Skip to content

Advertiser Disclosure

Credit Card Insider is an independent, advertising supported website. Credit Card Insider receives compensation from some credit card issuers as advertisers. Advertiser relationships do not affect card ratings or our Editor’s Best Card Picks. Credit Card Insider has not reviewed all available credit card offers in the marketplace. Content is not provided or commissioned by any credit card issuers. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information, though all credit card information is presented without warranty. When you click on any ‘Apply Now’ button, the most up-to-date terms and conditions, rates, and fee information will be presented by the issuer. Credit Card Insider has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Credit Card Insider and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. A list of these issuers can be found on our Editorial Guidelines.

The 5 Best Credit Cards for International Students: Rewards, Low Fees, & More

8 min read
Ellen Sirull By Ellen Sirull Jan 13, 2020 | Updated Jun 02, 2020

The number of international students in the U.S. has hit an all-time high — nearly 1.1 million in 2019. Many of these students want to use credit cards and build credit, especially if they plan on staying in the States after completing their education. However, getting a card can require a bit more research or a few more hurdles to jump.

This is because of a few things:

  • Lack of credit history in the U.S.: Creditworthiness is usually a key factor in card approvals. If you don’t have a FICO Credit Score or any good credit history in the U.S. credit system, it can require some additional considerations or steps to get a card.
  • Restrictions for those under the age of 21: The CARD Act limits the availability of credit cards for those under the age of 21. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau explains, “Among other things, the Act prohibits credit card issuers from extending credit without assessing the consumer’s ability to pay, with special rules regarding the extension of credit to persons under the age of 21.”
  • Requiring a Social Security number (SSN): Not all international students have an SSN, so if a card issuer requires it, you may not be eligible for its cards. Card issuers including American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and U.S. Bank all note on their websites that they’ll accept applications with an ITIN.

Here’s a quick snapshot of some cards tailored to international students (and we’ll share more about them later in this article):

Best For Card
Easy Access for International Students Deserve Edu Mastercard (Review)
Building and Monitoring Credit Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review)
Secured Card with an ITIN Capital One® Secured Mastercard® (Review)
Secured Card with Rewards Discover it® Secured (Review)
Domestic Travel Rewards Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students (Review)
Insider tip

American Express now offers a program with Nova Credit for people new to the U.S. from the United Kingdom, India, Mexico, Canada, and Australia, who have paid bills, owned a home, or bought a car. It leverages Nova Credit’s Credit Passport, rather than credit history tied to an SSN, so it can help newcomers from some countries who may not otherwise be able to qualify for an Amex.

They note that they’re looking to add other countries to the list as well. Additionally, if you have an American Express card from another country, you may be able to get one more easily in the U.S.

Best for Easy Access for International Students

Deserve Edu Mastercard

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR18.74% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • No SSN required for International students. Available to students (enrollment verification is required)
  • Amazon Prime Student Membership (get reimbursed for subscription fees up to a lifetime total of $59)
  • 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases
  • Credit limits up to $5,000
  • $0 annual fee & no foreign transaction fees
  • No security deposit or co-signer required
  • Helps students build credit history and gain financial independence
  • Use anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted
  • Includes Mastercard Platinum Benefits like Car Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Roadside Assistance, Travel Assistance Services, Price Protection, Extended Warranty and ID Theft Protection
  • Complimentary cellphone insurance up to $600

Pros

  • No SSN required to get approved: If you’re an international student, you’ll need to provide a copy of your student visa, passport ID, school document (e.g. I-20 or DS 2019), and proof of a U.S. bank account balance. However, you should submit your SSN later if you get one so Deserve can report your payment activity to the credit bureaus.
  • Other factors are considered when applying: Your education, future employability, and earning potential can help when the company is reviewing your application.
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on everything you buy; it’s not much, but for no credit history it’s not too bad
  • Added perks: You get one free year of Amazon Prime Student and some other statement credits. Also, like with many other credit cards, you get purchase protection, an extended warranty, and other protection benefits.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Can find better rewards with other cards: Many travel rewards cards offer better benefits for frequent international travel (if you can get approved for them).
  • Requires bank account access: Deserve may require access to your bank account transaction details as part of the underwriting process.

How International Students Can Best Use the Card

This card is very accessible to most international college students because it doesn’t require an SSN, and Deserve weighs in some extra factors in the application decision that students usually benefit from — since more education improves your future earning potential.

You can also save on costs that many students face like Amazon shipping and cell phone insurance. Use your Deserve Edu Mastercard to pay for Amazon Prime Student and you’ll get statement credits to cover the cost for a year. If you put your cell phone bill on the card, you’ll get up to $600 in cell phone insurance for theft and damage coverage.

Learn more about the Deserve Edu Mastercard (Review).

