Tag Archives | credit card

Getting My Argentine Wife a US Credit Card… While Living in Argentina

As I’ve often written about on this blog, I do as much as I can to earn miles and points so that our family can travel for as close to free as possible. Most often, this takes the form of earning large signup points bonuses for new credit cards. In fact, I’m now up to about 18 active credit card accounts and continue to apply for new ones about every six months. (And yes, my credit score is pretty high and continues to stay that way even with this many cards.)

Of course, I’m always looking to earn more points and one easy way to do this is to get your spouse or partner to also sign up for credit card bonuses. Unfortunately, we live in Argentina and my Argentine wife had absolutely no credit history in the United States. That meant she’d have zero chance of getting approved for any credit cards

I started to work on building her credit history about two years ago. I first added her as an authorized user on all my credit cards that allowed additional users for free – American Express, Chase, etc. Luckily, she already had a social security number from previously being employed by a multinational firm and working in the US. That made this simple, but she could also have applied for an IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITN). I’d be responsible for any of her charges, but she’d start to build a credit history.

Building a Credit HistoryIt seems this strategy worked!

She just recently received a credit card application from American Express in the mail. (We have a US mailing address that we use.) We applied online and she was instantly approved! This was a solid offer for the American Express Gold card with a 50,000 point sign up bonus after spending $1000 in three months and first year fee waived. Not too shabby…

Now, with one credit card under her name, we’ll keep building her credit and apply for another round of credit cards in about 3-6 months and see how we do.

So, to recap, how can you build a credit history for a foreign partner?

If they have or can get a social security number, do that. If not, get them an ITN. ( This thread on Flyertalk has several reports of which banks approve credit cards with only an ITN, including Bank of America, Citibank, Discover, Chase, and Amex.)

Now, add them as an authorized user on your credit card accounts and use that card. Over time, they will build a credit card history and should start to get pre-approved offer letters.

That was all we had to do and now we can start building more miles and points!

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My Most Recent Credit Card App-O-Rama

Flying from Buenos Aires to the US is expensive. Coach airfare routinely costs $1200 and up. With a family of three and a new one on the way, that means we’re looking at $3600+ for a simple trip ($4800+ when our son hits 2 years old) – and that’s just airfare! Add in a hotel, car rental, dining, etc. and costs skyrocket.

Conrad Punta del Este

A $4000 hotel stay for free with points.

When I realized what these costs looked like, I started to really get focused on how to get big travel for less money. The most immediate solution? Frequent flyer miles and hotel points. The problem was that I was not flying frequently enough or staying in hotels enough to rack up points, so I needed another way. The most obvious choice I found was through credit card signup bonuses and following the points and miles blogs to learn about tips, promotions and other tricks of the trade.

I’m happy to report that by following these tips and tricks I was able to rack up over two million points in the last two years alone. This has involved signing up for credit card bonuses, buying miles when there were big discounts, earning miles from a mileage checking account, and even a couple of hotel stays at cheap rates to earn huge promotional bonuses.

Hilton Whistler

7 nights at the Hilton Whistler for free with points

Already these points have meant that I have had two international business class flights for less than the cost of coach, flown my mother and mother-in-law in business class between the US and Argentina, and even flew my family of three from EZE to JFK where we stayed at the Conrad New York for free. Our future travel plans include an 8-night trip booked at the Conrad Punta del Este Resort and Casino in the peak summer season. If we paid for that it would have cost over U$S 4000! With my Hilton Gold status (thanks to my Citi Hilton credit card) we’ll also get free breakfast and Internet for the entire stay, saving even more. We’re also going on an 11-day ski trip to Whistler, Canada next year at no cost for airfare and lodging.

Signing up for credit cards with bonuses is undoubtedly the best way to earn these miles and points. One of the best strategies to do this is what is known as the “credit card app-o-rama.” This is when you apply for a number of credit cards from different banks on the same day (often using different browsers and submitting them one after the other). There are several benefits to the app-o-rama approach:

  1. The banks cannot tell that you have applied for multiple credit cards on the same day, thus giving you a better credit score.
  2. Applications for credit cards generate a “hard inquiry” on your credit report. This will drop your credit score by a few points for 3-6 months. By grouping them all together, you can take the hit all at once and have the drop off at the same time.

