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Obtaining a Social Security Number

What is a Social Security Card?

A Social Security card is required for everyone who works in the U.S., even nonimmigrants. On the card will be your unique Social Security Number (SSN) that you will keep for life.  You will need this number for many purposes in the U.S. including employment and paying taxes.  A Social Security card is not a work permit. Visit the Social Security Administration's website for more information.

Who is Eligible to Apply for a Social Security Number?

  • F-1 students with a job offer letter and work permission
  • J-1 students with a job offer and a work permit from their DS-2019 sponsor
  • J-1 visiting scholars
  • J-2 dependents with work permission from the USCIS (EAD)
  • Individuals with other types of immigration status allowing employment

Note: F-2 dependents are not eligible for a Social Security Number

A SSN is issued once per lifetime. If you have previously had a SSN but do not have the card or do not remember the number, you can apply for a duplicate card if you meet the eligibility requirements above.

Steps to apply for a Social Security Number:

  1. Collect the required forms and documentation (see table below).
  2. Complete a Social Security Application Form SS-5.
  3. Submit the application and the required documents in person at the Social Security Administration's office. Request a verification receipt of your application.
  4. Wait approximately two weeks for the Social Security card to arrive in the mail.
  5. Present the Social Security card to employer for review.
  6. Keep original Social Security card for records and in a safe place.



Required Documents

F-1 Students

F-1 (OPT) Students

J-1 Students

J-1 Scholars

J-2 Dependents

 Passport X X X X X
 I-94 X X X X X
 I-20 (If on OPT/CPT, present the OPT/CPT I-20) X X      
 DS-2019     X X X

 Employer's Letter                                                                                      (Proof of employment such as an appointment or job offer letter)

X X X    
 EAD Card   X     X

When to Apply for a Social Security Number

Applications made too early may be rejected or delayed beyond the usual processing time. Students and visiting scholars must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for a SSN.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to verify your legal entry into the U.S. before issuing a SSN.

  • New F students must wait at least 10 days after being registered full-time and after the first day of class (both must be true) 
  • No more than 30 days before on-campus or F-1 Curricular Practical Training work authorization begins
  • No more than 30 days before the start date on your Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • New J-1 visiting scholars must wait at least 10 business days after entering the U.S. and checking in with the Office of International Affairs (both must be true)
  • New J-2 dependents must have Employment Authorization Document (EAD) that begins no more than 30 days from the application date of the SSN

Working While Awaiting for an SSN

You may work while the Social Security Number application is being processed. There is no provision in the law that required employers to have their employees’ social security numbers before hiring them. There is no provision that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained a SSN. However, you must have employment authorization from your program sponsor or the USCIS before you begin working.

Social Security Number Safety

Although a SSN is only meant to be used for tax and government purposes, it is often used by financial institutions, businesses and others as a unique identification number. Because the SSN is a unique ID, it is often the target of identity theft. Therefore, you should be very careful about where and to whom you give your SSN.

  • Never carry your Social Security card or number with you. Keep it at home in a secure place.
  • Only give your SSN to someone who has a specific and legitimate need for it.
  • Be very careful with any forms, applications or other materials that may have your SSN on it.
  • Never give your SSN to someone who phones you. You should initiate the call or meet in person.
  • Never reply to email or websites that request a SSN.

Business Uses for Social Security Numbers

Most businesses do not need a SSN from you unless it is for credit purposes (loans, credit cards, etc.) If a business requests a SSN solely for ID purposes, you can request that the business create an ID for you. You do not need a SSN to open bank accounts. If a bank clerk insists on a SSN, ask to speak to a manager.


Merced Social Security Administration
MERCED, CA 95348