While this is true, the process for applying for a Social Security Number (SSN) does vary per visa type (immigrant vs. non-immigrant, J1, J2, F1, F2, H1B, H4, etc.). To learn more about the paperwork and documentation you need to get an SSN in the U.S. as a foreigner or non-citizen, see this page from the Social Security Administration. Note, that social security numbers can be applied for from your home country in some cases, if you are coming to the U.S. as an immigrant. Read more about that here.
For international students coming to the U.S., the Berkely International Office has made a handy reference specifically for common student visa types of F1, F1 OPT, J-1 Students, J-1 AT Students, J-1 Scholars and J-2 Dependents.
According to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW), SSNs are needed for applying for an apartment, getting a cell phone connection, credit card, job, getting a driver license, and more. Also, it is mentioned in the video that an F1 students can only apply for an SSN once a job offer is in hand. Learn more by listening to the video below at the 6 min 45 second mark.
According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), most individuals who receive their Employment Authorization Document or EAD can also apply for an SSN. For contact information, see here. Depending on your visa type, you may be eligible to apply for an EAD. See more at this USCIS page.
If you come onsite to the U.S., you would also need to apply for a social security card as part of setting up your life in the U.S. as an expat. So, if you are thinking, "How do I get my own social security card?" watch the video below to answer your question.
SSN Card Safety Tips:
- It is not necessary to carry your SSN card with you. In fact, most Americans keep it home, under lock and key. Since it is not a photo ID, the card itself is only needed in certain situations where you need to prove your SSN. Always keep your photo ID on you (passport and documents if a non-citizen).
- Do not give your SSN over social media, the internet or phone calls. Normally, even banks will only require the last four digits as a PIN.
- Shred any unnecessary documents with the SSN. Any documents you must keep with the SSN on it must be kept in a safe place, possibly in a safe.
- If you have any other questions about your SSN or for reporting lost SSNs or replacing an SSN or changing names on an SSN, see this handy page from the Social Security Administration.
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updated: Feb. 2017