Rounding it up
It is possible to obtain a credit card in Canada as an international student.
Many big banks and Fintech companies (such as KOHO) offer credit cards either specifically or beneficial for students who have little credit history and income.
Don’t sign up for a credit card without comparing the terms and perks. Also remember to educate yourself on how to use it responsibly.
The right credit card can be a powerful tool to enhance your lifestyle and establish good financial standing.
Taking the leap from high school to college is a big transition in anyone’s life, let alone the student who plans to study at an international university. If you are coming to Canada to begin your higher education, you’ll join half a million international students who make the same choice each year. Hopefully, knowing you aren’t the only international student is comforting news, but before you embark on this exciting journey, there are a few important checkboxes to tick off first.
Have you considered how you will pay for your international education? If you have secured scholarships, student loans, or funding to pay for your actual studies, you ’re on the right track. Have you also considered how you will pay for day-to-day expenses? If you have, you probably thought about getting a credit card and wondered if international students can even get a credit card in Canada.
We’ll answer this important question and help you find the right option for you so you can kick off your life as a Canadian student on the right foot.
Can international students get a credit card?
As a recent high school grad, you probably haven’t had your hands on a credit card yet. Typically, you must be 17 or 18 years of age before you can even apply. University can be a great time to sign up for your first credit card, if, of course, you are confident you can handle the financial responsibility that comes with it.
You’ll be happy to learn that it is possible to obtain a credit card in Canada as an international student. With a bit of research and the right documentation, you can get your hands on a credit card and begin an independent financial journey.
Why should you sign up for one?
There are plenty of good reasons to get a credit card as an international student. For one, a credit card is a handy way to pay for day-to-day expenses. You likely won’t be able to use your debit card or dollars from home to fund your lunch or a trip to the movie theater. Considering many establishments are moving in a cashless direction, simply having Canadian dollars on hand may not do you much good either. With a credit card, you can tap and enjoy your sandwich or movie with little hassle. Plus, a credit card allows you to make secure online payments, which is absolutely necessary in an increasingly virtual world.
Another good reason to get a credit card as an international student is to establish credit. If you’re even considering living in Canada after you graduate, having a substantial credit history will help you establish a post-collegiate life much more easily. A healthy credit score is essential to obtain any sort of loan, say for a car you’ll need to commute to work, and sometimes even necessary to secure a place to live.
Finally, with a credit card, you can often earn rewards such as cash back or points. Earning cash back can be the difference between being able to swing for that triple-shot oat milk latté during finals week or not. Earning points can also help you pay for the flight back home over the holidays. If they’re available to you, these kinds of rewards aren’t something you want to pass up.
How to get a credit card as an international student
Typically, getting any kind of credit card is difficult without a solid credit history, which, of course, you can only establish with a credit card. This catch-22 is solved for students because most banks understand that students are just beginning their own financial journey and often obtaining their very first credit card.
1. Have your documents in order
In order to get a Canadian credit card as an international student and take advantage of its benefits, you can often go through the same channel as a resident student but will have to present different documentation. You’ll need a valid form of identification as well as your study permit or temporary visa, which allows you to stay and study in the country. So, if you haven’t yet, you should obtain your study permit before attempting to get a credit card. Additionally, you’ll likely need to show your student ID or a letter of acceptance from your Canadian-based college or university.
2. Find the right bank
Canada is no stranger to international students so it’s only right that its banks offer credit card and banking services that are specifically tailored to you and your needs. All of the big five banks—RBC, BMO, CIBC, TD Canada Trust, and Scotiabank—offer some form of credit card to international students. The type, terms, and benefits of the credit card will vary from bank to bank, so it’s important to do your research before signing up at the most convenient location.
Before you can open a credit card, banks may require you to also set up a chequing or savings account or both. While this requires an extra step, this isn’t a bad thing. This means you will have a place to transfer international funds to Canadian dollars and will be able to pay off your credit card directly from your chequing account with the same bank.
In addition to these big banks, you can also find credit card options for international students at online financial institutions. For example, KOHO offers a card with competitive perks like instant cash back, as well as an easy-to-use budgeting app to help you manage your money. With benefits like these, it’s no wonder many young people prefer these alternative routes over traditional banking methods.
How to select the right card for you
Now that you know that you can get a credit card as an international student and how to do so, it’s time to shop around for the perfect card for you. This is the fun part! While reading term agreements may not sound so enticing, it can be when those agreements list out the many great benefits you can reap from using the card. Read them closely and compare your options to find a credit card that’s not just another piece of plastic in your wallet, but a powerful tool you can wield to enhance your lifestyle and establish your adulthood.
1. Compare your options
As we briefly mentioned above, there are various types of credit cards, all with unique terms and benefits. So, it’s important to compare your options to ensure you are signing up for a card that suits you and your needs best. There are many sites that offer side-by-side comparisons of the cards available to students, which can be useful as you decide.
Most classic credit cards require some level of credit and income to qualify. Additionally, every credit card you apply for will elicit a hard inquiry into your credit, which temporarily lowers your credit score. This is why it’s important to only apply for cards geared toward students like you. These cards may have low credit limits (how much you can spend on the card) and basic rewards, and sometimes need to be secured with an initial deposit or another form of collateral, but they will be a solid and safe way to have credit.
A great way to set yourself up for success with a credit card is to use a prepaid credit card such as the KOHO card. Similar to a debit card, which pulls money directly from your chequing account, a prepaid credit card pulls money from preloaded funds. When using a prepaid card, you can only spend what you actually have funded the account with, so there’s no danger of spending more than you can afford. Additionally, you can escape the most dangerous part of all credit cards — interest.
Another great benefit of the KOHO reloadable prepaid credit card is that you get 1% cash back on groceries and transportation with the Easy account. If you choose to upgrade to KOHO Extra, that amount increases to 2% cash back on groceries, transportation, and dining out. Plus, you can take advantage of financial coaching, which can be incredibly useful as a newcomer both to Canada and the world of credit cards.
2. Educate yourself
Knowing how a credit card works is an essential part of responsible credit card ownership. If you’re not prepared to read the fine print of your credit card agreement, you’re probably not ready to handle this powerful piece of plastic.
Treat a credit card as another important piece of your education. Learn everything you can about how interest rates work, and how to pay off debt should you miss a payment or encounter unexpected expenses.
Having a credit card and using it responsibly is an essential bridge to cross on your path to adulthood. Use it well and you’ll be better equipped to manage your finances in the future and face the real world when you graduate. Use it poorly, and you’ll be in for a rude awakening when you leave university with an even larger debt load than you expected and a sad credit score on which to build your life thereafter.
Ally Streelman is a storyteller whose work spans money, wellness, travel, and more with the chief goal of empowering readers. When she’s not stringing together sentences, you can find her immersed in a new city, cookbook, or novel or encouraging women to take hold of their financial journey.