How to Get a Social Security Number as an International Student

Can international students get Social Security numbers? Some can. Here’s what you should know about getting a Social Security number as an international student.

As an international student, you might want to work. However, to work in the United States, you need to have a Social Security number. That’s how the government tracks wages and figures taxes. So, can international students get a Social Security number?

The short answer is that, yes, it’s possible for some international students to get a Social Security number. Here’s what you need to know about getting a Social Security number when you’re an international student.


Who can get a Social Security number as an international student?

First of all, not all international students can get a Social Security number. In some cases, your school might ask for one to use for identification purposes. However, the school can simply issue you a different number to use on its records.

In order to get a Social Security number, international students must first have a job. Even a part-time job is acceptable to qualify for a Social Security number. Additionally, students must be on a nonimmigrant student visa with a designation of F-1, M-1 or J-1. 

Once you have a job and are on one of those student visas, you can apply for a Social Security number — and probably get it.

How to apply for a Social Security number as an international student

After establishing your eligibility for a Social Security number as an international student, you can submit your application. Consider getting help from a school official, especially if you’re working on campus. They can help you figure out exactly what you need in addition to helping you determine whether you truly are eligible to work.

You might be eligible to work only on campus as an international student, although the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) might authorize you to work off campus. Make sure you find out whether you have permission to work off campus before you accept a job. After finding out from your school whether you can work and then checking your status with DHS, you can submit your application for a Social Security number as an international student. 

Documentation needed includes proof of:

  • Identity.
  • Work eligibility based on immigration status.
  • Age.

Let’s take a look at how to use these documents to apply for a Social Security number as an international student.


Identity

Gather the documentation that proves your identity. The documentation should have your name, other identifying information and a photograph. It should be current and unexpired. In many cases, your passport should work to establish your identity.

Work eligibility based on immigration status

First off all, you should be on an M-1, F-1 or J-1 visa seeking nonimmigrant status. You can show that by using your admission stamp in your passport. You also need to use your Form I-94, which is called the Arrival/Departure Record. 

M-1 and F-1 visa holders need to also show a Form I-20, which is the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Those on a J-1 visa must show the Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status, which is the Form DS-2019.

These documents establish that you’re in the country legally and that you’re eligible as a student and not planning to permanently remain in the United States.

Other documents required to establish your work eligibility include:

  • Letter from your school official confirming your identity and that you are a student. Additionally, the letter must state what types of work you will do. (F-1 visa)
  • Pay stub from your employer. Remember, you can apply for a Social Security number only if you already have a job. (F-1 visa)
  • You can also get a letter from your employer stating your employment. (F-1 visa)
  • Check with DHS to see if you can get a Form I-766, which is a work permit. (F-1 or M-1 visa)
  • Letter from your sponsor, on the sponsor’s letterhead, with an original signature. (J-1 visa)

It’s a good idea to gather your documentation before you attempt to apply for a Social Security number so that you can verify you have what you need.

Age

Finally, you need proof of your age to get a Social Security number as an international student. If you have your foreign birth certificate or you can obtain it within 10 business days, that’s the preferred way of establishing your age.

If that isn’t possible, your passport can be used as a way to establish your age. Paperwork issued by DHS might also be accepted if it indicates when you were born.

Tips for international students getting a Social Security number

If you’re planning to apply for a Social Security number as an international student, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You should already have a job lined up: In general, you need to have a job before you apply for a Social Security number. If your employment start date is in the future, wait until after you start to apply.
  • Apply after starting the job: Once you have a pay stub and can use it as proof of employment, consider applying for your Social Security number.
  • Documents should be original: When presenting your documents, you must use originals. The only exception is if you have certified copies from the agency that issued the documents. Photocopies, even if they’re notarized, won’t be accepted.
  • Give your application letter to your employer: The IRS requires employers to report wages using a Social Security number. The IRS will send a letter stating that you applied for a number, and your employer can use it to show that things are above board. It can also use your documentation of immigration status and work authorization to show that you’re eligible.


Bottom line  

Can international students get a Social Security number? As long as you’re authorized to work in the United States, you should be able to apply for and get a Social Security number after you start your job.

And if you need a student loan to help you pay for your education, remember that Juno has deals for international students.


Miranda Marquit
Written By
Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University

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