Accessing Financial Services as an Immigrant

Accessing Financial Services as an Immigrant

If you're an immigrant without a social security number, accessing essential financial services like loans, credit cards, or bank accounts can be difficult. These services simplify life and secure your finances. Unfortunately, alternative financial options often come with high interest rates and fees, making essential financial services expensive compared to what others easily access.

However, being an immigrant doesn't exclude you from these services. Below, we will explore how to access critical financial services – including bank accounts, credit cards, loans, and mortgages – despite these challenges.

Obtaining a Social Security Number

The easiest path to access financial services in the U.S. is to obtain a Social Security Number. Eligibility is restricted, however. An immigrant can obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) in the United States under certain conditions:

  • Employment Authorization: Immigrants authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can obtain a Social Security Number. That includes immigrants on work visas (like H-1B, L-1), students on F-1 visas engaging in practical training, and those who have obtained an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • Lawful Permanent Residents: Immigrants who obtain Lawful Permanent Resident status (Green Card holders) are eligible for a Social Security Number.
  • Refugees and Asylum Seekers: Refugees and individuals granted asylum in the U.S. can also apply for a Social Security Number.
  • Other Specific Visas and Statuses: Other visa holders or individuals with specific statuses, like those granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, may also be eligible.

To obtain a Social Security Number, the eligible individual must apply through the Social Security Administration, providing documentation that proves identity, immigration status, and work eligibility.

Certain legal immigrant statuses in the United States do not qualify for a Social Security Number (SSN). These typically include individuals on short-term visas, such as tourist or business visitor visas (B-1/B-2), and those on non-immigrant work visas who are not authorized to work outside their specified visa terms. Additionally, individuals on student visas (F-1, J-1) are generally eligible for SSNs only if authorized to work in the U.S., either on-campus or through approved practical training programs. Understanding the specific restrictions and entitlements of each visa category is crucial for immigrants to navigate their eligibility for an SSN.

For these individuals, accessing financial services will be challenging but not impossible.

Opening a Bank Account

Opening a bank account is a practical first step towards securing your finances, building good spending and saving habits, and establishing wealth while avoiding other costly, alternative options.

An immigrant will need documentation and identification forms to open a bank account. Remember that a social security number is unnecessary if you can provide other supporting documentation/identification.

To open a bank account, most banks require the following information:

  • Your name
  • Your address
  • Your date of birth
  • Form of identification

A social security number (SSN) usually serves as a customer's identification; when this isn't possible, the following may work instead:

  • Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Alien identification card number
  • Passport number
  • Other government-issued ID numbers

For immigrants, getting an ITIN is usually the best option, as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issues it for people who don't have an SSN or are ineligible. ITINs are also issued regardless of immigration status, making them more accessible.

Accessing Credit Cards and Loans

Credit cards and loans can assist individuals in meeting their financial needs and building credit in the U.S. Immigrants can apply for these financial products, and many lenders and banks provide them. However, there are some limitations to their availability for immigrants.

Eligibility for personal loans, private student loans, mortgage loans, or auto loans can depend mainly on the lender. In some cases, lenders may not require proof of citizenship and an ITIN; proof of income and additional identification will suffice – but it varies from lender to lender.

There may also be exceptions for some loans, like student loans, for immigrants. For example, immigrants who receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) don't qualify for federal student aid but may be able to obtain private student loans.

Getting a credit card is a much easier process for immigrants without an SSN, thanks to fintech companies that have catered financial service products for people in this situation. To get approved for one of these credit cards, applicants can use their ITIN. Once they have a credit card, they can use the card to establish a U.S. credit history and build their credit.

Getting a Mortgage

Obtaining a mortgage is crucial for establishing oneself in this country and owning a home. Since most people cannot purchase a house outright with cash, they need a mortgage.

One of the most significant factors that qualify people for a mortgage is creditworthiness. Lenders will review your credit history and decide if you'll have no issue making mortgage payments. For immigrants with little to no credit history, this can be a red flag for lenders and make it nearly impossible for them to get a mortgage.

You may need to search for a bank willing to give you a mortgage; however, with an ITIN, you should be able to get one. It's best to think about your credit history early when you're looking to get a mortgage. Getting a credit card and bank account and building good credit will go a long way when you eventually want to buy a home.


Financial services are vital for anyone living and working in the U.S., immigrants included. While it may be more challenging for immigrants to access a bank account, loans, credit cards, and mortgage, it's all possible.

Doing so will make life in the U.S. more accessible and (if you build good credit) will make getting a loan or a mortgage easier (and possibly cheaper) in the future, too!