How to get an SSN as an International Student

As an international student, you do not get a Social Security Number (SSN) as soon as you get your visa or arrive in the US. You have to gain lawful employment through school approval and work authorization before you can apply for an SSN. We know that SSN is a difficult and complicated process to navigate, which is why we have written this guide to help you. So, keep on reading if you want to learn more about how you can get an SSN as an international student!

What is an SSN?

SSN stands for Social Security Number and it was created in 1936 as a tool to keep track of US workers’ earnings as well as social security benefits. An SSN is usually assigned to every US citizen at birth and it allows the government to identify individuals as well as their records.

Can international students get an SSN?

International students who have an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa can apply for an SSN once they have received work authorization from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). To learn more about the process and get approval for an SSN, F-1 and M-1 students must contact their Designated School Official (DSO) while J-1 students must get in touch with their Responsible Officer (RO). The names of these officials can be found on the first page of the students’ Form I-20 (F-1 and M-1) or Form DS-2019 (J-1). Once they get authorization from their official, they can apply for an SSN through their local Social Security office. 

Is it necessary to get an SSN?

According to the law, you must apply for an SSN within 90 days of starting your job if it’s paid. However, if it is unpaid then you do not need an SSN. An SSN is necessary for paid work as it is used to report wages to the government and determine eligibility for social security benefits. Moreover, if you are planning to stay in the US after college, then an SSN will be essential for you in the future so you should obtain one as soon as possible.

What are the requirements for getting an SSN?

As a noncitizen, you must have a job and proper work authorization in order to get permission from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). You can read more about the two types of work authorization for international students in our articles: How to Apply for CPT and How to Use Your OPT. Once you have a job and proper work authorization, you must prepare documents that prove your identity, immigration status, as well as work eligibility and head over to your local Social Security office to file an SSN application in-person. 

Here is a checklist of all the documents that you may need, depending on your situation:

checklist for SSN application documents

Please be reminded that every document should be a physical copy.

What is the SSN application process like?

You should wait at least 48 hours after reporting to your school about your work status and getting authorized to apply for an SSN, because it usually takes 48 hours for your SEVIS record to get updated. After that, you will need to go to your local Social Security office with all of the necessary documents to apply for an SSN in-person. If you want to ensure that you will get to apply on a specific date, then you should contact the Social Security office beforehand.

When will you get your SSN?

You will receive your card via mail in 7-10 business days after the US Citizenship and Immigration Services approves your work authorization. However, it can take longer if the office is experiencing delays.

Does SSN expire for international students?

No, SSNs given to international students never expire, but the annotation “Valid for Work Only with DHS Authorization” can be removed from the card if the student becomes a permanent resident.

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