International Student Services

Social Security Number

All local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public as of March 17, 2020. We are waiting for instructions from the Social Security Administration for students needing to apply for SSNs.
Please see question #6 in our FAQs below about starting work without an SSN.

Overview

A Social Security number (SSN) is issued to track earnings over a worker’s lifetime. The Social Security number itself is not a work permit.

Students holding F-1 and J-1 status who are employed in the U.S. must apply for a Social Security number. Dependents in F-2 status are not eligible for a Social Security number. (Students who will not work on campus but who receive a taxable scholarship can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for tax purposes).

The Social Security Administration office nearest the UW is located downtown at 915 Second Avenue, Suite 901, Seattle, WA, 98104.

Eligibility

In order to issue a Social Security number, the Social Security Administration requires evidence that you:

  • Are eligible to work in the U.S.
  • Are a full-time student
  • Have received a formal offer of on-campus employment, OR
  • Have been authorized for off-campus employment through Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, or Academic Training.

A Social Security number is not required to obtain a driver’s license, cell phone, credit card, insurance, admission to an academic institution or other “non-work” reasons. The Social Security Administration must also verify your immigration documents and status with Immigration before issuing the Social Security number.

How to Apply

F-1 Students With On-Campus Employment

New students: complete all steps in the “New Student Post-Arrival Checklist.” Wait 10 business days after arriving in the U.S. to apply for the SSN.

To apply for a Social Security Number, you will need two letters from UW before you visit the Social Security Administration Office:

  1. A campus employment letter from your UW hiring department
  2. An SSN support letter from ISS

Follow these instructions to request the required letters and then apply for an SSN.

Step 1:

Ask your UW campus hiring department for a campus employment letter.

Give them this letter template provided by the Social Security Administration.

The letter must:

  • Be on hiring department or UW letterhead
  • Have an original signature from a hiring official

Note: this is a different process than what your UW hiring departments might be familiar with. There used to be a form to print and complete. Please advise your hiring supervisor this is a new process being requested by ISS; it matches guidance from the Social Security Administration.

Step 2:

After you receive your on-campus employment letter, scan or take a photo of the letter.

Complete this webform to request a separate ISS support letter for your SSN:

Request SSN Support Letter

Step 3:

Allow 10 business days for ISS processing. ISS will verify your full-time status as well as on-campus employment eligibility; ISS will issue a support letter for your SSN application.

Step 4:

ISS will mail you the completed SSN support letter.

Step 5:

All local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public as of March 17, 2020. We are waiting for instructions from the Social Security Administration for students needing to apply for SSNs. Apply in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply no earlier than 30 days before your scheduled employment start date. Bring with you:

  • Original on-campus employment letter
  • Original ISS support letter
  • Form I-20
  • Valid passport (along with old passport if it contains your F-1 visa)
  • I-94 card; or, a copy of your F-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Form SS-5

F-1 Students Authorized for Curricular Practical Training

All local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public as of March 17, 2020. We are waiting for instructions from the Social Security Administration for students needing to apply for SSNs. Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply no earlier than 30 days before your scheduled employment start date. Bring with you:

  • Form I-20 (updated and endorsed for practical training)
  • Passport
  • I-94 card; or, a copy of your F-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • Form SS-5

F-1 Students Authorized for Optional Practical Training

All local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public as of March 17, 2020. We are waiting for instructions from the Social Security Administration for students needing to apply for SSNs. Apply for a Social Security number in person at a local Social Security Administration office. Apply on or after the start date on your EAD card. Bring with you:

  • Form I-20 (updated and endorsed for practical training)
  • Passport
  • I-94 card; or, a copy of your F-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
  • EAD card
  • Form SS-5

J-1 Students With On-Campus Employment

Go to our “J-1 On-Campus Employment” webpage and follow the instructions to apply for on-campus employment permission for students needing an SSN.

J-1 Students Authorized for Academic Training

  1. Obtain documentation for employment authorization from your ISS adviser or your sponsoring agency.
  2. All local Social Security offices are currently closed to the public as of March 17, 2020. We are waiting for instructions from the Social Security Administration for students needing to apply for SSNs. Apply for a Social Security number at the Social Security Administration office. Bring with you:
    • Form DS-2019 with Academic Training notation
    • Passport
    • I-94 card; or, a copy of your J-1 admission stamp in your passport and a printout of your electronic I-94 information, which can be obtained at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/
    • Form SS-5

    Note: J-2 dependents with employment authorization will need to bring the above documents plus their EAD card in order to apply for an Social Security number.

Helpful Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What does it cost?

There is no charge for a Social Security number and card.

2. How long does it take to get a Social Security number?

The Social Security Administration will mail your number and card as soon as all of your immigration information has been verified. It can take 2-4 weeks or more.

3. What if my card is lost or stolen?

You can replace your card for free if it is lost or stolen. However, you are limited to three replacement cards in a year and 10 during your lifetime. Legal name changes and other exceptions do not count toward these limits. For example, changes in nonimmigrant status that require card updates may not count toward these limits.

To request a replacement card:

  • Complete an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
  • Present recently issued photo identification to show your identity (passport, Washington state identification card)
  • Show evidence of your current lawful nonimmigrant status (visa, I-20/ DS-2019, I-94)
  • Complete a new Social Security Verification form (if you are employed on campus)

Your replacement card will have the same name and number as your previous card.

4. What if my immigration status or citizenship changes?

If your immigration status changes or you become a legal permanent resident (LPR), you should inform the Social Security Administration office so that your records can be updated. You will need to present documents that prove your new status.

5. Are my earnings taxable for Social Security purposes?

As a student in F-1 or J-1 status your earnings from authorized employment are generally not taxable for social security purposes.

Please review the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Publications 515 and 519 for details about employment taxes payable on the earnings of a nonresident aliens.

6. Can I start working before I receive a Social Security card?

As long as you have authorization (on-campus work, CPT, or OPT), yes: you can start working without an SSN. Be sure your employer follows the correct instructions for allowing you to begin work without the SSN. The Social Security Administration’s publication, “Foreign Workers and Social Security Numbers,” has additional information.

As soon as Social Security Administration offices reopen, apply for your SSN immediately. If you forget to apply, this will cause problems later with tax filing.