As a travel hacker, you quickly discover that the opportunities for earning points and miles seem to diminish the longer you stay in the game. If you read my post on Amex credit card changes then you know that card companies are making it harder for people to churn cards. You don’t need to worry though, there’s a way you can squeeze out more miles and points from your credit card experience; you just have to be smart about it – let me explain.
The Travel Hacking loophole that not a lot of people talk about
American Express classifies the same card in different countries as a different product. If you, for example, have the American Express Gold Rewards Card in Canada, you can apply for the same card in the United States and still get the Welcome Sign-Up Bonus, despite the fact that Amex’s “Once in a Lifetime Rule”, which bars you from getting more bonus points, is in operation.
So, if you’re like me and already have the Canadian version of the following cards:
- American Express Gold Rewards Card
- American Express Platinum Card
- American Express Business Platinum Card
- SPG Credit Card by American Express
- SPG Business Credit Card by American Express
You can find a way around this problem – simply sign-up for the exact same cards in the US and continue enjoying American Express Membership Rewards and SPG Starpoints courtesy of Amex’s Welcome Sign-Up Bonus!
Is It Difficult?
The process of acquiring a US credit card can be somewhat rigorous, but I believe the rewards you stand to gain at the end are well worth the effort.
Here’s a list of things you will need to get going:
- An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN): this is a tax processing number only available to foreigners who cannot get a Social Security Number (SSN), similar to Canada’s SIN.
- Two Identification documents like a passport or driver’s license
- An American Express Card –that is in good standing and has been active for at least 6 months.
- A mail forwarder: this is a service provider who ships items on your behalf to a P.O. Box in the US (for a fee), and re-routes the item to you in Canada. Having a residential address is important for your credit history. An example is USPS or ShipIto.
- A US based bank account
It’s really important to have a good credit history – I’m assuming you would already have one with your bank, which is why you’d consider applying for a credit card in the first place! Normally, your credit history is linked to your Social Insurance Number (SIN) and compared with your current address, which explains why you need a residential address and an ID.
By the way, applying for a credit card doesn’t necessarily hurt your credit score – not in the long term, anyway. You can read all about it in my post Does Applying for Credit Cards Hurt my Credit Score?
Applying For an ITIN
To get ITIN from the IRS, you will need these three crucial things:
- A properly completed W-7 form: you can download the form from the IRS website using the link highlighted here. You will need to submit it together with a certified true copy of your passport.
- Proof of your identity – your passport
- A signed letter from a withholding agent – you can use services like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords. It takes 4 to 8 weeks to get your Signed Letter from a Withholding Agent
Once you’re done, send the completed and signed W7 form along with your Certified True Copy of your Passport and the letter from Amazon/Smashwords in an envelope to the IRS by mail or courier. It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks for your application to be processed by the IRS and to get your new ITIN.
Acquiring a US Bank Account
A US bank account is important because it’s a requirement when getting your first card. You also need it to you move money between your Canadian and US accounts and for credit card settlement. Please note that when I say US bank account, I don’t mean a US dollar chequing account – you need a bank that’s based in the United States.
As someone based in Canada, you will find that your best options are narrowed down to RBC and TD. I prefer RBC because their charges are lower, and they have a branch in the US – in Georgia, to be specific.
Once you’ve set up your US account you move your Canadian dollars from your account in Canada over to your US account via an electronic transfer. It’s that simple.
Why an Amex Card and Not Any Other Card?
The reason you need an American Express in the series of steps I’ve outlined above is that it’s the easiest way to get a US credit card and at the same time build your credit history. AMEX also help you get your first US Credit Card via their American Express Global Transfer program.
Getting a US credit card increases your options when it comes to earning more miles and points, it just takes a little extra effort, especially on acquiring the ITIS. Think of it this way- if you can get 25,000 points signing up for a Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Credit Card from American Express, for example, wouldn’t it be much better getting 50,000 points from two cards (Canadian version and US version of the same card)? Over to you.