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Best credit cards for international students (and how to get them)

interstride logo by Interstride
May 27, 2021

For international students studying in the US, establishing a line of credit for the first time can be quite difficult. Any international student who has applied for student loans understands this fact well.Applying for credit cards often proves challenging as most financial institutions require a credit history as well as a Social Security Number as part of the application process. That means international students must solve two main problems: one of identity and another of credit worthiness.

Interstride has decided to make the process of choosing the best credit cards for international students a bit easier by providing a starter list of cards from which to begin the search.

Read on to learn how to access the United States credit system and see which cards might be the best for your needs. 

Credit card application requirements

Whichever credit card you select, it is important to understand the standard application process. Credit card issuers (i.e. banks and other financial institutions) need to know who they are doing business with.

For that reason, applicants must show proof of their identity. For international students, that proof can come in many forms. Other common application requirements for credit cards are proof of address/residence, and proof of income.

International students can sometimes have difficulty satisfying application requirements due to their temporary nature of their status within the country.

Credit card application options for international students

Fortunately, there are a few workarounds for credit application challenges. Before looking at alternatives, however, be sure that the alternatives are needed.

  • Social security number -Depending on an international student’s status within the country, it is very possible that they can obtain a Social Security Number, also known as an SSN. According to the IRS, most student and academic Visas allow for employment. Many nonimmigrant visas, including F-1, J-1, Q-1, M-1, or Q2, fall into this category. These Visa holders may apply for a regular SSN.
  • ITIN – International students who fall outside of the above-mentioned categories can still apply for a credit card. However, they will need to apply to the IRS for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). An ITIN is essentially an SSN for international guests. The number of digits is the same and the number comes in the same format. To apply for an ITIN, international students need to apply at the IRS using Form W-7.

Best credit card features for international students

International students on the lookout for a new (or first) credit card in the US should pay attention to a couple of key factors. The best credit cards for international students offer perks and bonuses aimed at student needs.

Top credit card options also allow users to apply for a line of credit with or without a Social Security Number. Each card is quite different in what it expects from and offers to its cardholders. So, it is always wise to do a bit of homework before making a final decision.

Top Features for International Student Credit Cards:

  • No, or low annual fees
  • No international transaction fees
  • Low, or 0% initial purchase APR
  • Cashback programs
  • Travel rewards and miles
  • Lower rates for academic achievement!

Interstride’s best international student credit cards

Here are some of our favorite credit cards for international students in no particular order.

#1 – Petal

Petal Card provides international students with a fantastic starting point int he world of credit. Not only does Petal forgo the usual SSN and ITIN requirements, but the company also creates a ‘money score’ for new applicants to determine credit worthiness.

That means international students with no previous credit should have no difficulty in getting the Petal Card as long as they have income, and their expenses are low.

#2 – Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students is the perfect solution for many international students. This credit card offers a low APR, no annual fee, no foreign transaction fees, and much more.

To get this card, students do not need an SSN and there is no credit needed to apply. Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students makes application decisions based on school, income, expenditures, etc.

 #3 – Discover it® Student Card

Discover it Student Card is another fantastic option for international students. While only international students with an SSN may apply for this card, it is one of the better ones on the list.

Some of the notable features of this card are no annual fees, no foreign transaction fees, a cashback bonus for good grades, and a solid cashback rewards program which gets better with time.

#4 – Journey Student Rewards from Capital One

Journey Student rewards from Capital One is yet another good choice for international students. Journey offers a solid cashback program on spending, a $60 streaming bonus for on-time payments, no foreign transaction fees, and accurate credit tracking through the available app.

To apply, students must use an SSN or an ITIN.

#5 – Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card

As with the other options on this list, the Chase Freedom Student Credit Card is built with students in mind. International students can apply using an ITIN and there are many benefits that come from this offer from Chase.

An initial $50 bonus starts things off. Good Standing Rewards, credit line increases, and no annual fees adds to the reasons international students might be interested in the Chase Freedom Student card.

Final thoughts

Whether in the US for a long time, or just a year or two, there is no question that a credit card can make a world of difference. Students are able to order their materials online, shop for food, pay bills, and support themselves in a world that is increasingly dependent on digital payments and credit.

Choosing the right card can help in many ways, just as choosing one that doesn’t compliment student needs can hinder a student’s financial progress and success. New credit card users especially should take care that their credit cards add value to their lives.