Which Bank - Getting Credit where Credit's Due

When I came to work in America in the mid 90's I had no idea how difficult it would be to get a credit card. Having had several for many years in Australia, I didn't give it a thought. Until I was told that American banks don't readily give credit cards to "aliens".

I soon learnt and went through the normal hassles of living without a credit card. When you have a credit card, you don't realise how much you use and rely on it. Without one it's difficult to do many things; such as joining a video library, buying airline tickets over the phone, booking theatre tickets...

It is hard when you are a professional person, with years of financial stability, to take it with good grace when you are knocked back time and time again on credit card applications. I now have no trouble getting credit cards, as once I got one, the offers started pouring in. But it was getting the first one that was the problem. CitiBank and American Express provided me with my first cards and therefore get my personal vote.

But just in case there are Australians out there who think this is an American phenomenon, it appears that Americans moving to Australia have exactly the same problem as we do when we come to the US (See Rajesh's comments below).

This section of Expat Life is for readers to give their comments on getting credit when living overseas. are welcome.
Worth a Try _ Banks
American Express (10 reports) ( OK if card held in Australia)
Bank of America
Bank of Monreal (Canada)
CitiBank (NYC) (2 reports)
Wachovia (Atlanta)
Mid Atlantic Federal Credit Union (MD)
Providian National Bank
NBD Bank (Detroit)
Providian Financial
Reports of Knock Backs or Difficulty
American Express (4 reports)
Chase Manhattan (4 reports)
Bank of America (3 reports)
Bank of Boston
First Plus Bank of Delaware
Fleet Bank (NJ)
Bank of Boston
Nations Bank (NY)
Wells Fargo
Discover
SFNB (Internet)
First Bank
First National
Nat West (NYC)
Worth a Try - Stores and Services
Ford Motors
Sears
Saks (Fifth Avenue) NYC
Macy's (3 reports)
Bloomingdales
Sun America Mortgage
Ford Credit (Southlake Ford, Atlanta)
Reports of Knock Backs or Difficulty
Macy's (2 reports)
Home Depot
Orchard Hardware (SF)
Montgomery Ward
Lord And Taylors
Robinson-May
Rich's
Sears
K-Mart
Target
IKEA
Cellular One (2 reports)
Mercedes Benz

Click HERE to go to top.


Readers' Comments

Elizabeth (US)

I experienced the same problem with credit as others describe. It was particularly frustrating for me because at the time my Aus bank did not have internet or phone banking so I had to keep a large balance in my Aus account to cover US credit purchases and spend a lot of money calling at ridiculous times of the night.

I am employed by a large public university in the US and the international center there suggested I approach a small local bank in order to get a US credit card and, thus, a US credit rating. The bank agreed because I went to the appointment with a person from the international center who held an account at the bank. I also took a letter from ANZ in Australia with a summary of activities on my Aus card for the last 3 years. I started off with a $1,000 credit limit in 1993. I diligently used my credit card for everything from gas and groceries to international travel, scrupulously paying the entire balance each month. Nine years later I have a great US credit history and receive at least 5 credit card offers per week from all major creditors. My credit limit is now $45,000 US!! Bit of a joke really! Good luck! Elizabeth.
May 2001

Wolf (US)

I arrived in the US in September and had my first unsecured credit card in November and the second in December. How to do it: - I opened a brokerage account with an online broker (TD Waterhouse) and put some money into it ($ 5000) and applied right away for their Master Card. That was much easier even than opening a simple checking account (turned down by Chase Manhattan and HSBC because of no "credit history in the US"). Now the brokerage account also provided for free checking. And you don't need to ever trade stocks or so. Just open the account and put a little money in. After 6 weeks I had my Master Card.

- Same week I opened a checking account at a small Federal Savings Bank and right away received a VISA debit card. It seems the smaller FSBs are much easier on aliens than the big banks.

-In December I tried just for fun American Express (because of their good service) and received a Platinum card without delay. It seems having had the Master Card and the brokerage account showed enough "credit" to be given their prestige card. Heard from many others that AMEX was the first company to give them a card.

Now, after 3 years in the States I receive a credit card offer twice a week in the mail.

If all that fails: apply for a "secured" Credit Card like Citibank's. Latest after a year you should get lots of offers for unsecured cards. (Secured means you put money on deposit which is then your credit limit).

Have fun and don't give up trying!!

September 2000

Roxanne (US)

Like everyone else I ran into the problem of getting credit in the USA.

In Australia I had worked for building societies and credit unions and I knew that they are easier to get along with than the banks.

So I went to my nearest credit union and got a credit card - no problems.

Now, two years later, the banks are falling all overthemselves trying to give me cards and loans! September 2000

Mike (US)

I've been in the US for over a year now, but before I came I set up a NetBank account with the Commonwealth Bank at a branch in Sydney where I had banked for the previous two years.

The main concern in using the internet banking was being able to pay my child support. I used that online banking service for about three months before arriving here, so when I arrived things were fine.

