Obtaining a US Credit Card Without a US Credit History

Yesterday I sought advice on Flyertalk for a co-worker on how to obtaina a credit card in the U.S. as a non-citizen who has just immigrated here and therefore doesn’t have a credit history attached to his new U.S. social security number.

I received four pieces of advice, that I thought I’d pass along here.

  • Go to the non-US bank where the person already has a relationship and have them set something up with a US affiliate, if there is one. In this case, the person is Canadian, so they could try to work through Royal Bank of Canada (which has the North Carolina-based RBC Centura) or Toronto Dominion (which has TD Bank North).
  • Have their employer take them to the financial institution where the business banks, and ask a senior person there to assist.
  • Get a secured card such as this one from Bank of America. After some time building a history with such a card it should be possible to obtain a standard card.
  • There are also credit cards, such as this British Airways card from Chase (which carries the standard BA co-branded card $75 annual fee along with signup bonus miles), that target folks arriving in the U.S. without a US credit history. This particular card is marketed at British expats, but presumably others could use it as well. It’s a Signature Visa so the underwriting standards for issuance without a US credit history may not be insignificant.

Anyone have other approaches?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If you are Canadian, you should be able to obtain a Canadian American Express card with your Canadian credit history. If you move to the United States, you can call Amex and they will convert your card into an American product. I’ve never done it, but I’ve been told it works.

  2. Actually I had given him this suggestion myself before posting to Flyertalk — and then promptly forgot to add it to the list I blogged! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  3. HSBC also allows to ‘transfer’ your credit history WITH THEM from country to country if you have Premier relationship. It is not difficult to qualify for HSBC Premier; they also offer it for a fee if you don’t qualify, and there is a free trial period as well.

  4. When I moved to Amsterdam for a year, I transferred my Amex card to Holland so I could pay for things in guilders. I also kept a US card for charges in the US that I wanted to repay in dollars. But the hardest problem was getting a “eurocard” that would give me ATM access, because they were worried a temporary resident would cash out on eurocheques and leave the country. Eventually we worked out a secured card where we locked money in a savings account to cover any cheques we might have, and returned the cheques just as we left for good.

    So I would think a secured credit card would be a good place to start, and the suggestions to get things from the home country, especially Amex, are also quite good.

  5. When I moved to the US as a grad student with no credit history, I used the Amex Global Transfer program to get a SPG Amex credit card the day after I got my SSN. Amex used my credit history from Singapore where I had held a personal and corporate card for about 5 years.


    While the process differs slightly from country to country, for the US it was pretty simple. I just called the number listed, gave them the details of my existing Amex card in Singapore, was told to apply online for any Amex card (and therefore get all the applicable bonuses) and call them back within 24 hours of the application, which they then processed manually.

  6. Try small, local banks or a credit union. Usually with direct deposit of a paycheck they will be willing to give a very small limit credit card — which can be raised in a matter of months upon establishing a credit history.

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