How to apply for a Social Security Number as a nonresident / international student in the US?

how to apply for ssn as an international student

Are you a nonresident of the US wondering how you can get a Social Security Number (SSN), or whether you are in fact eligible for a SSN?

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about Social Security Numbers – such as how to apply for SSN, when is best to apply for a SSN, filling out Form SS-5 and the documents you will need when applying!

What is a Social Security Number?

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine digit number issued to US citizens, permanent residents, and nonresidents with authorization to work in the US.

SSNs are required in order to verify work eligibility in the US, to report income and taxes to the IRS, and to collect Social Security benefits.


Types of Social Security Numbers

There are three types of Social Security Cards issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA):

1. US citizens

This type of Social Security Card does not have any work restrictions. It is issued to US citizens and those who have been lawfully admitted to the US on a permanent basis.

2. Temporary workers

Those who are in the US on a temporary basis who have Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorization to work their card will state “valid for work only with DHS authorization.”

3. Only for tax purposes

The third type of Social Security Card is issued to people from other countries who are lawfully admitted to the US but without work authorization from DHS. This may be the case for those who require a SSN to receive a benefit or service. In this instance, the Social Security Card will have the restriction ‘not valid for employment’, and therefore cannot be used with an I-9 form or for employment.


Who can get a Social Security Number?

SSN for non resident alien

If you are a US citizen, a permanent resident of the US, or a nonresident alien with eligible work authorization you can request a SSN.

US citizens will typically receive an SSN after their parents apply for their birth certificate.

Many people wonder whether ‘a nonresident alien can have a SSN?’

Nonresidents with eligible work authorization such as those on a H-1B visa, J-1 visa, and F-1 students with lawful F-1 employment are eligible to apply for a SSN.


ITIN vs SSN for nonresident aliens

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and a Social Security Number (SSN) are both identification numbers that are used for tax purposes in the US.

Nonresident aliens who have authorization to work in the US may be eligible for a SSN. This is common for those in the US on a J-1 visa, those on H-1B visas.

International students who are authorized to work in the US can obtain a SSN.

In most cases international students do not require a SSN to receive a scholarship or grant income, and they may not be eligible to receive a SSN if they are not authorized to work in the US. This is common for F-1 students who should instead apply for an ITIN.

The purpose of an SSN is to track earnings and benefits. Therefore, nonresident aliens that are not authorized to work in the US may not be eligible for a SSN.

If this is the case, an ITIN would be appropriate to use for tax filing purposes.

Similarly, an ITIN is a tax processing number issued by the IRS to nonresidents that are not eligible for a SSN. It is necessary to apply for an ITIN if you have a US tax filing or a reporting requirement with the IRS.

Learn more about applying for an ITIN for a nonresident here.


can a non resident alien have a ssn

How to get a SSN as a non US resident

To get a SSN as a nonresident for the first time simply complete the SSN application form online – Form SS-5.

Download and complete the application for a SSN here.

The next step is to take the completed application form along with original documents proving your identity, age and work-authorized immigration status (your visa) to your local Social Security office.

Following this, as soon as your documents are verified you will be mailed your SSN card.


What do I need to submit to the Social Security office?

The full list of documentation you will need to submit will depend on the work authorization you have in the US.

On each visa type you will need to provide proof of identity and work-authorized immigration status.

Documents that will be accepted to prove immigration status include:

  • Form I-551
  • Form I-94
  • Form I-766
  • Admission stamp showing a class of admission permitting work


For those on a J-1 visa you must provide the following additional documents:

  • DS-2019
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status or EAD
  • A letter from your sponsor authorizing your employment. This letter must be on a your sponsors letterhead and include their signature


How to apply for a SSN as an international student

To be eligible to apply for a SSN as an international student, you must have employment authorization to work in the US.

When applying for an SSN you must show proof of a job offer/employment eligibility.