When I got to Colorado and organised banking with the credit union here at work it was a relatively simple matter to transfer money every month to my CommBank account and then accross to my ex-wife's account.

I also have a CommBank Mastercard linked to the Netbank account which I can use here in the US and pay off in Australia.

However, other debts I have in Australia will only accept payment by an Australian Cheque. So the big thing I learnt is that I should have organised a cheque book linked to my NetBank account before I left.

Now my credit rating sucks because I couldn't make payments. Oh well!

April 10th 2000

David (Guam -US Territory)

My wife and I have just returned to Sydney from a 2 year stint in Guam.

Guam, for those that don't know, is a US Territory in the North Pacific, about 3 hours due south of Tokyo and 3 hours east of Manila.

We were fortunate to find this web site before we went to Guam and made sure we had most things covered before we left. Like the AMEX & VISA cards reasonably easy through Bank of Hawaii. However, dealing with the US mainland was a nightmare, the US mail service is so slow because everything goes via Hawaii first. Our AMEX statement would arrive several weeks after being posted and they only have a travel office in Guam. Thank god for the internet. We were able to access our American AMEX account direct to find out the balance at the end of each month and process a BPAY through Bank of Hawaii. Saving a lot of phone calls and nasty letters.

We also set up a similar thing with St. George Bank and did all our banking via the internet. HSBC has an office in Guam and also is the service the St George uses for there "quickshare" stock exchange managers, so we could buy and sell etc. without much hassle.

January 2000

David (USA)

On one occasion I was returning to Australia for about a year. I decided to close one of my bank accounts. I checked with my bank whether all of my checks had cleared, and was told that they had. I then proceeded to follow their instructions to close the account. A few weeks after I left the country I got a call from my old room mate who told me that the police were around at my old apartment looking for me and had a warrant for my arrest for bouncing a $12 check. Apparently the bank was wrong when they told me that all my checks had cleared and since I had followed the bank's procedures in closing the account, there was no money in the account to cover the check.

About a week later I started getting letters from debt collectors demanding payment for the $12. By the time I received them in Australia (2 weeks later), the deadline had passed. Fortunately, my old roommate was able to determine for me that the debt collectors had gone to court, the court issued a warrant for my arrest, and the Dallas police were looking for me.

After many phone calls I was able to sort out the mess, cover my $12 debt, pay court costs, and have the warrant revoked. All up it cost me over $250. To add insult to inqury, the bank kept sending me statements informing me of my how the account that I had closed (following their instructions) had a balance that was below the minimum balance. Every month I received a letter to this effect. After 6 months of account keeping fees, the balance was overdrawn by $50, and the bank wrote to me a final time saying that they had closed my account due to it being overdrawn.

Getting a credit card may be difficult, but closing an accout may have more dramatic and expensive consequences.

November 1999

Shazz (USA)

Well I got my VISA CARD!!!!! Yeahhhh!!!!

I got it from the bank I have banked with here in the USA for about 18 months. Here is what happened. Also I don't have a lot of money in the bank but I do bank with them regularly.

I went to the local branch.......I gave them the application with copies of my visa card payments in Australia, copies of all my ID, a typed copy of what I put on my visa application (in case my writing couldn't be understood). I typed a letter, explaining that I wanted to establish credit here and would be happy with a lower credit limit like $500. I also enclosed a credit report on myself that I go from Australia. It cost me nothing. I called them up and got their fax number and they sent me the forms....filled them out and sent it back.....then they sent me a credit report via fax.

Anyway, I called my bank, a couple of weeks later and was told my application was refused. I really couldn't understand this as I had supplied a lot of info and it's only a small bank and I go in there all the time and know the tellers. So the next time I was in there, I spoke to the guy who had my credit application and explained to him, that I wanted to speak to someone else. I expressed my frustration but was polite. He suggested I contact their head office in Flint. That was where all credit card applications were done. I did this. They were very nice to me. I spoke to a lady there and she suggested I contact my bank where I have my Australian Visa Card and get a credit rating letter faxed to me. She said she had never received any extra information, so I gathered the guy at my local branch just sent off the application and none of the extra info I had given him. She asked me to send her copies of what I sent him with the letter from my bank.

I called the bank in Australia....they were very friendly....and I had the fax the next day. Basically the letter shows the date I opened up the visa account, my credit limit and it shows late payments....and if I am a risk. Like 30 days late, 60 days late, that sort of thing. So on mine, I had only ever had one late payment in all the years and I was not a risk.

Well today I received my credit card in the mail. And I have $2000 credit limit!

So all I can say, is that it is worth following up your application. Speaking to the person in charge. Asking them what you can do, what type of information they need to approve you. I think having a letter from your bank showing how you have paid is probably most important. I don't know whether copies of statements helped or not, but I wanted to give them as much information as I could, so they could see that I don't have anything to hide. I really expressed to this lady how hard it was to get a credit card and how I had banked with their bank for all this time and was prepared to give them whatever information was necessary to establish credit here. I was never rude. When I sent her all the info, I expressed my gratitude in her looking at my application again. I am even going to send her a thank you letter.

