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No SIN in the US?


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Hi all,

Does anyone have any advice for getting a credit card in the states with no SIN? I can't get a SIN til next year because I'm not eligible--a fellowship isn't considered "working" for those purposes. Actually, come to think of it, does anyone have any advice for navigating the US without a SIN period? It's been hard to get things like a cell phone and such.

Thanks!

 

 

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The problem isn't so much getting a SSN (the US equivalent of the Canadian SIN), but rather not having a credit history. Most of the problems this causes can be fixed by paying deposits, paying with cash upfront, or similar tricks. It is possible to live in the US without a SSN; when you do your taxes for the first time, you'll be assigned a ITIN number. Your university should be able to pay you your stipend without needing either of these numbers.

For banking, some banks have trouble with foreign students, if they are not used to dealing with them. This is due to their inexperience, nothing more. My best advice on that is to make sure to open an account with a bank/branch that doesn't seem to have this problem. Branches located near large universities, and the university's credit union (if one exists) will usually know how to handle students who don't have a SSN.

For a credit card, if you bank won't issue you one, look into one of two things. First, another bank or a credit union; my credit union issued me a credit card immediately upon my arrival, before I had a SSN or any credit history. One problem may be that you are asking for a credit limit that's too high, so look into that. Another option is to get a secured credit card, meaning essentially that you deposit a certain amount of money into some separate account, which acts as a fail safe. If you fail to pay back your credit card debt in time, the money goes out of this special account. If/when you've built some credit history, you should be able to ask to switch to a "normal" account, and the money in the secured account will be returned to your checking account. 

For cell phone plans, there should be a similar kind of arrangement, where you pay some deposit before they agree to set up your account, and they pay it back if you keep up with your payments for X amount of time. 

For a drivers license, you'll need to get some document that says that you are not eligible to get a SSN.

The most annoying thing (I think) is landlords who insist on having your SSN and doing a background check. Some will understand that you just don't have one, or even if you do you may not have a credit history. If they insist, sometimes that just means you have to move on because there is no way to fix the problem if they are not willing to take your references or history in another country into account. 

 

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First, most of the time, when the place asks you for a SSN (e.g. doctor's office), just check if it's required. Usually it's not absolutely required. I did get a SSN though, based on my funding, but in the week or two prior to my SSN arriving, here's what I did:

Cell phone: T-Mobile will accept I-20 or DS-2019 in lieu of a SSN

Utilities: My electric company accepted my Canadian Passport # in lieu of a SSN. In fact, since my SSN was "for employment only", they don't even want that. For all foreign students, our SSNs will be for employment only, not for credit.

Internet (AT&T): I used my Canadian credit card to set up the account and pay the deposit.

Apartment: I showed my landlord proof of income from the school and I had requested and printed out my Canadian credit history from Equifax and Transunion, which are also credit reporting agencies in the US. Of course, the Canadian and US credit histories are separate, but my landlord said they appreciated seeing that I had good Canadian credit and that it was a factor in having a low security deposit on my apartment.

Credit card: I got this after my SSN but my SSN has nothing to do with it (my wife was able to get one without a SSN) because as I said above, our SSNs are for employment, not credit. I asked my bank for advice upon opening my account and they said the general thing is to build up a minimal amount of US banking and credit history and then apply for a card. I arrived in September, received a few paycheques, paid a few bills and then by December, was successfully able to apply for a US Student credit card. Student credit cards are a good bet because most Americans applying for them also have almost no credit (since you generally apply for this once you turn 19 and have no credit!).

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  • 1 month later...

Just thought I'd chime in. I'm curious why you need to do all this through US banks/phone providers anyway. I really have no idea so your input would be enlightening: can you not maintain your home country banks/credit cards and even phone while living in the US? I haven't had a problem traveling with my bank cards and phones overseas while on short trips abroad.  Maybe the long duration move is different though.

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Well, you're earning money in the US, paid in US currency. You'll be living in the US, and have expenses in US currency again. How does it make sense to do all of that through a foreign bank? You don't want to deposit your salary in a foreign account, because you'll pay for conversion fees, and you don't want to pay for all your everyday expenses with your foreign credit card because that again incurs an extra conversion cost. It may not register on your account as a separate fee, but trust me that the bank has a conversion rate that makes them money. If you're going to be living in a certain country for multiple years and earning money there, it stands to reason that you also have a bank account there. That aside, not every store or utility company will be happy with a foreign credit card. 

As for phones, if you have a plan with your current provider that would allow you to have cheaper services in the States than a local provider, by all means do that. For most people, I suspect that international charges and roaming would be much more expensive than just getting a local plan. You're not going to be a tourist or short-term visitor; you're going to live there. 

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As for phones, if you have a plan with your current provider that would allow you to have cheaper services in the States than a local provider, by all means do that. For most people, I suspect that international charges and roaming would be much more expensive than just getting a local plan. You're not going to be a tourist or short-term visitor; you're going to live there. 

Also, people might not appreciate you having a foreign number. If they call or text your international number, they will get international calling and texting rates.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My experience has been that most often, I have to go through a more long-winded and frustrating process to do things like set up utilities, rent apartments, get internet service, because companies request extra proof of identity to be presented in person. With a phone, I had to purchase a handset outright and then get a pay monthly plan. The real sticking point for me was that even though I did have an SSN early on during my studies, it was worthless for any credit-related purpose because I had no credit history. And in the US, it seems nigh on impossible to start building credit without a credit history (oh, the irony).

However, I learned towards the end of my 1st year that Citibank student accounts always entitle the account holder to a credit card. I now have a Citibank credit card and am slowly building my credit, being sure to follow my banker's advice on the steps to do that most effectively. As soon as possible, I'll get a second credit card to expedite the process.

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My first few months in the US was similar to music's, with the exception of the cell phone thing (as I said above, T-Mobile will accept I-20 or DS-2019 in lieu of a SSN and I was able to get a phone on a 2 year payment plan). I also used a Citibank student account to get a credit card!

Just want to note something that music brought up though: The SSN that we foreign students get for our work due to F-1 or J-1 status is not the same as the SSN that Americans get. My SSN card says something like "For Work Authorization only". My utilities company explained to me that this type of SSN is worthless for any credit-related purpose, it is only for work authorization and tax reporting purposes. So, I still had to pay a $250 deposit to my utility company to open an account. $250 is almost a year's worth of electricity (in Canada, when I had to open an account for the first time, it was only a ~3 month deposit).

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