Yes and no. Yes, to credit issuers that specify that the cards are for US residents only. No to the IRS, especially if you were to obtain an ITIN, since that would require you to be a foreign resident who is subject to tax treaties.
Many card issuers include wording on their card application that says something along the lines of:
Therefore, by submitting your application for a US credit card, you’re effectively telling the issuer that you are a US resident and would be eligible to receive the card (and the welcome bonus). From what we’ve seen, there have been no issues with this. However, if an issuer were to request additional information, this could get tricky if you don’t have ID with proof of address, an SSN, etc.
With regards to the formal residency status as it concerns the IRS, at no time through the ITIN process are you declaring residency in the US, but rather you’re declaring the fact that you need a taxpayer identification number to adjust the amount of tax withheld. The IRS shouldn’t see you as a US resident, and therefore wouldn’t require you to file a tax return or other obligations that come with being a resident.
Applying for US credit cards without being a US resident is definitely a grey area, but the IRS is pretty clear-cut that applying for an ITIN is in no way equivalent to declaring US residency.
Last updated 11 May 2019. Any questions? Contact me.