Social Security Number

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit identification number, assigned by the U.S. government that is used for tax reporting purposes. It is NOT employment authorization.

In general, only noncitizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a Social Security number (SSN).

A Social Security Number is for employment purposes only and is required for F-1 and J-1 students who will be earning money in the United States.

Social Security Card


Application Process:

Gather all Required Documents

The following original documents are required to apply for a SSN. Photocopies and notarized documents will not be accepted by the SSA:


Proof of immigration status:

Proof of work eligibility for F-1 students:

  • Verification letter from ISPO 
    • For more information on how to request it, visit the following page: Letter Request .
    • Verification letters take 5 business days to process.
    • Verification letters are not required for F-2 dependents.
    • If you are applying for CPT, you can request a verification letter in your CPT application by checking the “No” box next to “Do you have a SSN?” on the CPT Request Form. You will then be issued a verification letter within 5 business days after your CPT has been approved
  • Job offer letter from your employer. Please see a sample job offer letter. The letter must describe:
    • Your job.
    • Your employment start date (with a start date no more than 30 days in the future).
    • The number of hours you are, or will be, working.
    • Your supervisor's name and telephone number.
    • Your supervisor must sign and date the letter.
    • Employer’s EIN number.
  • If you have been approved for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) work authorization, you must provide:
    • I-20 with the employment page (p.3).
    • Note: SSA cannot process your application if your CPT work begins more than 30 days from your application date.
  • If you have been approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT) work authorization, you must provide:
    • I-20 with the employment page (p.3).
    • I-766/ Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
    • Note: SSA cannot process your application if the employment start date on your work permit from the DHS (EAD card) is a future date.

Proof of work eligibility for J-1 students sponsored by UC San Diego:

Proof of Age:

  • You must present your foreign birth certificate if you have it or can get it within 10 days. If not, SSA will consider other documents such as your passport or a document issued by DHS as evidence of your age.

Proof of Identity:

  • SSA will ask to see a current DHS documents., Acceptable documents include: 
    • I-94 form or admission stamp in the unexpired passport; or
    • EAD card/ I-766 for students in F-1 status on OPT

For additional information, visit the Social Security Administration’s website:Documents needed – select “noncitizen” on the left-hand side. 


Start the Process

ISPO recommends that you wait at least 10 days after entering the United States and at least 5 days after your SEVIS record has been SEVIS registered or validated before applying for your Social Security number (SSN). You must apply in person at a local Social Security Administration office (SSA).


Visit an SSA Office

The Social Security Card Center that serves southern San Diego County residents is open Monday through Friday from 9:00am through 3:30pm. For a more complete list of offices and services, visit the SSA website or call (800) 772-1213.

The nearest SSA Office to UC San Diego is in Downtown San Diego:

Social Security Administration Card Center
109 West Ash St.
San Diego, CA 92101

(800) 772-1213

For bus routes to these offices check out San Diego’s Traffic, Transit, & Commute Information:, or visit UC San Diego’s Transportation and Parking Services website.

Get an Application Receipt

Upon application for a social security card, a receipt will be issued. Usually, the card will be mailed in approximately three weeks.


Additional Information:

Social Security Administration

Long Names and Other Issues

If the name listed on your I-94, DS-2019/I-20, or passport do not match one another, or if your name is too long for the SAVE system, the Social Security Officer will not be able to verify your identity using the online system. Instead, the Officer will have to fill out the DHS Form G-845 and the Supplement to the G-845 (if applicable) and manually submit your documents to DHS for verification. This process will take a couple of weeks. If your documents need to be manually verified, you will be given an acknowledgement letter that contains your case reference number. Keep this acknowledgement letter in a safe place as you will need the case reference number to follow up if it has passed the estimated processing time provided by the Officer.

NOTE: If the Social Security Officer tries to turn you away, saying he or she cannot verify you because your name is too long or because the names on all of your documents do not match due to the character limitations of the different forms, ask to speak to a supervisor! In no situation should they turn you away for these issues, instead they should submit your documents to DHS for a manual verification.


Working While Awaiting an SSN

An F-1 or J-1 student may work while the SSN application is being processed. Employers may reference Social Security Administration’s fact sheet, Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers

The fact sheet contains information on how to report wages for an employee who has not yet received an SSN. There is no provision in the Social Security Act that employers must have their employee’s SSNs before hiring them. Neither is there any provision in the Act that prohibits an employee from beginning work if he or she has not yet obtained an SSN.