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Social Security Number

The Social Security system was established in 1935 and provides public assistance to the disabled, unemployed, and retired. Social Security benefits are supported by taxes collected from people currently employed. Although international students are usually exempt from paying Social Security taxes, you must apply for a Social Security number (SSN) if you are employed in the United States.

Eligibility for a Social Security Number

F-1 and J-1 students may only apply for a Social Security number when they have been offered employment, either on or off campus. Students with scholarships that provide for expenses other than tuition, fees, and books must apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for taxation purposes instead of a Social Security number. Applications for Social Security numbers are processed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

If you apply for a Social Security number and are not eligible, you will typically be given a letter of denial by the SSA office. This letter of denial is necessary for non-immigrants who wish to apply for a Colorado Driver's License or ID Card but are ineligible to receive a Social Security number.

Social Security Number as an Identification Number

The Social Security number is commonly used as a personal identification number in the United States, and you may be asked to provide one when requesting certain services, such as opening a bank account or activating household utilities. If you do not have a Social Security number, you may need to explain that you are ineligible to apply for one and provide alternate documentation verifying your identify, such as a valid passport or driver's license. You may also wish to use our handout Social Security Number for International Students on F-1/J-1 Visas to help explain Social Security Administration policies on international students.

How to Apply for a Social Security Number

To apply for a Social Security number, bring the following original documents to the Social Security office :

  • Form I-20 or DS-2019
  • I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (card or electronic printout)
  • Unexpired Passport

You will also need one or more of the following depending on the type of employment:

  • F-1 On-campus Employment:
    1. Letter from International Student & Scholar Services at DU confirming your lawful immigration status and employment (See ISSS Certification Letter section below)
    2. Letter of offer or employment signed and dated by your supervisor. (See Sample Employer Letter for details on what must be included in this document.)
  • F-1 Curricular Practical Training: I-20 with CPT authorization on Page 3
  • F-1 Optional Practical Training: Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • J-1 On-campus Employment or Academic Training: Letter authorizing employment from your J-1 program sponsor on the sponsor's letterhead with an original signature

ISSS Certification Letter

If you are an F-1 student working on campus, you will need to request a certification letter from International Student and Scholar Services before applying for a Social Security number.

To request a certification letter, you will need to submit a Document Request Form along with a copy of your job offer letter to our office. As listed in the Sample Employer Letter, this document must contain the following information: 

  • Your legal name
  • Nature of the job you are, or will be, engaged in
  • Anticipated or actual employment start date
  • Number of hours you are expected to work
  • Employer's contact information, including the name and telephone number of your immediate supervisor
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
  • Date the letter was issued

You do not need to request a certification letter from our office if you are employed off campus through authorized Curricular Practical Training, Optional Practical Training, or J-1 Academic Training.

When to Apply for a Social Security Number

If you have recently arrived in the United States as a student and are eligible to receive a Social Security number (SSN), it is recommended that you wait at least ten days after arriving in the U.S. to apply. This wait time allows all of the government databases to be updated with your arrival information.

You must also check in with ISSS so that we are aware of your arrival and can activate your record in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Please visit the Check-In page if you have not visited our office to complete the required immigration check-in.

During check-in, please let us know of your plans to apply for a SSN so that your SEVIS record is activated quickly. Once you have completed the check-in process with ISSS, you should wait at least two federal business days so that your record can be updated in the SEVIS database.

We understand that you may be anxious to get your Social Security number as soon as possible. However, not following these recommended wait times can lead to your SSN application being rejected and you will have to return to the Social Security Administration office at a later date. The SEVP handout Timing is Everything: Getting your Driver's License or Social Security Number gives further explanations.

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