The next step will include gathering the relevant documentation (further information on this below), and you must complete the application for a Social Security card prior to visiting the local Social Security office.

apply for SSN f1 student

How to apply for a SSN as a F-1 student

If you are an F-1 student that is eligible to work on campus, you must provide a letter from your designated school official (DSO) to:

  • Identify you
  • Confirm your current school status
  • Identify your employer and the type of work you will be undertaking


You must also provide evidence of employment by a recent pay slip or a letter from your employer. This letter must include:

  • Your job
  • Employment start date
  • Number of hours you will be working
  • Supervisor’s name and phone number
  • Your supervisor’s signature along with the date


If you are an F-1 student authorized to work in Curricular Practical Training (CPT), you must provide the following documents:

  • Form I-20 – ensure that the employment page is complete
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status or (DSO) letter


Apply for a SSN for F-1 student


It is important to note that all documents must be the original copies or copies certified by the issuing agency.


Carefully guard your Social Security Card and Number

It is important to carefully guard your Social Security Card and number as this contains confidential information and it is key for confirming your identity.

If your SSN lands into the hands of the wrong person it could be used for fraud.

Therefore, it is highly advised to keep your Social Security Card in a safe place and only share your SSN with trusted organizations. Take extra caution when you are requested to share your SSN via phone or email, as often times this can be a phishing attempt.

If you suspect that your SSN has been used fraudulently, be sure to contact the relevant authorities and notify the SSA immediately.


When is it best to apply for a SSN?

It is recommended to wait at least ten days after you arrive in the US to apply for your SSN.

This makes it easier for your DHS documents to be verified online, and it will help to speed up the application process.


Can I apply for a Social Security Card online?

To apply for a Social Security Card for the first time you must visit your local social security office as it is not possible to apply online for first time applications.


Can I fill out Form SS-5 online?

Yes, it is possible to fill out Form SS-5 online.

This is the official application form for a Social Security Card.

You must print the form and either mail it or bring it in person to your local SSA office along with the required documentation.

Fill in the application for Form SS-5 online.


non resident alien SSN

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of Form SS-5?

The main purpose for Form SS-5 is to apply for a Social Security Card, to request a replacement card, or to update information associated with an existing Social Security Card, for example to change your name on your card.


What is the difference between Form SS-5 and Form SS-5 FS?

Form SS-5 is the standard application form, used by US citizens and non-citizens that are eligible to apply for a Social Security Card.

Form SS-5 FS is a variation of Form SS-5 that international students use to apply for a SSN when studying in the US.


How long does it take to get a replacement Social Security Card?

The SSA generally issues replacement Social Security Cards within seven to ten business days after documentation has been approved if you apply using Form I-765 and/or Form I-485.

It is possible to apply for a replacement card online using your Social Security Card, or in person in a SSA office.


What should I do if I receive a call saying there’s a problem with my Social Security Number?

If there is a problem with your Social Security Number the SSA will mail you a letter. The SSA will generally only contact you if you have requested a call or if you have ongoing business with them.

If you believe you have received a scam call from someone pretending to be working for the SSA, hang up and notify the SSA of the call.


What if I need a SSN for reasons other than work?

If you are not authorized to work in the US but you require an SSN for non work reasons you must provide proof that you need it for a valid nonwork reason.

A valid nonwork reason may include:

  • A federal law requires you to provide your SSN in order to get a benefit or service
  • If an SSN is required by state or local law to receive general assistance benefits that you have already qualified for


How Sprintax can help!

If you need help applying for a SSN as a nonresident or international student in the US, the Sprintax team can support you!

Simply create an account with Sprintax Forms where you can complete and download your application for a Social Security Card.


Get started with Form SS-5


Filing your tax return

We can also guide you through your annual US tax return. We will guide you through the process of filing your tax documents, ensure you receive your maximum tax refund and that you are fully tax compliant with the IRS.


Why choose Sprintax?

  • We are the official nonresident tax filing partner of TurboTax
  • Simple online process – no paperwork
  • Purpose-built US tax filing software developed specifically to support nonresidents
  • Your maximum refund guaranteed
  • Access to 24/7 live chat support for any queries you may have

Get started with your nonresident tax return.


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