If I'm Living Overseas, Can I Apply for US Credit Cards?
"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
The United States is one of the largest credit card markets in the world, with roughly 7 out of every 10 Americans having at least one credit card. So if you're living overseas, can you apply for US cards? That's what TPG reader Ariel asked us in a Facebook message...
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Ariel"]If I am living overseas but am a US citizen that still has a US address and a US bank account, can I still open up a rewards card?[/pullquote]
When you apply for a US credit card, the financial institution issuing the card is going to use your credit report as a major factor in determining whether to extend credit to you. So regardless of where you live, in almost all cases you'll need to have an existing credit report at a US credit agency — the major ones are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to be eligible for a US credit card. And while there are a few exceptions, banks also usually ask for a US taxpayer ID number on the application, which for most people means your Social Security number.
If you're wondering, yes, you can in fact have a US credit report but not a Social Security number, since credit agencies match credit info to reports based on multiple pieces of identifying information, including name, birthday and address. You may also be able to use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead, but not everyone can qualify for an ITIN and not all banks will accept them for credit applications. But if you have both a US credit report and Social Security number, you're generally eligible to apply for US credit cards, regardless of where you're living.
However, there are a couple of caveats. First, if you're a US expat applying from overseas, you're going to need to maintain a US address and a US bank account like Ariel does. Most banks don't allow you to use a foreign address to apply for credit cards online, and even if they do, it's probably not the most secure way to have a credit card physically delivered to you. Then once you've actually got the card and have begun to use it, paying the bill from a non-US bank account can be problematic and expensive, especially since US credit cards must be paid using US-denominated funds.
Second, it's possible you may not see the same online credit card offers as people physically located in the US. That's because your computer or mobile device will be originating from a foreign IP address instead of a US-based one. You also may find your application subject to additional security scrutiny, as a bank will likely want to investigate why the applicant is overseas and whether there is potential fraud afoot. Be prepared to follow up with a phone call to the bank after any online applications from an overseas location.
Finally, if you apply for credit cards to use overseas, you want to make sure you can use them on a regular basis so that they don't get closed for inactivity. That means not only being organized, but also choosing cards that aren't going to charge foreign transaction fees since essentially everything you purchase where you're living will be a foreign transaction.
But Ariel, while it might require you to jump through some hoops in order to get US credit cards while you're overseas, it's definitely possible and a great way to accumulate travel rewards in order to visit your friends and family here in the States every so often. Thanks for the question, and if you're a TPG reader who'd like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.