What Is a Social Security Number and Why Do I Need One?

What Is a Social Security Number and Why Do I Need One?

Feb 28, 2024

The Essential Guide to Obtaining a Social Security Number for International Students

If you’re an international student in the USA, you should obtain a Social Security Number (SSN) for several important reasons, primarily related to employment, taxation, and access to services. Here's a detailed explanation of why you need an SSN and how to get it:

Why international students need an SSN

  1. Employment: An SSN is required for anyone who works in the U.S., including international students. Employers use SSNs to report wages to the government and to determine eligibility for Social Security benefits.
  2. Taxation: An SSN is necessary to file federal and state tax returns. Even if you don't owe taxes, filing a return may be required if you earned income in the U.S.
  3. Banking: Many banks require an SSN to open an account. While some banks may offer alternatives, having an SSN makes the process easier and expands the range of financial services available.
  4. Credit history: An SSN is used to track and build a credit history in the U.S., which is essential for obtaining credit cards, loans, and sometimes even signing a lease for housing.
  5. Access to services: Certain government and health services may require an SSN. Although you will typically use your student visa and insurance, an SSN might be needed for specific forms or benefits.

How international students can get an SSN

  1. Eligibility: To apply for an SSN, you must be eligible to work in the U.S. This usually means having an F-1 or J-1 visa and authorization to work on-campus or having approved Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), or Academic Training (AT).
  2. Application Process:
  • Complete form SS-5: This is the application for a Social Security Card. It's available online or at any Social Security Administration (SSA) office.
  • Gather required documents: You’ll need to provide documentation proving your identity, immigration status, work eligibility, and age. This usually includes a passport, visa, I-20 (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 (for J-1 students), and an employment offer letter or work authorization form.
  •  Visit an SSA Office: With the completed Form SS-5 and necessary documents, visit an SSA office. It's recommended to check if an appointment is required.
  • Wait for the SSN: After applying, it typically takes 2 to 4 weeks to receive an SSN card by mail.

After you've received your SSN

It's important to protect your SSN once you have it, as it's a sensitive piece of information that can be used for identity theft and other fraudulent activities. Always keep your SSN card in a safe place and only share your SSN when absolutely necessary.

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