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Social Security Number (SSN)

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). Employers require an SSN to report employees' salary and tax information to the US federal government. In addition, many commercial firms (such as banks, credit card companies, and cell phone companies) use the SSN to check the US credit history and record of potential customers.

If you are an international student, scholar, or employee, you are eligible to apply for an SSN only if you have been authorized to work in the US. Note: having an SSN does not mean that you are legally allowed to work in the US. Rather, you must have valid employment authorization before you can request an SSN.

Keep Your SSN Secret and Safe

Your SSN is a personal number that is permanently and uniquely yours. Keep your Social Security card and number safe, and provide it only when required for valid employment, tax, or business reasons. If your SSN becomes known to unauthorized parties, you expose yourself to the risk of identity theft since the SSN can be used to create credit card or bank accounts in your name.

Who is Eligible for an SSN?

If you are an international student, scholar or employee, you can apply for an SSN only if you are in valid 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 with an on-campus job, Curricular Practical Training authorization, or who have an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card for Optional Practical Training or other type of F-1 employment
  • J-1 student with an on-campus job or Academic Training
  • J-1 research scholars, professors, and short-term scholars
  • 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 can apply instead for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

SSN Application Steps

Where to Apply

To apply for a Social Security Number, you must go to your nearest Social Security Administration (SSA) office. Go to the Social Security Administration web site to locate your nearest office (you will need to know your ZIP postal code) and to check their hours of operation. The telephone number for all Social Security offices is 1-800-772-1213. The list below indicates SSA office locations nearest to Tufts:

When to Apply

New students and scholars in F-1 / J-1 status must complete a confirmation of arrival with the International Center before they can apply for SSNs, so that we can activate your SEVIS record. Once your SEVIS record is activated, we recommend that you wait 7 to 10 days before applying for an SSN, to allow Social Security's databases to be updated with your immigration information.

New H-1B employees or employees in are recommended to apply as soon as possible after arriving in the US and commencing employment at Tufts.

Current students and scholars may apply at any time as long as they are maintaining valid immigration status and have the required documents to apply for an SSN.

International students and scholars must carry specific types of documents before going to Social Security. Please read the list below and follow instructions carefully.

  1. Valid, unexpired passport
  2. Form I-94 admission record showing your status
  3. Completed Social Security Form SS-5 (you can also obtain and complete the form at the Social Security office)
  4. Your visa document (Form I-20 for F-1 students, 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 Evidence_of_Employment letter
    • The letter must be signed and completed by your on-campus department or employer and signed by an International Center advisor before you take it to Social Security
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 Evidence_of_Employment or Academic Training approval letter from International Center or your J-1 Sponsor
J-2 Dependents with Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
  • Valid, unexpired EAD card
J-1 Scholars / H-1B Employees / Other Employees
  • Job offer or appointment letter from Tufts detailing position, salary, and start / end dates of employment

When you apply for your SSN, ask for a receipt to show that you applied for your number. Social Security can take 2 to 3 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.

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. Bring your original Social Security card for you so that TSS can verify your number.

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)

An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a temporary, non-permanent tax ID number for persons who do not qualify for an SSN, but have US income that is subject to tax reporting or tax withholding. Example: a student receiving a taxable scholarship or financial aid, but who is not working, may need an ITIN. In general, scholarship and other forms of aid (fellowships, grants, and financial aid) are taxable for any amounts that exceed required tuition, fees, and books. Stipends, allowances, and other forms of assistance for living expenses are generally considered taxable. An ITIN may also be needed for certain individuals who can claim a spouse and/or dependent children on a US federal tax return.

ITINs should not be used if you have, or qualify for, a Social Security Number:

  • If you have employment in the US, you should apply for an SSN instead of an ITIN
  • If you apply for and receive an ITIN but later qualify for a Social Security Number, you must apply for a SSN; your ITIN is no longer valid once you have your SSN
  • ITINs are not permanent and can lose their validity after specific periods of time; refer to the Internal Revenue Service's ITIN web site page for more guidance

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). In addition, the amount of the scholarship or fellowship must be more than the cost of your required tuition and fees. If the entire amount of your scholarship goes directly to tuition and fees, and no other expenses are required, the scholarship is not considered taxable and you will not need an ITIN.

If you need to apply for an ITIN, contact the International Center. Bring the following with you to your appointment:

  • IRS Form W-7
  • Your passport
  • Your most recent I-20 or DS-2019
  • Your I-94 record (print out from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov)
  • Your official scholarship, fellowship, or financial aid award letter

Where to Go: Students at Medford / Somerville should call (617) 627-3458 to make an appointment with either Heather Varnet or Andrew Shiotani. Students at the Fletcher School should contact Reiko Ohmura, at Reiko.Ohmura@tufts.edu.