Social Security Number (SSN)

What is a Social Security Number?
A Social Security Number (SSN) is a permanent nine-digit identification number, assigned to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and eligible nonimmigrant workers in the U.S. The Social Security Administration (SSA), an agency of the U.S. federal government, uses SSNs to report wages to the government and track social security benefits. All F and J visa holders, receiving a wage through authorized employment, must have an SSN. 

Who is eligible to apply for a Social Security Number?

  • F-1 students who are employed are eligible for a Social Security Number. F-2s are not eligible for an SSN.
  • J-1 students/scholars are eligible for an SSN whether employed or not. If a J-1 student/scholar 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).

Am I required to have a Social Security Number?
All individuals, working for a wage in the U.S., are required to have a SSN. As part of the hiring process, employers will ask to see your social security card to verify your SSN. Employers can either ask to see your social security card before allowing you to begin work or within a few days of your starting work. 

If you are ineligible to receive an SSN, but you receive non-wage income while in the U.S. (ex. scholarships, grants, interest on stocks, gambling/lottery winnings, etc.), you must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An ITIN is a tax processing number, issued by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), for individuals who need to report income but are ineligible to obtain an SSN. To apply for an ITIN, you must submit a Form W-7, “Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number,” with a U.S. tax return.

How do I apply for a Social Security Number (SSN)?
Once you have been advised by International Services that you are eligible for paid employment, you will need to do the following: 

  1. Complete SEVIS check-in with International Services. Your SEVIS record must be in Active status for at least two days prior to applying for an SSN. To expedite being issued a SSN, International Services suggests completing your SEVIS check-in immediately upon entering the U.S. Please note: It takes two business days for your SEVIS record to be activated once you successfully complete SEVIS check-in. If you would like to verify if your SEVIS record has been activated, please email to confirm.
  2. Verify your status in the SAVE program. The SSA uses the SAVE program to verify your nonimmigrant student status. Please note: It could take 10 working days after entering the U.S. for your status to be verified in SAVE.
    • Once your SEVIS record is Active and your nonimmigrant student status is verified in SAVE, you can apply for your SSN in-person at an SSA office.
  3. Currently, due to COVID-19, the SSA offices in Anderson and Greenville, SC are meeting with the public by appointment only. To schedule an appointment in Anderson call 877-505-4549 or Greenville 877-274-5423.
    • The address for the Anderson SSA is 4 Civic Enter Blvd. Ext. Anderson, SC 29625.
    • The address for the Greenville SSA is 319 Pelham Road, Greenville, SC 29615.
  4. You must take the following items with you to your SSA appointment:
    • Complete Form SS-5.
    • Form I-20.
    • Form I-94. Click on “Get Most Recent I-94” to save and print your I-94 travel record.
    • Unexpired passport with visa stamp.

It is important to know that when you visit the SSA to apply for your SSN, the office will not issue your SSN immediately; they will issue you a receipt letter and mail your SSN card to your local address. It is important to let your employer know that you have applied for an SSN and are waiting to receive it.

Do I need an SSN to get a driver's license?
To apply for a driver's license, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will require you to show your social security card - OR - a letter from the SSA denying your request for an SSN. For additional information, please review the Arrival Guide: How to Apply for a Driver's License

Why is everyone asking for my Social Security Number?
You are not required to have a SSN to enter the U.S., open a bank account, sign a lease, or get a driver's license. However, it is likely that you will be asked for an SSN when trying to do these things. SSNs are typically used to check your U.S. financial credit history. 

If you are asked for an SSN by a cell phone carrier, bank, landlord, etc. you should feel comfortable explaining that since you are an international student and not employed, you are not eligible for one. It is possible, because you do not have a financial credit history, that you could be asked to pay a higher deposit for certain services.

Protecting your Social Security Number
If you get an SSN, 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 SSN 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 SSN, they can open bank accounts or buy things using your name! You can quickly become a victim of identity theft if someone gets your SSN and this 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.