Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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!
Maintain Your Credit History
When someone from the US goes overseas, what happens to their credit? If they continue to use their card(s), they will remain active. It’s only when they cancel accounts, stop using their cards, or cease to maintain an active credit file that it may become difficult to be approved for new cards after some time passes.
If you are going to be away from the US for a long time, and haven’t already been gone too long, it’s important you continue to maintain your credit history. This could be as simple as using your US credit cards occasionally. Or setting up a small recurring payment (like paying for your parents’ Netflix account!)
Another option is requesting supplemental cards for a trusted family member or friend who could then use them once in awhile to keep your accounts active.
If you’re unsure whether you have an active credit history, 1st check your free Credit Karma and Credit Sesame reports. If you have a Social Security Number (SSN), or had 1 in the past, you may still have some credit history, regardless of whether or not you actually still live in the US, or have been away for many years.
Normally you can also request a free annual free credit report, which tracks all inquiries over the last 2 years from the 3 different credit bureaus. But if you’re currently overseas you will be blocked from loading the website. You could ask a trusted friend or family member to download it from the US and send it to you.
An alternative is to get a US VPN (Virtual Private Network). Once you’ve set it up on your computer, websites recognize you as “being in the US. ” There are lots of companies selling US Virtual Private Networks online for reasonable prices.
If you no longer have a credit history, you’ll have to rebuild it. I’ll talk about that in a future post. However, if your scores are healthy and active, then you’re ready to apply for cards. You can still get lots of cards and even have app-o-ramas while being overseas. But don’t forget to read the dangers of applying for credit cards.
That said, many banks require you to be a resident of the US to apply for cards, but you can always put in a US address. However, do what is comfortable for you!
Register Your Phone
You’ll want to register a US home or cell number with Skype or Rebtel, preferably before leaving. The number you register should be the same number you use on the applications for new credit cards. Because when you call the banks to get new cards approved or to activate credit cards, your registered number will appear in the banks’ caller ID. This can save you the time and hassle of identifying yourself.
You might be wondering, why have a US cell phone if you don’t live there? Well, some folks do regularly visit and like to keep the same number when in the US. Or, you want the same number to avoid problems when registering, or calling the banks about your cards. It’ s easy to maintain a US cell number even if you don’t use it regularly.
T-Mobile offers $10 prepaid SIM cards which fit any unlocked phone that takes SIM cards. Or you can buy these on Amazon for as low as $3. As long as you recharge your account with $10 every 12 months, your phone number will remain active! When you travel to the US, just go online to your T-mobile account and choose your plan for the time you’ll be there. It’s very handy!
Foreign Currency Fees – Are the Points Worth It?
Depending on which cards you want, you’ll 1st have to decide how much you can afford to spend monthly. You definitely shouldn’t spend more than you would in your normal daily spending. You should also read the 40+ ways to meet the minimum spending requirement.
However, meeting the minimum card spend while overseas is a little more challenging. Usually you should avoid cards with foreign transaction fees, because they can really add up! But if the card you want charges these fees, you can meet part or all of the minimum spending requirement with Amazon payments.
With Amazon payments you can send up to $1,000 to another person each month for free from your credit card. It’s safer to also use your card for some regular purchases. As always, do what’s comfortable for you.
If the minimum spending requirement is beyond what you can do with Amazon payments, you may have little choice but to use this card and pay the average foreign transaction fees of ~3%, depending on what choices you have while overseas. This may make sense if the sign-up point bonuses are worth it to you!
For example, the current offer for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, is 50,000 miles after $3,000 in purchases within the 1st 3 months. Even if you pay the foreign transaction fees on $3,000 in order to reach the minimum spend, that still only $90 ($3,000 minimum spending X 3% foreign transaction fees) in fees.
To redeem a round-trip ticket off-peak to Central America, Alaska, or lots of places in between, it would cost you 30,000 miles. Buying a paid ticket could easily cost $500 or far more. So you’re still coming out ahead since this card has at least $410 in value if you spend $90 in foreign transaction fees to get the signup bonus.
Or, if you have a trusted friend or relative in the US, you can add that person as an authorized user on the card. Then that person uses the card and deposits the money owed to you in your US bank, PayPal, or Amazon payments account.
It’s easier when you choose a credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees at all!
To get the sign-up bonus of 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, the minimum spending requirement is $4,000 within the 1st 3 months.
Because the Chase Sapphire Preferred card does NOT charge foreign transaction fees, the value of the 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points is at least $400 since they can be redeemed for gift cards.
But you can get Big Travel with Small Money when you transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to travel partners that include:
- British Airways
- Korean Air
- Singapore Airlines
- United Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
Depending on the award you have in mind, you can easily get $800, or even up to $2,000 in value, depending on the redemption. See a detailed review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
If you’re currently overseas, thinking of going, or know someone that is, don’t let that stop you or them from earning lots of points. It may take a little more work, but it’s still possible to have Big Travel with Small Money!
In the next post in this series I’ll explain how to establish a US bank account while overseas, if you don’t have one already. You’ll need it if you plan to get lots of cards!