I hope this helps.

Regards,
Shazz

Lara (USA)

Getting a Credit card in Boston.......
My husband and I have been in Boston for nearly 2 months now and have, like most of you, had no end of problems in obtaining a Visa card, however with persistence (I mean aggressive persuasion) we have an American Express card (AMEX), Bank Boston Visa card with a credit rating of $300- yippee!, and a Macy's card. for $100.- well its a start!

AMEX
Bottom line, make sure you have one in Australia and when you come across apply for one here letting them know you are a current Australian member. You should get a US card within the week. The problem with AMEX is that we have been told it doesnt do anything to build up your credit rating, and isnt accepted everywhere, so we have persisted in getting a visa card.

Bank Boston (Visa Card)
Unfortunately with regards to the banks.... Bank Boston (BB) does not come very highly recommended. After 6 weeks we have had 2 visa rejection letters, an ATM has chewed up our card and withdrawn $100 that we never received, numerous voice mail messages have gone unreturned, we have been promised the world and gotten jack s*&t, and basically no-one knows how to deal with non-US residents. My advice regarding Bank Boston: don't bother with the main branch, go to the Harvard Square branch and speak to someone in the international banking section- preferably Shervian Kakian (sp?). If you can, provide them with a copy of an employee letter stating how much you are getting paid, and any credit info from home (we provided them with 6months of Visa statements and bank statements) and make sure this info goes with your application.

Department Store Cards
Apparently these help to build up a credit rating. We applied for a Macy's card after we received our visa card, so I don't know what the application criteria relied on.

General Advice
Taking advice from other Aussies in the US, we will be spending $ and paying off accounts in the hope that we can boost our credit rating and our next step is to increase the visa limit. Words of advice:don't give up, be persistent and keep records of all information, calls etc; if possible, send formal letters or go to a branch in person; if you have difficulties with the person you are dealing through politely ask to speak to a supervisor. I had the most assistance from a customer service representative after a 1 hour call to BB late on a Friday night. Using comments like, distriminated against, bad customer service, lack of procedures, will be closing the account if we don't get satisfactory results and , will not be recommending BB to other Australians probably set the tone of the conversation. But low and behold the the error with the $100 withdrawl and and a positive response to the visa application was sorted out by the following Monday.

Bottom line, I finally feel somewhat satisfied after 6 weeks of being stuffed around. Don't let the system get you down. Persistence has paid off for us.

9th August 1999

David (USA)

I experienced difficulties getting any sort of credit for the first 12 months after moving to LA. Wells Fargo was my first try. Declined, even with proof of income. Tried numerous "Pre-approved" applications and all were rejected. Eventually succeeded in getting a $100 Macy's card. Finally back to Wells Fargo after a year and suddenly I am approved. A friend of mine - fellow Australian - had much better luck. He had an AMEX card back home and was able to get an American American (?) Express card almost upon arrival. So that seems to be the way to go.
June 21 1999

Janne (USA)

I have been here for 6 months, applied for the standard Macy's card and got the standard $100 limit. Used it all the time, paid in full weeks before due date. I applied for 2 credit cards after being here for 3 months and got knocked back twice. The usual "insufficient credit history" Left it for another 2 months and decided to apply for one of the usual "you have been pre-approved" letters that turn up in the mail and get thrown in the rubbish bin, and bingo - credit card turned up in the mail with a $1000 limit, and they will increase it within 3 months if I maintain a good credit history. This was with the Providian National Bank - 1800 356 0011 - No security deposit needed and just the barest of application forms. So maybe this place isn't so bad after all. And just the other week we were approved for a home loan as well. What joy!! Now we have a mortgage and a credit card - what more could we want - In debt again!!
June 1 1999

Tom (USA)

Yet another frustrated US immigrant with good credit standings overseas.

Here is my story,

I moved to the US from Switzerland where I had a VISA card from 1986 until 1995. While I was a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island I got several credit card applications in my name sent to my home. I tried a few and the all were declined -- First Plus Visa, Fleet Bank Visa and Discover. Cellular One only allowed me to open a wireless phone contract with $1000 down. After one year I asked for the $1000 back and I took them three months to send me a refund over the amount of $996.

I moved to San Francisco and opened a checking account with Wells Fargo to my surprise they refused to give me checks because I did not (yet) have a California ID or drivers licence. It takes at least six months for aliens to get a California drivers license. I turned to Bank of America instead who had no objection of giving me checks I also had no problem getting a Visa debit card with a $700 limit. When I asked for an increased limit they suggested applying for the VISA BankAmerica Card which again was declined due to insufficient credit history. Sears, Home Depot, Orchard hardware and Montgomery Ward all turned me down.

Using a mortgage broker I managed to get a loan for a house with 30% down in 1998. After one year of paying my mortgage bills on time I thought that my credit standing would be finally good enough for a United Mileage Plus Visa card. The card is offered through First Plus Bank of Delaware. Again, my application was declined, although I had included a letter from my employer to verify my close to 6 figure income.

