College in the U.S. can be expensive – student loans can help international students lighten the financial burden of their education abroad.

However, not all student loans are created equal. In fact, not all of them are even available to international students.

How do international students determine which student loans they qualify for and which loans to apply for? Interstride can help.

First, let’s answer a few key questions.

Do you qualify for federal loans?

The U.S. government offers federal aid to international students with certain qualifications. Who can apply for federal student loans?

  • U.S. citizens
  • U.S. permanent residents
  • Conditional permanent residents (I-551C)
  • Students with refugee, asylum granted, Cuban-Haitian Entrant, or parolee status on their Arrival/Departure Record (I-94)
  • Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau

International students who meet one of these criteriacan apply for federal student loans using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Federal loans typically offer lower interest rates than private loans, and submitting the FAFSA can also qualify international students for work-study, scholarships, and grants. Federal student loans even offer forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans!

What if you’re not eligible for federal loans?

International students who don’t qualify for federal loans can take out private loans – you’ll need a co-signer with U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. It’s also important for your co-signer to have good credit – this will determine your application outcome as well as your interest rates if you are accepted for a loan.

What if you don’t have a co-signer?

Some private companies offer specific international student loans that don’t require a co-signer. These international loans usually have higher interest rates than federal student loans or private loans that require a co-signer, but they’re the best option for international students who aren’t can’t apply for federal aid and don’t have a U.S. resident to co-sign for them.

How do I choose the best loan?

Choosing the right international student loan provider will depend on several different factors, but all international students applying for student loans should pay attention to the following things:

  • Look for the best interest rate – Find the lowest interest rate that you qualify for, and always choose fixed interest rates over variable rates. Fixed rates will stay the same over time, whereas variable interest rates may increase.
  • Watch out for fees – Does this lender charge late fees, prepayment fees, or origination (processing) fees? What are they?
  • Prioritize strong customer service – Make sure you can reach someone if you run into billing issues and other problems.
  • Refinance when possible – International students who build good credit can sometimes refinance their student loans to get a lower interest rate. You can also try to refinance if you find an eligible co-signer.

How can Interstride help?

Interstride gives international students access to a curated database of student loan providers. Whether you’re applying for federal student loans, private loans, or international student loans, we’ll give you the resources you need to find the student loan that’s right for you.

We also offer information on international student-friendly credit cards that can help you build strong credit in the U.S. A credit score of 690 or higher will guarantee you lower interest rates on new loans and make you a strong candidate for refinancing existing loans.