Social Security

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a unique, 9-digit, identification number issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). Although originally developed as a way to track and disburse social benefits such as pensions, the SSN has become a universal identification number used for many purposes including, but not limited to:

  • Employer payroll
  • Internal Revenue Service (federal taxes)
  • Driver's Licenses (some states)
  • Credit History

General Requirements

Regardless of immigration status, the following are general requirements for all international students:

  • Must be present in the U.S. for at least 10 days before applying
  • Valid Passport
  • Original I-20 or DS-2019 with date stamp present
  • Original I-94 card (white card in your passport) with date stamp present
  • Social security application

Additional Requirements

F-1 Students
On-campus employment
Curricular Practical Training 
  • CPT approval on the third page of I-20
  • Job Offer letter
  • Cannot apply more than 30 days prior to start date of CPT
Optional Practical Training
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Job Offer letter
  • Cannot apply until after the start date listed on the EAD


J-1 Students*
On-campus employment          
Academic Training
  • Academic Training letter of authorization from the International Office


J-2 Dependents
Authorized work with EAD
  •  Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Cannot apply until after the start date listed on EAD card

* NOTE: J-1 students sponsored by IIE/Fulbright or another organization/institution must contact their sponsor directly for information on applying for a social security number.

Applying for a Social Security Number

For a handout with information on how to apply for a social security number, please click here. When filling out the Social Security Application, please make sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your immigration documents.

The Social Security Card

Once your application for an SSN has been  approved by the Social Security Administration (SSA), the SSA will send a Social Security card to the address you provided on your application form.  The usual processing time is two weeks. If additional security procedures are necessary, processing times may range from 4-8 week.

Most likely you will receive a Social Security card that has the notation- "Valid for work only with DHS Authorization." SSA issues this type of card to students and dependents in F-1, J-1 and J-2 immigration status because the card, alone, does not authorize employment. 

Employment before receiving SSN

It is not possible to be employed in the U.S., without first submitting an application for a SSN. If you will be working on-campus and will be paid by Northwestern University, please visit the Office of Human Resources website for more information.

Security and Identity theft

Once you obtain an SSN, it will be the same number for your lifetime. Due to this, you should know where your original card is located and keep your Social Security card in a safe place. If you lose your card and are no longer working, it can be difficult or impossible to obtain a new card. The pplication evidence requirements to replace a lost card are the same as those listed above. 

To guard against identity theft, you should only give out your SSN as needed. See the Social Security Online website for further details.

Reporting problems to the International Office

If you have any trouble obtaining the SSN, please ask to know the name of the person helping you and for a letter from the Social Security Office detailing the reason of the problem. Next, please contact the IO during walk-in hours.