Open Menu Close Menu Open Search Close Search

Social Security Number (SSN)

Updated September 22, 2021

COVID-19 Update: As of September 2021, Social Security Administration offices are open, but walk-in services are still mostly unavailable. Instead, applicants must arrange for an appointment prior to visiting the Social Security office location. Any student or employee needing to apply for a Social Security Number is strongly recommended to call ahead to the Social Security office they plan to visit, or follow the instructions below.

What is a Social Security Number (SSN)?

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine-digit tax identification number issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA). International students, scholars, and employees are required to obtain a Social Security Number if they have been authorized to work in the US.

  • If you were already issued a SSN previously, you do not need to apply for a new one because the SSN is a permanent, lifetime number
  • Having a SSN by itself does not give you legal permission or authorization to work in the US; you must have work authorization before you are able to apply for a SSN

IMPORTANT: Protect Your Number. Your SSN is a personal number that is permanently and uniquely yours. Keep your SSN private and safe. Do not provide your SSN to anyone unless needed for legitimate employment, tax, or other financial reporting purposes. Do not transmit your SSN information through unsafe means such as unsecured email. Exposing your SSN increases the chances you will become a victim of identity theft.

CELL PHONE AND BANK ACCOUNTS: While it is common for cell phone companies, banks, and other commercial companies to ask students for a Social Security Number, a SSN is not required for these purposes. Inform the customer service agent that you are an international student and do not qualify for a SSN yet.

Applying for a SSN

Who is Eligible for a SSN?

If you are an international student, scholar or employee, you can apply for a SSN only if you are in the US in valid immigration status and you have been authorized to work in the US. The following are examples of who can apply for an SSN:

  • F-1 student who has an on-campus job, Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorization, or an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card for Optional Practical Training or other type of F-1 employment
  • J-1 student who has been authorized by the International Center for on-campus employment or Academic Training authorization
    • J-1 students sponsored by external J-1 sponsoring agencies should obtain authorization from their sponsor and not the International Center
  • J-1 research scholars, professors, and short-term scholars who are sponsored by a Tufts department
    • J-1 scholars sponsored by external J-1 sponsoring agencies should obtain authorization from their sponsor and not the International Center
  • Employees in H-1B, TN, or other type of employment-based immigration status

Dependents: F-2 dependent family members are not eligible to work and cannot apply for SSNs. Dependents in J-2 or H-4 status are eligible to work only if they have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card issued by USCIS. Dependents who do not have work authorization may be eligible to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

When To Apply

Category When To Apply
Newly Arrived F-1 Students or J-1 Students, Scholars, and Student Interns
  • Complete Confirmation of Arrival with International Center after arrival in US and wait at least 7-10 days*; and
  • Apply no earlier than 30 days before start of on-campus employment
Continuing F-1 Students, J-1 Students and Scholars
  • Apply up to 30 days before start of on-campus employment, curricular practical training, or other approved F-1 / J-1 employment
F-1 Students on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training
  • Apply for SSN when applying for Optional Practical Training, or
  • Apply upon receiving valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card, on or after EAD start date
Newly Arrived H-1B Employees
  • Apply after arrival in the US and on or after I-797 petition start date

*If you are a newly arrived F-1 student or J-1 student or scholar, you must first complete a confirmation of arrival with the International Center before you can apply for a SSN. This is because we must confirm your arrival in the US in the appropriate visa and activate your F-1 or J-1 SEVIS record. Once your SEVIS record is activated, we recommend that you wait at least five days before applying for an SSN, to allow Social Security's databases to be updated with your immigration information.

Once you have completed your arrival process, it is recommended that you apply for a SSN as soon as your eligibility has been established. You cannot apply for a SSN once you are within 15 days of completing your program and/or employment, or after you have left the US.

Application Steps (COVID-19 Procedures)

Due to COVID-19 office closures, the Social Security Administration has largely suspended walk-in services until further notice.

Step One: Prepare Your SSN Application Materials

To apply for a SSN, you must prepare several documents as listed below. Please review this information and follow instructions carefully.

