Social Security Number
In order to work in the United States, you must obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA). A non-US citizen may obtain an SSN if they have permission to work in the United States or are required to by a federal, state or local government agency. Please note that the SSN should not be confused with your GOCard number or your student record number. These numbers are not SSNs and should not be used as such.
Applying for a Social Security Number
What You Need to Apply
All applicants must present:
- A completed application for a Social Security card (Form SS-5)
- An unexpired passport with valid entry stamp indicating your date of entry, status and status expiration
- Current I-94 Record
F-1 students must also present:
- Form I-20
- Proof of employment and employment authorization
- On-campus employment: Students engaged in on-campus employment must provide employment information and verification of on-campus work eligibility. Please see F-1 On-Campus Employment for more information on verifying your employment and eligibility.
- Off-campus employment: This may be in the form of an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) issued by U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) or a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization on page two of Form I-20.
J-1 Exchange Students and Scholars must also present:
- Form DS-2019
- Proof of employment authorization. A J-1 student on Academic Training must have a letter from the exchange program sponsor authorizing employment. For J scholar categories (Research Scholar, Professor, Short-term Scholar, Specialist and Student Intern), Form DS-2019 should be sufficient.
Employees in H-1B, O-1, E-3, or TN Status
Work authorization is inherent to your status. Additional documentation is not needed.
Where to Apply
Students should use the Social Security Office Locator to determine the most convenient SSA office location.
When to Apply
If you are in F-1 or J-1 status, your SEVIS record must be registered before you apply. Generally, your SEVIS record is registered after you have attended orientation. F-1 Students applying for an SSN to begin either on-campus employment or CPT experience may submit an application for an SSN up to 30 days before the scheduled employment start date. F-1 Students applying for an SSN to begin off-campus positions requiring an EAD, such as Pre-Completion or Post-Completion Optional Practical Training OPT or Work with an International Organization, are not permitted to apply for an SSN prior to the start date listed on the EAD.
It takes the SSA around two weeks to process the application. The actual card will be sent to the address listed on your application form. You will immediately be given a receipt showing that you have applied for a Social Security card. If you have not received a Social Security card in 30 days, please see your IS Advisor. Once you receive your SSN, please inform the Tax Accounting Office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and your hiring department immediately so they can update your forms.
Long Names and Name mismatches
If the name listed on your I-94 Record, Form DS-2019/Form I-20, or passport does not match one another, or if your name is too long for the SAVE system, the Social Security Officer will not be able to verify your identity using the online system. Instead, the officer will have to fill out the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Form G-845 and the Supplement to the G-845 (if applicable) and manually submit your documents to DHS for verification. This process will take a couple of weeks. If your documents need to be manually verified, you will be given an acknowledgment letter that contains your case reference number. Keep this acknowledgment letter in a safe place as you will need the case reference number to follow up if it has passed the estimated processing time provided by the Officer.
Note: If the Social Security Officer tries to turn you away, saying he or she cannot verify you because your name is too long or because the names on all of your documents do not match due to the character limitations of the different forms, ask to speak to a supervisor. In no situation should they turn you away for these issues, instead they should submit your documents to DHS for a manual verification.
Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
A non-U.S. citizen who is ineligible for an SSN but is required to file a U.S. tax return to report a scholarship, grant, or investment income should instead apply for an ITIN. You should wait to file your federal tax return via Sprintax (new window) (available from OGS mid-February to mid-April) or on the IRS website (new window).
You will need a certified copy of your passport as part of the ITIN application, which may be available from your Embassy.
For more information, please visit the Sprintax article “Do I Need an ITIN?”.
Confirmation of Ineligibility
If you require a written confirmation that you are not eligible for an SSN, you should apply for an SSN at the SSA by completing form SS-5 and request written confirmation when that application is denied.
Be Wary of SSN Scams
Do not fall victim to scammers who call and impersonate SSA officials! Aggressive phone and email scams are common throughout the year and during tax season. Impersonators claim that there is a problem with your SSN or that required taxes have not been paid, and demand immediate payment by threatening arrest or deportation.
Never provide any bank account, SSN or any other personal information to any person who calls or e-mails you.
Remember these tips:
- The SSA will never call or send an email to demand immediate payment.
- The SSA will never threaten or intimidate people, demand payment with a prepaid debit card, or demand a credit card or debit card number over the phone or by email.
- The SSA will never threaten to call the police or immigration agents for those who do not pay.
Report suspected scams to both the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
A sample of the latest SSA scam can be found in the FTC article “Social Security is Not Trying to Take Your Benefits”.
You can find more information on different kinds of scams you may encounter in the U.S. on our Resources on Scams page.