Finally, AMEX did give me a Gold Card for $76 a year with a $2000 limit which will not be raised within the next six month ( I talked to three different people at their Centurion Bank).

During all this time I still had my Eurocard/Mastercard from Switzerland the card has a SFr 8000 ($5500) limit. The problem is that I have to pay exchange rates all the time and lose a lot of money that way. My Swiss Bank has never turned me down although I did not have any reported income in Switzerland since 1994.

I'm married with a child and currently on an H1-B visa here in the US.
April 16th 1999

Rajesh (USA)

I came to San Diego(US) from Sydney in November, 1998. I faced the same problem with credit as others.

We stayed in a hotel initially. While it came to renting an apartment, we had to provide a letter from employer with salary information, provide social security number. You have to also provide rental history/reference if you do not own a home. I showed the home loan document from the CBA. I had problem getting phone and electricity connected in spite of having a social security number. Apparently, it does not get into the system for few weeks.

I had to personally go to these companies for identification and proof of residency. Similar problem with opening a bank account. The Bank of America opened a non-resident account for me as my social security number was not in the system. Once I received my social security card(3 weeks), I went to the branch and the account was changed to US resident status. I was also given a Debit Visa Check Card. I used my QANTAS visa card meanwhile. I was invited to apply for a visa card. I promptly applied. I was rejected saying that I was not a US citizen. I want to the branch again. This time they gave me a Secured Credit Card. I had to open a savings account with $1000 deposit. Although Bank of America says that they will give you a Secured Credit card after six months, the branch representatives can waive it at their discretion.

As per store cards, I applied for a store card in Macy's and was given one promptly with $100 limit. I have applied for Robinson-May card three times in the past 4 months and rejected each time. When I rang them up, they said they can issue a store card after six months of satisfactory credit history. It might be little difficult initially, but one can get around it. When I migrated to Australia eight years ago, I was refused a cheque book by Newcastle permanent building society(after in employment for 2 months)!! But as years passed by I was invited by many banks to apply for credit cards. So it is just matter of time....
April 1st 1999

James (USA)

Recently transferred to US, by my employer of 15+ years. Here's my story:

AMEX - initially good, reissued me with a gold card in 48 hours. However forgot to tell me that the "card with out a limit" does get one in this situation. Cap put at $5000, not hard to reach when buying white goods and TV's etc. Any way ended up getting declined one day while buying my son his birthday present. Told on the phone that the $5k limit was due to "lack of payment history". Explained the card had printed on it "Member since 1987". A few more angry calls and problem was fixed. Son had happy birthday!

Bank of America - wouldn't give me a house loan. Then wouldn't even give me a secured VISA card, since I hadn't banked with them for 6 months. I had a savings account with $60k in it, a job earning me 6 figures and these donkeys wouldn't give me a SECURED VISA card! Anyway Manager did intervene and got me the card (with a $900 limit!)

Mercedes Benz - Wanted a 50% deposit to do a car lease...forget it.

LEXUS/Toyota - After numerous credit knock backs eventually found that Toyota Credit Corp would do me a car lease on good terms. Ended up leasing a car for my wife as well, as they were the only folks to accepts me. Mind you I submitted the following for all credit applications:

Recent pay slips
Letter from employer confirming salary and period of employment
Earnings statements for past 3 years in OZ
Copy of my Australian Credit Report
Statement of Assets and Liabilities
Copies of numerous documents showing previous good credit in OZ

Home Loan - Very difficult to do without greencard. Very difficult to do without at least 25%- 35% deposit. I got mine with 10% deposit (and no greencard), but this was difficult and had to jump through a lot of hoops. Went through broker...think the Mortgage company is PHH out of Denver?

Store Credit Cards? - Some easy to get...but generally very low limit. My boss (also an expat) told me his wife applied for a Sears card and got it. The first time she used it, they blew the limit...she had been given only a $100 limit! God give me strength!

Summary: Don't apply too often..this generates the view that you are obtaining too much credit (or being knocked back a lot in the case of an expat) Have an OZ AMEX card, so they can reissue you with one. Get a secured VISA card if you can. If buying a car try Toyota/LEXUS, Honda and FORD. (Heard good reports about the 2 last ones.) If buying a house have a large deposit, or a lot of patience. If you fly a lot in the US, you may want to wait till the Airline mails you an invitation for their affiliated credit card. (Heard that works)
March 29th 1999

Steve (Canada)

Despite what I have been reading about the US, I didn't have too much trouble getting a Mastercard in Canada. Mind you, it took one rejection notice, and a few trips down to the branch. Another expat with me was refused outright, but I think like most problems that expats face (especially in Quebec!), it takes a little persistence.

Bank of Montreal was happy to give me a Mastercard with a reasonable starting credit limit, after opening accounts with them, transferring money regularly through the account from Australia, and showing proof of income and bills. A copy of my employment contract and the lease was all that was necessary. Having a Mastercard from Australia (Westpac) may have helped but who can tell?

After six months, a request for an increased credit limit was permitted, and yes, the application forms for other cards started rolling in.

