Looking for the best credit cards for international students?

TransferWise
02.17.20
9 minute read

If you’re in the US as an international student, you’ll need to take a few steps to get your finances into order.

Opening a local US bank account can help to cut your international transaction fees - and getting a credit card can also be a smart way to make daily life easier. However, international students can find it tricky to get approval for a credit card without a US credit history or SSN.

Here we will review a few of the best credit card options for international students - as well as some alternatives, like the multi-currency Mastercard from TransferWise. This smart card also comes with a multi-currency account, with your own US bank details so you can manage your money like a local once you arrive in the US. Let’s get started.

TransferWise's multi-currency Mastercard can be up to 4x cheaper when spending abroad, compared to banks and PayPal

Table of contents:


Getting an international student credit card in the USA

Need a credit card for your day to day spending? It can be hard to find the right card option if you’re an international student, so some research is essential. There are also a few practical steps you may consider taking to get started.

If you’re not sure how to proceed, it’s worth talking to your college or university’s international student support team, as they may be able to offer helpful individual advice. Getting a taxpayer ID number (ITIN) through the IRS, for example, might be a smart step to help you get your credit card sorted. However, your options may vary according to the visa you hold, making personal advice essential if you want to hit the ground running.¹

US citizens headed abroad to study might run into different issues. High international transaction fees, for example, might push up your costs when studying overseas. Getting the right credit card lined up before you travel is a smart move.

This guide will take a look at credit cards which might suit international students arriving in the US, as well as US citizens headed off for a period of study abroad.


Credit cards for international students

Getting a credit card can be a good way to build credit history and manage your money day to day.

However, as an international student in the US - or if you’re a US citizen planning on studying abroad - you’ll need to do some research to find cards which are suitable. Depending on your situation, the range of card options may be somewhat limited - and you’ll also need to check out the fees to make sure you get the best possible deal.

Let’s take a look at some popular international student credit cards, including credit cards without SSN for international students.


1.Capital One Journey Student Credit Card

You’ll get 1% cash back with this card, and can get a higher credit line once you have made 5 payments on time. There are no foreign transaction fees, which can cut your costs when spending outside of the US.

You’ll be able to apply for this card if you’re an international student with a US address, and either an SSN or ITIN. You must also be over 18 to apply.²

Here are the fees and charges you’ll want to consider when choosing this card.

Fee type Capital One Journey Student Credit Card
Annual charge No fee
APR 25.99% at the time of research*
Cash advance fee Either $10 or 3%, whichever is greater
Late payment fee Up to $39

*Correct on 5th February 2020


2.Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

You can apply for a Deserve EDU card online, without impacting your credit score. You don’t need an SSN to apply, which makes this a popular choice for international students. With the Deserve EDU card, there’s no annual fee and you can get 1% cashback on purchases. You’ll also get Amazon Prime Student free for a year.³

You can’t get a cash advance, or balance transfer facilities with this card option.

Here’s a rundown of the fees you need to consider before applying.

Fee type Deserve EDU charge⁴
Annual charge No fee
APR 20.24% at the time of research*
Cash advance fee Cash advances are not available
Late payment fee Up to $25
Returned item fee Up to $37
Foreign transaction fee No fee

*Correct on 5th February 2020


3.Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students

If you’re a US citizen looking to study abroad, this could be the right credit card for you. Bank of America was recently voted best bank for college students** - and this card comes with a number of useful perks such as rewards, no annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.** At the time of research, there’s also an opening bonus offer which could net you $250 off travel purchases, if you spend $1,000 on your card within the first 3 months of opening.⁵

The APR on this card could be a great benefit, with a 0% APR opening offer and the potential to access a relatively good APR if you are deemed creditworthy. However, as with any credit card, you’ll need to consider some fees, limits and penalties before you choose. Let’s take a look at the details for the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students.

Fee type Bank of America Travel Rewards charge⁶
Annual charge No fee
APR 12 month 0% APR period followed by an APR of 16.49% - 24.49% based on your creditworthiness Correct at the time of research*
Cash advance fee Direct Deposit and Check Cash Advances: Either $10 or 3%, whichever is greater ATM, Over-the-Counter, Same-Day Online and Cash Equivalent Cash Advances: Either $10 or 5%, whichever is greater
Late payment fee Up to $28 You may also find that your APR is increased to a penalty APR, which can be applied indefinitely after you make a late payment
Returned item fee Up to $39
Foreign transaction fee No fee

*Correct on 5th February 2020


4.American Express Blue Cash Everyday

The American Express Blue Cash Everyday Credit Card is worth looking at if you’re an international student from the UK, Canada, India, Mexico or Australia. If you have a credit history in any of these countries, you may be able to rely on this to open an Amex card in the US. This could get you a better APR than if you need to start building your credit history all over again.

