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Best Credit Cards for International Students

Best Credit Cards for International Students

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Oct 28, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

If you’re an international student studying at a university in the United States or a U.S. student headed abroad for a semester or more, you may find yourself in need of a credit card.

For students visiting the U.S., the first thing to know is that many credit cards require you to have a Social Security number in order to apply. If your school has authorized you to work on or off campus during your stay, you may be able to qualify for an SSN. If you don’t qualify, you might still be eligible for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which some banks will accept on a credit card application (though you might have to call or visit a branch in person rather than apply online). Finally, if you don’t qualify for either, there’s still a card that might fit your needs.

Know that to get a credit card in the U.S., you must be at least 18 and have a source of income.

In this article:

Best credit card for international students with no SSN

  • 1% unlimited cash back on ALL purchases

  • Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after your first purchase with your new Deserve EDU Mastercard (Lifetime Value of $59).

  • Build a positive credit history with responsible use

Highlights
  • Receive one year of Amazon Prime Student on Deserve after your first purchase with your new Deserve EDU Mastercard (Lifetime Value of $59).
  • Earn 1% Cash Back on all purchases with your Deserve EDU Mastercard. Once approved, you'll automatically start earning cash back on all purchases.
  • Feel secure with cell phone protection up to $600.
  • No deposit required. No annual fees.
  • No international transaction fees on purchases abroad so you can travel with confidence.
  • No Social Security Number required for international students to apply.
  • Refer A Friend Program: Refer anyone to Deserve using your personal referral code. Upon approval, card activation and use, you'll receive $30 and so will your referral. Referral bonuses are unlimited!
  • Manage and track your spending, set automatic payments and securely freeze your card all through one easy to use app.
  • See if you prequalify with no impact to your credit score in minutes.
  • Deserve Mastercards are issued by Celtic Bank, Member FDIC.
  • Enjoy Mastercard Platinum Benefits intended to make your life easier like Mastercard ID Theft Prevention™ and Master Rental®.

See additional details for Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students

More Info

The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students is a unique credit card designed with international students in mind. There’s no SSN or prior credit history required to apply, and you can get reimbursed for up to $59 when you use this card to sign up for a subscription to Amazon Prime Student (which is enough to cover a year’s subscription at the annual student rate). You also won’t need a co-signer or deposit to apply.

To apply as an international student, you’ll need the following:

  • Proof of a U.S. bank account balance
  • Your passport ID
  • Your student visa
  • Your I-20 form

Though a SSN isn’t required, be aware that you won’t be building a credit history without it. The Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students only starts reporting to the credit bureaus once you’ve linked a SSN to your card account.

The rewards rate is just OK — 1% unlimited cash back on all purchases. However, since the application requirements are designed with international students in mind, this card is well worth considering while you’re studying in the U.S.

More card info:

Annual fee Regular purchase APR Foreign transaction fee
$0 18.74% variable None

Best credit cards for students with a SSN to build a U.S. credit history

  • 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically

  • Credit line will equal your security deposit of $200 or more*

  • No annual fee, no late fee on your first late payment. No penalty APR*

Highlights
  • No Annual Fee, earn cash back, and build your credit with responsible use.
  • It's a real credit card. You can build a credit history with the three major credit bureaus. Generally, debit and prepaid cards can't help you build a credit history.
  • Establish your credit line by providing a refundable security deposit of at least $200 after being approved. Bank information must be provided when submitting your deposit.
  • Automatic reviews starting at 8 months to see if we can transition you to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit.
  • Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for Discover it® Secured

More Info

If you don’t have existing credit history, but you do have an SSN, a great way to build it is with a secured credit card. With a secured card, you submit a security deposit which then becomes your credit limit. Terms may apply.

One of the top secured cards is the Discover it® Secured, which offers 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically The issuer requires a minimum $200 deposit. Though you might not get much use out of the gas station category if you don’t have a car, you can still take advantage of the 2% cashback rate at restaurants. Plus, for new cardmembers, Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.

More card info:

Annual fee Regular purchase APR Foreign transaction fee
$0 22.99% variable None

The only downside to this card is that Discover is not as widely accepted in some parts of the world as Visa and Mastercard credit cards. If you want a card that you’re more likely to be able to use when visiting family back home, the Capital One® Secured Mastercard® may be worth taking a look at. It’s also a secured card, and while it doesn’t offer rewards, it does offer the chance to submit a lower security deposit — as you can be approved for a deposit of $49, $99 or $200.