A few minor problems were encountered with the telephone (Bell Canada), who wanted a substantial deposit ($CDN 500+) to cover possible long distance bills. Threatening to change long distance carriers soon fixed this one. Sprint had no problem at all handling our limited credit record.

Futureshop was also happy to give us a card, but we only applied after we had been there for two years, and our credit limit was quite small. They actually suggested having my parents co-sign (from Australia!) to have an increased limit. We settled for the original limit.

Now the next challenge - we have moved to Germany so we will keep you informed on our efforts!
March 12th 1999

Kelly (USA)

I moved to Reno, Nevada with WMC (that's Western Mining Corp for those who have been away from Aus for a while) and found it impossible to get a visa card from Bank of America even though they were doing all our company accounts and also had my cheque (or should that be check!) account that my salary was going into.

The answer.....I was told to get an American express card before I left Australia ("don't leave home without it"?) based on my Australian credit. This was no problem as I have a mortgage and credit cards with decent limits.

When I got to the USA, I simply contacted the local AMEX people and transferred my card to a local one. This got the ball rolling, but still didn't spur B of A into action, I was rejected at least four times and had to settle for a "visa check card" Recently, I have moved to Denver and, since our company banks with the local Norwest branch, I have had no problem getting a visa card here.

by the way here is some info for hungry Aussies in Denver from fellow WMC expat:

"...For those of you craving for a meat pie or sausage roll I have discovered a place called 'English Tea Set' at 1930 S Havana, Aurora (SE of, and close to, Breakers) which sells them. For the Royalists amongst us the shop is also a good place to pick up a picture of the Queen, for the Republicans head straight to the freezer at the back."
January 20th 1999

Pamm (USA)

I finally have a tale of success, albeit one involving lots of knock backs, patience and going round and round in circles. I took advice from your column and contacted AMEX as I still had an Oz card from them (since '91). I got a few different answers incl. one thatit didnt matter that I held an Oz card, but that they would be willing to look at my credit rating in Oz (still waiting for that requested report two months later).

Amex were prepared to consider me on my merits (ie without considering my Oz AMEX card) by getting confirmation of my employment and salary, my social security card number, and evidence of recent billing addresses -- ie bank accounts and telephone account. That part of my application was elongated and confused due to the fact that I moved so I had to wait again for address changes to go though and bills to arrive (ie so all my ducks were in a row, so to speak).

In the meantime, while clarifying this with an AMEX Customer Service rep. I got onto a person that seemed "clued up" to expats and their needs. I was put in contact with a "Special Accounts" officer. Profuse apologies all round from him as he was able to issue me an American AMEX card on the spot, over the phone taking into account my Oz AMEX card. So for those expats with a current Oz card -- persevere and ask for the Special Account Officer, and for those of you without that card, make sure your soc. security card and bank account and other billing accounts tally (ie same address), get your AMEX application, and send copies of two accounts (within last 3o days) sent to YOUR billing address, to AMEX, and it seems that they will have all the info. they need to approve it.
December 7th 1998

Dan (USA)

I was looking at the website earlier today and realised that I could have saved myself a lot of hassles had I looked first before trying to get credit. But here's some of the things I have experienced:

- Nationsbank will give you a loan for a car as a new immigrant (even temporary) if you apply for the loan within 6 weeks of receiving your social security number, can verify employment and open an account with them. The loan is only for 80% of a new car or the trade in value of a used car - but at least you can get a loan. They would not, however, issue me a visa card. I was told the way around this was as follows and that if I complied I could get a card. If I wanted a $1,000 limit, place $1,000 in a term deposit with them. I could then apply for a card with a $1,000 limit and would be issued one if I used the term deposit as security. If any payments were late they would deduct from the term deposit (I grant them authority to do this). I didn't ask for more details as I could get a debit visa card and only really needed cash for a car. It seemed pretty dodgy to me.

- A Credit Union is best. They would accept a letter from my Australian Bank (CBA) saying I had a visa card with them, had never missed a payment and stating the average balance I used each month as proof of credit history. On the basis of this I was issued a visa card with a $1,000 limit.

- For a car Ford Motor Credit will accept Australian credit history and run a check themselves through Ford Motor Credit in Australia.

- The final method is to deposit funds in a term deposit and use this as security for a loan. The loan can then be repaid to develop credit history. It sucks in that you have to pay interest when you don't really need it but the cost can be mitigated by the interest on the term deposit so you pay about 3%. About 1 year of payments supposedly gives you good credit.

Of the above I used 1 and 2 but have been told about 3 and 4 by others. Anyway I'm set now but have about 23 credit rejections on my US credit history.
November 25th 1988

Glen (USA)

I moved to the US 8 years ago and went through the same difficulties as most of you. I worked in credit-card customer service at First USA Bank so I thought I'd share my insights on the credit-report system and building a good record.

The credit-approval system is all automated; credit reports are electronically downloaded from the credit bureaus, scored on a points system by a computer and in most cases approved/declined without any human participation. You can appeal the decision by claiming inaccuracy in the report, but if you have no US credit history you're probably out of luck. Calling or writing to the bank with Oz bank records is usually futile since there is little discretion in the system. It's the same situation with non-US driving records when getting car insurance; you're a high risk until proven otherwise.

