U.S. Social Security Number
What is a Social Security Number?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a permanent nine-digit identification number administered by the Social Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. federal government. SSNs are required for anyone employed in the U.S. because it tracks income for employers and the IRS, but is not required for anything else.
Who is eligible to receive a Social Security Number?
- F-1 students who are employed are eligible for a Social Security Number. F-2s are not eligible for a Social Security Number.
- J visa holders are eligible for a Social Security Number whether employed or not. If a J visa holder is not employed, International Services would encourage you to think carefully about whether you would like to apply for an SSN because of some dangers of having one (see below).
Who is required to have a Social Security Number?
All individuals working in the U.S. are required to have a Social Security Number. Many jobs do not require you to have a Social Security Number to begin working, but you should submit SSN information to your employer as soon as possible.
Why is everyone asking for my Social Security Number?
International visitors are not required to have a Social Security Number to enter the U.S., open a bank account, sign a lease, or get a South Carolina driver's license. However, it is likely that you will be asked for an SSN when trying to do these things. This is because SSNs are used to check your financial credit history (i.e. do you pay bills on time?).
If you are asked for an SSN by a cell phone carrier, bank, landlord, etc. you should explain that you are not eligible for one. Since you do not have a financial credit history, you may be asked to pay a higher deposit for certain services. For those applying for a driver's license, you should apply for an SSN and take the denial letter to the DMV. For more instructions, please review the Arrival Guide: How to Apply for a Driver's License.
I am employed and/or eligible for a Social Security Number. How do I get one?
International visitors who are eligible for a Social Security Number can apply 10 working days after entering the U.S. and once your SEVIS record has been activated by International Services. Your SEVIS record will be activated after you complete the check-in with International Services. If you arrived recently and are not sure if your SEVIS record has been activated, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm.
For a list of required documentation and information of the closest Social Security Office, please visit Social Security Administration's website.
Protecting your Social Security Number
If you get a Social Security Number, you should protect it in order to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. While you likely will be asked for your SSN when leasing an apartment, setting up a bill or service (cell phone, utilities), or opening a bank account, you should protect your Social Security Number and do not give it out freely. You should not carry your Social Security card around with you. You should keep your card (and your number) in a safe place and do not give it out to anyone who does not have a legitimate reason to ask for it.
If someone is able to get your Social Security Number, they can open bank accounts or buy things under your name! You can quickly become a victim of identity theft if someone gets your number and they can cause problems far into the future. Do not give your number over the phone or via email, particularly if you did not initiate contact.
If someone is asking you for your Social Security Number and you do not know if you should give it to them, please feel free to contact International Services and an international student advisor will help to advise on what you should do.