How Can Canadian Readers Get American Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses?

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I get email from Canadian (and occasionally European, South American, and Australian) readers almost every day asking if they can get US credit cards.

We’ve got it really, really good in the US, because we can easily collect hundreds of thousands of hotel points and airline miles (if not millions) via credit card sign-up bonuses.

Bonuses in Canada are paltry in comparison.  For example, American Express recently increased the sign-on bonus, up to July 31, 2012, on their American Express Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card from 10,000 points to 15,000 points, compared to the 25,000 points in the US.  The annual fee is $120 (not waived for 1st year) vs $65 (waived for the 1st year) in the US.

Canadian blogger, Ben, whom I recently interviewed and who writes Fly First Class For Free, has the answer for you!

Ben has a US Social Security number, but his wife, Irene, does not.  She has a Canadian Social Insurance Number (SIN).

But Ben still managed to get Irene many US issued credit cards with the large sign-up bonuses!

Read his post for to see how he did it.  As always, your personal experience could be different, but it is certainly worth a try!

In short, you need to have a friend or relative’s US address which you can borrow.  The next step is to make a shopping trip to a US department store by the border and apply for a department store credit card with your Canadian SIN.

Canadian SINs are 9 digits long (XXX-XXX-XXX), which is the same length as a US Social Security number (XXX-XX-XXXX).

Update:  swag points out in the comments that this could cause a lot of inconvenience for some folks, so I don’t recommend doing this.

Use the store credit card and pay it off in full each month (you could make internet purchases to save you a trip to a US store) and over time your credit score should rise to the point (Ben explains how to check it in his post) where you may be approved for the large miles and points earning credit cards.

To accelerate your credit score even more, ask a US friend or relative (with good credit) to add you to his or her credit card account as an authorized user to take advantage of the longer payment history.

Bottom Line:  This isn’t the easiest way for Canadians to get approved for US miles and points credit cards, but it could be worth a shot for Canadian readers who are sick  of US readers complaining about how terrible it is to have sign-up bonuses decrease from their record highs in 2011, but which are still much better than the Canadian credit card offers!

Hmmm…I wonder if I can double dip with Canadian credit cards and a US social security number?!

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41 responses to “How Can Canadian Readers Get American Credit Card Sign-up Bonuses?

  1. US population is about 300 million, and there are a billion possible combinations of 9 digits. So there’s about a 30% chance that your Canadian SIN will match an SSN in use by someone else. Legalities aside, I’d worry that your use of someone else’s number might cause them some real headaches at some point.

  2. Darius, I appreciate your blog. I have quietly been on your side on some other topics that have sparked some debate. I understand people wanting to take advantage of this great offers.

    For this post, can you explain to me how this is anything other than fraud?
    Why advise people to put in their Canadian number and not just advise people to put in a random 9 digits?

    This advice sounds no different then if an American wrote in and said “Hi, I have gone bankrupt 3 times, never pay my bills and and am a certified deadbeat, how can I participate in these credit card offers?” The advice, same as above is, falsify your application with a bogus SSN.

    Does that seem like honorable advice?

  3. @Steve, actually lots of stores are willing to extend their credit card to Canadian consumers, i don’t really think this is a fraud. the definition of “fraud” means you intentionally apply for credit cards and don’t pay it back.
    @swag, the SSN/SIN 9 digits generated 1 billion combo, but population in Canada is only 30 million, the conflict at most is 3% plus children normally don’t have SIN, so the conflict is very rare and SIN/SSN groups people differently, plus birthday, name are also different in US credit system as identifiers.
    there are lots of Canadians buying houses in US and require their SIN, this is the same as applying credit cards. i don’t see this is an issue. However, per D pointed out, it’s a bit effort and not recommend to everyone and YMMV.

  4. @steve, the concern is valid so as swag.
    however, SIN/SSN cannot be random #, first thing first, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Insurance_Number

    In addition, US Stores will normally offer $200-300 credit at first, because they are willing to take the risk for Canadians consumers and once your credit score arises, as a Canadians, you are no different to US residence, by that, if you intentionally “fraud”, you will be prosecuted the same way of Americans. Therefore, this is also approved this is not a fraud.
    how many Canadians want to fraud for $200 by reading this post? 🙂
    again, this is my experience, it’s YMMV and it’s involved a lot of effort, not recommend for every Canadian.

