Social Security Number (SSN)

Social Security Numbers (SSN) for International Students

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

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit identifier issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). It is granted based on an individual’s eligibility to work in the United States, though possessing an SSN alone does not confer work authorization.

Why do international students need an SSN?

International students need an SSN primarily to report income and pay taxes to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) while employed in the U.S.

When can international students apply for an SSN?

International students are eligible to apply for an SSN only after securing a job or internship in the U.S. and obtaining an employment verification letter from their institution (covering On-Campus Employment, CPT, or OPT).

Timeline for receiving an SSN:

Typically, it takes two to four weeks to process and issue an SSN. Therefore, international students should initiate the SSN application process well before their intended job start date to ensure timely receipt.

Tips for using an SSN:

An SSN is essential for setting up phone, utility, or bank accounts in the U.S. It is issued to individuals with employment or tax reporting requirements. International students facing issues opening accounts due to lack of an SSN should consult the Office of International Students and Scholars for guidance.

How to Apply for an SSN:

  • 1. Online Application:
    – Begin by entering your details at
    – Utilize the online application to schedule an appointment. This method eliminates the need for a paper Social Security Card Application.
    – Ensure to present your original, current proof of age, identity, and lawful resident status to your local SSA office within 45 days of online submission. After 45 days, the entered information will be purged.
    – Typically, the SSN is issued within a few weeks, provided all required documents are presented during the visit, including any school-issued letters.


  • 2. In-Person Submission:
    – Visit the nearest Social Security office.
    – Submit necessary documents, including a job offer letter, work authorization, 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.