• Nam D.

Credit cards for International Students

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Credit Card.


I bet you have heard this term for a thousand times. Me too. I did not even understand how the credit system works until I came to the US. Thanks to a random Vietnamese banker that I found on a Facebook group, I actually learned how to play this credit game a little bit (or maybe not haha).


Here are some tips that I wanna share in this Alien Thoughts' blog so that you know how to use this credit system as Aliens. But please do not get in debt.

International Students can’t have credit cards?


COMPLETELY WRONG. I do not know about the other banks but with Bank of America, anyone who stays here lawfully can apply for a credit card. I have a friend who lived here for 4 years but did not know about this and he was using his debit card all that time. So yeah, you could apply for a credit card as long as you have legal papers (like I-20) and could be as soon as possible. I applied for my credit card 4 weeks after I came to Boston. Hence, applying for credit cards as international students is one of the easiest things to do, I’ll talk about it in the other part later.



International students can’t have credit scores?


YES and NO. To have credit scores, you need to get a SSN (Social Security Number). And to have a SSN, you need to get a job. It can be an on-campus job, internship CPT/OPT. By then, you will have your own credit score. However, with Bank of America, even if you do not have a SSN, they still store your credit history. So that when you transfer to another bank or when you actually have a SSN, they will convey this credit history to another bank or to your SSN. Therefore, even if you do not have a SSN, you still need to use your credit carefully. Unless you do not want to have a SSN or do not want to work here.



Credit cards for international students in us, boston blog
My Cash Rewards credit card and debit card

Can I apply for a credit card as international students right away?


NO. This is the tricky part. Even though there is no rule said that international students cannot apply for a credit card, you need to understand that nothing is free. Most of the bankers (or at least at Bank of America) would not tell you this, but to apply for a credit card, international students need to open a checking/saving account and need to put at least $500 on there. One of my friends was rejected right away after applying for his first credit card without opening an account. And sometimes it takes months to re-apply again. So do this carefully.


In addition, when you apply for a credit card, there will be a question about income. Of course, as an international student, you probably have 0 income. But surprise, you do. This is the time when I-20 becomes the most useful paper. You will put the total tuition fees from I-20 into your income part and that’s it, you’re done with this part.



Which credit card is the right one for international students?


So you’ve made it to this part. Don’t worry, this is the easiest part now. For Bank of America, I recommend these two cards: Cash Rewards and Travel Rewards. The first one is easier to get so you definitely want to get the Cash Rewards first before the Travel Rewards. Usually, for the first limit, you’ll get around $1000. After a while, you can call the bank to increase the limit amount (which I recommend to not do this unless you know how to manage your money haha).



Travel Rewards Card bank of america, Credit cards for international students in us, boston blog
The Travel Rewards Card

The Cash Rewards will help you to gain cash back, I usually use it for groceries shopping since it’s 2% for groceries and 3% for gas. The Travel Rewards will convert the amount of money you spend into points, and then will use points to pay for travel expenses. So in my daily life, I use my Travel Rewards card for everything and Cash Rewards for groceries shopping.


Tips: These cards also have first-time cash back rewards, which they will give you $200/$250 after you spend an amount of money in the first three months (one-time reward only). So you should definitely check on the website about the deals, and then tell the bankers about the rewards when you apply for a credit card. The banker won't mention the available deals unless you say you want to have them!

So that’s all you need to know (for now I guess) about credit cards for international students. I hope that you would not be afraid to apply for a credit card. And trust me, a credit card can be very handful in some certain circumstances (but most of the time it brings debt to you haha).


See you in the next post on Alien Thoughts. Don't forget to share this!


Tips from Alien Thoughts Boston

International Students Blog

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