a branch and applied in person the response could be different.

      1. Applying in person definitely helps, since a human being can overwrite the system’s decision, and if extra identification is required, it is much easier to provide that in person. Having my fingers crossed for your wife. Keep me posted!

  8. I opened a savings account with BoA and applied for the secured card without problems, without SSN just my passport, current checking from Chase and answering common questions (income, birthday, rent/own…) I have ITIN but they didn’t put it in the system initially, after having problems enrolling in online banking, I went in person to create my login/pass and ask if they had my ITIN on file and there is when I found they didn’t put it initially.

    My wife with SSN and F1 visa, was able to open a checking account with BoA and a secured card. She also applied to Discover IT student card and got one for $500. Applied for Citi student and got denied because she is not a permanent resident. She will use both cards for at least 6 months until trying for other cards.

    I’ll ask BoA to add more money to the secured card in the future. I hope they allow this without another credit check.

    1. That’s great news! I will add BofA to the international-friendly list. They may not raise the credit limit without pulling a hard inquiry, so if you decide to pull the trigger you should raise the limit to the maximum they allow. Also, if spending limit is your concern, you can always prepay to raise the spending power of the card; that way you won’t have to raise the credit limit.

  9. Great information.

    I applied for the Wells Fargo secured card and got it a few months a ago but have have not been issues my ssn. I am issued my ssn when I do my optional practical training at the end of my course. I’m on an f1 visa. My question is once I get my ssn and I update my Wells Fargo account with it. Will my previous credit history (without ssn) go towards the news applied ssn?

    Forgive me if I confused you.

    1. Hi Makario,

      I have spent sometime researching your question and so far my findings tend to suggest that you can transfer the credit history over to your SSN. The financial system still has means to identify you without knowing your SSN, so getting an SSN will just adding another piece of information to your credit history. I would call Wells Fargo to confirm, since the policy might vary depending on the financial institution, but I’m pretty certain you won’t have an issue.

      Let us know how it goes!

      Best,
      Richard

  10. Hi there
    I’m an international student with no social security number
    I have a credit card which I ran up
    Am I obliged to pay it ?
    If not can they harm me in anyway ?
    Please reply
    Thank you

    1. Hi Joe,

      Yes you are legally obligated to pay it back. If you refuse to pay they will sue you and this will lead to a host of problems down the road. I think a background check for example will reveal that you have a judgement against you. And the longer you delay paying the more interest will be accumulated and the larger the debt. I would strongly recommend making a plan to gradually pay down the debt. Don’t risk something like this that may affect you for the rest of your life.

      Best,
      Richard

      1. Thank you for your reply
        Can I ask how can they harm me ?

        I don’t have a social
        I don’t have an income
        I don’t have any property under my name or my wife’s name ?
        I changed my address and phone number and I closed all my accounts with them. All I have is their card.
        And finally I Do not plan on ever having a social.
        Awaiting your reply
        Thank you

      2. Well, I am not a police officer, so I do not know the specifics, but do not delude yourself into thinking the US police do not have a way to track you down. How do you suppose they track down murder suspects and potential terrorists who are experts in hiding identities?

        Don’t let a mistake of the present come back and bite you in the butt somewhere down the road.

      3. Thank you for your reply and for your advise.
        It is much appreciated.

        May I ask when do cops ever go after someone over debt.

        Usually only lender or CA do such things

        I personally never heard of a cop going after credit card debt.

        Thank you agaib

  11. I read the post and I don’t know if I missed the answer to this, but many credit card applications ask the question on immigration status. Some have a check box where the applicant has to “accept” being a us resident in order to qualify. In your credit card hunt did you run into this? what was your response to these questions or/and did you check boxes stating you were a U.S resident? This questions/check boxes even apply for those that live in the U.S as non immigrant workers. So what is the correct way to obtain the credit card?

    Going in person does not increase chances of a banker “altering” the application.

    1. Gabriel, I always made sure I understood the question correctly by calling the credit department of the bank that issues the credit card. Most of the time, they assured me that US resident on their application simply means someone residing in the US.
      Hope this helps.
      -Richard

  12. Hi, I would talk to my Personal Banker Fernando Vivanco at Bank of America. He’s in San Diego by UC San Diego next to whole foods. You do have to apply in person. Otherwise visit your nearest branch. There are a lot of different options to apply for a student credit card with no SSN and establish your credit score! Secured, partially secured, and even unsecured cards with rewards. Thanks to him I have now over 750 credit score and gotten a lot of money back on rewards.

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