Immigrants moving to the U.S. can face some special challenges in getting credit cards. Many immigrants come from countries where credit cards are not as commonly used, so they may not have any established credit history.

Another concern might be what kind of paperwork or documentation is needed in order to apply for a credit card. However, if you understand what is needed to complete the application process, you will be prepared to apply, and may be approved for a credit card which can help you to start building your credit history to create a better financial future.

Here are a few key points that new immigrants to the U.S. should keep in mind when navigating the system of getting approved for credit cards.

Do You Have a U.S. Credit History?

U.S. credit card issuers require people to go through a credit card application process, where the bank/credit card company evaluates your financial history and your overall ability to repay the borrowed money, based on your consumer credit report and credit score. Your credit score is based on how much existing debt you have, your payment history and other factors.

However, many immigrants may not have a U.S. credit score yet, due to differences in the credit reporting systems between the U.S. and other countries. If you do not already have an existing credit card or other credit account — like a car loan or home loan in your name — that has already been open for at least six months, you might not have any “credit history” that shows up in the U.S. credit reporting system.

To see what’s recorded in your U.S. credit history, you can request a free credit report.

For immigrants, building a credit history is an important step in getting established within the U.S. financial system.

What Are the Best Credit Cards for Immigrants?

Immigrants to the U.S. have several options for acquiring a credit card. What’s available will depend on the immigrant’s particular financial situation. The most common, or “regular,” credit card is an unsecured credit card:

  • If you have a positive U.S. credit history, you can apply for an unsecured credit card with rewards programs and perks, such as cash back or miles.
  • A student credit card is an unsecured credit card designed especially for students. If you are a student, a student credit card may be your best option to build a credit history and earn cash rewards.
  • Another option to start building credit would be to become an authorized user on someone else’s — either a family member or friend’s — existing credit card. (The actual credit card holder is still responsible for any charges you make.) Bear in mind that if the primary cardmember on this account fails to make payments on time, that negative credit history may be reflected on the authorized user’s credit report. If you are going to go this route, make sure the person who makes you an authorized user on their card is responsible and reliable with their own credit use.

If you lack (or have a poor) credit history and have not been able to qualify for an unsecured credit card, then you may want to consider applying for a secured credit card. This card is a real credit card — not a prepaid or debit card — and requires a refundable security deposit. If you are approved, start with a small cash deposit of at least $200, and, if you use your card responsibly and pay your bills on time each month, eventually you could move on to an unsecured credit card with a higher credit limit.

As part of your research, it’s a good idea to compare credit card features to help decide which option is right for you.

What Paperwork Do You Need for a Credit Card?

The short answer? It varies. Many credit card issuers will require a proof of identity in order to process your card application. Talk to a few lenders to see what specific proof of identity is required before choosing to apply.

After you have selected a potential credit issuer, you can begin the credit card application process at their website. Before you apply online, do your research and be sure you understand your goals in acquiring the card.

Getting credit cards for immigrants can be challenging, but with careful planning and responsible financial management, you can prove your creditworthiness and get started in building your credit history. Acquiring a credit card can be an important step to helping secure your financial future in the U.S.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.