If you plan on studying/working/living in the United States then getting a Social Security Number is of utmost importance. It enables you to work in the US and all your financial activities are linked to it – including bank accounts and credit cards.
What is a SSN?
The SSN is issued to individuals permitted to legally work in the US to track their earnings over one’s lifetime. Students on F-1 or J-1 VISAs employed in the US are required to apply for an SSN without with they will not be allowed to work.
Your SSN is and always remain unique to you. Once you receive the card, keep it safely and do not laminate/copy it to be used elsewhere. You may keep a copy for personal use. Do NOT share SSN details with ANYONE. They may misuse it to open fraudulent accounts in your name.
Dependents (F-2 and J-2) are not eligible for SSN. If a student on an F-1 VISA has a scholarship (taxable) but does not work, then they may file for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for tax purposes.
As mentioned earlier, you need to have an offer letter of employment in hand. This could be for a part-time on-campus job (upto 20 hours for full-time international students), an off-campus job (upto 20 hours for full-time international students) permitted to work on CPT (Curricular Practical Training), working on an OPT (Optional Practical Training) or Academic Training.
To avoid misconceptions, you do not require an SSN to obtain:
- Driver’s License
- Cell Phone (number)
- Credit Card (Deserve)
- Admission to an academic institution
When you have an offer letter in hand, you may set an appointment at the nearest Social Security Administration Office and take with you the following documents:
- Job Offer Letter
- Valid Passport (with F-1 Visa Stamp)
- I-94 (can be obtained here)
- I-20 Form
- University Admission Letter (if student)
- ISS (International Student Services) Social Security Verification Form (issued by the University)
- US Local Permanent Address Proof
- SS-5 Form Filled out (Can be found here)
- Copies of all of the above for submission (DO NOT SUBMIT ORIGINALS)
NOTE: All signatures on submitted documents must be signed by hand with black ink.
Also note: Refer your University’s ISS guidelines and use this article as a basics guide. Each State/University may/may not require additional paperwork.
Here are some helpful pages from the Social Security Administration for your reference.
Why get an SSN?
If you wish to work on campus or in the US, you need to an SSN. Additionally, you may apply for your first US credit card (Discover IT Card is the most recommended) which will help you build credit history.
One thing I’ve realized about life in the US is that it is HIGHLY credit score dependent. Whether you go to rent a property, buy/lease a car (more on that process here: Part 1 and Part 2) or refinancing a car loan or any other loan – you need to have a diversified and strong credit score (750+ /850).
In the start your credit score may not be as high but you can start building it early by following tips I explain here.