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Best credit cards for international students

The right card can serve your needs, no matter where you are.

If you’re studying abroad, it’s important to have the right financial tools. While credit card options for international students are limited, you can find a few excellent starter credit cards. Note that if you’re an American student, you’ll likely need a US Social Security number (SSN) to apply for a card, but this isn’t a requirement for all cards.

We’ve compiled a list of the best cards for international students to help you find the best card for your needs.

We looked at all credit cards for students and compared features such as rewards rate, annual fee, intro APR period and the ability to apply without a US Social Security number. We chose the cards that offered the optimal combination of these perks.

What’s changed in 2021?

Our list held mostly steady for 2021. Bank of America’s no-annual-fee cards continue to be stellar options, offering simple and attractive rewards. We added the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card, whose issuing bank uses alternative screening methods if you don’t have a credit history.

What are the best credit cards for international students?

Best for no fees

Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card

Finder rating 3.1 / 5 ★★★★★

Apply now
on WebBank's secure website
Terms apply, see rates & fees
The Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card is a simple cashback product with no fees. It doesn't require a credit score, which can be extremely helpful for an international student.

Best credit card for international students without an SSN

Deserve® Edu Card

Apply now
on Deserve®'s secure website
Foreign students who don't have an SSN or an ITIN can apply for the Deserve® Edu Card. In addition, you get to earn unlimited cash back on all of your purchases without paying an annual fee.

Best credit card for US students abroad

Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students

Finder rating 4.1 / 5 ★★★★★

US students studying abroad could use a card like the no-annual-fee Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students. The card offers unlimited points on purchases, a solid signup bonus and no foreign transaction fees for purchases made abroad. Also, foreign students studying in the US can likely apply for this card with an ITIN.

Best credit card for international students for highest rewards on purchases

Discover it® Student Cash Back

Finder rating 4.2 / 5 ★★★★★

If you're looking to earn the highest cashback rate on select categories of purchases each quarter, then Discover it® Student Cash Back is a good choice. Aside from earning cash back, you get to earn a generous welcome offer and a good grades reward each year.

Best credit card for international students for everyday purchases

Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students

Finder rating 4.4 / 5 ★★★★★

How to choose the best credit card if you’re an international student

When choosing a card for you, consider the following:

  • Do you have an SSN?
    If you don’t, consider the Deserve® Edu Card card, which doesn’t require one to apply. Also, some credit cards let you apply with an ITIN.
  • Do you travel often?
    The Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students could be the best choice as you can quickly rack up points and redeem them on flights or baggage fees.
  • Do you want to earn accelerated rewards?
    In this case, both the Discover it® Student Cash Back and the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students could be a solid option due to the high rewards rate on select categories of purchases.

Do I really need a credit card if I’m an international student?

While a credit card can be helpful, you might not even need one. Here’s why you might reconsider:

  • You’re staying for a very short period of time.
    In this case, you could stick with a debit card, which can be much easier to qualify for and manage.
  • You don’t want the hassle of applying for a credit card.
    Some cards, such as the Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card, require you to obtain an invite code before you can apply. Other issues may ask you for additional documents before you can be approved.
  • You expect your spending to be extremely low.
    In this case, you might stick with simpler options such as cash.

Can a foreign student get a US Social Security number?

Yes. To apply for an SSN you must:

  • Be enrolled and registered for classes
  • Be in the US for at least 10 days
  • Have a student visa (F-1, J-1 or M-1)
  • Have permission to work in the US by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Note: A letter of authorization to work on- or off-campus by your school can be used to get your SSN. But if you don’t have permission to work, you can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN), which you can often use instead of SSN to apply for a credit card.

If you meet the requirements, visit a Social Security Administration office and fill out an SS-5 form. You will also need original ID documents, such as your passport.

Summary of best picks

Here’s a quick summary of our top international student credit card picks.

Best International Student Card Table

Credit cardAnnual feeRewardsWelcome offerIntro APR
Deserve® Edu CardNoYesYesNo
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for StudentsNoYesYesYes
Discover it® Student Cash BackNoYesYesYes
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for StudentsNoYesYesYes
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit CardNoYesNoNo

Compare international student credit cards

Looking to compare these cards side by side? Select your credit score below and click “Show Cards” to browse and compare your options.

Name Product Filter values Rewards Purchase APR Annual fee
Petal® 2
1% cashback on eligible purchases, 1.25% after six on-time payments and 1.5% after 12 on-time payments, plus 2% - 10% back at select merchants
12.99% to 26.99% variable
$0
Build your credit with rewards and no fees: Apply if you're new to credit or have a fair to good score of 600 or higher. See if you prequalify with no impact to your score.
Deserve® Edu Card
1% cash back on all purchases
18.74% variable
$0
Designed for college students to build credit history and earn rewards.
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
1.5x points on all purchases
0% intro for the first 12 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
$0
Earn 25,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. This can be redeemed for a $250 statement credit toward travel purchases.
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Bottom line

International students studying within the US — or US students studying abroad — could find solid credit cards that can help them earn rewards or save money on interest. But know that most credit cards require a US Social Security number or an International Tax Identification Number to apply.

However, if none of these cards seem right for you, compare other student credit cards until you find a fit for your financial needs.

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