If your employer has a special banking arrangement for newly-arrived immigrants, that's probably your best bet. Small local banks and credit unions usually outsource their credit cards to the same handful of large banks, but perhaps you can find a sympathetic manager who will intervene on your behalf.

If you have a US connection that you trust, have them co-sign an account. Alternately, have them add your name to their account as a joint cardholder, preferably well in advance of your arrival stateside. You needn't actually use the account as long as they are keeping it active. You share financial responsibility for the account but it also builds your US credit record.

Open a savings account and a checking account. Apply for a secured card; this involves depositing cash with the issuing bank equal to your credit limit, so their risk is minimal. Store cards at mass-market retailers like Sears are easy to acquire and also a good entry-point to the world of credit.

Don't apply for more than 2 or 3, since they'll be looking at your total credit line from all sources; keep your combined credit limits below 15% of annual income. Use the cards regularly while staying below 75% of your limit and pay off at least 10%, preferably over 33% (if not 100%) of the balance each month. Larger purchases look good but a decent volume of small transactions helps, too.

Six months is the magic barrier beyond which you are considered a good risk. This includes keeping the same job, residence and bank accounts. After that time, apply for a Visa/MC ('classic' requires a lower credit score than gold or platinum) at one bank only; a high number of recent inquiries into your credit history counts against you, on the assumption you'll be acquiring too much credit. First USA and Bank One have some of the pickiest standards, so try elsewhere first. If rejected you're entitled to a free copy of your credit report; check it for accuracy and dispute it with the report company if necessary. Don't apply more than twice within a 90-day period.

There are no guarantees of course, but this should considerably improve your odds.
November 23rd 1988

Marlo (Canada)

I was just reading about the trials and tribulations of fellow expats regarding credit history. I had the same problem when I first came to Toronto, Canada. Although I had held numerous major credit cards back home, I was unable to obtain one through a Canadian bank. Only after many years, a history of bank accounts held here and pleading on my behalf was I finally `allowed' a credit card. Of course, they held me at a tiny credit limit for the first year, but now I am quite established, credit speaking.

If there are any other expats in Canada with similar problems try: Royal Bank
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)
and stores:
The Bay
Eatons
Canadian Tire


Sonia (USA)

I also had the same problems a few years back. But I took a secured credit card with Citibank for $500, and now - just 2-3years later I'm getting gold and platinum cards very easily with huge credit limits (min $6000)! And that with a not very large salary. Just accept that it is a humble experience in the beginning and be patient. Don't apply too many times, also.

Lee (USA)

I have something to add to this subject that worked for me - you'll notice that at somewhere on most rejection letters there is a phrase "we do not discriminate on the grounds of race, age... nationlaity" Bingo! I wrote back to one credit card compnay that had rejected me claiming that they had discriminated against me on the grounds of nationality - that I had an excellent credit history in in Australia and that their refusal to run an Australian credit check was discriminatory. Guess What? A Visa card within two weeks! It's definitely worth a try. This practice IS discriminatory.

Stephen and Julie (USA)

My wife and I moved to the U.S. in '95 and ran into the same problems as everyone else. Despite earning a decent wage and having a statement from our Australian bank we still had no luck. We attempted to lease a car - no dice. My brother who had lived in the U.S. for 5 years agreed to co-sign the lease - still no dice. (eventually he leased the car for me!). Oh, and by the way, car insurance falls into this category too. Whilst not difficult to get, it may be expensive at first.

We eventually found ourselves a secured credit card. We deposited $500 in a savings account and they gave us a visa card with a $500 limit. It is NOT a debit card, we were required to make payments and they reported that to the credit bureau. It is important to use the card and pay regulary. They don't report just the fact that you have the card. A few months later we applied for and got a SEARS card with a whopping $300 limit - but we were on our way.

Now over two years later we no longer have the secured card, were able to lease a car on our own and have a number of credit cards. The bank we got the secured card from was Providian Financial. It wasn't the cheapest card around (annual fee's etc) but beggars can't be choosers. Their number is 1-800-356-0011.

Pam (USA)

I have been declined a credit card by banks and leasing companies. I have not yet tried AMEX and I do still maintain my Oz credit cards and AMEX card. Having had excellent credit in Oz I too feel that the practices here are antiquated and I feel insulted to see students and areal walking credit risks offered credit when I have mine declined.

One store that I found very clued in about foreigners, and who approved my credit on the spot were Saks Fifth Avenue. However having one store card doesn't seem to count with the major banks. I have also sought a credit report from my bank in Oz, but have not received a response from them yet - I was hoping that may allay some of the fears of the US financial institutions. Some reasons given for my knock backs though (from large banks) have included the fact that although I work here I am not a US citizen!!

