You are required by law to have a Social Security Number (SSN) in order to be paid for work in the US. If you are not working in a paid position, you do not need an SSN. Unfortunately, SSNs are often used as identification numbers for other kinds of applications, such as credit cards or cell phone accounts. While having an SSN is convenient, you can NOT apply for an SSN unless you have a job offer.
To be eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN), you must have a valid offer for paid work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not issue a SSN to any F-1 student who has not already been given an offer of paid employment.
Are you eligible to apply for an SSN?
- Do you have a valid offer for a paid position?
- Has your SEVIS record been registered (activated) by the ISSS staff?
- If you are trying to apply before your I-20 Program Start Date, please contact ISSS to make sure your record is registered
- Have you been in the U.S. for at least a few days?
- Is your start date in the next 30 days?
- If you are working off-campus, has your CPT been approved?
If you answered yes to ALL these questions, you are ready to go to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to apply for your Social Security Number (SSN). You need to visit an office of the SSA in person – you cannot apply by mail or online.
- Receive your job offer letter.
- Request an SSN letter from ISSS.
- Locate the appropriate SSA office based on your U.S. address (ZIP Code) using the Social Security Office Locator.
- Make an appointment at the SSA branch office closest to you by calling the phone number listed.
- Review the SSA’s guide “International Students and Social Security Numbers“
- Gather the required documents.
Be aware of scams!
SSA phone lines have been known to be intercepted and redirect you to a scam call center.
If you are offered a gift card or asked for payment information, this is a scam! Hang up and try the number again
Before you visit the SSA office for your appointment, you need to gather the following documents. All documents must be printed on plain, white paper, in standard US size: 8½ x 11 inches.
- Your ACTUAL passport (not a copy)
- Your most recent I-94 Arrival Record (download here)
- A copy of your job offer letter, which must meet ALL of these criteria:
- must include your anticipated start date
- must include your job title
- must list the company EIN (tax ID) number
- must be printed on company letterhead and have a wet signature (signed by hand, NOT electronically)
- Your actual most recent Form I-20 (not a copy)
- If you are applying for an off-campus position, your CPT must be approved and reflected on your Form I-20.
- A letter from ISSS confirming your status as a student – request the letter here: Social Security Letter Request
- A copy of your UMBC admission letter – this was probably shared with you via email at he time of your admission, you can print this out and carry it with you.
- A printed, completed, and signed SS-5 application: https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf – Be sure to enter your name and mailing address correctly and to print clearly.
After You Apply
You will recieve a receipt from SSA. You should present a copy of the receipt from SSA to your employer.
It can take two to three weeks to receive your Social Security card in the mail.
When you receive the card, it is important to check the spelling of your name, sign the card and take to the department where you were hired to complete any necessary paperwork.
Letter of Ineligibility
This is a letter provided by the Social Security Administration to state that you are not currently eligible for an SSN. This is most commonly needed for the MVA, when you apply for either a State ID or a Driver’s License.
To apply, take the following to an SSA office:
- Valid Passport
- F-1 visa
- Most recent Form I-20
- Most recent I-94 record
You will also need a letter from ISSS office certifying your good F-1 status – please visit the ISSS Portal to request this letter, and please allow a few days processing time.
Helpful Links and Information
Social Security Administration Office Hours and Locations
HOURS – All SSA locations are open 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday;
Wednesdays only the office is only open from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM (noon)
Please plan to wait – a trip to the SSA can often take some time—possibly hours. Be prepared to wait and take something to do while waiting. Avoid going at the end of their business hours.