If you’re truly dedicated to earning miles and points, you can do a credit card app-o-rama about every 90 days as these hard inquiries drop off your credit report. I’m currently on about a 6 month cycle as I just do not have the time to manage this every three months. My most recent app-o-rama was spurred on by an enhanced bonus on the Chase Ink Bold card which went from 50,000 points to 60,000 points for this week only. That was enough to get me to apply for all the cards I wanted, which included:

  • Chase Ink Bold: 60,000 Ultimate Reward Points before 6/22/13 after $5000 spend in 3 months
  • Chase Ink Plus: 60,000 Ultimate Reward Points before 6/22/13 after $5000 spend in 3 months
  • Barclay World Arrival Card: $444 statement credit on travel purchases after $1000 spend in 3 months
  • Club Carlson Rewards Business Visa: 50,000 points after first purchase, 35,000 points more after $2500 spend in 90 days, plus Gold benefits (see below)
  • Kohls: I just got this one as they often offer amazing deals for charge card holders only and with kids they have great deals on clothes.

I was immediately approved for all the cards except for the Chase Ink ones. Those are pending and probably backed up due to the increased demand for them this week. These cards made my list because of their great signup bonuses and special offers. The Barclay World Arrival card is great because you get $444 back after only spending $1000! That’s pretty significant. The Club Carlson rewards card is awesome for a number of reasons including the fact that for every reward stay over two nights, you’ll get one night of points back. This is going to work out very well for us as we have a layover in Dallas on our Whistler trip. We get into Dallas at 6am and leave the next day at 10am. Rather than just booking one night and hoping we get in early to the room, we’ll now book two reward nights for the same cost as one night and be guaranteed a room.

There’s a lot of things to consider when applying for credit cards and it’s a lot to cover in just one blog post. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to try and help. Here’s some of the most important concepts:

  • You’ll need a good credit score and financial history if you plan to apply for credit cards.
  • You’ll need to figure out what cards and bonuses make the most sense for you. A number of the blogs listed at the bottom of this post have great summaries on the various bonuses and offers.
  • You should not apply for credit cards if you’re doing any major financial transactions – mortgage, refinancing, etc. – as your credit score will take a temporary hit.
  • You need to meet the minimum spend requirements. It helps if you have expenses for yourself or family members that you can charge. There are ways to “manufacture” spending, which basically means charging things at no cost and getting that money back through other ways. See some of the other blogs for more info on this as well.
  • You’ll need to track your credit cards and make sure that those with an annual fee are cancelled if they no longer make sense for you.

This whole process is also a bit trickier to do when you’re not in the United States, but not impossible. Here’s the steps that work for me from Argentina:

  • Use a VPN service when applying for credit cards. This will make it look like your computer is in the US and not cause any flags to be raised on your application.
  • You need to use a US address for your application (no PO boxes). Use a mail forwarding service or family member’s address for this. It helps to have address history, so if you can, change your existing credit cards to use this address too.
  • You may not have physical access to the credit card. I just have my mother send me the info, activate the cards and use them online until I have a chance to physically get the card.

This turned into a lengthy post on the topic, but hopefully it’s a good overview. There are a lot of other ways to earn miles and points, but hopefully this was a quick overview of credit card signup bonuses. I’ll be writing some other posts down the road, but feel free to ask me any questions you may have. In the meantime, here are some great miles and points blogs that you can follow:

Good luck!

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Currency Exchanges and Rates

Now that I’m here, I’ve been taking a look at what the best way to pay for things is – cash or credit?  I’ve found that:

  • using my Citibank Visa, I’m getting AR $2.9517 to the U.S. dollar after fees are calculated.
  • using my Schwab ATM card I’m getting AR $3.0436 to the U.S. dollar with no ATM fees.
  • when changing U.S. cash to pesos, I got AR $3.00 to the U.S. dollar near the Palermo Alto mall.
  • the Carrefour grocery store near me pays AR $2.95 to the U.S. dollar and some stores pay AR $3.00 to the U.S. dollar.

The official rate today was AR $3.0540 to the U.S. dollar. So, it definitely makes the most sense to take out cash from my Schwab account when I can as those extra cents can really add up over time.

