Social Security Number (SSN)

Social Security Numbers (SSN) for International Students

A Guide to Applying and Using Your SSN for Work and Taxes

Social Security Number (SSN) Definition and Purpose

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit employee identification number issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Eligibility for a Social Security Number is based upon a person’s eligibility to work in the United States.

Having a SSN doesn’t automatically grant authorization to work in the US; if you have been granted legal authorization to work, you are required to apply for and obtain a Social Security Number.

Why do international students need an SSN?

International students require an SSN to report their income and pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when working in the US.

When can international students apply for an SSN?
International students can apply for an SSN only after they have been offered a job or internship in the United States and have received our office employment verification letter to work (On-Campus Employment, CPT, or OPT).

Timeline for receiving an SSN:
The processing and issuance of an SSN typically take two to four weeks. International students should plan their job search accordingly and apply for an SSN well before their intended start date.

Tips for using an SSN:
A Social Security Number (SSN) is also used for opening phone, utility, or bank accounts. However, a SSN is only issued to individuals with employment or tax reporting requirements. If difficulties arise from not having a SSN when opening a bank or other accounts, contact the Office of International Students and Scholars.

How do I apply for an SSN?

International students must visit their local Social Security office and submit the necessary documents. These include a job offer letter, authorization to work, passport, visa, and I-20 or DS-2019 form.


Helpful Factsheets and Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to our Social Security Number (SSN) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) webpage. Here are the answers to some of the most common questions we receive:

What does it cost to apply for an SSN?
There is no charge for a Social Security number and card.

How long does it take to get a Social Security number?
The Social Security Administration will mail your number and card as soon as all of your immigration information has been verified. It can take 2-4 weeks or more.

What if my card is lost or stolen?
You can replace your card for free if it is lost or stolen. However, you are limited to three replacement cards in a year and 10 during your lifetime. To request a replacement card, complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5) and provide necessary documentation.

What if my immigration status or citizenship changes?
If your immigration status changes or you become a legal permanent resident (LPR), you should inform the Social Security Administration office so that your records can be updated.

Are my earnings taxable for Social Security purposes?
As a student in F-1 or J-1 status, your earnings from authorized employment are generally not taxable for Social Security purposes. Please review the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publications 515 and 519 for details about employment taxes payable on the earnings of nonresident aliens.

Can I start working before I receive a Social Security?
Yes, as long as you have authorization (on-campus work, CPT, or OPT), you can start working without an SSN. Be sure your employer follows the correct instructions for allowing you to begin work without the SSN. Apply for the SSN as soon as possible after getting your job offer.

When should I start this process?

When applying for a Social Security Number, students should start the process online at after which they must present their original proof of ID, age, and lawful resident status, as well as the letters from the DSO and employer, if applicable, within 45 days.  A new feature allows the applicant to request a scheduled appointment.  Please refer to our fact sheet, International Students and Social Security Numbers, for additional information.

Where can I find more information? Do I need to have my number before I start working?

Please refer to our publication, Foreign Workers and Social Security Numbers, for the response to “Do I need to have my number before I start working?”  We don’t require you to have an SSN before you start work. However, the Internal Revenue Service requires employers to use your SSN to report your wages.  While you wait for your SSN, your employer can use a letter from us stating you applied for a number.  Your immigration documents can prove your authorization to work in the United States.  Employers can find more information online at


The instructions provided on this webpage are intended to assist you with your Social Security Number application, but they do not constitute legal advice. The Social Security Administration makes the final decision on all applications, and it is your responsibility to ensure accuracy and completeness before submission.