  5. Ben, you are right. I gave a bad example and maybe fraud is the wrong word.

    The point still stands. This is advising people to apply and fill in a box clearly labeled SSN with something that is not only not their SSN, it could possibly be another person’s SSN.

    How is this any different than if an American citizen makes up 10 SSNs to qualify 10 times for credit card bonuses? I mean, as long as they pay their bills, they aren’t committing fraud from what I understand from your response.

    Since this article is specifically advising Canadian citizens to make up fake SSNs in order to create a credit profile, do you approve of US citizens making up fake SSNs?

  6. @Steve, this is not faking SSN, US stores are willing to extend their credit to Canadians, period. once your credit rises, you can apply for other credit cards and it’s up to the issuers to approve.
    your example of 10 SSNs are not feasible, first, they have to rise 10 SSN accounts for credit and then apply for credit cards, it’s not easy and take a long time if they could do that. second, it IS fraud at this point and as i said, fraud is to be proscuted.

    actually, even though the post might sound new and cause concerns from some of Americans, in real life, tons of Canadians are buying house here in US with their SIN, getting store cards with their SIN and applying for credit cards using their SIN.
    i got a reader even told me he got store credit card using his SIN and Canadian address. so, not a big deal to me.

  7. @swag @ Daraius In my opinin, it is impossible to Canadian SIN to conflit with US SSN. We all know that in the US, SSN are issued with codes: The first 2 numbers, are related to the US State where the SSN was issued, in my case, Im from Oklahoma, so every single SSN issued im Oklahoma starts with 44 them, the otehr numbers vary. So I do not believe canadian SIN would use the same 2 numbers of US States does. So, no worries. Its just like ITIN numbers, they have millhions of it, and they all starts with number 9. Besides, why use a canadian SIn if anybody can get a ITIN number? and I mean even illegal Aliens, in fact, I kknow one that got a Citi Gold Card with 15K credit limit and the not so good 30K bonus miles….

  8. Ben, I understand that the US and Canada have great relations. I think we are getting confused with two different things.
    1) A US company willingly and knowingly offers credit to a Canadian citizen that is not in possession of a SSN. The US company accepts the SIN and knows it is an SIN and maybe checks the Canadian credit system. This I agree with
    2) A US company only extends credit to US residents that have a valid SSN. A Canadian citizen uses a US address, theirs or otherwise, and then puts in numbers for a SSN that is not their SSN. This is fraud pure and simple. Do people get away with it? I’m sure they do. Just like I know people get away with the multiple fake SSN method I explained above.

    If you explored the ideas of getting an ITIN or EIN number this would be more interesting, but your advice is for people to create a credit record using a fake SSN.

    @Darius, I notice your stronger disclaimer at the top of the post, though if you truly agree with me that this is straight up fraud, creating a credit report with a SSN that does not belong to the applicant, than I would suggest removing the post completely.

  9. I think there should be some RESPONSIBILITY in blogging.

  10. @steve, i understand your position and it’s your call.

    This is NOT faking SSN, as SIN is legiminate.
    I didn’t advise people using a “fake” SSN, you twisted my idea of Canadians to apply for US credit cards, do a google search, see how many canadians got US credit cards.
    why do you think SIN is a fake SSN? 🙂
    your #2 is not 100% correct, US company will issue credit/offers to good credit people, regardless of they are American or Canadians.

    again, i am not the first person to recommend canadians to apply for US credit card, though to you.

  11. Ben, you are an honorable guy.
    Let’s try one more time. When you say “This is NOT faking SSN, as SIN is legiminate.” You completely miss the point.

    The fact that 123-45-4589 may be a valid SIN does not in any way make it a valid SSN. If you use those number and try to pass them off as a SSN you are 100% faking a SSN. If this number was not issued by the US Social Security administration than it is most definitely a fake SSN.

    Bank Routing numbers are also 9 digits long. If I take my banks valid 9 digit routing number and start using it to create a credit file for me, do you consider that a valid SSN? Why not, it is a valid number, just like your SIN is valid.

    Just because many people are doing this has no impact on the fact that this is clearly illegal.

  12. I kinda agree with Steve some how. I do beleieve if someone trys to use SIN as like SSN in the US is a fraud and this should not happen. Now, if the bank extend credit to canadians residents, the first thing the bank should do is ask for SIN/SSN on the application and also let them use their canadian address, not american. Also, ITIN/EIN still would be the “other” only option for those without a valid US SSN.

