Coming from another country to the U.S., a new student can find money culture in the U.S. very different from his home country. There are a number of things you cannot do without having a major credit card in the U.S.; getting a rental card, for instance.
There are many student credit card offers on the market but for international students, things get more complicated than for the average U.S. kid.
First, you need a Social Security Number (SSN) for almost every U.S. credit card application. An SSN is issued by the Social Security Administration and serves originally for tax accounting purposes but in fact, an SSN is widely used everywhere in U.S. as a person’s unique ID number for reference.
International students under F-1, J-1, or M-1 visas can obtain an SSN, but it will require a student to get a job offer – only those who are employed or have a job offer can file papers to the Social Security Administration.
So as a first step a student needs to complete is to contact University Administration and ask for a job offer to work on campus or for an off-campus work permit. After getting an offer, it is a straightforward process to file for an SSN.
Credit card applications require a permanent address in the U.S. (you can simply use your school address as a permanent one).
Another problem is a co-signer. Under the CARD Act of 2009, young kids (18-21) need to either have a regular income source or bring in a co-signer on the application.
Given an international student usually doesn’t have a parent, legal guardian, or spouse with an established U.S. credit history, the only option left is to have a regular paying job.
The same rules apply for a secured card – an applicant needs to have a regular income source, which should be enough to cover all credit card payments.
The easiest way is to get a prepaid card, but we usually do not recommend them, because almost all prepaid cards are charging a fee and does not help in any way to start a US credit history. PayPal card may be convenient to some, but it still has the same issues.
Another option would be getting a debit card from your University credit union. Unfortunately, none of these cards will help you in building your U.S. credit history.