My US Credit Card Experience as a Canadian

Lately, I’ve been very involved in the US credit card market. Why? Simply put, US credit cards offer better sign-up bonuses, and generally greater returns. However, as a Canadian, it’s substantially harder to get US credit cards, as I don’t have a Social Security Number (SSN). Although an SSN is outside the reach of most people, an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is not. With an ITIN, you can build a US credit report, and easily apply to many, but not all, US credit cards. This article will explore my experience so far.

Note: Nothing in this article should be taken as legal, tax, or other advice. It simply reflects my experience.


Earlier this year, I was in Austin, Texas. At this point, I did not have an ITIN. However, I wanted to start building my US credit history as quickly as possible. I walked into a Bank of America branch and asked to apply for a secured credit card as a non-resident alien. As someone without an SSN/ITIN, I had to apply for this card in a branch.

The process was pretty simple. I had to give them $300USD, and without an SSN/ITIN, they opened a secured credit card using my Canadian passport information. After one year, this card will be converted into a non-secured card, and I will get my security deposit back.

Once I received my ITIN number, I called Bank of America and they placed the number onto my account, and the history attached to the card is transmitted to my US credit history.

Getting the ITIN

An ITIN is a number similar to an SSN, used by the IRS to identify and track individuals who file taxes in the US but are otherwise ineligible for an SSN. The IRS states:

IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for SSNs. A non-resident alien individual not eligible for a SSN who is required to file a U.S. tax return only to claim a refund of tax under the provisions of a U.S. tax treaty needs an ITIN.

The key word here is “requirements”. In order to get an ITIN, you must have a reason to file taxes in the US.

Typically, you can only apply for an ITIN when you submit your first mandatory US tax filing. However, there are specific exceptions to this rule, where an individual can apply for an ITIN before their first tax filing. The IRS publishes a guide on applying, and how one can be eligible for an exception. The exception I used, and that with a little creativity, anyone can use, is exception 1(d),

Individuals who are receiving distributions during the current tax year of income such as pensions, annuities, rental income, royalties, dividends, etc., and are required to provide an ITIN to the withholding agent (for example, an investment company, insurance company, or financial institution, etc.) for the purposes of tax withholding and/or reporting requirement.

I’m not going to tell you how to make yourself eligible under this exception, but a thorough Google search will tell you.

The ITIN application can take a while. Just be patient, make sure you fit the requirements perfectly, and you’ll eventually get the number in the mail.


Once you have the ITIN number, a whole new world of cards opens up to you. If you already have a Canadian AMEX card, you can look at doing a Global Transfer. You’ll also be able to open a TD Bank (USA) credit card attached to your ITIN number, but issued based on your Canadian credit history. This card has a 25,000 Aeroplan bonus, and a waived first year fee. Further, I opened a TD Bank (USA) bank account, which can be opened online in Canada. If you’re already a Canadian TD account holder, it’s easy to transfer funds cheaply to your US account. Another option is with RBC Bank (USA). You’ll need this account to pay your US credit cards off.

After a year or so, as I’ve built up my US credit history, I’ll be able to apply for Chase and Citi credit cards, two of the most lucrative creditors in the US. Further, many smaller banks accept ITIN numbers for applications. Other creditors, like Discover, US Bank, and Barclay’s do not accept an ITIN number for credit applications.

It’s a slow process, as I’m building an entirely new credit history, and can certainly be frustrating at times. However, once you’re eligible for some of the best cards in both Canada and the United States, it’ll all be worth the huge bonuses that you’ll be eligible for.

Comments

  1. Nice article. I was in US and recently moved to Canada. Love the bonuses on US cards.
    I think if you are a Canadian resident with US cards you have to look at the foreign currency surcharge. Most cards have 3% if you use a US card in Canada.Some cards come with free foreign transactions.
    Also if you are not frequently traveling to US then probably have a family member/friend who is able to mail you the physical card when you receive it in US.

    you can apply for DCU/other credit unions credit card. once you are a member they definitely give you a good credit limit and it helps start building credit history well.

  2. Having playing the US CC game for almost 2 years now, I would recommend skipping the ITIN route and use the Amex Global Transfer route (for those who already have Cdn AMEX cards). For everyone else, the best way to go is by signing up for store CC’s in the US. I signed up for a Victoria’s Secret CC and they were more than happy to use my Cdn DL as ID. It also helps to have a US mailing address. After a few months of paying my bills on time, I was approved for a Banana Republic credit card. And then things finally got interesting!

  3. Beware: if you want to take advantage of the insurance options on your US card (travel cancellation, accident, car rental). There is a fine-print clause stating that you must be a US to qualify for coverage.

  4. Hi

    In order to apply for itin exception d (dependant of someone with ssn)
    Does it have implications with the person dependant that you put there? Also does irs requiere any other documentation particular for this exception?
    My sister lives in the us, i could put her.
    Thank you

  5. Have read a great deal of information tonight, and I am having a contract work from California, which is worth more than personal exemption amount. So this ITIN business should be straight forward right:)

  6. I know I am responding to an older posting but want to point out I tried to use Amex global exchange from Canada for a US card and they requested a copy of her tax form – which I can’t supply because as a canadian with no status int he states she doesn’t need to file

    I am a US citizen so I double dip

    Any thoughts?

  7. Wanted to add a tip or two regarding my experience as a canadian who frequently travels to the US: opened 2 store cards in Montana, easy-peasy, Macy’s and JCPenney, 2 years later opened a TD US bank account, associated with TD canada trust. Very convenient, free money transfers and easy to pay us-billed credit cards. Less than a year later attempted to apply online for Amex card and voila-instant approval. Since then applied for 3 more Amex cards and just got my Chase Sapphire. Life is complete!

    • Hi,

      How did you apply online, most if not all applications online request SSN to continue the application… (used Canadian SIN?)

      Did you have ITIN? if yes, of course, it is self-explanatory then…

      Thanks

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