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?
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.
Reward points. Earn unlimited 1.5x points on all of purchases. Redeem points for a statement credit for flights, hotels, vacation packages, cruises, rental cars or baggage fees.
Signup bonus. Earn 25,000 points - worth $250 toward travel purchases - once you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days of account opening. This is one of the more generous signup bonuses you can get with a student credit card.
Intro APR period on purchases. Get 12 billing cycles of 0% intro APR period on purchases. After that, your rate reverts to a 13.99% to 23.99% variable.
0% intro for the first 12 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR
13.99% to 23.99% variable
25,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
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.
Cash back. Earn 5% cash back on rotating categories each quarter you activate them, on up to $1,500 in combined purchases. After reaching the cap and on all other purchases, you earn 1% cash back.
Cashback match. This is Discover's version of a welcome offer where Discover matches all the cash back you earned during your first year of card membership without limits. This means if you earn $500 in cash back during your first year, Discover will award you an additional $500.
Good grades reward. Every school year you earn a 3.0 GPA or higher, Discover will reward you with a $20 statement credit for up to five years.
0% intro for the first 6 months (then from 17.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR
10.99% intro for the first 6 months (then from 17.99% variable)
Discover will match cash back at the end of your first card year
Cash back. Earn 3% cash back on a category you choose each month and 2% back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on up to $2,500 in combined purchases each month. After reaching the cap. You'll earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
Signup bonus. Earn a $200 online cash rewards bonus once you spend $1,000 in your first 90 days of card membership.
No annual fee. You won't pay an annual fee for the life of the card.
0% intro for the first 15 statement closing dates (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
Balance transfer APR
0% intro for the first 15 billing cycles (then 13.99% to 23.99% variable)
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
Deserve® Edu Card
Bank of America® Travel Rewards for Students
Discover it® Student Cash Back
Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards for Students
Petal® 2 "Cash Back, No Fees" Visa® Credit Card
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.
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.
Kliment Dukovski is a credit cards and investments writer. He's written over 600 articles to help readers find and compare the best credit cards. Kliment has also written on money transfers, home loans and more. Previously, he ghostwrote guides and articles on foreign exchange, stock market trading and cryptocurrencies.
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