A social security number (SSN) in the United States is used to track employment and credit history. The United States does not have a national ID number, therefore in some instances, the SSN has become a de-facto national ID number.
Am I eligible for an SSN?
Most international students and scholars are not eligible unless they will be employed in the United States. Below represents the restrictions based on visa type for eligibility for a SSN.
F-1 or J-1 Student
If you are an F-1 or J-1 student, you are eligible to apply for a social security number (SSN) if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You are employed on-campus
- You are employed with an off-campus internship that has been pre-approved with Curricular Practical Training (CPT)
- You have an employment authorization document (EAD)
- You have been approved for a period of Academic Training (J-1 Students only)
For new students that are immediately eligible by virtue of on-campus assistantships, you may not proceed to the Social Security Administration without completing the check-in with ISS. The SSA will not process an application for an individual whose SEVIS record has not been activated.
J-1 Scholar (Research Scholar, Professor, Short-Term Scholar, Specialist)
If you are a J-1 Scholar, you are eligible to apply for a social security number (SSN) if you meet one of the following criteria:
- You are employed by Wake Forest University as a regular part of your J-1 program (any new opportunities that arise after your J-1 program has begun will need to be pre-approved by the Responsible Officer or Alternate Responsible Officer at Wake Forest University).
For new scholars that are immediately eligible by virtue of employment, you may not proceed to the Social Security Administration without completing the J-1 check-in with ISS. The SSA will not process an application for an individual whose SEVIS record has not been validated.
H-1B or Other Employment-Based Nonimmigrant Visa
If you are an employee on a valid employment-based nonimmigrant visa, you are eligible to apply for a social security number (SSN) immediately by virtue of your employment:
- Any new opportunities that arise after your employment has begun will need to be pre-approved by ISS.
I am eligible for a SSN. How do I apply for a SSN and what documents do I need to provide to the Social Security Administration?
Instructions on how to obtain a SSN can be found here: Social Security Instructions
NOTE: If you are an F-1 or J-1 student and have an offer of on-campus employment, please request a letter in ISSDeacs to take with you to the Social Security Administration (required).
I am not currently eligible for a SSN and I keep getting asked for one by various services, what do I do?
There is no consequence to not having a social security number. Many companies that provide a monthly service (i.e., apartment management companies, cell phone companies, internet and cable companies, etc.) will request an SSN so they can check your credit history, which tracks how worthy you are in terms of paying your obligations.
If you are being asked by a service to provide a social security number, but you are not eligible for one, explain this to them, and if the person still is unwilling to provide the service for lack of an SSN, ask for a manager or supervisor. Many companies will allow you to pay a security deposit in lieu of providing a SSN.
Even if you have a SSN, you may not have a credit history immediately in the United States, and therefore you may still be asked to pay an additional security deposit to receive a service.
Please be advised, a SSN is not necessary to obtain a driver’s license in the state of North Carolina.
If you are eligible for a SSN, protect it and do not provide it to a company that is not considered to be a legitimate corporate entity.