Social Security Number (SSN)

Updated 10/20/2021

In the United States, a Social Security Number (SSN) is a 9-digit number issued to U.S. citizens, permanent residents and temporary (working) non-residents (e.g., F-1/J-1 students and scholars) by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Its primary purpose is to track individuals for taxation purposes; it is not intended to be used for identification purposes.

Per current legislation, SSNs can only be issued to F-1 or J-1 students and scholars who have valid employment. F-2 dependents are not eligible for a SSN because they are not permitted to work. J-2 dependents are eligible for a SSN only if approved for work authorization.


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SSN Application Process and Required Documents

Current F-1/J-1 Students

To be eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN), students must first obtain a job offer for on-campus or off-campus (CPT) employment. After securing a job offer, the student must request a Social Security Number (SSN) eligibility letter from OIS. Upon receipt of the OIS SSN eligibility letter, the student must then apply for an SSN through the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA).

New students must wait 10 business days after entering the U.S., as indicated on their I-94 arrival/departure record, to request an SSN eligibility letter from OIS to allow time for their I-94 information to be updated with the SSA.

STEP 1

Obtain On-Campus or Off-Campus (CPT) Employment Letter

Your employment start date must be no sooner than 30 days prior to the date you submit your SSN eligibility letter request to OIS. Do not proceed to Step 2 until you have completed Step 1.

Your employment letter must include the following:

  • Printed on official employer/company letterhead
  • Dated
  • Wet signature (i.e., in ink) – typed or electronically generated signatures are NOT accepted by the SSA
  • Signatory’s name and title
  • Your name as it appears on your passport
  • Name of employer/company name or USC hiring department
  • Name, title and phone number of supervisor
  • Description of employment/job responsibilities
  • Anticipated or actual employment start date, no more than 30 days prior to SSN application submission date
  • Average number of work hours per week
  • Hourly rate
  • Employer Identification Number (EIN)
    • If employed by USC, use EIN: 95-1642394

The SSA will reject any application that fails to include an employment letter that meets all requirements.

STEP 2

Request SSN Eligibility Letter from OIS

F-1/J-1 Students: Click here for the SSN Eligibility Letter Request Form

To access the form, enter your @usc.edu email for the Microsoft login and follow the instructions for Shibboleth. You will not be able to access the form using a school-specific email addresses (e.g., @marshall.usc.edu).

Enter information fully and accurately. Failure to enter information correctly will cause additional delays with processing and/or result in rejection from the SSA.

STEP 3

OIS Processes Request

OIS will process SSN eligibility letter requests in the order they are received. OIS and the SSA cannot expedite SSN requests.

Processing time is 5 business days following the submission date. You will receive a confirmation email from OIS when your SSN eligibility letter is available for pick-up at OIS (649 W 34th Street, Royal Street Structure Suite 101).

STEP 4

Schedule Appointment with SSA

Upon receipt of your signed SSN eligibility letter, you must immediately call your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office to schedule an in-person appointment. You must provide the following original documents to the SSA when requested:

  • OIS SSN eligibility letter
  • Employment letter
  • Completed Form SS-5
  • Passport with F-1 visa
  • USC I-20/DS-2019 – if applying for CPT, must provide copy of CPT I-20
  • Most recent I-94 admission record
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F-1 Students Applying for OPT

An OIS SSN eligibility letter is not required for students applying for OPT. Students can apply for a SSN when they apply for OPT. Refer to the OPT Instructions and Sample I-765 for further guidance.

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F-1 Students on Approved OPT

An OIS SSN eligibility letter is not required for students on approved OPT. Students who did not apply for a SSN when they applied for OPT can apply for an SSN by scheduling an in-person appointment at their local Social Security Administration (SSA) office. Students must provide the following original documents to the SSA when requested:

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J-1 Scholars

All Exchange Visitors in the research scholar, professor, and short-term scholar categories are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) by right of their J-1 status. J-1 Exchange Visitors are not required to obtain a job offer letter or an SSN eligibility letter from OIS – the J-1 invitation letter fulfills this requirements. After the J-1 scholar’s department completes the check-in process with OIS, scholars must contact their local Social Security Administration (SSA) office to schedule an in-person appointment. Scholars must provide the following original documents to the SSA when requested:

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SSA Office Locations Near USC Campuses

SSA office closest to the USC University Park Campus:

1122 W. Washington Blvd. (2nd Floor)
Los Angeles, CA 90007

1-800-772-1213

Take Metro Bus 200 from the northeast corner of Hoover St. and Jefferson Blvd. near USC and exit at the intersection of Hoover St. and Washington Blvd.

