Can Canadians get US credit cards?

Though Canadian credit card offers are great, they’re not as great as American offers. They often have 100,000  point sign up bonuses (sometimes even 150,000!), something that just doesn’t happen in Canada.

Understandably, Canadians would love to get in on the fun, but can we?

Unlike Canada, when you apply for a US credit product, you are required to provide your Social Security Number (like a Social Insurance Number). How do you get a SSN? You have to either be an American, or working in the US.

There’s another number, called an Individual Tax Identification Number. An ITIN number is like an SSN, but it’s provided by the IRS. The IRS notes: “An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is a tax processing number only available for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN). It is a 9-digit number, beginning with the number “9”, formatted like an SSN (NNN-NN-NNNN).”

ITIN numbers are granted to non-SSN qualified individuals who have legitimate needs for a personal identification number for tax filing purposes. These are easier to get that an SSN number (for non-US citizens). The IRS provides examples of who would qualify, such as spouses/dependants of US citizens/resident aliens or a nonresident alien required to file a tax return.

Though there isn’t normally a field for ITIN numbers in credit applications, you can still sometimes apply for a credit product with just an ITIN number, as you can develop a credit bureau with it. Logistically, I would suggest calling the credit issuer and tell them you’d like to apply with an ITIN instead of an SSN.

There have been reports that Canadians without an SSN/ITIN have successfully received credit card products to their US addresses (ex. to mail forwarding services) by entering their SIN number in the SSN field. Do not do this. If you’re getting approved with a SIN number, there was likely a glitch in the system that pulled the credit bureau of the SSN holder who has the same number as your SIN, and approved you despite the non matching of names and addresses. That credit history would attach to that person’s SSN file, not to your SIN.

A number of department stores who have co-branded cards are willing to give Canadians credit card products if they apply in person at their US locations. The key player in this area is Macy’s, who is willing to pull Canadian credit reports in-store at their locations close to the border.

Though this is a possible avenue to getting a US credit card, I can’t recommend it. Department store cards don’t have much benefit, and despite what a number of people believe, getting these cards does not build a US credit report. The issuer will pull your Canadian credit bureau and similarly report to it. It’s also a PITA to pay off these cards without a US bank account. Though there are a number of Canadian banks that have US dollar accounts, the administrative system of those accounts remains Canadian. Canadian bank accounts CANNOT pay off US bills. To pay off these cards, individuals either have to pay in person, or submit a cheque or wire-transfer.

TD Bank, RBC Bank, and BMO Harris Bank, who are the US versions of the Canadian banks, are willing to pull a Canadian’s credit bureau in order to offer credit products. Again, this does not establish a US credit bureau and the PITA of paying it off remains.

So, what is the conclusion? Yes, it is possible for Canadians to get US credit cards. A Canadian can either become employed in the US and get an SSN, or discover some tax purpose in order to get an ITIN. These numbers provide an avenue for Canadians to get the amazing sign-up bonuses offered by US credit cards. Failing that, Canadians can get some department store credit cards, and the international Canadian banks are also willing to offer them credit products. These cards do not come with worthwhile sign-up bonuses, and for US purchases, it’s better (and less of a PITA) to use the Canadian issued no-forex Chase Rewards Visa.

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