How to get a US social security number as an international student
A group of people get a guided tour of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Source: Shutterstock

Social security number refers to the nine-digit number generally assigned to US citizens, permanent residents, and temporary (working) residents. This could include international students temporarily in the United States while attending a college, language, vocational, or nonacademic school with a nonimmigrant F-1, M-1, or J-1 student classification.

The numbers are used by employers to report the wages you earn to the government. This will determine whether you are eligible for Social Security benefits.

“If your school has authorized you to work either on or off campus, and you meet Social Security’s eligibility requirements described in the next section, you can get a Social Security number,” Social Security Administration’s (SSA) website states.

Princeton University is a Private Ivy League University in New Jersey, USA. The tour guide explains the history of the university. Source: Shutterstock

But how does one apply for this?

To issue a Social Security number, students must show proof to SSA that they are studying full-time and are eligible to work in the US as well as a formal offer of on-campus or off-campus employment such as through Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, or Academic Training.

Below we list the process of how you can do so and some tips to help you along the way:

1. Complete an Application for a Social Security card (SS-5); and
2. Show documents proving your:

Work-authorized immigration status;

F-1 students eligible to work on must provide:

  • Letter from their designated school official, that identifies you, confirms current school status and identifies your employer and type of work; and
  • Evidence of employment, eg. recent pay slip or letter from employer (with details of your job, start date, number of working hours, supervisor’s name and telephone number) that is signed by your supervisor.

F-1 students authorised for curricular practical training (CPT) must provide:

  • Form I-20 with the employment page completed and signed by your school’s designated official.

F-1 or M-1 student with work permit (Form I-766) must present it.

J-1 student, student intern, or international visitor must provide a letter from their sponsor. The letter should be on sponsor letterhead with an original signature that authorises your employment.


  • Foreign birth certificate (if you have it or can get it within 10 business days); or
  • Passport; or
  • Document issued by DHS


  • Original or certified copies of identity documents which shows your name, identifying information, and preferably, a recent photograph. Photocopies, notarised copies or receipts of application for the identity documents are not accepted.

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