You’ll get up to 3% cashback on purchases and there’s no annual fee. However, there are a few other costs you’ll need to think about - here’s what you need to know.

Fee type AmEx Blue Cash Everyday charge⁷
Annual charge No fee
APR 15 month 0% APR period followed by an APR of 14.49% - 25.49% based on your creditworthiness Correct at the time of research*
Cash advance fee Either $10 or 5%, whichever is greater
Late payment fee Up to $39 You may also find that your APR is increased to a penalty APR, which can be applied for at least 6 months after you make a late payment
Returned item fee Up to $39
Foreign transaction fee 2.7%

*Correct on 5th February 2020

5.Credit One Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit

If you’re a US resident and have an SSN, but you need to build - or rebuild - your credit card, a specialist product like the Credit One Platinum Visa for Rebuilding Credit might help. You’ll likely need to pay an annual fee of up to $99.⁸

Here are the fees and charges you need to think about.

Fee type Credit One Platinum Visa charge⁹
Annual charge $0 to $95 in the first year, $0 to $99 in subsequent years
APR 19.49% - 25.49% based on your creditworthiness Correct at the time of research*
Cash advance fee Either $5 or 8% of the amount of each Cash Advance, whichever is greater, or $10 or 3% of each Cash Advance, whichever is greater, or $10 or 5% of each Cash Advance, whichever is greater
Late payment fee Up to $39
Returned item fee Up to $39
Foreign transaction fee $1 or 3%, whichever is greater

*Correct on 5th February 2020


International student credit card alternatives

When you’re deciding how best to manage your money, it’s worth considering some alternatives as well as credit card options. Here are a couple to look at.

TransferWise Mastercard with balances

1.TransferWise multi-currency Mastercard

With a multi-currency Mastercard from TransferWise you can spend easily in the US and abroad, wherever you see the Visa symbol displayed. You’ll be able to get your debit Mastercard without an SSN - you just need to apply online and provide some personal information and ID to get started.

The multi-currency Visa Mastercard from TransferWise is linked to a borderless foreign currency account. You can hold over 50 different currencies in the account, and send money easily all over the world. Currency conversion is always done using the mid-market exchange rate, with just a low transparent fee to pay - which could make this a much cheaper option than using your regular bank for international payments.


2.Secured credit cards

Another alternative is to choose a secured credit card. Secured credit cards might be offered to people with a poor or limited credit history, but usually require you to pay a deposit. Your credit will then be equal to the deposit amount - and could be increased as you build a credit history over time.

Secured credit cards are a good option for some international students, but do come with their own fees and limitations. Learn more about secured credit cards with our helpful guide.


3.How we chose the student credit cards

In the end, the right credit card is a personal choice. Some cards will suit you - others may not.

This listing focuses on cards which are most likely to work for students, to start your research. We chose cards which were available for international students, with relatively low and transparent fees - and ideally with no annual charges. We also looked for options available for those with limited or poor credit history, and cards which may be offered even if you don’t have an SSN to use for identification purposes.


Credit card tips and advice for international students

If you’re coming to the US to study, building a credit history while you’re in university could be a good choice. Your credit history is used in a surprisingly broad range of situations, from assessing the APR to give you on a credit card, to checking your suitability for a rental property or deciding the rates to offer for insurance premiums.

Build your credit score by accessing credit and using it wisely. This means making prompt repayments, and avoiding maxing out the credit limits you’re offered. Over time, you’ll show you’re financially responsible - and build that credit score along the way.

Choosing the right card - or combination of cards - to help manage your finances as a student can provide a number of immediate and future benefits. You could save time and money, and build your credit history.

And if you choose a smart option like the Mastercard from TransferWise, you can also access low cost currency conversion, and send and receive payments all over the world - making it easy to organize your money across borders while you study abroad.


Sources:

  1. Can International Students Get a Credit Card?
  2. Capital One - Journey Student Credit Card
  3. https://www.deserve.com/
  4. Deserve® EDU Cardholder Agreement November 2019 Deserve® EDU Cardholder Agreement for Cards issued by Celtic Bank Deserve® ha
  5. Bank of America® Travel Rewards Credit Card for Students
  6. Terms and Conditions for Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
  7. American Express - Terms, conditions and disclosures - Blue Cash Everyday
  8. Credit One - Choosing a Credit Card
  9. Credit One - Disclosures, terms and conditions for Credit One Bank's credit cards

Sources accessed on 5 February 2020


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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