International Student Services

Social Security Number

Eligibility | How To Apply | F-1 On-Campus | F-1 CPT | F-1 OPT | J-1 On-Campus|J-1 Academic Training| Helpful Websites | FAQ


A Social Security number (SSN) is issued to track earnings over a worker’s lifetime. The SSN itself is not a work permit. When you get an SSN, you can use that number for your lifetime.

If you work in the U.S., you must be sure you have authorization and must apply for an SSN.


If you do not work on campus but you receive a taxable scholarship, you should apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) for tax purposes.


To get an SSN, you must show the Social Security Administration that you:

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. Dependents in F-1 status are not eligible for an SSN.

How to Apply

F-1 Students with On-Campus Employment

New students: complete all steps in the “New Student Post-Arrival Checklist.” Wait 2-3 weeks after arriving in the U.S. to apply for the SSN.

To apply for an SSN, you need two letters from UW:

  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: Get a Campus Employment Letter

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

After you receive your on-campus employment letter, scan or take a photo of the letter. Proceed to step 2.

Step 2: Get an ISS Support Letter

Complete the request in MyISSS to get an SSN Support letter.
Request SSN Support Letter

Step 3: Apply for an SSN

Complete the social security number application online.

Step 4: Visit your local Social Security Administration (SSA) Office

When you visit the SSA Office, you will finish the process and share your documents. You must visit the SSA office and show your documentation within 45 calendar days of when you completed your online application.

Bring with you:

  • Original on-campus employment letter
  • Original SSN Support Letter from ISS
  • Form I-20
  • Valid passport (along with old passport if it contains your F-1 visa)
  • I-94 record
  • Confirmation that you completed the SS-5 online

F-1 Students Authorized for Curricular Practical Training

Complete the social security application online. Then, visit your local SSA office to show them your documents in person. Apply no earlier than 30 days before your scheduled employment start date. Bring with you:

F-1 Students Authorized for Optional Practical Training

If you did not request an SSN as part of your OPT application, complete the social security application online. Then, visit your local SSA office to show them your documents in person. Apply on or after the start date on your EAD card. Bring with you:

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. Complete the social security application online.
  3. Visit your local SSA office to show them your documents in person.
    Bring with you:

    • Form DS-2019 with Academic Training notation
    • Passport
    • I-94 record
    • Confirmation that you completed the SS-5 online

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

Helpful Websites

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

What if my card is lost or stolen?

You can replace your card for free if it is lost or stolen if you meet the eligibility requirements noted above. If you do not currently have an on-campus job or off-campus training authorization, the SSA will not issue a replacement card. Follow the steps above to obtain a replacement card.

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.

Apply for the SSN as soon as possible after getting your job offer. If you forget to apply, this will cause problems later with tax filing.