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I think we take it for granted that we have such lucrative credit card offers in the US. While it’s possible to find offers in other countries, the issuers in the US seem to offer the most competitive and generous bonuses. It’s likely a reflection of our society and our high usage of credit. For those of us who are able to manage our spending responsibly, it’s a very useful and lucrative way to offset the cost of travel. Though a common travel question that comes up is whether getting a US credit card while living abroad is possible and advisable. In this video/post, we hope to answer that question! 

What is required to get a US credit card

The quick answer to the question is that it’s complicated. While it is possible to get a credit card when living overseas, there are some strict requirements. You’ll need to have the following:

  • Social security number: Some banks will accept an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Though most will require a social security number.
  • US bank account: Issuers require that you pay your bill using US funds.
  • US address: US credit card issuers will generally not accept a foreign address in your application. They also will not send a new credit card overseas unless it’s a replacement.

As you can see, it is possible to get a US credit card if you’re an expat or US resident studying abroad, but it’s nearly impossible for anyone else outside of the US. Though if you’re already overseas, you’re not going to be able to get the card delivered to your location, so you’re better off applying for the card when you’re in the country. The ideal timing would be before you leave the US.

Additional tips and considerations

In addition, here are a couple of things to keep in mind if you’re planning to spend a significant amount of time outside the country.

1. Maintain your credit history:

One of the biggest concerns for expats is maintaining a credit history when living overseas. This can be an issue when returning back to the US and trying to get a car or home loan. Using and paying off your credit cards is a great way to keep your credit history active in the US, even if you’re living abroad.

2. Set-up electronic statements and auto-pay:

Living abroad can present a challenge when it comes to getting your credit card statements. I recommend setting up electronic statements and auto-pay on your accounts. That way, you can rest assured knowing that you’ll get your statements and pay your bill on time every month.

3. Be aware of your connection when applying:

If you’re already overseas and attempting to apply for a card, know that you may not see the same card offers since your device’s Internet Protocol (IP) address is from outside the US. This may also cause your application to get flagged by the issuer. To avoid this issue, I recommend using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service which will allow you to connect and tunnel your internet service through a US server. It’s actually a best practice when traveling or using an unsecured internet connection. I plan to do a video/post specifically on VPN services in the near future, but if you’re looking for an affordable and easy-to-use VPN provider, check out Private Internet Access. I use them whenever I travel, and it gives me peace of mind that my data is securely transmitted.

4. Avoid foreign transaction fees:

If you’re looking to use your card abroad, make sure your card does not have any foreign transaction fees. Most premium travel cards don’t have them, and a few issuers (like Capital One) do not charge them on any of their cards. However, if you’re thinking of getting the popular Chase Freedom card with rotating bonus categories, you might want to think twice since the card is subject to foreign transaction fees. A better option might be the Discover It card since they don’t charge the fees. However, it largely depends on where you’re living and whether your Discover card is even accepted. Discover does have some agreements with other networks like JCB in Japan and UnionPay in China, so it’s possible you’ll be able to use it. However, I suggest researching the topic and your destination beforehand.

5. Pay in local currency:

When using a US credit card abroad, you’ll often be asked whether you want to pay in US dollars or the local currency. You’re generally better off paying in the local currency and having the credit card perform the automatic conversion based on market rates. 

6. Notify the issuer of your situation:

Once your card is approved, you’ll want to let the issuer know if you’re spending significant time outside of the US. Doing so will help you avoid fraud alerts when using your card abroad.

Are you an expat or student living abroad who uses a US credit card? If so, let us know if you have any other tips.


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