How to Apply for a Credit Card if You’re Living Overseas

If you didn't get a card before you left the country, apply by using a U.S. address, and seek out expat-friendly cards.
Lindsay Konsko
By Lindsay Konsko 

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Applying for a credit card shouldn’t be difficult, especially if you have good credit. But when you live overseas, banks are often reluctant to take a risk on you, making it slightly harder to apply for a credit card.

When a bank decides to extend credit, it bases its decision on your creditworthiness, but also the bank’s risk. Even if you have excellent credit, a foreign address could make it difficult for the bank to collect on a debt if you decide to brush it off. When you live overseas, the recourse for stateside banks is limited, so many would simply rather not risk it.

Get a credit card before leaving the U.S.

The easiest way to prevent the difficulties of applying for credit while in another country is to get a credit card before you move. If you keep the card in good standing while you’re overseas, you can maintain your current credit rating.

If you’re planning in advance for your relocation, look hard at the many credit cards with no foreign transaction fees (NerdWallet rounds up some of the best here). Many of these cards also come with travel rewards and good sign-up offers, making them a great option when you’re abroad or visiting family and friends back in the U.S.

Explore your options

Not all U.S. credit cards prohibit expats from getting a new account. But don’t start filling out credit card applications blindly, or you’ll risk hurting your credit score in the process. Seek out cards that other expats are discussing on message boards and blogs. Also, consider using a family member’s address stateside for receiving mailed bills and communications from banks.

Foreign banks also issue credit cards. You can begin to cultivate a good credit score in a foreign country by looking at cards offered by the local banks there. But because banking systems vary widely across the globe, make sure you read the fine print and know what you’re getting into before you open new accounts abroad.

Managing credit concerns while abroad

When people move to another country, their credit often suffers. For example, a bank could close a dormant account, or your payment might be late because of the distance.

You can avoid this by taking advantage of online payment options to keep your payment history squared away. And keep your account active by occasionally using your card.

Remember, foreign countries don’t use the same systems and standards for credit. A good payment history in Costa Rica won’t do much for your U.S. credit score. So if you plan on returning home, keep your domestic accounts in good standing and track your credit while you’re away.

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