Should I Begin The Process Of Building Credit History In The US?

Filed Under: Credit Cards

I love writing about things I know a fair bit about and hopefully teaching you about some parts of this ‘hobby’ you might not know about, but this time I need your advice on something.

My situation

I am an Australian citizen and passport holder. I have a generous working visa for the UK and plan to continue living here for a few more years, perhaps then living somewhere else for a year or two and eventually settling back in Australia.

I will probably visit the US on vacation once every year or two, for the foreseeable future.

For many years I have toyed with the idea of building credit history in the US. I’ve done quite a bit of research on it and read several stories from non-US citizens who have successfully done it. I don’t have a Social Security Number and won’t be trying to get one.

This makes it difficult, time-consuming and potentially expensive, but obviously if I’m able to do it the rewards of being able to obtain some of these lucrative US credit cards would be enormous.

Tiffany and I have been discussing my payment and taxation options ever since she offered me the role to join the team here. There are a few different ways to do it, and it will all be completely above board. I run my own consulting company in the UK for my ‘day job,’ so the easiest way would be to bill OMAAT for the work I do, and pay tax, etc., that way as it’s already set up.

But the payment and taxation options of suddenly performing work for a US company has given me new motivation to start building credit history in the US. The US is by far the most lucrative market in the world for credit card bonuses, and I am very jealous of you all for being able to enjoy such rewards!

The road to rewards?

As I understand it, the process for me would be as follows:

  1. Obtain an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which I will be required to have if I’m paying any tax in the US, i.e. as a result of employment by a US company. Others have obtained this by publishing an e-book online and paying tax on the royalties.
  2. Use this ITIN to open a bank account in the US, and begin applying for secured cards (like store cards) and service the ‘debt’ perfectly.
  3. Once debt servicing has been established, and a credit score created, eventually apply for credit cards through the financial institutions I hold bank accounts and/or secured cards with.

I would expect this process to take about 2-3 years from when I first apply for an ITIN to be able to successfully apply for credit cards with welcome bonuses, because it will take a long time to build that credit history. Given most of my spending is not in US Dollars I would also expect this process will cost me a bit of money in foreign exchange and transfer fees in using a USD card to pay for non-USD items, and then transferring non-USD to pay it off.

I know some cards offer no foreign exchange fees, but I doubt the secured cards will.


The biggest difficulty I am predicting is that I don’t really have anyone living in the US I trust implicitly to assist with a residential postal address to send the cards and other correspondence to. I also won’t be in the US very often, which will make things difficult to do remotely (i.e. I can’t just pop into a bank branch to open an account). While I could use a mail forwarding service, I would need to be certain it was coded by the US post office as residential, and not as a forwarding service.

This is not a decision I am taking lightly — I do not in any way want to do anything wrong with any financial institution, or the US tax office!

So what I’m hoping for your advice on, is:

  1. Are there any fundamental problems you see with my plan?
  2. Do you think it will be worth the time, expense and hassle?
  3. Can this be done completely remotely, or would I need to visit the US regularly?
  4. Is there anything else I can do to improve my chances with any of this?

Bottom line

This is a big decision and not one I will make before completely understanding the pros and cons. I don’t write about US credit cards because I’m not currently eligible to hold them but hoping that could change in the future.

The US really is the holy grail of credit card rewards.

Is this a good idea? I appreciate the advice, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is interested in this!

  1. Great post James and as an Australian I can relate though for me there is no point in going through a process like this and I would advise against it for you as if there are problems (which there will be eventually) not being in the country or even having anyone you can fully trust in that country or no citizenship or passport is unsettling as they could do something and you have no power to do anything also why waste all that time and money just for some US credit cards just get more UK and AUS cards. Also if you do decide to go ahead with this I guarantee you that you will make more than one trip the US each year(in fact I think you will end up making several) so add in that cost as a friend (Australia based) of mine was buying property in the US and several times made trips to US when he didn’t plan to go and didn’t want to go and not only spent money on flights etc he missed work in Australia as well. Also all the other writers at OMAAT talk about US credit cards use your unique perspective and keep to Australian and UK credit cards.

  2. The grass is always greener…

    Credit card bonuses, no matter how big, usually aren’t worth the hassle of the IRS and US bureaucracy. I say usually because for some it may be. I think you just have to ask yourself the question: Do you want to possibly spend a lot of time and money to deal with problems in the future to obtain access to these bonuses?

    Do you have a very (VERY) trustworthy friend or colleague in the US?
    If the answer is yes tell them to add you as an authorized user on a few older credit cards and that two to three years will become a year.
    If the answer is yes it may save you a lot of time and hassle in the future if they have a US mailing address for the IRS.

  3. I think a lot of this is wishful thinking. There us a new law called FATCA that is making life very difficult for any US person living abroad. Banks in the US increasingly want nothing to do with US citizen expats. Bank od America for example wont even allow you to have a bank account if you are a US citizen but living overseas. (Even if you have a US adress) Other banks are not as strict, but this too will change. The US is slowly locking its population inside.

  4. What would you guys say is a good credit card for earning points and building a credit history in the US?

  5. It’s a bit of paperwork, but perfectly doable.
    The important part is you need an Amex card from your home country.
    Once you have an ITIN, you apply for a US Amex card.
    Then you call Amex and do something called “Global Transfer”, which means they will look at your non-US credit history with them and approve your US card based on that.
    Beware: They only do that once.
    You can then build US credit history based on that card, which will take at least 6 months.

    The real pain is getting the ITIN. This requires traveling to the US and visiting an IRS office to prove your identity. Email me if you need more information.
    I’m actually advising another Australian guy on FT on the process. 😉

  6. Get an American Express card in local country and then tell them that you have moved to the United States.

    They will give you a US card based on your local country’s credit rating. You will start building history based on this. This is how I built my credit history.

  7. I think you’d be insane to do this unless you were seriously planning to live in the US. Setting aside all the hassles (and you can probably set aside the extra trips to the US since you’d probably love them anyway), just think about the risks. You have identified the costs of forex as if they are fixed, but you have allowed nothing for possible exchange losses. Which could be huge.

    The world feels to me to be more volatile than it was a decade or so ago, and that volatility will be reflected in currency movements – who knows what’s going to happen with the clusterf*ck that is Brexit or the clusterf*ck that is Trump; and who can therefore predict how the respective currencies will move compared to each other?

    By having most of your income in UK£ but spending in US$, you are deliberately choosing to expose yourself to that risk.

    So I suppose, at least in part, the question is “do you feel lucky?” (er… fnar, fnar).

    If you were a business, you’d be considering this in terms of risk versus reward. What is the maximum reward you can make from those credit card sign-up bonuses (= expansion into a foreign territory); and what is the maximum risk you are exposing yourself to? I’d suggest, between the US government’s aggressive extra-territoriality when it comes to personal taxation, and forex charges, the risks are potentially very high.

    You’ve only just joined OMAAT: but it’s already clear that we all love you and don’t want to lose you. Please don’t get yourself tangled up in a mass of bureaucracy, complex taxation and forex losses, just for the baubles of a few extra miles…

  8. I don’t have any experience with remote credit building, but going from zero to any card shouldn’t take 2-3 years. I’m a foreign student in the US, been here about 18 months, and was approved for the CSR 3 months ago. I started from zero credit history, and built through a secured card for six months (Discover!). After that, I was able to get the Everyday from Amex. At the one year mark, you can usually apply for more serious bonus cards. Highly recommend MyFico forums as a resource for credit building when starting from scratch.

  9. Yes. U.S. is the center of the world. Most of western Europe and Oceania are vassal states of the US. Until they pull their own weight and stop relying on the US TO clean their noses its better to build up a life in the mothership.

  10. @Marvin

    Please do not advise anyone if you don’t know what you are doing. T

    “The real pain is getting the ITIN. This requires traveling to the US and visiting an IRS office to prove your identity. Email me if you need more information.”

    I helped my girl friend got her ITIN without setting foot in the US. You can find the agency does it for you remotely, so before you get to the US, you can have all the documents ready to open a Bank account. For the one wanna do Global Transfer, if ITIN is all you need, then theoretically you could do everything remotely.

  11. @RonPaul
    Nice nickname! 😉

    You can easily get an ITIN remotely if you don’t mind sending your passport or birth certificate to the US as US embassies no longer validate your identity. Yes, you could send a notarized copy, but the process sounded like an absolute PITA. I’d rather fly there and earn some miles.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve gone through the process – I definitely know more about this now than other people commenting here.
    The ITIN is not required for opening a bank account (but of course it’s nice to have).

  12. @Marko, applying for an ITIN doesn’t make you a US person for tax purposes. You need to be a resident in the US for that, a US citizen or a permanent resident (greencard holder).

    @Marvin, as @RonPaul points out, you can apply for an ITIN outside the US.

    I have a US Social Security Number and credit history from living in the US for a few years and I use my US cards for the majority of my spend, although my funds are in Europe. Fortunately I have cards without any foreign fees but obviously there’s some currency risk. I use Revolut to exchange EUR and GBP to USD (for free) and then make a (free) transfer to my US bank account.

    BTW, a few years ago I was able to walk into a Chase and open a bank account with a UK address (and no SSN). This was about 5 years ago. I’m not sure this is still possible but you may want to check.

  13. Doable? Yes. Complicated and A LOT of hassle? Definitely!! 2-3 yrs? Ouch!! The US credit card / bank system is difficult for me and I live here. I couldn’t imagine being in AUS (or Europe), with few plans to ever come to the states, and something going wrong with my cards/bank. Waiting for a representative to pick up the phone is frustrating & I live in the same time zone. Lol keep writing great articles and stacking pts without the red tape of the states.

  14. I was exploring this as well. many ppl have had success wtih amex global transfers.

    hypothetically, if one had a reliable USA address, mobile phone and an existing US bank account with the same address, then can you apply for a global transfer and get approved? without SSN or ITIN? any thoughts?

    getting an american amex platinum card is the best thing in terms many more benefits including 5x points and what not + main better transfer partners compared to UK – esp ANA).

  15. There’s one more crucial consideration to take into account that I forgot to mention in my last message. I don’t know what arrangement you’ll have but you’ll probably not file a tax return in the US, or if you do, only for the OMAAT income and not your whole income.

    When you apply for a new card, you probably want to specify your whole income to get enough credit limit. The problem is that sometimes (especially if you apply for many cards), the bank will request a copy of your tax return (form 4506T). At this point you have a problem and they’ll likely close your account as you cannot prove your income or only some. They won’t accept UK tax returns or pay slips.

    So if you go this route, make sure you don’t apply for too many cards at the same time.

  16. I’ve maintained a US credit history despite not having even visited the USA since 2002. My FICO is 800+ as well. You can make it work with a good mail forwarding service (ideally one that scans mail as well so you don’t bankrupt yourself shipping junk mail around the world) and a Google Voice phone number. There is nothing illegal about it either. My US bank accounts have my actual foreign addresses on file, but the mailing/billing addresses are with the mailing service.

    I put over $100k of spend annually (including reimburseable business expenses) on various US cards and the points earning from those is substantially better than I could get elsewhere in the world. To me, that makes the administrative hassles worthwhile. YMMV.

  17. @AJ, “Waiting for a representative to pick up the phone is frustrating & I live in the same time zone.” When James visits the US, he can get a pay-as-you-go SIM and register Google Voice with that (you don’t need to keep the PAYG SIM active after you register). With Google Voice you can deal the US for free and you have a US phone number.

    Timezone isn’t really an issue because there are only a few hours of difference between the UK and the East Coast. Also, customer service of many credit card companies can be reached 24h.

  18. I had applied for my ITIN from the UK. You will need to send all your documents ie Passport and supporting documents to the IRS. From example if you open a checking account ( current account) as well a savings account in the USA that will generate some interest then your can ask the bank to write a letter that you will add to your ITIN application to prove the need of having a ITIN. IRS will return all documents back to you.

    As you mentioned having a residential address in the USA might be the problem.
    I am lucky to have my siblings there so I was able to use their home address and open a checking / savings account and obtaining a ITIN even though I live in UK full-time but visit US 2-3 times per year.

    The easier way to built is credit score is via Amex transfer your credit to USA.

  19. Given that you’re doing billable work with a US company (OMAAT), I think you have a reasonable case to make for banking in the US as a foreign national even barring the credit cards.

    You could avoid forex risk by having your OMAAT billing paid directly to your US account in dollars. You could even arbitrage the situation a bit by replenishing the US account from GPB when the conversion is attractive.

    Because so much of the reward structure is now based on double point credit cards and bonus categories to get the full benefit you’ll have to conduct a fair amount of your personal spending via the US cards, so you will need a plan for maintaining significant dollar reserves.

    That said, if miles and points are a significant part of your life, the rewards are great.

  20. Things are changing. The US citizens who live in the US (your blog owners) have no idea of the problem. If you are not us citizen and holms you would face in the future. Once you have an itin you are obligated to pay tax for us on the days you are in the US. The law has been there and applies to all but the enforcement of the law is relatively new and mostly for itin holders. Once your info is in their system irs will track you and make sure you pay your taxes. If not they will not let you enter next time you visit. Something you probably didn’t think as far as I read from your post

  21. @Martin:
    You can apply by mail, but they have to validate your identity for the ITIN application. Apparently you used to be able to visit IRS offices outside the US for this (in London for instance), but they have stopped offering this service. Now you’d have to mail in originals or at least notarized copies. I figured it’s easier to just fly to the US than trying to figure this out or risk losing my passport.

    Chase now requires proof of residency (a US phone number would probably be good enough).
    BoA will be happy to open accounts for non-residents, however.

  22. European ex pat in the US here: I agree with the nice Paul, too much hassle, especially without a SSN.
    I vividly remember my first week here, day 1 apply for SSN, wait, back to SSN office after for days to inquire about the number, then to DMV for temp DL, then across the street to open a checking account, then apply for a card, which then didn’t arrive in time for my big first planned purchase…
    I went the Amex route as well, when I first arrived, unfortunately I made the mistake of first applying for a charge card, instead of a credit card. 5 months later, I got my first credit card from the bank where I had my checking account. By month 9 or 10, I had an OK score that allowed me to get more interesting products like the CSP.
    In retrospect, since my tenure in the US is coming to an end, I built up a solid stack of points, nothing like what hardcore point guys like lucky have, but I was never able to use it, since I had so little vacation time compared to Europe. So my goal for the next two years is now to live the nice travel life. But realistically it will likely not result in more than four or five high end trips (à la Citi Thank You to SQ and redemption for SQ F). It remains to be seen then if those trips were worth the years of hassle.

    What I really do like though is that so many cards in the US don’t charge foreign transaction fees anymore, something that is virtually unheard of in Europe.

  23. @DTS:
    Oh, is there a difference in charge vs. credit card when it comes to building credit history?
    I made the same mistake: The agent told me I could apply for the SPG Amex and Platinum card at the same time – what they forgot to tell me was that I would only be approved for one card through Global Transfer, for the next card, I’d have to have US credit history.
    I’ve had my US Platinum card for about 3 months now and I was just denied the SPG Amex (because I don’t have US tax statements to prove my income).
    I’m still happy though because 5x points on flights is really worth it for me.

  24. @Ken this is only if you do paid work in the US, correct? This is actually true already now (without an ITIN) but basically nobody enforces it. California is quite strict about it though.

    Do you have any links/references on this? i.e. who it applies to and when?

  25. Is your “consulting company” in the UK incorporated (like a Limited) or just a sole proprietorship?

    If it’s incorporated, you should apply for an IRS EIN (Employer Identification Number) instead. Then when doing business with a US company, they’ll ask for your W-8BEN-E form instead of the W-9 they ask from US residents and companies they pay.

    The issue with getting credit can be more complicated. You may need more than a US address, but rather proof of incorporation in a US state. I know we ran into this (our company is in the EU, but with an IRS EIN), as we were not incorporated in the US. We applied for a $500 line of credit with DHL USA to ship packages at a better rate, and their risk department denied it due to lack of US incorporation, despite showing we had over $1mln in a US bank account. Their account manager nearly weeped on that one, as he didn’t get a bonus for drumming up new business.

    Next is getting a bank account, without being incorporated in the US. They are a lot more strict on this than they used to be, due to anti money-laundering and anti-terrorism laws. A lot of banks won’t touch it, just because it’s not worth the hassle for the sliver of potential business they’d lose.

    A way around this is to find the UK branch of a US _brokerage_ (not bank), that will let you open up a USD-denominated brokerage account for trading purposes on the US market. Most of those accounts work like a bank account, in that you get a routing number and can even write checks from the account. This is how we did it.

    Overall, it’s probably a lot easier if you just open a US company (in Delaware or Nevada typically), with it being 100% owned by you or your UK company. There are plenty of companies that will provide a mailbox for this purpose also.

  26. Folly. Do you really want to jump through hoops for a few extra points ?
    The incessant flogging of credit cards on this site ( and even worse on many others) is irksome and tedious. One minute Card XYZ is the best thing since sliced bread, then suddenly it’s no good and everyone has to shift to ABC, and so on, endlessly. We know that this is “cash for comment” because it’s in the disclosures.
    Stay abreast of the Australian Royal Commission into the banks/financial institutions. Five minutes per day will reinforce what you know already, ie that bankers are truly the scum of the earth, most of them are lucky not to be in jail ( and jail is a serious prospect for some of the Australian ones), they are deceitful, sly, manipulative, morally bankrupt ,with zero social conscience. Highly likely that the American ones are just as bad, if not worse.
    Playing games with credit cards is fine for those who can afford it and/or those who can play the system. That’s not the target market for the banks: their desired prey is those who are lured into the consumption of cards who cannot afford to pay them each months, juggling 5 or 6 or 10 cards, locked into a never ending debt cycle ( @ 15-20-25% pa).

  27. @Jim:
    He only needs US income for the ITIN. Selling ebooks would be enough (I sold my bachelor’s thesis for 1 USD).
    No need to go down the full incorporation road if all you want is a personal US credit card.

  28. @ All – thank you so much for all your comments and advice. This is a big decision and you guys are amazing for being able to provide this much insight.

    To answer a couple of general questions/comments:

    – Some of you with plenty of sign-up bonuses and spend would earn at least a million credit card points per year which is not a ‘few measly points’ and would be worth the effort.
    – My UK consulting company is a Limited company registered in the UK.
    – I’d be very resistant to send my passport anywhere because I’ll be travelling at least every two or three weeks for the next six months.

    Would transferring my Amex to US mean I could no longer hold Amex UK cards?

  29. You do not need an ITIN or SSN to open a US bank account while in the US (the extra form to fill in is a W8-BEN I believe, at least it was for me – non interest bearing account).

    You do not need an SSN or ITIN for an amex global transfer if applying over the phone. You need a US bank account, a mailing address, and an overseas amex in good standing.
    You also do not need to close your overseas amex cards either, and the US card will have the same ‘member since’ date that your overseas one does.

  30. W-7 is the ITIN application form, I believe.
    Even if Amex should give you a credit card without an ITIN (which I doubt), you’ll still want to have one – for as far as I know, that is what is used to identify you for credit history purposes.

    You will be able to keep all your UK cards. But I’m not sure how often you can use Global Transfer. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d have to wait at least a year before you could use it again (to use the same process for Canadian credit cards, for example).

    My US Amex has “member since 18” – while I’ve had my overseas Amex cards for a few years.

  31. Don’t terms and conditions usually stipulate that you have to be resident in the country to apply for credit cards?

  32. Does anyone know how often you can do an Amex global transfer? I did my AU to UK one about 18 months ago.

  33. James, as an Australian living in the US, I suggest you stay well away from it. Just saying it’s really not worth it. I still have (and use) my Australian bank accounts because the US banks are so far behind that they barely function in the modern world. For example, good luck in sending money overseas, without considerable hassle and fees. Heck I couldn’t even change a 20 Euro note recently without a $15 “fee”, so it’s still in my wallet for next time I go to Europe. Credit cards – good luck, My almost 900 credit rating in AU counts for nothing here. It will take you a long time. Then there is the whole tax thing that you don’t want to get involved with, but that’s another subject. Well, this is my experience anyway.

  34. I opened a bank of america checking account and merrilmlynch as well. They detected that I applied from a foreign ip adress. (didnt use vpn)

    Even though I used a us adress and phone number, they still required me to send state drivers license, social security card, and copy of two bills to the us adress. The banks are cracking down

  35. James, why don’t you give Amex a call?
    +18002214950 or +18669295160
    One of them should get you straight to the Global Transfer team (I suspect it’s the latter number).

    As for transferring money from Europe to the US, you can use Transferwise ( if you want to be nice to me) or Revolut (according to others who have commented here, I haven’t tried it for currency conversion).

  36. @ Marvin – appreciate the suggestion of contacting Amex but I need to understand exactly what I’m doing before I tell them anything. Do I tell them I’ve moved to the US? I don’t think saying ‘I just want to earn points from the UK’ will get me over the line!

  37. Don’t lie to them. I just told them I spend some time in the US, so a US credit card would be more convenient. You can tell them you’re thinking about moving to the US and just out of curiousity, would you be able to do the Global Transfer again?
    If you lived in the US, you’d have an SSN, not an ITIN, anyway.
    But IANAL and YMMV.

    They obviously get huge commissions, it will be difficult to hang up on them, they will try to make you apply for a card straight away. There’s really no reason to be paranoid, IMHO.
    The worst thing that can happen is that they tell you you’re not eligible.

  38. What I am looking for is a mail forwarding company that will meet the following criteria:

    Will appear like a residence and not a mail box outlet to chase and American Express when I make the original application.


    Will forward credit cards to Canada (some forwarders won’t)


    Will charge only for the mail that I would like them to , and discard the rest.

    I have a us credit history, from the years that I lived in the us, even still have some cards . I lack a us address. I also have no intention of coming to the us in The next few years.

    Thank you

    Oh, and James, the sign up bonuses and no foreign transaction fees make this attractive. I am particularly interested in the Marriott 15 night elite credit and one night free certificates, bringing down my paid night requirement to make platinum to a doable 34 from an excessive 50. I hope that soeone will have an answer for me – if not for my sake, then to help out Marriott.

  39. @Jason – I currently use USGlobalMail and they meet all of your criteria. They charge a setup fee and monthly/annual fee to use their address in Texas, but it has been accepted by all the major issuers as a residential address (Amex, Chase, Capital One, Citibank, US Bank). They will notify you with a front scan of any envelope received and you can choose to scan/email the contents (per page charge applies), dispose at no charge, or consolidate and forward physically to you via a wide range of courier/postal options.

    They will not scan or notify credit card numbers via email however – those must be physically forwarded (they will advise that the envelope contains a card). They will scan and email cheques though which is great for remote deposit. Best of all their customer service is extremely responsive and helpful.

    All manageable through an easy web portal. You will however need to send them a physical copy of a notarised consent form to accept USPS mail on your behalf to comply with regulations on that. They accepted a foreign notary without issue.

    I’ve used numerous other services in the past, but these guys are far and away the best of the lot.

  40. I think James makes really complicated. All you need is an US address and US telephone number, and use the address to BOA office personally to apply an account. BOA only need your foreign passport and another ID like driving license. The purpose to open bank account are paying expenses for travel to US and convenient to shop at US website, that’s what I said everytime I need to update my W-8. After you have the bank account and get the bank statement you can starting call AMEX global transfer to apply your US AMEX credit card. AMEX would need your bank statement to proof your US address. As long as you are qualified, hold an AMEX card for more then 3 monthes, and your paying records are good, I don’t think you have any problems to apply an US AMEX credit card. I just applyed an AMEX credit card from my home country at last April, and last July I was using globe transfer to get AMEX SPG at US without any problems. I don’t live at US, I just travel annually to US visiting friends. By the way, you are not going to lose any of your AMEX card after global transfer. I still have both AMEX credit card from US and my home country. If you have any other questions, I am glad to help and share my experience.

  41. @ James

    Do you know if it’s possible to have accounts from different countries under the same company? I’m a US resident w/ both a Chase and Amex but am living in the UK and would like to open an Amex here. Not sure what protocol is for that. Cheers if you’ve any insight!

    Seems like others have hinted at it, but was wondering if you had any extra tips/cautions.

  42. I tried to get a Canadian credit card being an American living in the US. It was difficult but I managed to get one card from RBC.

  43. Looks possible based on the many comments above. But keep in mind that once you have associated yourself with the US, it is going to be next to impossible to open a bank account anywhere else because of the FATCA nonsense. Even having a US phone number or bank account also makes you ‘infected’.
    Precisely to get out of this I got rid of my bank account a few years back.

  44. Just to put it out there, you def would want someone you trust to use as your US address. The taxes you’ll have to deal with anyways, getting paid by OMAAT so you’ll already have an itin. You might consider going small. For example, a credit union or small bank is significantly more likely to let you open an account if you ask politely and have a reasonable explanation for what you want to do. I know this was many years ago, but I had no trouble showing my credit union proof that I had ample CD$ credit and wanted to have a local US$ credit card for spending while here. They gave me an initial $500 limit, and after a few years it was up to $2500 and I had no trouble getting a card from capone (which, imho, is the easiest on those with limited or bad credit history)

  45. Some things you should be mindful of:

    1) It’s very possible that FX fees could eat up most of, if not more than, the value of the points you’ll be earning, and you have the issue of FX fluctuation risk. Someone suggested having your OMAAT earnings deposited directly into a US bank account; that helps, though you’ll still face the issue of getting the money out without getting eaten alive with fees. Eventually you should be able to obtain a no-fee credit card which mitigates the problem – put your OMAAT earnings in the US account, use the card for everyday spend in the UK, then use the cash US account to pay off the bill. But you may incur substantial fees before that’s possible. (FYI, I don’t think you need 2-3 years to become eligible for “premium” cards. Less than a year most likely.)
    2) Your best bet for obtaining an ITIN, if you don’t want to deal with mailing documents, is to visit an IRS taxpayer assistance office during a trip you already have planned here. has a listing of locations; you can call and make an appointment in advance. Almost all major cities have one. The one in Dallas at least has no wait as long as you make an appointment.
    3) You didn’t mention how often you plan to visit, but be very careful about tracking the days you spend in the US. You default to US tax residency if you spend more than 183 “tax days”, defined as current calendar year days, plus 1/3 of the prior year, plus 1/6 of the 2nd previous year. Stay under 120 days in any one year and you shouldn’t have a problem.
    4) I would also be wary of creating a US business entity as someone suggested, and would be very cautious about the types of business-related activities you conduct here. I suggest at least consulting with a tax accountant knowledgeable in international taxation to avoid accidentally running afoul of “permanent establishment” and/or ensnaring your UK business activities in the IRS’ ridiculous web of foreign information reporting. Trust me – I have to deal with those for my clients, and I always feel bad having to send them bills for something that provides zero value to them.

  46. There is a multi part series on getting US credit cards for Canadian residents on the
    “ “ . This might be of value to residents of other countries also.

  47. @ron this is not true. You have to be a US person in order for FACTA to cause issues outside the US. If you disagree (e.g. that a US phone number or bank account is enough) please show references to your claim.

  48. @Tommy L my experience is that AMEX US and AMEX UK are completely separate and don’t know what the other is doing. So you can hold cards with both. When I applied for an AMEX US card (while holding a card from AMEX UK) I was a new customer to them.

  49. In a word. No.
    James, the credit rating system in the US is fraught with pitfalls and you may well open yourself up for negative credit ratings. I am a US citizen who has lived in France and Hong Kong and have traveled extensively. I got along just fine with Visa and Amex. It’s simply not worth the EXTREME hassle you will go through.

  50. Am I the only one who thinks it’s hilarious that lots of Americans advise against getting US credit cards, while foreigners (non-residents) who have done it, recommend it? 😀

  51. Carefully investigate what your US Income tax liability might be . For US citizens it used to require 330 complete 24 hour periods outside of the US during a calendar year for tax exemption . If you spend enough time in the US your out of country income may also be taxable .
    I needed to read up on this ~25 years ago so could easily be out of date .

  52. Another angle…I have a few non residents and non citizens as authorized users on a Citi Prestige card for a few years (no Social security needed to add and I use my address). So these traveling friends (they get the Priority pass not the credit card for $50 a year – a bargain but coincidently they are also establishing a credit history at my address with my timely payments…could that cause problems if you plan on moving to the US and already have a US profile? Perhaps perhaps not, I do not know the answer to that yet. Anyway this is another way to start a US based profile without a Social security card. Presumably if you actually moved to the US you would then apply for a Social security and if you used it changed your address then you would have some positive credit history…anyone else has thoughts on this.

  53. For those who think his earnings from OMAAT are taxable in the U.S., they are incorrect.

    While the monies are being paid from the U.S., they are being paid to a foreign location and for work performed outside the U.S. They are not taxable in the U.S. unless he is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

  54. @ron that’s what I’d be worried about. When opening some UK accounts recently I’ve noticed the question re US tax links, with application being refused if your have US financial links.

  55. I would go for it. If you’re earning income here in dollars and paying taxes, it shouldn’t be impossible to get a bank account. My Mexican (non-US resident, living in Tijuana) gardener has a US bank account and a California Driver’s License and I write him a check from a US Bank every month. You need a trusted friend with a residential address where you can establish a local account. After you get set up, 99.9% of all bank transactions are paperless. I make deposits by scanning checks on my phone, all bank statements are sent electronically and all credit card statements are paperless, sent online to you and can be paid online through your bank. All withdrawals are made with a debit card (which can be done at any ATM overseas). You only need to have your credit cards mailed to you. Filing taxes can all be done online and refunds and payments to the IRS are done online as well through your bank account. You really don’t need to be here. As for purchases, use your American credit cards to purchase flights and hotel rooms and pay them off with your American Bank in US dollars. I did the reverse of this while living in Switzerland a few years ago – had both American and Swiss Bank accounts and cards and worked with both of them while living abroad. I recommend finding a trusted friend in California, since it’s very foreigner friendly and you can get a Driver’s License (or legal ID) without a SSN. Only 13 states offer this option. After that, you should have no problem setting up a bank account. Good luck! Write me if you have any California questions.

  56. @1KBrad – not nearly that simple unfortunately. You have a UK person performing the work in the UK, yes, but working for a US entity, writing articles for a US-based website, who will be traveling to the US and (I assume) writing about travel experiences here for said website, and possibly depositing and/or using those earnings through a US bank account and/or credit card. And throw in the fact that the international code sections are downright nonsensical. I’d certainly forcefully argue otherwise but the possibility of an IRS agent sticking someone with US-source income with these facts is non-zero.

  57. @ Martin

    I am not a US citizen and have no ties or whatsoever with US. However, for any bank account I wish to, I need to cerify I am not American, have no green card, no US TIN, no US phone number, have never worked in US, am not authorized to give standing instructions to US financial institutions, have not spent more than X# of days in US etc etc. It happened as recently as last week when I opened an account in a small local branch of a local bank in SEA and I still had to fill out the bloody FATCA certification and making sure all questions were answered with NO.
    Had there been a single YES, there would have been no account opened for me.

  58. I would not do it because banking in general and having an address in the US for only banking processes are such nebulous areas. I lived through the Patriot Act watching Americans overseas without a US address suffer through US banks unilaterally closing their accounts. FATCA is such unbelievable example of government overreach on an international level that is unprecedented. The latest is rabbit out of the hat is the Tax Cut and Job Act that passed in December. Last night I read an article by a person who specialises in taxation of Canadians who also have US citizenship. He basically called the Taxation Tax (which it is one time tax on retained earnings for the period 1986 to 2018) a confiscation of the pensions of small business owners as well as double taxation, a tax treaty violation and perhaps violations of the 4th and 8th Amendments to the US Constitution. Since 2002, working in grey areas with US banks is not a good idea.

  59. @ron thanks for your reply. I also had to certify that I’m no US Person when opening bank accounts in Europe. However, I’m pretty sure the question was about being a US Person (resident in the US, a US citizen or a US permanent citizen). I don’t think they asked about “no US TIN, no US phone number, have never worked in US” and frankly I don’t see how that would be relevant. But it’s possible that I’m mistaken or that banks take things too serious (a US ITIN doesn’t make you a US Person). I’ll pay close attention next time I sign up for a service. Thank you.

  60. Definitely DO NOT use Atlas (Stripe).
    That’s a guarantee for hassle with the IRS, also Atlas is not free.
    Great “advice.”

  61. I know this post is very old, but I wanted to come back and share my experience with actually going through with this. I am also an Australian citizen, with great credit history in Australia.

    I started building credit history in the US about 10 months ago, and just recently got approved for a round of great cards with incredible signup bonuses.

    I began this process while visiting the US. First thing I did was get a US mobile number with a prepaid carrier, then immediately link it to a Google Voice number, and forward all calls and texts to Google Hangouts. This meant I could access security codes, and receive calls even while outside the US. Next I opened a couple of US bank accounts. Citibank immediately opened an account, as I had banked with them elsewhere. I was able to get an account at Chase without an SSN, again only needed passport and proof of address. Chase accepted a letter from the owner of the person renting me a room temporarily. Wells Fargo also accepted me without an SSN, but they would not let me use many useful features, such as online banking or wire transfers, so I do not recommend this. I will mention that my Chase account and Wells Fargo accounts were suddenly closed without explanation about 6 months ago.

    After getting a bank account and a phone number, I was able to apply for a secured card offered by Discover immediately. The card arrived before I departed the US. Unfortunately, discover is not accepted much outside the US, so this card was essentially useless. Lucky I kept up some subscription services, like Spotify, Netflix and app store purchases tied to this card. I transferred additional funds to this card, increasing my charge limit to $3000. This meant that after the five month secured period was over, I was immediately offered a $3000 credit limit.

    7 months in to this process, a trusted friend in the US offered to add me as an additional user on their card. They had me added as a user, but had the card sent to their address, and never gave me access to the card. This meant there was little risk for them, but my credit score did start increasing quicker after this.

    9 months in, my credit score was sitting at 750 and I was visiting the US again, so I applied for an Amex Platinum and CSP, and was instantly approved. I had the cards mailed to my friend, who has since posted them to me, and I have started using them both.

    This entire process took me about 2 fulls days physically present in the US, and maybe 10-15 hours of research, paying bills and other incidentals. Now that I have decent cards with no FX fees, I use my US cards for all of my spending. Yes I am exposed to some FX risk given I do not earn USD, but I hold balances in 3 different currencies already, so this is not a concern for me. I haven’t had any trouble opening bank accounts in other countries because of my US cards.

    Now that I have an Amex card, I plan to start the same process in the UK.

    Is it worth doing and would I do it again? 100% yes.

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