SSA office closest to the USC Health Sciences Campus:

215 N. Soto Street
Los Angeles, CA 90033
Located one block south of Cesar Chavez
1-800-772-1213

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Safety and Identity Theft

It is very important  students and scholars keep their SSN confidential at all times. For your protection, do not carry your SSN card in your wallet or with your passport. This is a key piece of information that can be used in identity theft incidents.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information and uses it to make financial transactions. This personal information can include an SSN, credit card number, birth date, phone number and/or address. One popular means of this is called “phishing,” where thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get individuals to reveal their personal information such as SSN, bank account and credit card information over the Internet. Please note that no bank or credit card company will ask for information by Internet or phone.

Another popular method used is an email message saying individuals have access to a large amount of money and someone can help them collect it. Individuals also may receive an offer to participate in a joint venture where they provide a certain amount upfront and gain a percentage of profits or an offer to cash checks and receive a percentage of a total of that cashed check. All of these are scams and fraudulent.

Always carefully guard all personal information, including SSN, passwords, log-ins and account information. Shred important and confidential documents when disposing of them. A “cross-cut” shredder can be purchased at electronic or home appliances stores. As a cheaper alternative, always cut out important information when disposing of documents.

The U.S. Department of Justice provides additional information on Identity Theft and Identity Fraud.

What should students or scholars do if they believe their identity has been stolen?

Students and scholars who believe their identity has been stolen should visit the U.S. Federal Trade Commission website for information on what to do and file a report with the local police department. The USC Department of Public Safety (DPS) can assist with this as well.

One way to keep informed on the security of personal information is to request credit history checks on a regular basis.

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Credit History 

In the U.S., a credit history shows an individual’s past record of paying bills, loans, etc. and is used to verify that they are financially responsible. Unfortunately, although it was never its intended purpose, the SSN became the requested identification number used to check personal credit history in the U.S. It is still commonly asked for when individuals are being considered as an apartment tenant, opening accounts or installing services. Landlords, banks and service companies use the SSN to request a credit history report.

Students and scholars who are not eligible to obtain a SSN probably don’t have a credit history in the United States and this is why they may be asked to pay higher security deposits for housing and services or be restricted in the type of bank accounts they can open. Unfortunately, if they do not meet the eligibility requirements to be granted an SSN, they cannot obtain one merely for identification purposes.

How do I establish a credit history?

One way to build “credit” is to obtain a U.S. credit card and pay all bills in full and on time, but please note the use or misuse of U.S. credit cards becomes a key part of the credit historyOver time and if fiscally responsible, it is possible to develop a good credit history in the U.S. which can be used to request better rates or lower deposits on loans, services, etc. However, missed payments or bills sent to a collection agency may result in difficulty in renting, getting financial assistance or obtaining loans/credit in the future.

The Federal Trade Commission provides more information about building a better credit history.

How do I check my credit history?
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides guidance on requesting a free credit report
  • Some banks or credit card companies may have services that regularly monitor an individual’s credit for an additional monthly fee.
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FICA Taxes

Social Security payroll taxes are collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) and the payroll taxes are sometimes referred to as “FICA taxes.” The payroll taxes collected for Social Security are taxes, but they are also contributions to the social insurance system that is Social Security.

More information about FICA taxes can be found on the Social Security Administration website.

The OIS U.S. Taxes section provides additional details on FICA Taxes as well as information on how to obtain a reimbursement if your FICA taxes were withheld in error.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do F-1/J-1 students and scholars need an SSN to…?

 

  • Register for classes at USC? No.
  • Open a bank account? No.
  • Apply for a California driver’s license? F-1/J-1 students, no. J-1 scholars, yes.
  • Apply for housing or open utility accounts (cable, cellphone, electrical, etc.)? No.
    • Landlords and utility, cable and cell phone companies may request a SSN to do a credit history check to determine the amount of deposit they will require to secure housing or to activate services
    • Students and scholars without a SSN may be required to pay a higher deposit payment prior to receiving service
  • Begin working if they have a pending SSN application and have proper work authorization? Yes.
    • More information about this policy can be found on the SSA website.
Is there a fee to apply for an SSN?
No, the application for an SSN is always free of charge. Be aware of SSN/SSA scams targeting international students.
Does the SSA accept photocopies of documents?

 

All documents, except the printout of the I-94, must be originals. The SSA does not accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. SSA will then verify the documents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before assigning the SSN.
How long does after applying for the SSN will the SSA issue the SSN card?
An SSN card will be issued within about two weeks of receiving certification from DHS. In most cases, the SSA can quickly verify the documents online.
What if a student or scholar is not eligible for an SSN?

 

The student or scholar may be eligible for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to use for filing taxes during tax season reporting.
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