A Canadian’s Journey into US Credit Cards – A Year in Review

The Canadian churning world isn’t doing too well: AMEX has severely tightened up, MBNA has limited Alaska card churns, and we’ve lost the IHG and Delta credit cards. Boo! This prompted me to seek out US credit cards, which offer substantially better churning opportunities.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN), which is similar to Canada’s SIN. However, there’s a clever way to get access to a Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), a number that is similar to an SSN, and allows you to build a US credit history and obtain US credit cards.

I started this journey about a year ago. It’s been incredibly lucrative, especially considering I only have one year of US credit history. I’m building it up, and hoping that by year two, I can access some of the more aspirational card offers.

Here’s how my year went: first, while visiting Austin TX, even prior to having an ITIN, I opened up a secured credit card with Bank of America. They opened this card using my US postal address and my passport information. Easy-peazy. Once I was granted an ITIN, I simply added it to the Bank of America card.

Once given an ITIN, I quickly applied and was approved for an AMEX Gold Card through the Global Transfer program, earning 50,000 MR points. Sweet!

In order to build my US history, I signed up for the TD Bank (USA) Aeroplan credit card, using my Canadian credit history. I was granted a very decent line of credit, and earned 25,000 Aeroplan miles.

I then signed up for an insane number of AMEX cards: the AMEX Ameriprise Platinum, with no annual fee and $400 of credits; SPG Personal, with 35,000 SPG points; Hilton Personal, 75,000 HHonors; Mercedes-Benz Platinum, 75,000 MR; SPG Business, with 25,000 SPG points, and; Delta Skymiles Gold, 50,000 Skymiles. Although my first card was approved through the Global Transfer program, every subsequent card was earned through immediate approvals online.

So far, my hardest entry was into Chase. They wanted two years of credit history, and I’m impatient. So I applied for their Freedom card (measly $150 bonus), and was denied. I went to reconsideration, and was denied. What did I do next? I emailed the Chase CEO office. Within two weeks, a representative from that office called me, and I explained that I was a Canadian with a US address looking for their card. With a bit of work, I was granted a $500 limit. Yay! Now, the point of this card was not for the bonus, but to build a profile with Chase to be more easily granted credit in the future. In the past week, Chase randomly doubled my limit, so it looks like that relationship is slowly going well.

Not all banks will grant you credit with ITIN. Notable exceptions are Wells Fargo, US Bank, and Barclays. However, one notable INCLUSION is Citi. I really want some Citi cards, but they’re a hard nut to crack. I was actually once granted approval with them, but that approval was later rescinded (boo!). I’ve applied a number of times, but really to no avail. They simply want more credit history, and they’d love to see a history with the bank itself. So I opened up a Citi bank account when visiting Stanford, and hope to be approved (and keep that approval) around year 1.5-2.

So, what’s my message in this? It’s really easy to get US credit cards as a Canadian – it just requires a little ingenuity and patience. Further, be honest to creditors – most agents think it’s interesting and are excited to help… indeed, I’ve noticed that many call centers are actually based in Canada (especially Nova Scotia and New Brunswick)!

Comments

  1. “They opened this card using my US postal address and my passport information. ”
    the passport you refer to was a Canadian passport and not a US passport?

  2. You mentioned that it is more difficult now to churn MBNA and Amex cards in Canada.
    I’m very new to this game, and have no idea what churning means.
    Would you mind explaining churning a bit more.
    And also, whatever churning means, is it still doable for MBNA and Amex cards, even though it might not be as easy as before?

    • Churning is the process of applying for a credit card for the sign up bonus, cancelling, doing it again, etc. I suggest for you to read up on my site to learn more. It’s still doable with MBNA and Amex, just harder.

      • Thanks for the reply DCTA.
        I just have a quick follow up question: is there a minimum time period one needs to wait for churning?
        For example, if I get the Alaska card today and get the sign up bonus, is there:
        1) a certain amount of time I need to wait till I can cancel it?
        2) a certain amount of time I need to wait till I can apply for a second one?

        Thanks again, it sounds like I have lots of reading to do and I am looking forward to it!

        • Unfortunately, there’s no real prescription for it. Differs based on the card, the creditor, your credit bureau, etc.

  3. Did you enter your ITIN number in the place where the SSN is requested?

    So if I get my wife an ITIN (I am an american living in Canada – sweet double dipping!) and she already has some credit history in the states (went to school there) – then I can get her credit cards using the ITIN instead of the SSN?

