This series of posts is written by the Wandering US Expat, who’s lived in Australia and Panama. And applied for cards from there!
Don’t let living abroad stop you from getting miles and points bonuses from credit cards!
It’s no secret that US banks lead the world in promotional point bonuses for new customers. They give away lots of points to get a new customer in the hopes that you’ll remain, and spend, with them for years. Lots of non-US folks wish they could get access to the same deals!
But many US citizens and ex-permanent residents, known as expats, often wonder whether they can still get credit cards if they leave or have already left the US. Perhaps they’ve relocated for a job or have gone for an extended trip abroad. Some expats have left permanently to start a new life.
Are you or someone you know in this category?
Figures are hard to determine because the US does not track expats who are traveling or living abroad. But a recent report estimated the number to be living overseas at about 2 to 7 million. There are millions more who leave, or “visit” outside the US for months at a time all year round.
This series will help folks living outside the US have Big Travel with Small Money!
“Living or Working Overseas” Series Index
- Part 1 – You Can Still Get Lots of Cards!
- Part 2 – How to Setup a Bank Account While Overseas
- Part 3 – Establish, or Re-establish Credit While Overseas
- Part 4 – Mail Forwarding Services for the Overseas Expat
- Part 5 – Charge to Your US Cards, Transfer Foreign Currency to Pay Your Bills
- Part 6 – Car Rental Insurance Reductions – For US and Non-US Licensed Drivers
- Part 7 – Dual Citizens/Residents – Get Extra Points!
Activate Your New Card
By now, you’ve established or re-established your credit while overseas. You want to apply or have applied for cards and listed an address where someone can receive your mail. But the next challenge could be easy or difficult, depending on where you now live, or are visiting long-term.
The person you’ve listed as your address is someone you trust. Or at least I’d hope so because they’re getting your mail! When a new card (or cards!) arrives, you will be eagerly waiting for your friend or relative to let you know so you can activate the card.
Instead of waiting for your trusted friend or relative to mail you the card, you can activate it immediately. That way you can begin using the card to meet the minimum spending requirement to get the sign-up bonus.
Ask for the
- card number
- 3 digit security code on the back of the card
- expiration date
- card activation instructions
Or your friend could take photos of the front and back of the card and send them to you by email or text message.
Now you can use it for purchases online or anywhere that doesn’t require the physical card such as Amazon payments.
And when your card is activated, if it gets lost in the mail from the US to your overseas address, the bank may assist you with a replacement card. Some banks are willing to expedite by mail a replacement card to folks on an “extended” trip overseas, wherever they are.
Do You Need the Physical Card?
You don’t really need to have the card in your hand if you plan to meet the minimum spending requirement through online purchases.
But if you prefer to have the actual card, 1 way to do this is by timing your applications ~2 weeks before visiting the US. This can save you the trouble of having your cards mailed to you.
Depending where you live, mail can be tough to get. There are some places where mail service barely exists.
In that case, you can get the card when someone visits you.
Or your friend could mail it to you via US Postal Service, UPS, etc. But this can be expensive. There are much more economical and secure ways of sending things.
Mail Forwarding Services – Physically Receiving
If you’ve ever spent long periods abroad, or lived abroad, you’ve probably investigated ways to receive your mail. This post is not intended to cover EVERY possible scenario for every foreign country where you might be, but to familiarize you with different ways you can get your mail.
Mail forwarders do the following:
- clear your mail through customs
- send items from a specific US address to a specific foreign address (like their office)
- send 1 package or letter only for a 1-time fee
- send multiple items per month for a bulk monthly fee
Most forwarders are country-specific, so they know all the ins-and-outs, rules, and ways to get mail from the US to a certain country. And they know how to do it far cheaper than the big companies such as FedEx and UPS.
For example, consider Mailboxes Etc., a known US brand. They have a service inexpensively forwarding mail overseas to places such as Panama, which is growing in popularity as a place where US retirees are moving.
They have a monthly package which provides a US post office box in Miami. All mail arriving at the PO box is immediately forwarded to 1 of several local offices within the foreign country for folks to pick up. Packages bigger than a large type letter may generate a fee.
Once the letter or package arrives, the mail forwarding service will contact you.
There are lots of services like this around the world.
Mail Forwarding Services – With Online Management
You may find online mail management services to be more convenient than traditional mail forwarders. One worth considering is is Earth Class Mail.
Besides being handy for businesses, they’re helpful for expats too. The price is a bit more than traditional mail forwarders, but the extra services and convenience may be worth it for you.
You can check the current Earth Class Mail prices and packages.
Earth Class Mail will scan the outside of the envelopes you receive so you can view them in your online mailbox. Then you can you filter through your items to see what has arrived.
You can choose to discard or forward mail. However, if you need further information you can request they scan the contents of a letter so you can make a decision.
Another useful service is mail and parcel forwarding. You may find this helpful for those really important items like your new credit cards!
One downside to Earth Class Mail is they only ship with USPS or FedEx which could cost more than other mail forwarders.
But if you want to quickly view your mail and want to choose what to send overseas, Earth Class Mail could be a good choice.
You can use a mail forwarding service to ship your new credit cards to you from the US. But if you have a trusted friend, you can activate your new cards right away! This would give you more time to complete the minimum spending requirement to get the sign-up bonuses.
In the next post of this series I’ll go over the most cost effective ways to pay your US credit card bills while you’re abroad.