International students, are you ready to start working in the United States?
If so, you’ll need a Social Security Number (SSN). An SSN is a nine-digit number to track your earnings and employment history.
The SSN is also required for various purposes, including opening a bank account, renting an apartment, and buying a car.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps to get an SSN as an international student. We’ll cover the eligibility requirements, required documents, and application process.
So whether you’re just starting your studies in the United States or you’ve been here for a while, read on to learn how to get your SSN and start working towards your future.
What is a Social Security Number (SSN)?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and temporary residents under section 205 of the Social Security Act, as codified in 42 U.S.C. § 405.
The SSN is utilized to track a person’s earnings and employment history. Furthermore, it is required for various other purposes, including opening a bank account, renting an apartment, and buying a car.
It helps establish a person’s identity, track their work history, and determine eligibility for various services and programs.
The SSN was created in 1936 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The original purpose of the SSN was to track Social Security benefits, but it has since become a ubiquitous identifier in the United States.
The Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) is responsible for assigning the SSNs. While initially intended for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, certain non-citizens, such as international students, may also be eligible to obtain an SSN for specific purposes, such as employment or certain benefits.
However, obtaining an SSN as an international student can be complex and requires adherence to specific guidelines and requirements. You can apply for an SSN at any S.S.A. office.
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Why do International Students Need Social Security Numbers (SSN)?
International students need Social Security Numbers (SSNs) for a variety of reasons, including:
To work in the United States
Most international students who want to work in the United States need an SSN. This requirement exists because employers are obligated to verify the employment eligibility of all new hires. One way they accomplish this is by checking the SSNs of individuals against the database maintained by the Social Security Administration (S.S.A.).
To pay taxes
International students who earn income in the United States are obligated to pay taxes. They can do this by filing a U.S. tax return and using their SSN to identify themselves.
To open a bank account
Many banks require customers to have an SSN to open a bank account. This is because banks use SSNs to track customer accounts and to prevent fraud.
To rent an apartment
Some landlords require tenants to have an SSN to rent an apartment. This is because landlords use SSNs to check tenants’ credit histories and to prevent eviction.
To get a driver’s license
In some states, international students need an SSN to get a driver’s license. This is because states use SSNs to track driver’s licenses and to prevent fraud.
It is important to note that not all international students need an SSN. For example, international students who are only studying in the United States and who do not plan to work or earn income in the United States may not need an SSN.
However, applying for an SSN is a good idea if you are an international student planning to work, study, or live in the United States for any extended period.
What are the Eligibility Requirements for Getting Social Security Numbers (SSN) for International Students?
Eligibility requirements for international students to obtain Social Security Numbers (SSNs) in the United States vary depending on their circumstances. Here are some general guidelines:
Be a Non-citizen
You must be a non-citizen who is authorized to work in the United States to be eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student.
Enrollment in an Accredited Educational Institution
You must be actively enrolled full-time in a recognized and accredited educational institution in the United States. This typically includes universities, colleges, or other higher education institutions. Part-time enrollment may not meet the eligibility criteria for obtaining an SSN.
Valid Nonimmigrant Status
International students must have a valid nonimmigrant status that allows them to work in the United States.
Typically, this includes F-1 students enrolled in full-time academic programs, J-1 exchange visitors, and M-1 vocational students. The specific visa category and accompanying work authorization determine SSN eligibility.
International students must have employment authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
This authorization may be granted through Optional Practical Training (O.P.T.), Curricular Practical Training (C.P.T.), or other specific work programs related to their field of study. When applying for an SSN, proof of this authorization is required.
Offer of Employment
International students must have a job offer or secure employment. The employer must provide a letter stating the intent to hire the student and the expected start date. As part of the SSN application process, it is typically required to submit this letter.
To apply for an SSN, international students need to provide valid documentation, including their passport, visa, I-20 or DS-2019 form, I-94 arrival/departure record, and employment authorization document (such as an Employment Authorization Document (E.A.D.) card).
These documents establish the student’s identity, immigration status, and eligibility for an SSN.
Designated School Official (D.S.O.)
International Students must have a D.S.O. A DSO is an authorized representative of your educational institution who serves as a liaison between you and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
The D.S.O. plays a crucial role in verifying your enrollment status and providing the documentation for your SSN application.
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What are the Required Documents Needed for Getting Social Security Numbers (SSN) for International Students?
To apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student in the United States, you will typically need to provide the following required documents:
A valid passport or another acceptable travel document establishes your identity and nationality.
Your valid visa, such as an F-1, J-1, or M-1 visa, indicates your nonimmigrant status and permission to study in the United States.
I-20 or DS-2019 Form
For F-1 and J-1 students, you will need your Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) or DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status). Your educational institution issues these forms and verifies your enrollment and program details.
I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
The I-94 record is a document that confirms your lawful entry into the United States. You can access it electronically from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) website.
