How to Get Credit Cards if You’re New to the US?

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If you don’t have a credit history in the US, you’re almost certainly NOT going to get approved for many of the great miles and points credit cards such as the Citi American Airlines cards with a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus.

Most of the lucrative miles and points credit cards are NOT targeted to folks applying for their first credit cards.

Fortunately Getting a Credit History is Easier Than Dealing With Immigration

Welcome to the US, but Don’t Forget to Establish a Credit History!

Limited Credit History

Folks new to the US have the same issue as students – a limited credit history.

Banks are often hesitant to lend to folks with no credit history.  This includes students, folks who’ve never taken out a loan, and folks new to the US because of the increased risk of not paying back their debt.

But there are still ways you can establish and build credit.

How to Build a Credit History?

1.   Authorized Users

One way to build credit for people who are new to the US is by being an authorized user on someone’s account.

If you have a friend or relative who has a long, good credit history, consider asking them to add you as an authorized user on their credit card.  Remember that your friend or relative is responsible for the amount you charge on the card, so don’t spend a lot on the card.

But not everyone has this opportunity.

2.   Student Card

If you’re a student who is new to the US, you can apply for student credit cards.  See this post for more details on which student card to apply for.

3.   Capital One Card for Newcomers

Update:  The Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers has disappeared from the Capital One site.  I’ll update the link if it returns.

Link:  Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers

The Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers is designed to help build credit and reports directly to all three credit bureaus.  This means that you are building a credit profile with all 3 major credit bureaus in the US – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

But before you apply for any credit cards, be sure you are aware of the 5 dangers of applying for credit cards.

Apply for the card and charge 20% to 30% of your credit line and pay your balance in FULL each month.

After about 4 to 7 months, you should be able to get approved for the regular miles and points credit cards.

Other benefits of the card include:

  • 2% cash back on travel purchases
  • 1% cash back on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

You earn unlimited cash back that doesn’t expire and you can get your cash back anytime as a credit to your account or a check mailed to you.

After a few months of using the card and paying your balance in full each month, you’ll build your credit history so you could apply for other miles and points cards.

4.   Transfer American Express Card

If you have an American Express card in a few select countries outside the US, you can transfer your card to the US.

Bottom Line

You won’t be able to get miles and points cards with a large sign-up bonus unless you have a credit history.  But banks realize that folks new to the US don’t have any credit history and have specific cards to help them establish a credit history.

Folks new to the US, can establish a credit history by applying for a student credit card or the Capital One card for Newcomers.  After you get the card charge 20% to 30% of your credit line and pay your balance in FULL each month.

After about 5 to 7 months, you should be able to get approved for the regular miles and points credit cards and embark on the miles and points version of the American Dream!

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28 responses to “How to Get Credit Cards if You’re New to the US?

  1. My wfe who is new to the u.s. just got here last year was sent by amex 2 pre-qualified offers 1 was the amex gold card with 25k amex points bonus and 1 was the PRG also with 25k bonus points. We applied for the gold card a month ago and was approved. I was very surprised coz she doesnt have a job too I put self employed since we sell a bit sometimes on ebay. I did add her as an authoriZed user 1st thing when she arrived. Im guessing she just got lucky maybe coz even tho I work and have atleast a 6yr credit history never have received pre-approved decent deals from credit companies. I am thinking of applying for her the prg pre-approved app this week.

  2. I have added my non-US husband to some of my credit cards but it’s so frustrating he can’t get his own credit cards (no SSN) even though I am willing to co-sign for him.

  3. It took me over a year since my first credit card (capital one with $500 CL) in US to get my first big bonus credit card approved ( chase sapphire preferred). Since I didn’t understand anything about credit history and hard inquires I had a total of 11 hard inquired but none on the last 6 months of the date I applied to CSP. After I got my CSP with $5.700 CL. I applied too all other cards and got approved for all of then. Citi Amex and Visa ( 2 browser trick) Chase Freedom, United explorer, Ink plus; Barcklays (approved for the simple one)… Good luck for the new ones 🙂

  4. How many cards are too many? I have plenty of good credit and have just started signing up for a couple of cards for the big bonuses to give this a try. Do you have a max number that you would sign up for in a year, and would you cancel all of them after a year? I know not to cancel my oldest credit cards so I have a few I would never cancel.

  5. I first tried the link to the Cap One Newcomers card and it worked fine. I tried it again an hour later and it doesn’t show on Cap One’s website anymore. What happened??

  6. Which card do you recommend for new comer? The link points to 9 different card and it seems they all require excellent credit history?

  7. Jigar; you are seeing the “compare” screen because somehow the link is not working; the reason for my post. Somethings not working.

  8. If you have an Amex already in another country you can get a US one through their global transfer program – https://www.americanexpress.com/global-card-transfers/

  9. My brother is not American and opened a bank account here in the US couple years ago using his passport and another form of identification. He DOES NOT have a social security number. His account has been opened for a while now and he always have transactions in his account since he uses the debt card when travelling, etc.. so I guess he has some history in his bank account. Now he started to be targeted by many credit card companies offering him a credit card. However, as I explained before, he does not have a S/S. Is it possible for him to get a credit card without having a S/S?

  10. What about long-time AMEX users from other countries? Amex can do some background check and approve them within a week, or so I am told.

  11. What about secured cards? There’s a pretty good deal with Lanpass Visa from US Bank. You get 10,000 miles (16,000 km) after first use. That’s good for a rt for many flight in-country in many Parts of South America.

  12. Hey – do you have a link to the Citi AA 50,000 points offer? I can’t find it on the linked page. Thanks!

    • @daniel – Adding her as an authorized user likely helped build her credit.