  1. Valid, unexpired passport identity page
  2. Form I-94 admission record showing your status or your I-797 change of status approval notice
  3. Completed Social Security Form SS-5
  4. Your visa document
    • Most recent Form I-20 for F-1 students
    • Most recent Form DS-2019 for J-1 Exchange Visitors
    • Form I-797 for H-1B temporary workers
  5. Supporting documents - see the table below for your visa type and employment situation
Visa and Employment Situation Required Supporting Document
F-1 Students with On-Campus Employment
  • Signed and completed F-1 Evidence of On-Campus Employment Letter.
    • The letter is a fillable PDF form that can be downloaded and filled out using Adobe Acrobat or another PDF form reader
    • The letter must be signed and completed by your on-campus job supervisor or manager
    • Once it is completed by your on-campus employer, bring it to the International Center to be signed by an International Center advisor
F-1 Students with Curricular Practical Training
  • Form I-20 with Curricular Practical Training approval on Page 2
F-1 Students with Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or other type of F-1 employment
  • Form I-20 with valid, unexpired EAD card
J-1 Students with On-Campus Employment or Academic Training
  • Signed and completed J-1 Student Evidence of On-Campus Employment or Academic Training approval letter from International Center
  • If you are a J-1 student and your J-1 visa sponsor is another organization (e.g., IIE, AMIDEAST, LASPAU) you must obtain the required documents for SSN applications from your sponsor
J-2 Dependents with Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
  • Valid, unexpired EAD card
J-1 Scholars
  • Appointment letter from Tufts school or department
H-1B Employees
  • Optional: Job offer or appointment letter from Tufts with position, salary, and start / end dates of employment

*Note: J-1 students and scholars sponsored by an external organization such as Fulbright should get authorization letters from their sponsor, not the International Center.

Step Two: Call for an Appointment / Fax Your Information to Social Security

Note that different SSA offices may have different procedures depending on local processing conditions. We encourage you to call ahead to the SSA office serving your area (see below) to confirm the correct procedures for that office. In certain cases, the SSA office may only require you to call their number to set up an appointment, while other offices may require you to fax your materials to their office and wait for them to schedule an appointment.

If you are required to fax copies of your documents, be prepared to send the completed Form SS-5 from Social Security and evidence of employment authorization - to the Social Security office serving your residential area. For the Medford / Somerville campus, fax services are available through the Office of Campus Life. You may also see if your department or place of employment has a fax machine through which you can fax your documents to Social Security.

Social Security Office Locations:

You can also mail copies of your documents to the Social Security office serving your area. DO NOT MAIL YOUR ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS, ESPECIALLY YOUR PASSPORT, TO SOCIAL SECURITY.


Once you have faxed or mailed the copies of your documents to Social Security, wait for the SSA office to call you to schedule an in-person appointment. You will be given a specific time and date when you will need to appear with your original documents. The Social Security office will give you a receipt to show that you have applied for your SSN. Keep the receipt until you receive your SSN card in the mail, usually within 3-4 weeks after applying.

When you apply for your SSN, ask for a receipt to show that you applied for your number. Social Security can take 3-4 weeks to process your application. Once they have processed your application, they will send you a Social Security card containing your SSN to your US mailing address.

For security, keep the card in a safe place upon receiving it - do not carry it with you on a daily basis.

Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, processing times for SSNs may take considerably longer.

Students: If you are working at Tufts, you must report your SSN to Tufts Support Services (TSS) immediately after you have received your number from Social Security. This is so Tufts can update your payroll records and report your salary and tax information as required to the US federal government.

Other Employees: Report your SSN information to your department or center where you are working. Your department manager will provide further instructions about updating your Social Security information with Tufts.

Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN)

The Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN) is similar in format to a SSN. However, it is a temporary tax ID number issued to persons who are NOT working but receiving US income through other sources ("non-compensatory" income). Examples of non-compensatory income include income from a scholarship or fellowship that covers expenses such as food and housing or other costs outside of required tuition and fees.

If you are receiving income through work (employment), do NOT apply for an ITIN - you must apply for a SSN instead.

Here are some of the major differences between a Social Security Number (SSN) and an Individual Taxpayer ID Number (ITIN).

SSN versus ITIN Comparison SSN ITIN
Eligibility and Purpose Students and scholars who have an on-campus job or US employment authorization must apply for SSNs prior to or soon after starting employment at Tufts. Students and scholars who are not working but who have taxable US income (e.g., taxable scholarships or aid that do not require employment, prizes, stipends, etc.) may apply for ITINs
Duration of Validity The SSN is a permanent, lifetime number. The ITIN is a temporary number that can lose validity if not used; see the Internal Revenue Service's ITIN web site for more information. The ITIN loses validity if the student or scholar later qualifies for a SSN.
Issuing Government Agency Social Security Administration (SSA) Internal Revenue Service


International Center ITIN Processing: The International Center can assist you with getting an ITIN if you are an F-1 or J-1 student with a US source scholarship, fellowship, grant, or allowance that does not require employment (work). Note: in general, you do not need to apply for a ITIN if your scholarship is applied directly to your required tuition and fees. However, if your scholarship is paid to you directly to help you cover your own personal expenses, then it is generally considered taxable income requiring a tax ID such as an ITIN.

If you need to apply for an ITIN, contact Heather Varnet via email at to schedule an in-person appointment. You must bring the following with you:

  • Completed IRS Form W-7
  • Your passport
  • Your most recent I-20 or DS-2019
  • Your I-94 record (print out from
  • Your official scholarship, fellowship, or financial aid award letter