How to get US Social Security Cards for International Students

How to get US Social Security Cards for International Students 's photoBy Ernest Emeka
Wed Aug 09 2023
How to get US Social Security Cards for International Students

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Relocating to the United States as an international student can be likened to Akeem Joffer, the crown prince of the fictional African nation of Zamunda in the 1988 American romantic comedy film, “Coming to America.”  While Akeem was weary of his pampered lifestyle on his 21st birthday and wished to do more for himself, most international students want to escape their disadvantaged home countries and wish to rewrite their families’ histories and dreams.

However, you need a Social Security Number (SSN) to find your first paid job. While Hollywood has made coming to America an exciting adventure, it often fails to tell the true story. Without your SSN, life in the US will be the opposite of what you want to achieve abroad.

Read: Marriage for Papers Scam: A Guide For International Students

How to get US Social Security Cards for International Students

What is a Social Security Number? 

A Social Security number (SSN) is a nine-digit number issued to all US citizens and eligible US residents who apply for one. The number is an important piece of administrate paperwork that the government uses to keep track of your lifetime earnings and the number of years worked.

In addition, most schools use the number as identification numbers for their students, making it necessary. SSN is used in obtaining government benefits, opening bank accounts, buying a car or a home, and private insurance, among other pursuits.

A US resident must have a Social Security Number (SSN) if they must work. However, if you don't need a paid position, there is no need for an SSN. You still need an SSN for your cell phone accounts or credit cards. You can only request an SSN if you receive a job offer.

Types of Social Security Cards 

The United States offers three types of Social Security cards that show users’ names and their Social Security numbers. International students may have a work restriction printed on their cards.

Here are the different Social Security Cards:

a.    It displays the user's name and Social Security number without work restrictions. This card belongs to:

1.    US citizens

2.    People lawfully admitted to the United States permanently.

b.    It shows users’ names and Social Security numbers with the restriction, "VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION."

The card belongs to people lawfully admitted to the United States temporarily with DHS authorization to work.

c.    The card shows a user’s name and Social Security number with the restriction, "NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT."

The card belongs to migrants who:

1.    are lawfully admitted to the United States without work authorization from DHS but have a valid non-work reason for needing a Social Security number; or

2.    need a number because federal law requires a Social Security number to get a benefit or service.

What are the Components of the SSN?

Area Number

The area number is the first group of three digits identifying the issuing state in the form of  001, 002, 003, 575,  576, and other numbering. For instance, the West Coast regions have the highest SSNs, while the East Coast areas have the lowest SSNs

Group Number

The group number consists of two digits, ranging from 01 to 99. 

Serial Number

The serial number consists of the last four digits in the third group (actual serial number), and these numbers ascend from 0001 to 9999 within each group. 

Read: US Study Abroad Guide for International Students


As an F-1 student, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will not issue you an SSN if you have not received an offer of paid employment. Here is what you should know about getting an SSN:

·         If you are working off-campus, has your CPT been approved?

·         Do you have a valid offer for a paid position?

·         Is your start date in the next 30 days?

·         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 ensure your record is registered.

·         Have you been in the US for at least a few days?

You could apply for your Social Security Administration (SSN) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) if you answered yes to these questions. Additionally, you must visit the SSAs office in person for this process. 

SSN Application Steps

  1. You must have gotten your job offer letter.
  2. Request an SSN letter from ISSS.
  3. Visit an SSA office based on your US address (ZIP Code) with the support of a Social Security Office Locator.
  4. You should make an appointment at the SSA branch office closest to you.
  5. The next step is to review the SSA’s guide “International Students and Social Security Numbers."
  6. Finally, you need to present the required documents.

SSN Required Documents

Every document must be printed on plain, white paper in standard US size: 8½ x 11 inches. Here are some of the documents you require:

  • International passport (not a copy)
  • Recent I-94 Arrival Record 
  • A copy of your job offer letter with the following criteria: 
    1. must include your anticipated start date
    2. must consist of your job title
    3. must list the company EIN (tax ID) number
    4. must be printed on company letterhead and have a wet signature (signed by hand, NOT electronically)
  • Recent Form I-20 (not a copy) 

o    If you apply for an off-campus position, your CPT must be approved and reflected on your Form I-20.

                A letter from ISSS confirming your status 

SSA will send you a receipt after your application, and it takes at least two to three weeks to receive your Social Security card in the mail. Finally, ensure that you have the correct name on the card. 

Sign the card and use it to complete any paperwork for your jobs. SSN does not change or expire after you receive it.

Read: How to Get Your First Job as an International Student: A Guide

How to get US Social Security Cards for International Students

Letter of Ineligibility

The Social Security Administration offers you this letter if you are not eligible for a Social Security Number. In addition, you need this letter for MVA while applying for a Driver's License or State ID.

To apply, you should submit these documents to an SSA office:

  1. F-1 visa
  2. Most recent Form I-20
  3. Valid Passport
  4. Recent I-94 record
  5. A letter from the ISSS office certifies your good F-1 status.

When to Avoid Using Your Social Security Number

As an international student, you don't want to get into trouble. However, this doesn't mean you must always use your Social Security number. Just because you got asked for your SSN doesn't mean the person requesting it needs it. 

You don’t have to move around with your SSN unless you need it to fill out paperwork or show it as proof of identity during your work search. You can decide not to provide your SSN for some fillings, but some companies or institutions might refuse to attend to you. 

If your SSN gets stolen, you risk identity theft or losing sensitive data. Therefore, you should apply for a new one as soon as possible. Learn to safeguard your SSN documents to avoid getting someone to steal them. 

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Do I have to provide my Social Security number (SSN) if asked?

Some situations require that you provide your SSN, especially when any US government agency requires it to handle your identification process. However, you don't have to provide it to private companies.

Can I change my Social Security number?

A Social Security number is your identity for life but can change if stolen to protect you.



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