Canadian American Express cardmembers have the opportunity to initiate an American Express Global Transfer to a US-issued Amex card, as long as their Canadian card has been open and in good standing for at least three months.
It’s one of the easiest pathways to get started with US credit cards, since you don’t need an SSN or ITIN to get approved via Global Transfer.
In this guide, we’ll go over some considerations to make when choosing which Amex US credit card to apply for first, as well as our list of recommendations and the reasons why they’re a good fit.
Factors to Consider for Your First Amex US Card
Prior to applying for your first Amex US card, there are a few factors to consider before you decide which one will be best for you.
In the US, business credit cards don’t contribute to your personal credit history, so your first Amex US credit card should definitely be a personal card, rather than a business card. This way, you’ll begin building your credit history right away, which will be important for future opportunities with Amex US and other issuers.
Next, you’ll want to hold onto your first Amex US card for the long term in order to build and maintain your US credit history. You definitely don’t want to get your first card purely for the signup bonus and then drop it after one year, as it’s best to keep your oldest account open.
More recently, Amex US implemented “family” language to many of its credit cards, which means that you may not be eligible for a welcome bonus on a lower-tier card if you’ve already held a higher-tier card from the same family.
Therefore, you’ll want to pay particular attention to the order of applications within a family of cards, and plan to work your way up through a family of cards over the long-term instead of starting at the top with a premium card and missing out on opportunities with lower-tier cards.
Lastly, you should familiarize yourself with Chase’s 5/24 rule and the Amex US five credit card limit as you plan for a rewarding future with US credit cards.
With all of the above in mind, here are some great options to consider for your first Amex US credit card, as well as a justification for each one.
1. American Express Hilton Honors Card
Hilton Honors doesn’t issue any co-branded credit cards in Canada, so the only meaningful way for Canadians to rack up Hilton points quickly is by doing an American Express Global Transfer to one of three Amex Hilton co-branded cards in the US.
The Hilton Honors American Express Card caters to the entry-level segment of Amex’s customer base, and it’s a standout choice for Canadians hoping to obtain their first American credit card.
The card has no annual fee, which means it’ll be a card that you can hold onto for the long term without having to worry about whether you find value in keeping it. Even if you never use the card and no longer get any value out of it, there’s no harm in keeping it around, since it’ll continue to help you steadily build your US credit history.
Moreover, it typically has a signup bonus of at least 75,000 Hilton Honors points, as well as a reasonable minimum spending requirement of $1,000–2,000 (all figures in USD). Indeed, this card generally has one of the easier spending requirements among Amex’s US card products, so it should be a comfortable way for you to test drive your first-ever minimum spend on a US card.
Plus, as the lowest card in the Amex US Hilton Honors card family, if Amex US ever imposes family language on the Hilton cards, you shouldn’t have to worry about missing out on any welcome bonuses or perks on higher-tier cards.
With no annual fee, a strong signup bonus, a relatively low minimum spending requirement, and as an easy way for Canadians to diversify into another hotel loyalty program beyond Marriott Bonvoy, the Amex US Hilton Honors Card is a great choice for your first US credit card.
2. American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card
While the base-level Hilton Honors Card is a relatively simple and straightforward way to dip your toes into the US credit card market, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card is a much stronger product that allows you to hit the ground running immediately with top-tier elite treatment on your Hilton hotel stays.
In exchange for a $550 annual fee, the Hilton Aspire provides you with a juicy signup bonus, instant Hilton Diamond status (which entitles you to suite upgrades, executive lounge access, free breakfast, and other perks), an annual Free Night Reward, and many other perks.
To help offset the annual fee, you’re also offered a semi-annual $200 credit at Hilton Resorts, as well as up to $200 in flight credits each year.
The two complicating factors with the Aspire, as compared to the no-fee card, are the $550 annual fee and the possibility of family language being introduced in the future.
In regard to the former, since this will be your first US credit card, what if the perks and benefits get devalued in the future or you no longer find value in the card for any other reason?
In that case, you might think that you’d be in a situation where you’d either have to keep the card around for $550 per year, or face the prospect of cancelling your oldest US card and negatively affecting your credit score.
However, the good news is that there is an upgrade/downgrade path among all the Hilton Honors credit cards, which means that you can actually downgrade your Hilton Aspire to a no-fee Hilton card if you no longer find value in it in the future. Doing this allows you to stop paying the $550 annual fee, while keeping your oldest credit account open to prop up your credit health.
And indeed, it’d also be possible to upgrade from the no-fee card to the Aspire Card; however, you’ll want to make sure you’ve already applied for the Aspire Card directly as a new applicant before you do this, because you won’t be eligible for the signup bonus if you’ve held the card before (even if it was an upgrade).
As it stands, the Hilton Honors suite of credit cards currently doesn’t have any mentions of family language. This means that if you apply for the Aspire card, you’re still eligible for the welcome bonus on the no-fee Hilton Honors card at some point in the future.
However, that may change, so you may wish to start working your way up to safeguard your ability to earn welcome bonuses on all cards in the future.