    • I know that Amex, Citi, and CapitalOne will let you place your ITIN in the place of an SSN. Other banks that accept an ITIN will have to be applied for in person or by telephone. There’s a trick to get it to go through on BoA online, but I’m not gonna detail that right now.

  4. Thanks – one more question – I assume you didn’t file US taxes when you applied for your ITIN – can you provide some detail to this process – I am looking on line and looks like my wife can just send in the W7 with a certified copy of her passport checking off she is the spouse of a US citizen living abroad

    Any thoughts?

    Thanks and this is great – had no idea I could do this

      • So I found her ITIN (forgot she had one from years ago) and she has no real credit history there so have attached her to some of my US cards and will sit back and wait.

        But I tried to use Amex global exchange and they requested a tax form from the US – not sure how you got around that?

  5. Do you have to use a USA address?? How did you go about paying the credit cards (I believe Canadian bank accounts don’t have US payees)? Thanks!

    • I do. They’re quite easy to obtain, and a quick Google search will help. I have a TD Canada Trust Account and a TD Bank (USA) account. It’s easy and cheap to transfer $ over to pay the US cards. Good luck!

  6. are you concerned about the chase 5/24 rule?

    that’s interesting about contacting the ceo office. did you call or email?

  7. Hey Avery. Great post!

    Two questions for you:

    1. Is your spend Canadian based? If so are you just eating the FX fees as the cost of doing business or is the spend US based?

    2. With AMEX Global Transfer do you get to move your Canadian earned AR points over to the US card? Cause that would be amazing!

    Thanks

  8. I’d be curious to hear more about your US address strategy. I started down this path but stopped when I found that at least RBC and TD require you to have a US residence to get a US credit file. And they want proof, like a lease or utility bill.

  9. Back to Canada and churning Mbna Alaska — you mentioned there is now some limitation — how often can one now churn? When to cancel after getting the card to remain in their good books? Thank you

  10. And to the us — if one can not maintain the us billing address, do chase , bank or American and Citibank allow one to change to a Canadian address and maintain the cards one already has with them? If they are reluctant to, can one have the Canadian address as a mailing address or alternate address and hope they have no need to contact the now defunct principal address?

  11. At the top you mention tightening up of churning Amex Canada and Mbna.
    — what works in terms of time between applications for Mbna Alaska, or time from last cancellation?
    — know that Amex personal is one time only for the bonus , but is that being enforced?
    –how frequently can one reapply for Amex business? I want to be aggressive on this in case one time bonus becomes the policy here as well.
    Thank you Canadian thought leader.

  12. Do you have to file US taxes if you have a US credit card? If yes, only on US income or on global income?
    Sorry if this is a stupid question.

    Thanks in advance, this is a super interesting post!

  13. I am exactly 1 year in from reading this and can say everything you said is pretty much correct.
    The tough one to crack is Chase. I’m at 4/24 and really trying to get into Chase before I give up and just get a bunch more Amex cards!
    I’ll keep you posted.

  14. Hi,

    I followed DCTA’s advise…did global transfer to get a US Amex.
    – I am a Canadian citizen and resident
    – Have a US mailing address ( my brother in law address)
    – I Went through the process of getting an ITIN number… took exactly 7 weeks to get it in the mail. Just added my ITIN to my Amex profile.
    – Deciding on which US card to pursue now.
    – I’m concerned that my my US credit file is very new…i may not get approved…my gut is telling me to be patient and wait a few months before applying for my next card. (But DCTA states that he applied for several AMEX cards online and got them approved easily)
    – Next time i’m State side..i plan to open a Bank of America chequing account.

    • Update Aug/25th: Applied for a Chase card and Citi card online, denied, i continued to be persistent tried escalating the call to no avail. Denied on both accounts.
      Applied for a Bank of America card…4 weeks ago..denied, escalated.. was lucky to get an agent who was interested in being as helpful as possible…escalated and approved on a small 3k limit…pending having a “interact profile” setup with the bank. ( this seems to be an internal process of simply verifying my documention ( ITIN number, passport etc) I will do this on my next visit State side at any BOA branch.

      Pending this is done within 30 days of my application…i should be approved.

      @DCTA- any ideas on highest probability of approval on a US card? ( i have had for the last 6 months 2 US Amex cards based on Global transfer program )

  15. Hi,

    I allready have a BOA account but my primary address is registered in Canada. I have a mailing address in the US. Do I call them and request an address change? Does it mean that I would be considered by BOA as a US resident or it does not really matter?

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