Best credit cards for U.S. students studying abroad

For American college students studying outside U.S., two things are important to look for in a credit card: one that will be widely accepted as you travel, and one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. To the first point, Visa and Mastercard cards are often more widely accepted abroad than Discover or American Express cards. With that in mind, you may want to consider the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One®.

The foreign transaction fee is none, so you don’t have to worry about paying extra on each purchase you make abroad with the card. And it’s a Mastercard, so you can be secure in the knowledge that it’s likely to be accepted as you travel.

Finally, the rewards are quite decent. Earn 1% cash back on all purchases; 0.25% cash back bonus on the cash back you earn each month you pay on time.

More card info:

Annual fee Regular purchase APR Additional protection
$0 26.99% (variable) Get virtual card numbers to use for online purchases

Best student card for cash back

  • 0% intro for 6 Months*

  • Earn 5% cash back at different places each quarter up to the quarterly maximum, when you activate*

  • 12.99% - 21.99% Variable*

Highlights
  • INTRO OFFER: Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and when you pay using PayPal, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is 3.0 or higher for up to the next 5 years.
  • Get 100% U.S. based customer service & get your free Credit Scorecard with your FICO® Credit Score, number of recent inquiries and more.
  • Freeze It® on/off switch for your account that prevents new purchases, cash advances & balance transfers in seconds.
  • Get an alert if we find your Social Security number on any of thousands of Dark Web sites.* Activate for free.
  • No annual fee. No late fee on first late payment. No APR change for paying late.
  • Discover is accepted nationwide by 99% of the places that take credit cards.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 6 months, then the standard variable purchase APR of 12.99% - 21.99% applies.
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for Discover it® Student Cash Back

More Info

Your focus with a student credit card should be to build an excellent credit score and avoid getting into debt. However, if you’ve got the chance to earn rewards while doing so, that can put some money back into your pocket. That’s where the Discover it® Student Cash Back comes in.

Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. 1% unlimited cash back on all other purchases - automatically The 5% categories for 2019 are as follows:

  • January-March: Grocery stores
  • April-June: Gas stations, Uber and Lyft
  • July-September: Restaurants and PayPal
  • October-December: Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com

For new cardmembers, Unlimited Cashback Match – only from Discover. Discover will automatically match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year! There’s no minimum spending or maximum rewards. Just a dollar-for-dollar match. And finally, Discover will reward you for keeping good grades. Keep a GPA of 3.0 or higher and you can earn a $20 statement credit each school year for up to five years.

More card info:

Annual fee Regular purchase APR Foreign transaction fee
$0 12.99% - 21.99% Variable None

Best student card for groceries and gas

Don’t believe the stereotype — even college students need to eat more than instant ramen noodles. With the Citi Rewards+℠ Student Card, you can earn 2X ThankYou® Points at Supermarkets and Gas Stations for the first $6,000 per year and then 1X Points thereafter. Plus, earn 1X Points on All Other Purchases. If you commute or carpool to school, earning rewards at the gas station will also come in handy. For those who don’t have a car, earning rewards at supermarkets is still a great reason to get this card.

There’s also a sign-up bonus. Earn 2,500 bonus points after you spend $500 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening; redeemable for a $25 gift card at thankyou.com. Finally, this card rounds up to the nearest 10 points when calculating your rewards. So, for example, you could earn 10 points on a $2 purchase, or 30 points on a $22 purchase.

More card info:

Annual fee Regular purchase APR Foreign transaction fee
$0 14.49% - 24.49% (variable) 3%

The bottom line

If you’re an international student eligible for a SSN or an ITIN, that will open up your options when it comes to applying for credit cards. With one of those numbers, you can apply for a card that will reward you for spending on things, such as grocery shopping.

However, if you aren’t eligible for a SSN or an ITIN, take a look at the Deserve® EDU Mastercard for Students. It’s designed with international students in mind — and on top of that, you can get reimbursed for up to a year of Amazon Prime Student with this card.

For U.S. students studying abroad, getting a card that doesn’t charge a foreign transaction fee and that is widely accepted throughout the world is key. We like the Journey® Student Rewards from Capital One® for this.

Read: Nearly 2 in 5 College Students with a Credit Card Have Made a Late Payment

Whichever card you get, use it only for what you can afford to pay off each month. Your college years are a great time to build a credit foundation, but you don’t want to graduate burdened with unnecessary credit card debt.


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