Therefore, as of early 2024, there’s no downside to going for the Aspire Card over the no-fee Hilton Honors Card if you’d prefer to enjoy an elevated level of elite treatment as soon as you start staying at Hilton hotels as an Aspire cardholder. Just be mindful that this may change if family language is introduced.
3. American Express EveryDay Credit Card
As mentioned above, the absence of an annual fee is one of the most important factors when selecting your first US credit card, and the Amex EveryDay Credit Card is another option that fits that bill.
Beyond the signup bonus, though, the main reason to consider the EveryDay Card as your first Amex US credit card is that it operates on the Membership Rewards points system, which is one of the most lucrative points currencies you can collect in both Canada and the US.
This has a few important implications:
In the future, when you’re collecting US MR points on more powerful credit cards like the Amex US Gold Card or the Amex US Business Platinum Card, you’ll be able to consolidate all those points into your EveryDay Card if you wish to cancel those higher-end cards and stop paying the annual fees
Once you have an Amex US MR account with the EveryDay card, you’ll be able to transfer MR points between Canada and the US and take advantage of sweet spots on both sides of the border
In addition to all that, one very interesting thing about the EveryDay Card is that it’ll allow you to earn 20% more points as long as you use your card 20 or more times in one billing period.
The card ordinarily offers 2 AmexUS MR points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year) and 1 Amex US MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases. However, with the 20% bonus in play, those earning rates are boosted to 2.4 and 1.2 Amex US MR points per dollar spent, respectively.
For a no-annual-fee card, that’s a pretty appealing return. Importantly, though, it’s worth noting that you should only use this card in the US itself, because this is one of the few Amex US products that does levy a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%.
Overall, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card is a very strong contender to be the first US credit card in your wallet, as it gives you easy long-term access to the Amex US MR program and allows you to safeguard your points in the future when you’re dealing with the higher-end MR products.
If you have limited interest in the Hilton Honors program, or if you’d simply like to get access to Amex US MR points as fast as possible, then consider the EveryDay Card for your Global Transfer.
4. American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card
There’s a very good reason for travellers who frequently stay at Marriott hotels to make the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card their first US credit card.
That’s because the American Express US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card represents the fastest route to attaining Platinum Elite status, as it comes as a benefit for primary cardholders.
Therefore, for as long as you hold the card, you’ll enjoy Platinum Elite status and all the perks that come with it: free breakfast, late check-out, suite upgrades, and more.
What’s more, when you hold both the Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card and the Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Business Card, then you’ll start each qualifying year with 40 elite qualifying nights: 25 from the Brilliant, and 15 from the Amex US Bonvoy Business Card.
Since you’ll already have Platinum status as a cardholder, you’ll just have 35 elite qualifying nights to reach the 75-night threshold each year, at which point you unlock Titanium Elite status.
Note that the Canadian-issued Bonvoy cards do not offer this ability to stack elite qualifying nights, and they’ll only give you 15 elite qualifying nights even if you hold both a personal and a business card.
The Brilliant Card has an annual fee of $650, which is offset by up to $300 in annual dining credits, a Free Night Award worth 85,000 points, and more.
Keep in mind that Amex US implemented family language to the Amex US Marriott Bonvoy Bevy Card in December 2023, which means that you may not be eligible for a welcome bonus on that card if you’ve ever held the Bonvoy Brilliant Card.
With this in mind, you may want to begin your Amex US Marriott Bonvoy co-branded card journey with the Bevy, and then add the Brilliant to your portfolio to hold for the long-term.
What About Other Amex US Credit Cards?
The above four cards are arguably the best first Amex US credit cards to get via Global Transfer, but by no means are they the only Amex US credit cards worth getting. After you’ve obtained your first card, you can then begin applying for the other strong offers after having 3–6 months of history with Amex US.
These might include the Amex US Hilton Honors Surpass Card to round out your Hilton portfolio, the Amex US Platinum Card for its 5x earnings on airfare, the Amex US Gold Card for its 4x earnings on dining worldwide, or the Green Card as an alternative mid-range card with 3x earnings on restaurants, transit, and travel.
Furthermore, you can look towards Amex US business cards as well – in fact, if you have an eye on Chase credit cards in the future, you should focus on the Amex business cards in the meantime, since they don’t contribute towards your 5/24 totals.
If you chose the Bonvoy Brilliant as your first Amex US card above, then the natural business card to get next would be the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card to complete the 40 elite qualifying nights. Otherwise, the Business Platinum Card for its strong signup bonus or the Hilton Honors Business Card for another chunk of Hilton points would be solid choices as well.
There’s no better time than the present to get started with US credit cards if you haven’t already, and if you’re trying to decide on which Amex US credit card to get as your first, your best choices are the Amex US Hilton Honors Card, the Amex US Hilton Honors Aspire Card, the Amex US EveryDay Card, and the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant Card.
The first two options allow you to diversify your game when it comes to hotel points, the third option gives you access to the world of Amex US MR points for no annual fee, while the last option opens the door to keeping Marriott Platinum Elite status very easily for the long-term.
All four cards are easy to justify as long-term keeper cards, making them ideal for building up your US credit history in the long run.