Do You Have to Be a U.S. Citizen to Get a Mortgage?

Quick Answer

No, you do not need to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for a mortgage. Foreign nationals can qualify for a mortgage, as long as you can prove your residency status and meet the loan’s eligibility requirement.

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It's certainly possible to get a mortgage if you're not a U.S. citizen. In fact, a 2020 study from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) revealed that 62% of resident foreign home buyers purchased their homes with U.S.-based financing.

The process can vary depending on your residence status and other factors, but lack of citizenship shouldn't present an issue when it comes to securing a mortgage loan. Here's how to qualify for a mortgage as a non-U.S. citizen.

Is It Possible to Get a Mortgage As a Foreign National?

Documentation requirements when applying for a mortgage loan will largely depend on your resident status—whether it is permanent or non-permanent. In either case, buying a home in the U.S. is typically a matter of providing the required immigration and visa documents and meeting the loan criteria.

Meeting eligibility requirements may be challenging for some foreign nationals with limited credit information, as it may take some time to establish a solid history and credit score in the U.S. Fortunately, some lenders do not require borrowers to have a FICO® Score and may elect to use a borrower's international credit score to evaluate their credit history. Additionally, lenders may use non-traditional methods to assess the creditworthiness of applicants with a thin credit history or no credit score. That may involve the lender reviewing:

  • Payments for rent, utilities and other recurring bills
  • Bank account information, including recurring payroll deposits
  • Employment verification
  • Property records

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How Residency Impacts a Mortgage

The process of qualifying for a mortgage is similar to what U.S. citizens experience if you're a permanent resident with a green card or a non-permanent resident with a work permit or valid work visa. That's because a lawful resident of the U.S. is eligible for a mortgage on the same terms as a U.S. citizen, according to standards published by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—the government-sponsored enterprises that guarantee most mortgages originating in the U.S.

However, those standards can cause it to be more challenging for foreign nationals who don't reside in the U.S. to qualify for a mortgage.

A lender may still approve a mortgage loan for a foreign national whose primary residence is outside the U.S., but that means they won't sell the loan to a government-sponsored enterprise. In this case, the lender may require a significant down payment (as high as 30% to 50%) to help offset their risk.

Mortgage Requirements for Non-U.S. Citizens

Non-U.S. citizens must establish lawful residency in the United States to be eligible for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) home loans. A borrower may meet this guideline if they have the following:

  • A Social Security number (SSN) or, alternatively, an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • They maintain "current" and "verified" status, supported by a valid employment authorization document (Form I-766/EAD) or a green card (Form I-551), work visa or other documentation proving current immigration status.

Many lenders may accept specific visas instead of an EAD as proof of your legal non-permanent resident status, including:

  • NATO series (NATO 1-6)
  • Canadian and Mexican NAFTA series (TN)
  • E series (E-1, E-2, E-3)
  • G series (G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4, G-5)
  • H series (H-1B, H-1C, H-2, H-3, H-4)
  • L series (L-1A, L-1B, L-2)
  • O series (O-1A, O-1B, O-2, O-3)

In addition to establishing your legal residency status, you'll also need to provide documentation that shows the lender you meet standard mortgage requirements such as:

  • Employment and income verification: Be prepared to show recent pay stubs and W-2 forms covering the past two years. If you're self-employed, 1099 forms from the past two years and/or a current profit and loss statement may suffice.
  • Asset verification: You may need to provide banking and investment account statements, such as savings, checking, retirement and brokerage accounts.
  • Financial liabilities: Your lender will want to understand your monthly debt obligations and certain other financial responsibilities. This includes bills for credit cards, auto loans, student loans, medical bills, alimony, child support and so on.
  • Personal information: You'll need to provide personal identification, a Social Security card, rental history and immigration paperwork.

How to Find a Mortgage Lender as a Non-U.S. Citizen

Regardless of your citizenship status, it's always wise to compare multiple loan quotes to ensure you get the best interest rate and terms available. You might start by talking with your bank, especially if you already bank with an international financial institution with branches in the United States. Since they already have a record of your finances, they may be willing to work with you, even if you don't have a U.S.-based credit report.

You could also get quotes from an online mortgage marketplace or enlist a mortgage broker who can help you find the right home loan. Tell your mortgage broker you want to see quotes for qualified mortgages, which adhere to federal guidelines that safeguard borrowers against loan terms that are hard to repay.

Before you search for a loan, do a little homework to see what type of loan you may be able to qualify for, such as:

  • Conventional loans: Permanent and nonpermanent residents with a credit score of 620 or above may qualify for a government-backed mortgage. If you meet other criteria like two-year employment history, consistent income and a debt-to-income ratio (DTI) below 43%, you may be able to get a mortgage with a down payment as low as 3%.
  • FHA loans: FHA loans typically come with more lenient eligibility criteria, including down payments as low as 3.5% and minimum credit scores as low as 580. Non-U.S. citizens must have a Social Security number, valid green card, visa and income to qualify for an FHA loan.
  • USDA loans: The Department of Agriculture (USDA) loans offer loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers who want to buy a home in a rural area. Non-U.S. citizens need a Social Security number and valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to qualify for these no-down-payment loans.

Review and Improve Your Credit

Whether you're a U.S. or a non-U.S. citizen, having strong credit can help you qualify for more favorable mortgage rates and terms. Whether you're building your credit from scratch or improving your current credit score, you may benefit by getting a free copy of your Experian credit report and credit score to see where you stand. You can also enroll in Experian's free credit monitoring tool to check your credit-building progress.

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