International Student’s Guide to Apply For A Social Security Number
Everything you need to know about applying for an SSN, start working, and getting paid as an international student in the US.
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to individual US citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (non-citizen) working residents. It serves as a unique identifier to track your income and lifetime earnings, pay annual taxes, or claim your benefits, among other uses. If you’re eligible, you must submit your application to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to receive a SSN.
Why do I need a Social Security Number?
The SSN identifies you to the US government and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. For Indian passport holders - think of it as a PAN Card (Permanent Account Number) equivalent in the US.
Whether a company hires you for a full-time role or an internship position, your employer will ask for your Social Security Number and use it to report your income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the tax authority in the US. Although there are some exceptions, you’re most likely not eligible to work/earn in the US without having a SSN.
I’m a Student Visa holder - do I need a SSN?
YES! For immigration purposes, F-1 Visa holders are considered as ‘Resident Aliens’ and temporary (non-citizen) workers in the US. Your SSN can be used to:
Receive income from full-time or part-time jobs or internships
File a tax return during tax season
Receive government benefits, if you meet certain criteria
Apply for a driver’s license or a state ID (in some states)
Open checking and savings accounts with certain financial institutions
Open online bank accounts with some financial institutions
Apply for credit cards from US providers
Apply for student loans or receive other forms of credit
Conduct your background check when renting/leasing a house/apartment
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Am I eligible to apply for a Social Security Number?
There are certain criteria that must be satisfied before you can apply for a SSN. Social Security Administration (SSA) does not assign a SSN to you simply for enrolling in a US college or university. Social Security numbers are assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. As an international student, you must obtain work authorization from either your university or USCIS before you can apply for a SSN.
Receive Authorization for Employment from School Official
As an international student on an F-1 or J-1 Visa, you can obtain a SSN after being granted permission to work in the US. Whether it’s an on-campus job, a part-time off-campus job, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and/or academic training, or a summer internship, you must review your college’s international student services’ department’s requirements and contact your college’s Designated School Official (DSO) to seek permission to work in the United States.
Receive Authorization for Employment from USCIS
As an international student on an F-1 Visa, you can work in the US under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program by submitting a work authorization application to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If USCIS approves your OPT application, the Social Security Administration office will automatically issue and mail your SSN card to you.
Once you are authorized to work either on-campus or off-campus, and you meet Social Security’s eligibility requirements, you must follow these steps to successfully apply for a Social Security Number:
1. Complete Form SS-5
Visit the Social Security website to download and complete your Form SS-5.
2. Locate Nearest SSA Office
Find a SSA office closest to your location, and check their operating hours. Some locations will allow you to book an appointment online, while other locations will accept a walk-in.
3. Gather Your Documents
As an international student, you must gather physical copies of the following documents before you visit a SSA office:
Completed Form SS-5 (carry multiple copies)
Original Passport (carry a photocopy as well)
F-1 Visa Stamp (carry a photocopy as well)
Form I-94 and Travel Record History (visit the CBP website to download your latest form)
Signed and dated Form I-20 (carry a photocopy as well)
DSO Work Authorization Letter
Job Offer Letter
Note: Your job offer letter or letter of employment serves as your proof of employment in the US and your supervisor must sign and date this letter. The employment letter must describe:
Your job’s roles
Your job’s responsibilities
Your employment start date and end date
Number of hours you will be working (per week/month)
Your supervisor’s name and contact information
Note: Ensure that the authorization letter from your university’s DSO identifies you (mentions your full legal name as it appears on your passport’s ID pages), confirms your current schooling status (serves as proof of being enrolled in a US college), and identifies your employer as well as the type of work you will be doing.
4. Submit Your Documents
Once you’ve collected your documents, you must visit the SSA office closest to you and submit your documents. Once your application has been approved by the SSA, your social security card containing the 9-digit number would be mailed to your address on file within 2 - 4 weeks.
Note: You may request the SSA for a SSN while submitting your OPT work authorization application to USCIS. No extra steps are required or additional documents need to be submitted since your work authorization application will anyway request you to submit the above mentioned documents.