Employment Authorization Document (E.A.D.) or Work Authorization
If you have obtained employment authorization through programs like Optional Practical Training (O.P.T.) or Curricular Practical Training (C.P.T.), you will need to provide the corresponding Employment Authorization Document (E.A.D.) or other work authorization documents issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Letter of Job Offer
If you have secured employment or have a job offer, you may need to provide a letter from your employer stating your job offer, position, start date, and other relevant details.
Letter from a designated school official (D.S.O.)
This letter must verify the student’s enrollment in an accredited educational institution in the United States and their work authorization.
Completed Application for Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
You can obtain this form from any Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) office.
How to Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as an International Student
To apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student in the United States, you can follow these steps:
1. Obtain Required Documents
Gather the necessary documents for your SSN application, typically including your passport, visa, I-20 or DS-2019 form, I-94 arrival/departure record, and any employment authorization documents (such as an Employment Authorization Document (E.A.D.)) if applicable. Make sure these documents are valid and up-to-date.
2. Verify Eligibility
Ensure you meet the eligibility requirements for obtaining an SSN as an international student. This requirement includes being enrolled full-time in an accredited educational institution, having employment authorization (if applicable), and having a designated school official (D.S.O.) who can verify your enrollment and work authorization.
3. Visit a Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) Office
Locate the nearest S.S.A. office by visiting the S.S.A.’s website or calling their toll-free number. Schedule an appointment if necessary, as some offices may require appointments for SSN applications. Certain locations also accept walk-ins for SSN applications.
4. Complete Form SS-5
Obtain and complete Form SS-5, the application for a Social Security Card. You can download the form from the S.S.A.’s website or pick up a physical copy from an S.S.A.’s office. Fill out the form accurately, providing all the required information.
5. Gather Supporting Documents
Prepare the required supporting documents, including those mentioned earlier (passport, visa, I-20 or DS-2019 form, I-94 arrival/departure record, and any employment authorization documents). Make copies of these documents to submit along with your SSN application.
6. Submit Your Application
Take your completed Form SS-5, supporting documents, and copies to the S.S.A. office. Submit them to the S.S.A. representative, who will review your application. They may ask questions or request further documentation, so be prepared to provide the necessary information.
7. Wait for Processing
The processing time for an SSN application can vary. Typically, receiving your SSN card by mail takes a few weeks. IF APPROVED, the S.S.A. will process your application, verify your documents, and assign you an SSN.
8. Update Relevant Institutions
Once you receive your SSN, notify your educational institution, employer (if applicable), and any other relevant institutions of your new SSN. This process ensures that your SSN is accurately associated with your records and benefits.
How to Get Social Security Number (SSN) for International Students Without Pay Slip
Obtaining a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student without a pay slip can present challenges since a pay slip is often required as proof of employment or a job offer.
However, there are certain situations where international students may be eligible for an SSN without a pay slip. Here are some alternative options to consider:
If you are working on-campus, such as in a university department or library, you may be able to obtain an SSN without a pay slip.
In this case, you can provide a letter from your employer on official letterhead confirming your on-campus employment, job title, and expected work hours.
Internship or Training Programs
If you are participating in an internship or training program related to your field of study, you may be eligible for an SSN even without a pay slip.
In such cases, you can provide documentation such as an internship offer letter, training program acceptance letter, or confirmation from your educational institution supporting your internship or training.
You may still be eligible for an SSN even if you are engaged in volunteer work instead of paid employment.
While a pay slip is not applicable in this situation, you can provide a letter from the organization or institution where you are volunteering detailing your volunteer position, responsibilities, and the duration of your volunteer work.
Research Grants or Scholarships
Suppose you are receiving research grants, scholarships, or stipends that do not involve direct employment. In that case, you may be able to apply for an SSN using the relevant documentation, such as award letters or confirmation from your educational institution.
Consult with your Designated School Official (D.S.O.)
Your D.S.O. can provide guidance specific to your situation and advise you on the options for obtaining an SSN without a pay slip.
They can assist in determining whether alternative documentation or verification forms can be used in your case.
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Do Social Security Numbers SSN for International Students Require Payment?
No, obtaining a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student does not require any payment. The application for an SSN is free of charge.
The Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) does not charge a fee for processing SSN applications.
However, it is important to note that there might be associated costs or fees related to your immigration status or employment authorization. These may include visa application fees or fees for employment authorization documents (E.A.D.s) issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These costs are separate from the SSN application process.
How Many Days Does It Take to Get the Social Security Number for International Students?
It usually takes 2-4 weeks to get a Social Security Number (SSN) for international students.
However, the processing time may vary depending on the Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) office and the applications they receive.
Here are some things you can do to speed up the process:
- Make an appointment: You can make an appointment at a local S.S.A. office online or by calling 1-800-772-1213. By following these steps, you can help ensure you are seen promptly and your paperwork is processed correctly.