Best for Building and Monitoring Credit

Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR25.99%–26.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Pros

  • No SSN required to get approved: You can apply with an ITIN or passport from your home country.
  • Rewards: 1% cash back on everything you buy, which goes up to 1.25% when you make on-time payments.
  • Credit monitoring: Keep tabs on your credit with the Capital One CreditWise credit monitoring service, which is a bit more comprehensive than similar services from some other issuers. You can see your FICO Score 8 based on your TransUnion credit report whenever you’d like, plus some info from that report. Actually, anyone can sign up for this service for free — no need to be a cardholder.
  • Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months. A credit limit increase may help you build credit faster because it can keep your credit utilization lower. If you have available credit you’re not using, potential lenders and creditors may see you as a lower credit risk.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • May get better rewards with another card: As mentioned above, other travel rewards cards offer better benefits for frequent international travel. But other than that, we don’t really have any gripes with this card.

How International Students Can Best Use the Card

This is a pretty solid student card, although you don’t actually have to be a student to apply for it. As long as you pay your credit card bill on time (which is always a good idea to avoid late fees and interest, as well as build a solid payment history), it can help you improve your credit scores more quickly since you may be considered for a credit limit increase after six months of card use.

That can improve your overall credit utilization — the sum of all balances compared to the sum of all credit limits. But that’s only if your typical monthly credit card spending remains about the same.

Learn more about the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® (Review).

Read more

How to Build Credit With Credit Cards: The Definitive Guide

Best Secured Card With an ITIN

Capital One® Secured Mastercard®

Our rating
Min. credit levelBad
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR26.99% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

The information related to Capital One® Secured Mastercard® has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Pros

  • No SSN required to get approved: You can apply with just an ITIN.
  • Made for limited or no credit: Secured cards are tailored to consumers who need to build or rebuild credit, so there are usually fewer requirements; the main item is that you need to make a deposit to cover your credit limit.
  • Access a higher credit line: You may be automatically considered for a higher credit line after six months. (you’ll still want to make sure you pay off your card balance each month on time).
  • Added perks: You can use Capital One’s CreditWise service to monitor your credit and see how it improves over time. You also get a decent selection of shopping and travel protections, for a secured card.
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • No rewards: Secured credit cards don’t usually offer rewards.
  • You’ll need to make a deposit: As with any secured credit card, you’ll need to make a security deposit at the time of account opening. Just make the minimum required deposit ($49, $99, or $200) and you’ll get an initial credit line of $200. If you deposit more before your account opens you can get a higher credit line, up to $1,000 for a $1,000 deposit.

How International Students Can Best Use the Card

This card is helpful for students who don’t have an SSN and just want an opportunity to build credit. You can use a secured card to establish a solid credit history, and then apply for another card that offers better benefits after a while.

Learn more about the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® (Review).

Best Secured Card With Rewards

Discover it® Secured

Our rating
Min. credit levelBad
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APRSee Terms

The information related to Discover it® Secured has been collected by Credit Card Insider and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product.

Pros

  • Made for limited or no credit: As with the above secured credit card, this Discover card is tailored to consumers who need to build or rebuild credit. So, the main factor is being able to make a deposit to cover your credit limit amount.
  • Rewards: You earn 2% cash back at restaurants and gas stations in the U.S., up to $1,000 spent per quarter. You earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Discover even doubles your cash back the first year you have the card.
  • Balance Transfer APR: See Terms for See Terms, then See Terms (rare for a secured card, but there are better offers out there if you have decent credit)
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • You will need an SSN to apply.
  • You’ll need to make a deposit: The minimum required deposit is $200 and the maximum is $2,500. Your credit line will be equal to your deposit. Here, your maximum credit limit will be determined by factors like your income and ability to pay.

How International Students Can Best Use the Card

You’ll need an SSN for this card, so it might not be accessible to many international students. But it should be on your radar if you’re planning to get one, or already did.

If you spend a lot of money on gas and/or eating out you can earn a decent amount of cash back as you work to improve your credit. This is one of the only secured cards out there that offers rewards, and they’re pretty good rewards at that!

Learn more about the Discover it® Secured (Review).