  13. when we applied for the store cards, we did mention this is canadian SIN up front and all the cashiers told us yes, they can take canadian application. i will pull my wife’s credit report in canada, if the credit pull is there, it’s not a “fraud”. fair?

    also, since my wife has valid US address, i will change my blog to advise people using Canada address, so it should be legal. (a reader pinged me that he got the store cards with Canada address)

  14. Other than the fake address, it sounds okay by me. If substituting your Canadian SIN for a US SSN is standard practice, then do it. You can’t expect them to make a application form for every conceivable circumstance.

  15. Thats great.. my sister just moved to Canada 2 months ago, and she was really said to know that they dont have all these big bonus we do here in America. Well, not bad because in Brazil (where we are from) we dont have bonus at all lol Anyways, I will let her know that she could do the same as you did, using her home canada adress and her SIN number.. I think would be ok and legal heheeh Thanks for your awsome blog

  16. @Sam, yea, that’s my point.
    My wife used US address so I wasn’t sure if Canada address can get the cards, we also phyisically handed off her SIN to the cashier and got confirmed that she can apply. It appears that Canada address is ok, i’ve updated my blog for Canada address. other than that, i don’t see a big issue here. Again, for those of Canadians who are concerned about this, i’d echo D’s disclaimer “Don’t do it”.
    I also agreed with @Steve that a lot of people do doesn’t mean it’s right. For me, I’d take the “risk”. 🙂 as i don’t think it’s illegal since day 1. in other words, if US issuer approved your application and knowing you are Canadian, why not take the offer?

  17. Hi Ben,

    I know that many Canadians have been approved for store cards like Target, Banana Republic and etc where you can actually show your physical SIN card, but you mentioned your wife was approved for the Southwest personal and business credit cards here:

    http://firstclassforfree.blogspot.ca/2012_05_01_archive.html

    Is Chase ok with a Canadian SIN card for their US credit cards?

  18. @Jim
    1. firstly, canadians get store cards, this is confirmed by lots of people including you, thanks!
    2. once canadians got the store cards and keep using it, their credit rises in USA system. (it uses their SIN)
    3. when it reaches 700, most of Chase/Citi will approve your application. this is what happened to my wife.
    note: the process is painful and long(my wife was very lucky, only 6 months)

  19. @Ben – Re (3) above, Chase applications only have fields for social security numbers, is it ok to enter SIN when the app asks for Social Security number? When your wife called Chase reconsideration, did she disclose that she used her SIN and not SSN?

  20. Can Americans get Canadian Credit too? As alluded by Daraius’s last line… 😉

  21. @Thunder – Actually it’s much easier for Americans with Canadian residence to get Canadian credit cards since providing SIN is not compulsory when applying for Canadian credit cards The Canadian law prohibits making this a requirement to approve credit cards.

  22. correct, when i was in Canada, i don’t remember SIN is required to apply for credit cards.
    @Jim, American banks credit card application form doesn’t specify SIN or SSN, SIN works just fine. when calling recon line, they didn’t ask it’s a SIN or SSN, the point here is American system already have this Canadian’s file, for issuer themselves, no different as long as you meet their credit requirement.

  23. This is easily one of the most interesting discussions! Looks like we inadvertently stumbled upon a significant weakness in our system. I have no doubt that the few Canadians who self-assigned themselves SSN’s had no ill intents. However, this practice may not always be limited to those few visitors looking for a CC bonus. According to the Commerse Dept, there were 61 million international visitors to the US in 2011 alone.

    I agree with Steve that self-assigning an SSN that already belongs to a legit user would be similar to identity theft. It can easily place the legit owner on a s-list with any number of gov’t agencies (DHS, TSA, IRS, etc). I don’t agree that removing this article would make the issue go away though. So as always, thanks to Daraius for another interesting post.

  24. I’m a Canadian who has lived in the USA for 5 years. This is a topic that is near and dear to me as my 750 FICO scores in Canada meant zilch when I moved to the USA. It was annoying, because both countries use Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Both use the same scoring methods. The only difference is that in the US, the top score is 850 while in Canada the top score is 900…..When I moved to the US, I was denied for a Chase Freedom card despite having thousands of dollars in my new Chase bank account. I went and talked to the bank manager and brought my Canadian credit reports in with me. The bank manager took my info and about a week later I was approved for a Freedom card with a $500 limit. This was pure luck on my part. As the Freedom card isn’t really meant for people as a 1st credit card.

