Social Security and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number FAQ
What are the Social Security Number (SSN) and the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and why do I need one?
Any person who will be employed in the U.S. must have a SSN so that any earnings can be reported to the U.S. government. Other persons who file a U.S. Income Tax Return will need an ITIN. Anyone filing a joint return with a spouse/partner, or anyone who will be claimed as a dependent on an income tax return must have a SSN or ITIN.
Important note: Other organizations may ask for your SSN, but you are only required to share this with your employer or other organization(s) that will be paying you.
What is the difference between a Social Security Number (SSN) and an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)?
Both numbers are issued by the U.S. government. But an SSN (Issued by the Social Security Administration) is given only to someone who is legally permitted to accept employment in the U.S. The ITIN (issued by the Internal Revenue Service) is used for those not eligible to work, but usually only if needed for a tax return.
Not exactly. Anyone with H-1B should be eligible for a SSN. J-1 Research Scholars, Professors, and Interns should be eligible for a SSN. J-1 Students with written work permission from the sponsor should be eligible for a SSN. F-1 students who have been offered on-campus employment and those granted off-campus permission should be eligible for a SSN. Anyone with an EAD (Employment Authorization Document from USCIS) should be eligible for a SSN.
If you are not required to file a U.S. tax return, you will not need a number. If you have unearned U.S. income (such as a scholarship that covers more than tuition or investment income) then you will need to file a tax return. You can apply for the ITIN to file your tax return. If you file for an ITIN at the same time as your tax return you MUST send original documents (such as passport) with the ITIN application (W-7) and the tax return.
No. Although SSN's are issued to persons with some type of work permission, the SSN itself is not work authorization. Work authorization for non-immigrants (persons who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents) is controlled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS, a branch of DHS).
Usually, no. Persons with J-2 immigration status may apply to USCIS for work permission. After it is granted, they may apply for a SSN. Others should apply for an ITIN only if they will be included as dependents in a U.S. tax return or must file a U.S. tax return of their own.
You must wait until your arrival has been reported in SEVIS by the International Programs Office. You must also have proof of employment if you are in F-1 or J-1 student status. Applications for the ITIN should be filed as soon as possible so that the applicant has the ITIN before the tax filing season. International students and scholars can send copies of original documents with a DSO attestation letter.
It usually takes about 10-30 days to receive the SSN. It takes about two to three months to get an ITIN. In a few cases it may take several months to receive a SSN, as the Social Security Administration may need to verify your legal status with the DHS (this might be true if you changed your immigration status from within the U.S.). If you experience such a delay, please contact your international student advisor.
To apply for a SSN, complete Form SS-5, available at the Social Security office. In addition, you will need your passport, electronic I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) or admission stamp in the unexpired foreign passport, and the following:
- F-1 students: Valid I-20 Form plus a work authorization letter from the International Student and Scholar Office plus proof of on-campus employment (a letter on letterhead from the hiring department). Some schools combine this information in one letter with the employer completing part of the letter and the international office completing part of it. Students with OPT authorization should show an EAD.
- J-1 Students: Valid DS-2019 Form plus work authorization letter from sponsor. Some SSA offices will want proof of employment as listed for F-1 students above.
- J-1 Scholars and Interns: Valid DS-2019 Form. No separate work authorization letter required. (If there is a question, refer the Social Security Office employee to Section RM 00203.480 [Section C1a] of the "POMS" and point out that you are not a student. Scholar status is listed on the DS- 2019 as either Professor or Research Scholar.)
- J-2: EAD (Employment Authorization Document or I-766 issued by DHS) H-1B: Copy of Form I-797 showing DHS approval of H-1 petition
Note: Persons with F-2, H-4, B-1, or B-2 are normally not able to be employed and therefore not able to obtain a SSN. However, any person with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD or Form I-766) may show it to obtain a SSN.
To apply for an ITIN, most individuals will need to submit the original passport and immigration documents to the IRS or an IRS acceptance agent. For international students in F, J or M status, the DSO/ARO can submit copies of immigration documents with a letter certifying that the documents are true copies of the originals.
You do not need a Social Security Number to be put on payroll and begin working. However, some employers may refuse to have you begin work and pay you until you have a number.
It depends on the bank. You may inquire at various banks about their policy. In many cases, if you do not have a SSN or ITIN, you must complete a Form W-8BEN (also available from most banks) and give it to the bank. Note: If you will be a tax resident, you should not complete a Form W-8BEN, but instead complete a W-9 if asked.