Read more

Best Secured Credit Cards

Best for Domestic Travel Rewards

Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students

Our rating
Min. credit levelLimited Credit History
Details
Annual Fee$0
Regular APR16.24%–26.24% Variable
Apply Now

securely on the issuer's website

  • $200 cash rewards bonus for spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
  • New Offer: Maximize your cash back in the category of your choice: gas, online shopping, dining, travel, drug stores, or home improvement /furnishings
  • Now earn 3% cash back in your choice category and 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases
  • You can update your choice category for future purchases once each calendar month using the Mobile banking app or Online banking, or do nothing and it stays the same.
  • No changing categories and no expiration on rewards
  • 0% Introductory APR for 12 billing cycles for purchases and for any balance transfers made in the first 60 days, then, 16.24%–26.24% Variable APR. 3% fee (min $10) applies to balance transfers.
  • If you’re a Preferred Rewards client, you can increase that bonus to 25% – 75%. Click “Apply Now” to learn more about Preferred Rewards.
  • Now with chip technology for enhanced security and protection at chip-enabled terminals
  • No annual fee

Pros

  • No SSN required to get approved: You can apply with just an ITIN.
  • Rewards: You get 3% cash back in one category of your choice, which you can change each month. Choose from travel (which can be nice if you’re planning trips within the U.S.) and other categories like online shopping and dining. You get 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, as well as 1% back on everything else. (3% and 2% rewards are limited to $2,500 spent per quarter)
  • Introductory bonus: You can earn a $200 cash reward bonus when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days with the card. This is one of the few credit cards international students can likely get with a signup bonus, and it’s a pretty big one at that.
  • Other perks: 0% intro APR for 12 months (then 16.24%–26.24% Variable); free FICO Score 8 from TransUnion
  • No annual fee

Cons

  • Changing categories might be too much of a hassle
  • Foreign transaction fee of 3%, so best for domestic travel only
  • Fees: While you should always pay your bill on time, if you do pay late, you’ll be hit with a $39 late fee and a higher penalty APR. Some other cards in this post are more forgiving.

How International Students Can Best Use the Card

This card can help you rack up rewards quickly if you’ll travel a lot within the U.S, or can make good use of the other bonus categories. However, if you’d prefer a more simplified rewards structure, another card may be a better fit.

Learn more about the Bank of America Cash Rewards™ Credit Card for Students (Review).

Insider tip
Looking for a rewarding card for international travel? Consider the Bank of America Travel Rewards® Credit Card for Students, which provides 3X points at the Bank of America Travel Center, and 1.5X points everywhere else (pretty good for a student card). There’s no annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, and it’s a Mastercard, making it perfect for trips abroad.

What Makes a Great Credit Card for International Students?

There are a few things that international students should look for in a credit card:

  • No fees: Look for a card with no annual fee or foreign transaction fees to get started.
  • Available to non-U.S. citizens: Each credit card has different requirements for getting approved. Some are available for non-citizens and students with an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) or SSN. According to the IRS, “Most foreign students and scholars in F-1, J-1, M-1, Q-1, and Q-2 nonimmigrant status are eligible to be employed in the [U.S.], and are therefore eligible to apply for an SSN if they are actually employed in the [U.S.].”
  • Offered to people with little or no credit: People new to the U.S. are more likely to get declined for a card because of a lack of credit history. Secured credit cards and starter credit cards often have fewer requirements to get approved, as they’re made to help those with little or no credit.
  • Helps you build credit: A debit card won’t help you with building credit, whereas a credit card (if used responsibly) can, which provides access to more credit options in the future. If you get a card that reports to the three main credit bureaus (all of the major card issuers do), you can build credit history with responsible spending. Just make sure to make on-time payments and pay off your balance each month to avoid paying any interest.
  • Rewards: Many students can benefit from rewards on travel (for other trips abroad or visiting family back home) and food. While many starter cards don’t have great rewards, you may be able to find something that works for you.

The Bottom Line on Cards for International Students

It’s no surprise that secured, student, and starter cards offer your best bet to get approved for a credit card and build credit in the U.S.

Students in the States don’t have to get a new credit card while in the country, of course. You can often use a card from your home country (though it’s important to check for any foreign transaction fees). Another option is getting a debit card from a U.S. bank. Though, you should know that neither of these options will help you build credit with the U.S. credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and U.S. credit scoring models (e.g. FICO, VantageScore).

If you get a bank account with a smaller local bank, credit union, or even major bank like Bank of America, you may be able to work with it to get a credit card by leveraging your personal bank account. It may help to go into a branch to speak with someone.

Was this helpful?
At a glance

International students in the United States looking to build their credit may have fewer options, but there are still several solid cards available. By researching approval requirements, benefits, and fees, you can pick the card that best matches your needs and situation.

Credit Card Insider receives compensation from advertisers whose products may be mentioned on this page. Advertiser relationships do not affect card evaluations. Advertising partners do not edit or endorse our editorial content. Content is accurate to the best of our knowledge when it's published. Learn more in our Editorial Guidelines.

The information related to Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®, Capital One® Secured Mastercard®, and Discover it® Secured have been collected by Credit Card Insider and have not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of these products.

Do you have a correction, tip, or suggestion for a new post? Contact us here.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by bank advertisers. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers' responsibility to ensure all posts are accurate and/or questions are answered.