    Here is the interesting part. I legally couldn’t work in the US when I first got here. But managed to get my FICO’s up to 750-775 BEFORE I got my job here. Go figure. That was simply using 1 credit card with <10% utilization and paying it off in full for several months. So we're talking less than $50 spending per month (on a $500 credit limit).

    While the common advice for credit cards is to keep spending below 30% of credit limit, the myfico.com message boards mentioned that the real good scores come from people who have 1-9% spending/credit limit.

    Now the above is interesting reading. But it doesn't really help the average Canadian looking to get a US credit card (and some US credit history). So let me add the following below.

    TD Bank USA (Toronto Dominion) is the only bank I know that will pull a Canadian credit report and then issue a US credit card to a Canadian living in the US with no US credit history. TD banks are all over the place in Canada. Although they are rarer in the US. Mostly in the north-eastern states. Although they are in Florida too. But that's not surprising given the Canadian "snowbirds" who live there in the wintertime.

    TD banks may not have the greatest credit cards. But they are an honest to goodness real credit card. As such, they should carry more weight in terms of improving one's US credit score than a Macys/Target etc card.

  25. CanadianMillionMiler

    @Ben – Actually all the US credit card applications “always” specifically ask for SSN (Social Security Number). From my experience, recon lines always ask for SSN to identify you to process your application further.

    – There is a legitimate way for Canadians to get US credit cards without SSN, I know for a fact that Bank of America branches by the Canadian borders are used to processing Canadians with the ability to pull Canadian credit files to open you a Canadian credit card. It seems from the above that Chase will also make an exception. Chase is a great option since the apps at the branches are likely going to have lower signing bonuses but you can message them after you are approved to get higher bonuses. Perhaps the same strategy might work with CITI branches as well. BOA and CITI, unlike Chase will not match better offers.

    Additionally, apart from TD, RBC can also open you a US credit card based on your Canadian credit history.

  26. CanadianMillionMiler

    typo- Above, I meant “…the ability to pull Canadian credit files to open you a US credit card.”

    • @Steve – I’ve added a strong warning at the top of the post and I don’t suggest folks do this. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts – I appreciate it! But I’m not going to remove the post, because the comments have great information on US banks which will let Canadians open credit cards with a Canadian SIN.

      @Gordon – That’s a great tip! Thanks so much for sharing it.

      @CanadianMillionMiler – Nice to know that RBC will also issue a US credit card based on your Canadian history.

  27. I dont Think RBC has the capability to report to the american bureau’s to build up an american credit score for you, they probably just issue an card from their bank that doesnt have any foreign fees for spending in the usa and just call it an US credit card.

  28. Informative post & discussion.

    Surprised no one has mentioned this, but HSBC Premier will approve you for their US Premier account & Mastercard based on your Canadian Premier status using your Canadian address, which will let you start building a US credit history without setting foot in the country. I’ve had the account & credit card for nearly a year now.

    What’s the most reliable way for Canadians to check their US credit history? From what I’ve seen, I need to input an American SSN & address for sites like Credit Sesame.

    Thx!

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  30. There’s no fraud here whatsoever. Stores like Target willingly use Canadian SIN numbers to report credit usage to US credit bureaus, thus creating a history in the US, and if the file exists, then giving the SIN simply helps other credit issuers to find you in the bureau system. I personally applied for a Discover card in this way and faxed them a scanned copy of my actual Canadian SIN card in the follow up, so they know exactly what they’re using and that it’s the Canadian equivalent of the SSN. They happily approved me based on my US credit file as accessed through my SIN, even though they themselves treat it like a SSN. They successfully pulled my US credit file, complete with my full Target card and personal info such as full name, birthdate, etc. I’m not pretending to be someone else, and I always pay my bills, so there’s certainly no fraud going on here. Luckily I have close family in the US where I often receive packages and mail, because having a US address is often a requirement.

  31. FRAUD! FRAUD! FRAUD!
    There are a very limited few credit issuers that will open a U.S. Credit Card for Canadians, such as Target, Macys, TD Bank USA, and RBC Bank USA. They use your Canadian SIN, and pull your Canadian Report. Most scan your DLN not SIN card on their in store terminals.

    It is FRAUD, punishable by IMPRISONMENT to use anything BUT a U.S. Issued SSN (not ITiN, SSN) on a credit application for. U.S, issued credit, UNLESS the lender specifically advises that tey also lend to Canadians and ask YOU for your SIN.

