Social Security Number (SSN)

General Information

A Social Security Number (SSN) is assigned to individuals authorized to work in the U.S. Employers use SSNs to report employees' wages or salaries to the government for social security tax purposes.

Many F-1 international and J-1 exchange students mistakenly believe that they must obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) before they can work in the U.S. However, an SSN is not a U.S. work authorization. Even if an international or exchange student already has an SSN, it does not imply that the student has U.S. work authorization. In essence, an SSN does not verify the eligibility of international or exchange students to work in the U.S.

According to the International Students and Social Security Numbers (ssa.gov) announced by the Social Security Administration:

"Social Security numbers generally are assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. Social Security numbers are used to report your wages to the government and to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits. Social Security will not assign a number to you just to enroll in a college or school."

F-1 international students and J-1 exchange students are eligible to receive an SSN only after obtaining U.S. work authorization, which may be acquired through on-campus or off-campus employment. It is crucial for students to secure U.S. work authorization before applying for an SSN.

If students have obtained on-campus jobs:

  • Request a job offer letter from the on-campus employer. Refer to the job offer template.
  • Confirm eligibility to work on campus and submit the job offer letter to receive an SSN support letter from an F-1 international student or a J-1 exchange student advisor.
  • Apply for an SSN in person at the nearest Social Security Administration office.

If students have obtained off-campus employment authorization:

  • Apply for SSN in person at the nearest Social Security Administration office. Bring proof of employment.

How to Apply for an SSN

Applying for an SSN for Students Working on Campus

  • Students must be in a valid F-1 or J-1 status and physically present in the U.S.
  • According to the Social Security Administration’s request for a Social Security number page, students may apply online, and then go to a local Social Security Administration office in person to provide the following documentation:
  • F-1 international students

    • I-20
    • passport
    • I-94
    • On-campus job offer letter.
    • SSN support letter
  • J-1 exchange students:
    • DS-2019
    • passport
    • I-94
    • On-campus job offer letter
    • SSN support letter

Once the SSN application is approved, students should receive a Social Security card with an SSN by mail. It may take several weeks to receive an SSN.

Applying for an SSN for Students Working off Campus

  • Students must be in a valid F-1 or J-1 status and physically present in the U.S.
  • According to the Social Security Administration’s request for a Social Security number page, students may apply online, and then go to a local Social Security Administration office in person to provide the following documentation:
  • F-1 international students
    • I-20
    • passport
    • I-94
    • Students who have CPT authorization: An I-20 with CPT authorization, or
    • Students who have OPT or Economic Hardship work authorization: A valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
  • J-1 exchange students:
    • DS-2019
    • passport
    • I-94
    • Academic Training: A job offer letter from the employer and an SSN support letter from an exchange student advisor.

Once the SSN application is approved, students should receive a Social Security card with an SSN by mail. It may take several weeks to receive an SSN.

Last updated: January 2024

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