Banking and Finance

The Best Credit Cards for International Students Without a SSN

July 27, 2021

A whopping total of international students enrolled in US colleges was nearly 1.1 million last year. With over a million international students living, studying, and often working in the United States, you begin to wonder: how are they banking?

That’s a great question! It appears that a large majority of international students rely on debit and credit cards from their home countries. And, while those often work just fine for checking out at the store, making payments online, or withdrawing cash at a local ATM, they’re slapped with hefty fees for doing so!

Without a social security number, many international students are left in the dark when it comes to banking in the US (at least, that is, until Cheese came along). And, the same goes for being able to access a credit card in most cases. If you are an international student without a SSN, here’s what to know about your credit card options.

What’s a SSN?

Let’s start off by answering a simple question: what exactly is a social security number? As an American, it might seem obvious, but as an immigrant or international student, understanding SSNs and the process of applying for one can be confusing.

A social security number is a nine-digit number that can be used to identify you or your business. It's just like another form of international identification, but the only difference between it and other international forms of id is that it never expires.

Can International Students Have a Social Security Number?

Unfortunately, simply being enrolled as a university student in the US doesn't qualify you for a social security number. However, if you’ve been approved to work on campus or need help understanding how to ensure you’re working legally in the US, we suggest visiting your university’s international student department. They should be able to guide you on the next steps.

The Social Security Administration does have this to say, though: “If your school has authorized you to work either on or off campus, and you meet Social Security’s eligibility requirements described in the next section, you can get a Social Security number.”

The issue with students and SSNs in the US is really surrounding the fact that a SSN is given and “used to report your wages to the government and to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits.” If you’re just studying then there’s really no reason to have a SSN. However, what about banking?!

Banking for International Students Without a SSN

As mentioned above, it can get tricky with most international students and immigrants when it comes to banking in the US. Sure, they can use their regular debit cards in the US, but they’re often charged a fee every single time they swipe it. That’s not good, but what are your options, really?

Well, for starters, in the US you can apply for a prepaid debit card without providing your SSN. Not interested in a prepaid card? Certain banks will accept applications with an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number).

If you need to figure out how to get an ITIN, learn more here about how to apply and to check your eligibility.

Don’t qualify for that? No worries! Cheese is here to help. You’re able to apply for a Cheese Debit Card with just an established US address, passport, and valid visa. Plus, you get access to tons of cashback perks, rewards, and more.

The Best Credit Cards for International Students Without a SSN

While the Cheese Debit Card does act like a credit card in the sense that you can access cashback perks and tons of savings, sometimes you might be looking to use a credit card. This can be helpful for international students and immigrants who plan on staying in the US long-term and will need to build their credit.

If that sounds like you, then here are some of the best credit cards for international students without a SSN:

Deserve EDU Mastercard for Students

This card is consistently ranked as one of the best credit cards for international students without a SSN because you don’t need a social security number in order to apply for the card! In fact, the card has won awards from NerdWallet, Money, and Fast Company.

Similar to the Cheese Debit Card, you don’t need a Social Security number to apply. But, the perks don’t stop there. Students also receive a subscription to Amazon Prime Student for a year, 1% cashback on all purchases, a $0 annual fee, and no international transaction fees.

Petal 2 Visa Credit Card

Don’t have a SSN? With Petal, that’s not an issue. And similar to both Cheese and Deserve, the Petal card is also designed to help you save! With zero fees to have the account, Petal takes their perks even further and gives you up to 1.5% cash back when you pay your bills on time, between 2-10% cash back at select merchants, and 1% cash back for simply spending!

The credit limit on this card is somewhat lower than other credit cards, however, starting out at just $500 and going all the way up to $10,000.’’ And, unfortunately, you will need an ITIN to apply for this card. Here is a helpful guide on how to apply for an ITIN as an international student in the US.

Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students

As a student, you likely eat out a lot. And, Capital One is here to reward you for that. With the Capital One SavorOne Rewards for Students credit card, you can not only apply for the card without a SSN, but you’ll  get the chance to earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining, entertainment, popular streaming services and at grocery stores. 

While the card comes with a $0 annual fee (great for students!), we do want to note that you need an ITIN to apply for the card, similar to the Petal 2 Visa card mentioned above.

Don’t Need a Credit Card? Get a Savings-Optimized Debit Card Instead

As an international student without a SSN, you might be wondering why you need a credit card in the first place. If you plan on staying in the US for quite a while, having a credit card in college can help you build credit you’ll need later on in life to do things like take out a mortgage loan or apply for a car loan. 

However, if you’re simply studying in the US for a semester or two, a credit card might not make sense. Instead, get a Cheese Debit Card! Our FDIC-insured debit card comes with $0 in fees on top of lots of great savings opportunities. In fact, you can earn a lot of cashback for simple spending. 

Interested in the super student savings? Click here to sign up!