Tonya (USA)

My husband and I moved to Boston 12 months ago, and like every other green Aussie, never dreamt it would be a problem to get a credit card in the States. Stupidly we closed our Amex accounts in Australia before we left and kept open our Diners Card and Visa accounts. However unlike in Australia, Diners is practically useless except for restaurants. We approached Amex in the US and explained that we had Amex cards in Australia so could they therefore open them here. What a surprise, no. Had we have kept our Aussie Amexs active, we could have transferred them over to American cards. Live and learn I guess.

Of course given the state of the Australian dollar, it was not feasible to keep using our Aussie Visa, so we learnt to live without credit cards. We had absolutely no luck with Bank Boston, whose only offer was to give us a loan for $3000, which in order to get, we actually had to give them the $3000, then they would lend us our own money, and we would pay it back to them! Handy!! US Trust was prepared to give us a Mastercard debit card on the spot which got us started, but was really only useful after being here a couple of months and getting organised financially.

I also got a Macy's card with a whopping $100 limit and a Bloomingdales card with a $200 limit. The advice I received by the banks at the time was that using these store cards and demonstrating my ability to repay $100 over time would put me in good light for a real credit card down the track. Well it's been 12 months and we decided to give an application for a real credit card another go. Unfortunately nothing has improved. Such is life in America. Being a legal alien is such a humbling experience isn't it!

Michael (USA)

My MASSIVE sympathies and best of luck to Aussies regarding credit in this country!!! I've been here two years, bought two cars, have two credit cards and bought a house - but let me tell you...IT AINT EASY!!!

I lived in England for four years too, and they at least will take your salary etc. on face value OR check out your credit in Aussie. Here, they REFUSE to check out your credit out of the country and hence treat you like some 18 year old out of high school. That means you don't have a "bad" credit history - you have "NO" credit history! It can be SUCH a pain.

I'm lucky in a way, because I work at CNN and we have a bank in the building...and that branch manager knows that foreigners are forever arriving at CNN to work and so she cuts us some slack on the requirements. That's the only way I got a credit card with any ease...and also got a car loan when I arrived.

You've got to be pretty careful - don't go applying for credit cards all over town because each one of those companies will check your "credit history", find that you don't have much of one, and probably decline you the card.

Problem is, EACH ONE of those "credit checks" goes ON you credit "history"!!! So the next time anyone else checks you out, they'll see all these "applications for credit declined". It's a vicious circle.

I'm here in a good job, pretty well paid, and with 20 years of good credit behind me in Oz and the UK - and, wait for it, got refused a TARGET STORE CARD !!! I wrote my nastiest letter ever to them (and I've written a few to financial organisations here!) - I mean, who DOES get a Target store card? Millionaires?

I also made the mistake of responding to one of those "You're JUST the kind of customer we want - you are PRE-APPROVED" letters from a big bank (Chase Manhattan). Even though I had my Visa card, I thought I'd get a Mastercard to help my "credit history", and since I was "PRE APPROVED" I wrote back. They too refused me. Both these refusals ended up on my credit history !!!

I have been SO mad about all this stuff over the past two years. I am a FANTASTIC credit risk, with a stable job, a house, cars and never missed paying a bill. What IS it with this country and credit? College kids get credit cards, but a 37 year old professional who happens to be from another country gets all this grief? It's absurd.

I was working for the Nine Network in Australia and London for the best part of 10 years and always had an American Express card, which I used to bill work stuff on. Sometimes that card put through thousands a month - sure, work paid for it, but it was still in my name and technically "mine". Even with that kind of history, American Express refused me a card. When I wrote them a rather testy letter, they graciously offered me a card with a $500 limit. I tore it up and sent it back to them.

I think your best bet is to get a letter from Visa or Mastercard or whatever from back home saying you paid your bills on time and were a reliable customer. Then you go into your bank, meet the manager and explain your situation. The "personal" meeting is the only way to go - doing it by phone or post will not work.

Also try getting a store card somewhere - Rich's or Macy's and buy a few things each month, and pay them off each month. Same with something like a stereo or whatever from Best Buys or another big chain. Try to ensure BEFORE you apply for credit that you're going to GET it. That way you'll slowly build up a good credit history...though you may still get refused like I did at Target! ;)

Getting my mortgage, and even a reasonable car insurance deal was the same story - I was lucky enough to get brokers who had dealt with numerous CNN foreigners and knew we weren't bad risks, and so offered us the deal offered to the average 25 year old here! It's been the bane of my life here, trying to "establish credit" !!

Robert (USA)

I would add First Bank to the list of card issuers to be avoided. They have an attractive deal with United Airlines' frequent flyer scheme (Mileage Plus First Card), which is why I kept trying.

The first time I applied to them, through either incompetence or malevolence, they queried my (almost-blank) credit file four times, and then rejected my application because there were "too many credit queries on my file". (I complained and they finally gave me a card.)

Returning to the US for a second time, I thought I would not have to go through the same problems again. Alas, no. First Bank had not reported my previous credit history to the credit file bureaux, so, of course, I had insufficient credit history when I reapplied. Catch-22: First Bank looks only at credit bureau files - not its own files. As it does not supply information to credit bureau itself, three years of good credit with First Bank itself is not relevant to First Bank. They told me that I had to fix the information on the credit files, and the credit bureau told me that it would not include the information except if supplied by the bank.

