Getting a credit card if you're undocumented

Moving to a new country is tough. Navigating new social norms, laws, and everyday tasks can be challenging. Having financial flexibility and support when you move overseas can make the transition process much easier. Credit cards give you the ability to access different goods and services in order to establish a stable and satisfactory lifestyle in a new country.

The good news is you can get a credit card regardless of your immigration status. This SABEResPODER guide explains everything you need to know about applying for a credit card, the benefits that come with having credit, and what you’ll need to start the process.

The Importance of Having a Credit Card

In the United States, establishing credit gives you access to financing such as mortgage loans, private loans, and apartment leases. Financing approval is obtained through your credit score, a number determined by banks and lenders. Your credit score will take into account your credit card payment history, how many cards you have, and any late payments. Establishing good credit is essential for setting yourself up financially and accessing the tools mentioned above.

Credit cards allow you to purchase necessities for your home and family. Many come with benefits programs that include cash back bonuses, reward points, and frequent flier miles.  

How to Build Credit as a Foreigner 

Applying for a credit card is one of the best ways to build credit in the United States. Luckily, many financial institutions grant applicants credit cards without a Social Security Number (SSN). By applying for a credit card and using it responsibly, you’ll start building credit after making payments and reporting them to the bank.

You can also build credit through a builder loan. How this works is you take out a loan for a specific amount that you pay back at low interest rates. These are an affordable, accessible, and effective method for building credit. 

SSN and Credit Cards

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a number assigned to you by the U.S. Government through the Social Security Administration (SSA) for tax and income reporting purposes. It also serves as a personal identification number, which allows you to receive retirement benefits depending on the number of years you’ve worked. It’s also used to pay your taxes and is required to work legally in the U.S. 

Because it’s associated with your credit history, you can use your SSN to apply for a credit card. Banks and lenders use your SSN to evaluate if you are a suitable candidate to receive a card from them. That said, there are also credit card options for people who don’t have an SSN.

How to Apply for a Credit Card If You’re Undocumented

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To obtain a credit card without a Social Security Number, follow these steps: 

1. Apply for an ITIN number

Obtaining an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is critical to obtaining a credit card without an SSN. The government issues this number to foreigners and individuals without legal status to track their income and tax contributions.

You can request an ITIN through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To apply, review this article which explains all the requirements and necessary documentation. Generally, it takes about two months to receive an ITIN if you submit all the paperwork and follow the steps correctly.

Keep in mind: The ITIN can’t be used to apply for work in the United States, nor is it an SSN substitute. However, it can be used as both a means of identification and to file and pay your taxes. 

2. Select a bank that accepts an ITIN as identification

Several banks will let you apply for a credit card using only your ITIN. Generally these banks have companies in charge of tracking tax verification, so they approve cards for applicants with an ITIN without requiring any other documentation.

Some banks and credit card companies that accept the ITIN:

  • American Express
  • Bank of America
  • Chase
  • Jasper
  • Capital One
  • Citi

3. Check your credit score 

Good credit is important because many companies that accept an ITIN will want to know if you have enough income to pay any future debts. If you have a low credit score, there are ways to rebuild it. In fact, there are plenty of companies that specialize in this.

You can check your credit report for free through this website or by calling 1-877-322-8228. On the website, select the option that says "request your credit reports," fill out the online form with the information requested, and then download your report.

4. Apply for a credit card

Once you complete the steps above, you can apply for a credit card at the financial institution of your choosing. This will allow you to build your credit score, access goods and services, and put you on the road to securing financial stability in the United States. 

Getting a credit card doesn’t usually take long. Some banks can even pre-approve you on the spot. This is an excellent opportunity to establish good credit, so be sure you make payments on time to avoid defaulting or late payment penalty fees. 

Credit Card Requirements for Foreigners

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If you’re undocumented and cannot apply for a credit card with an ITIN, you can access other alternatives. Some of them are:

Authorized user of another credit card

If you have a friend or family member who already has a credit card, this option can be helpful. The primary user is responsible for making payments, but you’ll receive your own card to use and spend with, as long as the amounts are within the card’s credit limit. 

This is an option for improving your credit score because it creates a record of your payment history. This report can be used as proof of good standing. Many use this option to provide family support and teach their children to use credit responsibly.

Prepaid cards

Also known as secured credit cards, these cards come with a set limit that’s paid in advance as credit. They help build your credit score, allow you to make lower payments, and ensure that you meet the financial requirements to qualify for a regular credit card. 

Alternative credit cards

Alternatives to regular credit cards come from institutions that evaluate other criteria, such as your income, length of stay in the country, and other assets. Although many of these credit cards are prepaid, you can easily purchase goods and services without an SSN or ITIN. Some of these cards are:

Other options

There are other alternatives to credit cards to help you get by in the United States. These include loans or debit cards, such as PODERcard, an accessible and easy-to-use banking alternative provided by SABEResPODER.

PODERcard allows you to keep your money safe and use your card whenever you need it. Apply with an ITIN, Matrícula Consular de México, or your SSN. Manage your finances with no monthly fees, no minimum balances, no overdrafts, and no hassles!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take for my credit card to arrive?

After submitting the necessary documents required by your bank, you should receive your credit card within seven to ten business days.

What are the benefits of having an ITIN?

If you decide to apply for an ITIN, you must comply with the U.S. tax regulations and avoid complications with the IRS. Having an ITIN will give you access to financial tools within the U.S. system. That said, it doesn’t serve any purpose other than filing federal tax returns.

How old do I have to be to get a credit card?

You must be at least 18 years old and demonstrate proof of income to have your own credit card. Younger adults between 18 and 21 typically undergo a more rigorous income review to confirm that their credit scores are adequate and they can take on the financial responsibilities of owning a card.

Having Your Own Credit Card Is Possible! 

Getting a credit card is within reach! With this SABEResPODER guide, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps to having your own credit card and will be closer to achieving your financial goals in the United States. You can also use PODERcard, a safe and accessible tool to effectively manage your money.