    Americans are NOT required by law, just like Canadians to surrender their SSN on a credit application.

    Equifax, and TransUnion maintain credit records for Canadians and Americans.

    Equifax Canada is located in Atlanta, Ga. When a Canadian uses a SIN number as an SSN number! Equifax sends the inquiry back with a code indicating that the application is possibly identity fraud.

    Your. Canadian Bureau will also have an Identity fraud flag on it based on the Use of the SIN for a SSN.

    U.S. Law states using anything but the SSN issued by the U.S. government in a credit application that specifically asks for an SSN is FRAUD, and is punishable by fine, imprisonment or both. It is a FELONY, not a misdemeanor. You can also be charged with MAIL fraud, by the U. S. postmaster, who has the same powers as law enforcement for using an address that does not belong to you to obtain credit, or other services and benefits available to legal residents and/or citizens of the. United States.

    Canada and the U.S. Just passed the SPP! and joint law enforcement acts, giving both countries access to U.S, and Canadian. Criminal Activity, Criminal Records that are shared include Charges, whether pending, stayed, or even Withdrawn, as well as suspected fraudulent activity (even if you think you got away with it, and have not been formally questioned, it becomes part of your criminal activity record that is shared with the U.S.). U.S. law enforcement also accesses and reports to credit bureaus, which will turn up on your Canadian reports due to the new law enforcement and legislation sharing.

    It is extremely possible that the credit card application you submitted at a U.S. Lender using your. Canadian SIN as an SSN, will make you in admissible to the U.S.A. The next time you cross the border as Fraud is a crime of Moral Turpitude, that will find you banned from crossing a minimum of. 10 years, if not LIFE?

    Is this worth it to get a $500 U.S. Credit Card for a reward? Don’t think so!

    You are better to call a lender, tell them you are. Canadian, with your Canadian SIN and apply over the phone.

    You might have got away with using a SSN as a SIN. If so, you better make sure you pay that card on time, each and every month, and NEVER be late or give the card company any reason to collect. Once that company has reason to collect, and see that you committed fraud (as your original app may have been 100% automated), they will PROSECUTE you to the fullest extent of the law, and the new Security and Perimeter Protection Act, not only allows any U.S. Law jurisdiction to extradite you to appear in a U.S. court, you will NOT be protected by the Canadian Government, and the new law also allows U.S. law Enforcement to come over, and arrest YOU on the Canadian side of the border.

    By the way, the U.S. has more of its own citizens imprisoned than any other country in the world and go to many lengths to exercise the aka to its fullest. (Recently, a California resident was apprehended by Florida Law Enforcement for failure to return a library book worth less than $80. Law. Enforcement flew to California to make the arrest, and the woman now sits in a Central Florida jail, for NOT returning a Library Book.

    By the way, there is also a charge for obtaining a premium or reward, even a coupon in a store if you are not legally qualified to earn that premium (I.e. A Canadian applying for a credit card for bonus miles, or even using a grocery store coupon that states in the fine print that it is for U.S. Residents only).

    DON’T DO IT!

    http://www.equifax.com/pdfs/corp/EFS-937-ADV-IdentityScan_4page.pdf

    !

  32. …. Not to mention, false information on an application, or the act of pretending to be a US citizen or resident is a violation of the Patriot Act of 2001, and the credit grantor is legally obligated to report you to the DHS, the very same department that protects the border – come June 30, 2014, all information is shared between both countries, ALL information! You can kiss your border crossing days GOODBYE!

  33. If you are considering immigrating to the US, then you should not play this game. If you apply for the US lottery or apply for an immigrant visa at some later point, your US presence [at your friend’s house] will likely show up in the background check and raise red flags and cause your immigration attempt to be denied. Better to wait until you get here and then have a trusted friend add you as an authorized user to one of their long standing credit cards [whether they give you the credit card or not]. Then get some department or student type credit cards and build from there.

    That is my caveat and applies to all non US nationalities. What do you think the Customs and Border Protection’s response to your application will be if they find that you already have a US presence and have represented that you are a US resident [by using a US friend’s address as yours]. If you are using a US friend’s address, it is also a form of fraud, so even Canadians using their SIN number, but using a false US address is at best “grey.” Of course lots of miles and points enthusiasts employ “grey” tactics… But Customs and immigration will not appreciate the “trick” as much as some blog readers

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