- Bring all the required documents: Be sure to bring all the required documentation with you to your appointment, including your passport, visa, I-20 form, and a completed Form SS-5.
- Be prepared to answer questions: The S.S.A. representatives will likely ask you questions about your immigration status and work authorization. It is important to be prepared to answer these questions clearly and concisely.
- Be patient: The processing time for an SSN can vary, so it is important to be patient and allow sufficient time for the application to be processed.
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Where Can International Students Find Their Social Security Numbers (SSN)?
International students can find their Social Security Numbers (SSNs) on the Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration (S.S.A.).
Once the S.S.A. has processed and approved your SSN application, they will mail your SSN card to the address you provided on your application.
It is important to note that the SSN card contains sensitive personal information and should be kept in a safe and secure place. Memorize your SSN or store it in a secure location where others cannot easily access it.
If you have misplaced or lost your SSN card, taking immediate steps to protect your identity is crucial.
Report the loss to the S.S.A. and consider applying for a replacement card. You can contact the S.S.A. or visit their official website for guidance on requesting a replacement card and any associated procedures.
How to Use the Social Security Number (SSN) for International Students
As an international student, once you have obtained a Social Security Number (SSN), you can use it for various purposes. Here are some common ways to use your SSN:
Your SSN is essential for employment purposes. When you secure a job on or off campus, you must provide your SSN to your employer for tax and reporting purposes.
Your employer will use your SSN to report your wages to the Internal Revenue Service (I.R.S.) and to issue your W-2 form at the end of the year.
Your SSN is linked to your tax records. You must include your SSN for identification purposes when filing income tax returns.
The I.R.S. uses your SSN to process your tax return, verify your income, and determine any tax liabilities or refunds.
When opening a bank account, applying for a credit card, obtaining a loan, or engaging in other financial transactions, you may be required to provide your SSN. Financial institutions use your SSN to verify your identity and credit history.
Driver’s License and State ID
When applying for a driver’s license or state identification card in some states, you may be required to provide your SSN.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (D.M.V.) may use your SSN to verify your identity and maintain accurate records.
Social Security Benefits
In the future, if you become eligible for Social Security benefits such as retirement, disability, or survivor benefits, the authorities will use your SSN to identify you and determine your eligibility for those benefits.
Benefits of Having a Social Security Number (SSN) as an International Student
There are many benefits to having a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student.
Most employers in the United States require employees to have an SSN. International students authorized to work in the United States must provide their SSN to their employer when they are hired.
If you earn income in the United States, you must file a tax return. You will need to provide your SSN on your tax return.
Many banks require customers to have an SSN to open an account. If you are an international student wanting to open a bank account in the United States, you must provide your SSN.
A credit report records your financial history, including your loans, credit cards, and other debts. Having a good credit report can help you get approval for loans, credit cards, and other forms of credit.
You can start building your credit history by applying for a credit card and using it responsibly. When you apply for a credit card, you must provide your SSN.
Rent an apartment
Some landlords require tenants to have an SSN to rent an apartment.
Get a driver’s license
Some states require drivers to have an SSN to get a driver’s license.
Apply for government benefits
Some government benefits, such as unemployment benefits, require applicants to have an SSN.
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Limitations to Having a Social Security Number (SSN) as an International Student
A few limitations exist to having a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student.
- You cannot use your SSN to vote in U.S. elections.
- You cannot use your SSN to apply for certain government benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (S.S.I.).
- You may have difficulty getting a loan or credit card if you do not have a U.S. credit history.
- You may have difficulty renting an apartment or buying a car if you do not have a U.S. driver’s license.
Frequently Asked Questions
Eligibility requirements for obtaining an SSN include being authorized to work in the U.S., possessing a valid passport or travel document, being enrolled full-time in an accredited educational institution, and having a designated school official (D.S.O.) who can verify your enrollment and work authorization.
To apply for an SSN, gather the required documents, such as your passport, visa, I-20 or DS-2019 form, I-94 arrival/departure record, and any employment authorization documents. Visit a Social Security Administration (S.S.A.) office, complete Form SS-5, and submit your application and supporting documents.
The processing time can vary, but it typically takes around two to four weeks to receive your SSN card by mail after submitting your application to the S.S.A.
It depends. While an SSN is generally required for employment, international students may have the opportunity to work on-campus without an SSN. Consult with your designated school official (D.S.O.) or the international student office at your educational institution for specific guidance.
If you lose your SSN card, contact the S.S.A. and consider applying for a replacement card. They will guide the steps to take and any associated procedures.
There are many benefits to having a Social Security Number (SSN) as an international student. Having an SSN will make finding a job, opening a bank account, and building your credit history easier. If you are considering studying in the United States, you should apply for an SSN immediately.
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