Expats trying to get credit cards nicely illustrates an aspect of American life, I think ... The US has large, automated rule-bound systems, designed by high level people who are not in touch, and operated by people at lower levels with no discretion (or common sense). Much of the time, these systems work in a very cheap efficient way, but it is a failure for a few people who fall into cracks in the system.

One way of getting a card is to be a student. The geniuses behind the automated systems have identified students as a category with upside income potential, so I have known newly arrived Australian students here with no income and no credit history in OZ to get floods of offers.

US Credit unions seem to have smaller-scale systems with some discretion to take into account things that big organizations consider as irrelevant (viz., income, job, and non-US credit history). Home loan systems also seem to have more discretion ... I had much less trouble getting a $250,000 home loan than a credit card.


Vivien USA

Like most of your readers I've had the same problems obtaining credit in the USA. It seems the first few months are the most problematic since you don't know the system, don't know the alternatives and you're also trying to work out the new environment. I own a house back in Australia and had two OZ credit cards, so its very useful to read other peoples stories, it helps with the frustration. Here are some of the things that I found useful in the first few months of being here in terms of getting a car lease, phone etc.

A letter from your employer stating your position and income A letter from your landlord/lease agents stating your rent/month

I put my credit cards in the black back home so I could still use them here without having to organize payments back home. You have to make sure you know the exchange etc. Its a useful stop gap when you don't have much free cash initially or don't want to carry lots of cash with you before you get your pay cheque and bank account organised

I work in Rockville, Maryland I found the Mid Atlantic Federal Credit Union quite helpful - http://www.mafcu.org/ A little understanding from a bank person and above letters plus house titles etc. got me a credit card and a car loan. Once approved for the loan, I also had the bank provide me with a letter stating this fact.

So slowly collecting letters from employers, banks landlords and a bit of forceful talking with managers finally got me in the loop.

Here's an amusing story that happened early on when I was trying to apply for a cell phone from Cellular One

Apply for cell phone, check credit history, result: yep code red, get rejected. I explain the alien status to the cellular one sales person, who although, sympathetic can't work outside the boundaries. Manager suggests that they do an Australian credit check, Yeah! this will cost ~$200 (of which I have to pay) but alas its an Australian credit history so that of course is not valid in America, Doh! It's not easy being green.


David (USA)

I've only been in the USA for two months now (ex Sydney) and am trying to settle down in Hoboken, NJ. Credit is a real hassle to get although I have heard rumours (albeit too late) that if you talk to your bank in Australia before you come out they will vouch for you in the States and help you get a like-card to whatever you had back home. Again, just a rumour.

In the absence of credit history I was graciously given a Visa debit card by the bank (they made it seem like they were doing me a favour; lets face it what's the risk? The money comes straight out of your bank). Macys was also nice enough to finally agree to give me a card once I had a social security number, but the $100 limit makes it hardly worthwhile. Everyone else has told me to take a running jump (inc. IKEA). I am thinking about asking the bank for a small loan (that I don't really need) to try and establish a credit history to help in the future. I don't know how long it will take (paying all my utility bills on time, paying the Macy's bills etc.) before one of the majors take the enormous risk of trusting me with a real-life credit card.

On second thoughts maybe I don't need a credit card...it may just be a habit born in OZ that I will kick in the States. Thanks for the site by the way, I haven't bumped into too many Aussies over here yet part from Paul Hogan on those Subaru ads. My god, will the yanks ever forget Crocodile Dundee?


Sonia (USA)

I've just read your message and thought I should put my two cents in. I arrived in the US in 1995, brought here by a computing company that imports quite a lot of foreign labour.

The company did all of its banking with a certain branch of the NBD Bank in Detroit, and sent all of its new recruits to the branch to open up their accounts. This was a good thing as they were used to dealing with us, as foreigners, which can usually prove a daunting task to most yanks. One of their bonuses was that they would lend any of the company's new recruits up to 75% for the purchase of a car. Before I could take advantage of this offer I was shipped to Indiana for a contract.

Luckily the bank had a branch in my town (usually unheard of between the states here), and when I decided to buy a car, and was turned down by all the finance companies that the dealer tried I approached the bank manager at the branch. I explained the deal the branch in Detroit had with my company and asked if they would cut me the same deal.

They would, but seeing as I didn't have a credit history here they had to run an international credit check. Seeing as they were going to all that trouble I asked to be considered for a credit card at the same time. Within two weeks I was approved for both. Now I am inundated with offers for credit, and have a better history than my American boyfriend.

I know that not many people will have the benefit of working for a company that has a relationship with a bank such as the one I've described, but it does bring up a few points to be tried when trying to establish a credit history.

  1. Approach the company you work for, and find out if they do have a good relationship with a particular bank, and so could they put in a good word for you there.
  2. Approach different banks asking if they would be willing to conduct an international credit check.