I’m just going to say it. US credit cards are much better than what’s offered here in Canada. The welcome offers can be generous (as in, 100,000+ points generous). You get better benefits such as credits with hotels and no foreign transaction fees. And you have so many choices, so it’s easy to earn a ton of points fast.
Now you’re probably wondering, can a Canadian apply for a US credit card? Yes, but it requires a bit of work. However, once you get one card, you can easily get more cards in the future. That said, what you need to do to qualify for US cards is arguably questionable, so you need to decide if it’s worth it. Here’s how Canadians can get US credit cards.
Get a US bank account
Before you consider applying for a US credit card, you’ll need a U.S. bank account. You’ll actually likely need two of them. The first account is easy to get, it’s just any US bank account that you can get from your current bank. All of the major banks in Canada offer this type of account so it won’t be an issue.
The second US bank account you need has to be physically based in the US. The good news is that you don’t need to go across the border to open an account. Many of the major banks in Canada have US subsidiaries that allow you to open an account in Canada. For example, you can open get TD cross-border banking by going into any TD branch in Canada.
You need the cross-border account so you can pay your US credit card bills. The US bank account based in Canada will allow you to transfer US dollars to your cross-border account (you may need to do this over the phone). How you get US dollars is up to you, but most people just purchase them.
The other reason you need a cross-border account is that it’ll list your US address which is a requirement when applying for US credit cards. Understandably, most people don’t have a US address, but that’s where the next step comes into play.
Get a US address
Without a US address, you won’t be approved for any US cards. The easiest way around this is to use the address of a friend or family member who doesn’t mind forwarding you any mail that you get. E.g. your credit cards.
If you don’t know anyone down south who can help with this request, you need to sign up for a mailbox or mail forwarding service. The mailbox service is great if you live somewhat close to the border, but it still requires you to physically drive down to the US to get your mail.
Getting a mail forwarding service may end up costing you more since there are forwarding charges, but it doesn’t require you to leave your home which is ideal. You would need to do a little research, but there are many mail forwarding services in the US.
The key thing to understand is that the mail forwarding service can not be listed as a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency by the United States Postal Service as those not considered eligible addresses by credit card providers.
To find out if the mailbox service you’re considering is listed as a Commercial Mail Receiving Agency, go to the USPS website and look up the address of the forwarding service that you’re planning on using. As long as there’s an “N” beside Commercial Mail Receiving Agency, you’re good.
Once you have your US address, change the address on your cross-border account to show it. This way your US banking information will show your US address (after you get your next monthly statement). This may come in handy during the application process.
Apply for a US American Express credit card
Now it’s time to get real. Head to the American Express website and choose the United States as your country. You’ll now be able to see all the cards you can apply for. Alternatively, if you know someone who already has a US American Express credit card, get them to send you a referral link.
Do NOT sign in to American Express even if you have an account in Canada as it’ll affect the application process.
When you start going through the process of applying for one of the US American Express credit cards, you’ll eventually be asked for your Social Security Number which you’ll not likely have (this is NOT your SIN). Instead, click the box that says “I don’t have a credit history in the US, but have had a credit card or loan in the UK, India, Mexico, Canada or Australia.”
When you hit submit, it’ll take you to the Credit Nova portal, where it’ll ask you your country. You’ll then need to answer some questions such as where you live, what credit cards you have, etc. This essentially verifies your credit history/score which will then be used in the approval process for American Express.
Note that this process is usually easy, but they may ask you to upload a bank statement with your address to verify your identity. Good thing you changed your cross-border address right?
Call American Express
If you get approved right away, great!. But quite often you’ll get the standard response that your application is under review. Write down the reference number and call American Express.
American Express will likely need to verify your identity. How they do it may vary. Sometimes they’ll want to call your bank, (with you on the line) to verify your address. They may also want you to verbally confirm your address (the US one) over the phone. It’s also possible that they may want to call you back at the number provided to ensure you pick up.
It can be a bit random, but it really just comes down to American Express wants to verify you are who you say you are.
Can a Canadian apply for a US credit card? Yes, but as you’ve seen, it takes some work. If you’re sticking to American Express cards, it can be done with a little effort. However, if you’re looking to branch out and build a full US credit history to get more cards, you’re going to need an ITIN. Check out Prince of Travel for a more detailed guide.