If you’re looking to exchange cash for pesos, DolarHoy.com is a great site which lists the daily exchange rate for buying and selling at various cambios and banks. The best deal for today was Cambio America at $3.045. The Argentina Private message board has a good post with more details on this and their favorite places to exchange currency, including some tips on negotiating a few cents more than the bulk rate at DolarHoy.com. Like many places in BsAs, they’re closed weekends and a few hours in the afternoon, so be sure to call for their hours first.

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Banking and Credit Card Fees

UPDATE (12/18/15): After not using my Schwab account for over 4 years due to getting a much better deal with the blue dollar rate, I am now able to use the ATMs in Argentina again and I’ll only lose about 5% compared to the blue rate. (This used to be a 50% difference!) Things always change in this country! Check out our guide to using the ATM in Argentina for the most recent updates.

UPDATE (4/6/12): The Charles Schwab High Yield Checking Account is still the absolute best way to get access to money in Argentina. While the interest rate is no longer 2%, they give you the day’s exchange rate and refund all ATM fees. I routinely get over $100 refunded every month. The limit for withdrawals is $2900 pesos per day which must be withdrawn as $1000, $1000 and $900 amounts in separate transactions. This seems to be a limit in Argentina as my daily withdrawal limit from Schwab is higher.

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I’m not planning on opening bank accounts in Argentina and I’m going to bring my U.S. issued credit cards with me, so there were a few things I really needed to consider:

  • Access to cash
  • ATM and credit card fees
  • Depositing checks in the U.S.

Access to Cash
While researching how to best get cash and pay bills when there, I found a lot of discussion on ATMs in Argentina starting to restrict access to cash. After some research, it seems that the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires sent this as part of a newsletter to expats living there:

9. Update on ATM Withdrawal Limits

Last July [2007], Visa debit- and credit-card holders got a surprise when ATM machines restricted withdrawal limits to about USD $100. MasterCard cardholders got the same surprise in late March. ACS has contacted card companies, banks and Argentine government officials to determine the cause of the restriction. So far, no clear reason for the change has emerged and no party is willing to take credit for this inconvenience to clients.

The good news, however, is that in response to receiving hundreds of complaints both Visa and MasterCard have doubled their withdrawal limits to USD $200. Both companies also explain that cardholders are free to make multiple successive withdrawals at the same machine up to their bank’s daily withdrawal limit. ACS continues to research the issue to determine the exact cause for the restriction on international ATM withdrawals and learn how much international cardholders pay in ATM fees as the teller machines do not normally provide this information.

So the good news is that you should still be able to access the cash you need even if you have to make multiple withdrawals. The bad news is that your fees could be increased for making multiple withdrawals.

ATM and Credit Card Fees
SchawbI decided that the best thing for me would be to reduce the fees I would pay by as much as possible.  Luckily, the Flyerguide Wiki has a complete guide to foreign credit card and ATM fees. After reviewing the list, I decided to open the Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account. Signing up was easy, and they provide online banking, mail-in deposit envelopes and free checks.  The account currently pays a 2.01% APY and also provides unlimited ATM fee rebates. According to the Flyerguide Wiki:

[Schwab] reimburses unlimited ATM-owner fees and many users report 0% forex fees applied by Schwab and customer service reports the same. Will not refund additional fees, on top of the transaction fees, applied by bank or atm you are withdrawing from. Confirmed on phone July 2008.

I also opened up an online savings account at Countrywide Bank because they were paying the highest interest rate (3.55%) and simply linked that to Schwab. The nice thing about Countrywide is that you can link up to five accounts which means you can use them as a middle-man to transfer money between your accounts if you have more than one.  I’m using this to transfer money between my personal and business accounts when needed (business account -> Countrywide -> Schwab account). Transfers are free but take one business day to complete. After this, you can close any other accounts that you do not need.

Depositing Checks in the U.S.
I was also waiting on some checks that didn’t quite make it before I left. Since I’m using Earth Class Mail (ECM), I know the checks will be forwarded to my online mail box, but since ECM does not yet have electronic check deposit (coming this year) I’ll have to have ECM forward those checks to my mom to mail in for me. I found out that checks do not need a signature to be deposited, just the words “FOR DEPOSIT ONLY” and the account number on the back, so while this is a bit inconvenient, it should work.

That pretty much sums it up.

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