      @Aaron – It varies based on your credit profile and credit history. I usually don’t cancel cards which offer me a good perk for keeping them and paying the annual fee.

      @Damon @Jigar – That’s very strange. The link worked last night and the card was on the Capital One website, but isn’t working now. I’ll update the post.

      @Adam @Uri – Good point, and I’ll add that to the post. Thanks!

      @Santastico – You need a social security number to apply for US credit cards.

      @Brian – That would be another option for someone new to the US, but I’m not a fan of them unless absolutely needed.

      @Laura – It is #5 on the list!

  13. Had a very good experience with AMEX card transfer : I had a basic AMEX card for a little more than 1 yr in France and called AMEX to do the transfer when I arrived in the US. I was approved instantly and received a credit card with a 8000$ credit line. This allowed me to build credit history very quickly and I could get approved for a Chase United card 3 months later !

  14. As per my recent experience, adding AU’s onto your report doesn’t help much in getting approved for credit, issuers scrutinize your report better nowadays. While adding AU’s DOES get you a good FICO score, banks look at the actual meat on the report… Also, your post implies that the new authorized user should spend on the card. In reality, for almost all cards (except Amex) the AU’s card is identical to the primary card in all details. As long as there is some activity on the card, it will report as such, not differentiating WHO did the transactions. The authorized user could really just destroy his card and reap the same benefits.
    Best method I’ve found is to become a “Joint” cardholder onto an existing quality card. Chase used to allow adding a “Joint” even though the would-be join had NO credit history, as long as it wasn’t BAD. They no longer do joints. BOA still does, BUT they need at least SOME credit, that’s where the CapitalOne for Newcomers comes in, do that, wait 2 months, then get 1-2 Joint cards and you’re good to go.

  15. I’d like to point out that you do not necessarily need an SSN to apply for a credit card. Sometimes a bank can issue you a credit card if you have significant banking relationship with them even if you do not have an SSN. You will have to show up at a branch and talk to a personal banker – remember to bring your legal documents in case they ask for them. I know that Wells Fargo, Chase, and probably Bank of America, have done this in the past. If you have more than 10k in assets with any of these banks, give it a try.
    That being said, to participate in the credit card sign-up game, you’ll need an SSN at some point. The method I am telling you about should get you your first credit card, but won’t work conveniently in the long run.

  16. In response to Brian’s question about secured credit cards, yes that is a great option that you should consider. With a secured card, you have control over the credit limit, and when your card becomes unsecured it will appear no different from a regular credit card. I started out my credit history with a Bank of America’s Bankamericard secured card which has graduated into a regular card and has helped me get approved for many rewards cards.
    Check out my blog if you’d like to read about my personal experience with credit as a non-US citizen.

  17. A friend of mine who is new in the US with no social security number has been able to apply for US credit cards using an ITIN number. I think you need to have filed at least one US tax return for you to qualify for an ITIN number as a tax id and it can be used as a substitute for a social security number. Hope this is of help to some.

  18. This might be a little off topic, but my 21-yr-old son has just gotten approved for the Citi AA Visa, which is his first credit card ever. It was his first try, also. I believe that adding them to my no-fee credit cards especially those with a long credit history as authorized users since they were 16 yrs old helped him get an instant approval from such a big credit company. Just be aware that anything you do with the credit cards could affect your children both positively and negatively. Oh, and MAYBE you shouldn’t give them cards until you know they are mature enough to handle them.

  19. From the CONTACT ME section of the blog:
    “I love answering questions from my readers and want you to travel for less!”

    I’m not trying to be a pain, but I won’t continue to read that part of the blog if you are no longer responding to the reader’s questions. Is that the case? Thanks for taking the time to respond to this question.

    • @Richard – Secured cards are a good option, but they charge very high rates of interest (of course, you should pay your balance in full), and some charge garbage fees. But, yes, they are worth considering.

      @MileHunter – That’s true, but there are certain requirements for an ITIN. It isn’t a form of identity like your SSN and is intended only to help folks comply with US tax laws.

      @Diane – The questions should have been emailed to me and I thought I was responding to them via email. Let me check to make sure that there wasn’t a glitch!

  20. Daraius: contrary to popular beliefs, secured cards don’t charge much higher interest rates than non-secured rewards cards. My Bank of America secured card’s APR was 20.24% (lowered to 11.99% by request after graduation), whereas my Amex Skymiles Gold’s APR is 19.24%. Realistically, at that kind of range it doesn’t matter since you should never carry a balance anyway, like you said!

  21. I arrived in 2011, was added as an AU in Feb 2012, now have 93500 in total credit. Score of 720 (as 12 inq are still burning a hole) my wife with no SS, just ITIN got a citi (just apply online). Chase also works with ITIN, so does amex, but have to call.

  22. By the way, what exactly is that “Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers”? Clicking the link opens up a selection of nine cards, none of which are named “Capital One Cash Rewards for Newcomers”. Thanks.

  23. Have you looked into correcting your link for card or find out where it went?

  24. Thanks for this very informative post Daraius 🙂
    Do you know if foreign students in the US are eligible for business cards? I have an excellent score but have been only applying for personal cards so far. Thanks!

  25. For those with small CL on a first card who need or want to charge larger amounts than 20-30% of CL, you can make a payment mid-cycle. Most banks typically report the balance your statement closes with to the credit bureaus, so once you get more than one card you can optimize your credit score by having one card report a small balance and the others all report a zero balance every month regardless of how much you are actually spending. The only exception I know of to this is US Bank, who reports balances at the end of a calendar month instead of the end of a statement cycle.