Social Security Cards

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a unique identification number that allows the United States government to monitor your taxable wages earned as an employee in the U.S. As an international student or scholar, you only qualify for a Social Security Card if you have authorization to work in the U.S.

The SSN does not give you U.S. employment authorization. It simply provides an identifying number for you to be paid for a U.S. job and for your employer to deduct the appropriate taxes on behalf of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

A Social Security Number, which appears on the Social Security Card, is not required for you to open a U.S. bank account, buy a cell phone, or rent an apartment. The SSN is requested for these and many other financial transactions because it is commonly used to check U.S. financial credit history, but you will only be eligible for a SSN if you have authorization to work in the U.S.


In order to qualify for a SSN, you must be physically present in the U.S. in an immigration classification that permits employment.

Common immigration categories held by Boston University students and scholars include:

F-1 Students

You are eligible to apply for a SSN if you have any of the following types of U.S. work authorizations:

  • An on-campus job or have already begun working at an on-campus job
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization, and received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD); and the validity period of your EAD has begun

J-1 Students Sponsored by Boston University

You are eligible to apply for an SSN in either of these cases:

  • If you have been authorized by the ISSO to begin an on-campus job
  • If you have been granted Academic Training (AT) employment authorization for a job off campus

J-1 Scholars (Professor, Research Scholar, Specialist, Short-Term Scholar, Student Intern) Sponsored by Boston University

You are eligible for U.S. employment as reflected on your DS-2019 and can apply for a SSN at any time up to 15 days prior to the end of your Form DS-2019.

J-1 Students or Scholars Sponsored by an Outside Agency

Consult with your J-1 Exchange Program Sponsor to ask about whether you are eligible for U.S. work and about the documentation you will need to apply.

Other Employees (H-1, O-1, TN, etc.)

You can apply for your SSN as soon as possible after the beginning of either the start date on your I-797 Approval Notice, as soon as possible after entering the U.S. in the appropriate status  but no later than 15 days prior to the end of the approved period of your employment authorization.

Students and Employees with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

You are eligible to apply for your SSN after the validly period of the EAD has begun, and no later than 15 days prior to the expiration of the EAD. (Students in F-1 status, see above.)

Applying for a Social Security Card

When possible, you should obtain your Social Security Card before you begin any work in the U.S. If you begin employment without a Social Security Number, you must then inform your employer as soon as you receive your Social Security Number so that they can modify your withholdings for payroll purposes.

Start your SSN application Online

Follow the instructions in the Online Social Security Number Application to apply for a new or replacement Social Security card. After the application is submitted, you must visit a local Social Security office in person to present the appropriate documentation within 45 calendar days.

See guidance for international students at: International Students and Social Security Numbers (

Documents for SSN Application

All acceptable documents must be original, or copies certified by the issuing agency, unexpired and must show name, date of birth or age. You must present all of the following documentation:

  • Unexpired foreign passport with U.S. visa folio inside
  • Original Form I-94 Departure card, if applicable, or printout of I-94 from your most recent entry
  • Additional documents depending on your immigration status to show U.S. employment authorization. These can be determined by downloading a full set of instructions which includes a chart of the necessary additional documents.

Finish your SSN Application in person at a local SSA office

You must present documentation at a local SSA office to complete your application. Using the SSA office locator tool for locations and hours. The Boston office below is generally the most convenient location for BU students and scholars:

Social Security Administration
Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Office Building
10 Causeway Street, Room 148
Boston, MA 02222
Phone: 800-772-1213

By MBTA: North Station “T” stop on the Green or Orange Line; the building is next to the TD Garden.

Receiving Your Social Security Card and Number

The Social Security Administration may need some time to verify your current immigration status before they can issue a Social Security Card. In most cases, a Social Security Card should be mailed to the address you listed on your application form within 14 business days. If you do not receive a Social Security Card within 30–60 days, you should contact the Social Security Administration via telephone at 800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration website to ask about the status of your pending application.

The notation on the Social Security Card should read “Valid for Employment Only with DHS Authorization”. This clarifies to your employer that the Social Security Card itself does not give you work permission in the U.S. and that you will need to obtain separate work permission in order to start working. To find out more about employment authorization, please contact a staff member at the ISSO or visit the Employment and Internships page on our website.

Please note:

  • If you are a BU student with employment on campus, report your Social Security Number to Student Payroll.
  • If you are a BU employee (non-student), report your Social Security Number to Payroll.

More details about payroll/tax issues (ie. tax treaty eligibility, US residency for tax purposes, etc.) is available here. You do not need to report your Social Security Number to the ISSO.

Foreign Language Assistance

To find out more about the Social Security Administration in your native language, visit the Social Security Multilanguage Gateway. For Free Language Interpreter Services, call 800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Additional Information

If you will be employed at Boston University in any capacity, keep in mind that you must report to the ISSO no later than your third day of employment to complete a Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification for payroll purposes.

For more information about Social Security Numbers, visit one of these pages of the Social Security Administration website: