Documents Required for an SSN

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • A Social Security Number (SSN) is a tax identification number used to track employee salaries and is issued by the IRS.
  • It is required for living and working in the U.S. with a valid visa, and eligibility varies for different visa holders.
  • Required documents for obtaining an SSN include proof of identification, passport, I-94, and employment authorization.
  • The application process involves visiting a Social Security Administration office and obtaining a receipt.

If you are considering settling in the US, then getting a Social Security Card (SSC) and a Social Security Number (SSN) is essential. This will become your identification number, and you will need it on a day-to-day basis while living in the US. To that end, if you want to find out more information about the documents required for SSN, or the application process per se, you should continue reading our guide.

What Is a Social Security Number?

Simply put, a Social Security Number represents a tax identification number. This number is used to track down employee salaries in a payroll system. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is responsible for issuing Social Security Numbers. IRS stands for the tax authority in the US.

However, one shouldn’t confuse the SSN with a legal resident permit. With that in mind, if you have one, this doesn’t mean that you can live and work in the USA without having a clear visa status. Concurrently, it’s worth pointing out that before gathering the documents required for SSN, you have to get an immigrant or non-immigrant residence or be in the process of applying for it.

Who Is Eligible for A Social Security Number?

The next question that is most commonly met on this topic is regarding the eligibility criteria for an SSN. Basically, your eligibility goes down to this: foreign nationals must have a particular immigration status or have an employee onboarding requirement.

In other words, every person that is thinking about living and working in the US while having a valid visa must apply for an SSN. It’s as simple as this.

On a different note, the University Payroll Office must provide an SSN to the IRS for F-1 and J-1 students who are considering pursuing employment in the US. To that end, whether they work on or off campus, they will still have to get the necessary documents for SSN and apply accordingly.

F1 Visa Students

Essentially, students – or holders of the F1 visa, are eligible to get an SSN. Nonetheless, before applying for an SSN, as a student, you will need either a job offer or employment authorization.

If you are eligible for on-campus employment, this means you can get your SSN immediately. Meanwhile, another option is getting off-campus organization, via Curricular Practical Training. The eligibility for this is determined if you have been enrolled full-time for one year, at the very least.

And a third option would be getting off-campus work authorization via Optional Practical Learning. You would be eligible for this after one year of full-time enrollment. Bear in mind that you are not qualified to get an SSN without having employment or job authorization.

J1 Visa Students

Moving on to J1 visa holders, they are also qualified to get an SSN. Nonetheless, prior to gathering all the documents required for SSN, note that there are two categories available for students in this category.

There is the first option – that of on-campus employment, which would make you eligible right away. Meanwhile, the second option would be off-campus employment via Academic Training. This option is readily available after one year of full-time enrollment, as it was the case in the previous examples.

J1 Scholars

Let’s move on to a sub-category of J1 visa holders – J1 scholars. Are there any differences worth noting? Basically, as a J-1 scholar, you can gather up the documents required for SSN at any time. Nonetheless, it is still advisable to wait for 10 days, at the very least, after arriving in the US. Afterward, you may consider starting the application process.

You are regarded as a scholar if your DS-2019 outlines your status as a professor, specialist, research scholar or short-term scholar. On the other hand, J-1 students – this also includes J-1 non-degree students – aren’t automatically qualified to apply for SSN.

J2 Dependents

When it comes to J-2 dependents, this refers to the spouses and children of the official visa holder. In this position, they are also eligible to get an SSN. However, this is a possibility only after they have applied for an Employment Authorization Document. You may consult with this page to find out more info on this topic.

H1B Visa Employees

When it comes to H1B visa holders, your employer or your H1B sponsor has to deliver information regarding your wages to the IRS. In other words, you are eligible to get an SSN.

Documents Required for an SSN

Now, we will move on to one of the most important aspects of this topic – namely the documents required for SSN. What documents should you have before pursuing the application process per se? Basically, you have to provide proof of identification. Documents that are perceived as acceptable should be current (not expired), indicate your name, and identifying information (including your date of birth and age), as well as a recent photograph of you.

In other words, a proof of your identity could be one of the following documents: US driver’s license, US passport, state-issued non-driver identification card. In the absence of these documents, you will have to supply other documents that demonstrate your identity, such as your employee identification card, US military identification card, school identification card, and health insurance card.

These are the requirements for US-born adults, who must provide proof of citizenship. This would entail a US birth certificate or, alternatively, a US passport.

Let’s move on to the documents required for SSN in the case of non-immigrants visa holders – such as students, H1B visa holders, so on and so forth. Basically, here are the documents you should gather:

  • Valid passport
  • Application for SS-5 (available online or at an SSA office)
  • A copy of your I-94 Arrival/departure record
  • Original SEVIS – I-20 (applicable for F-1 visa holders) and DS-2019 (applicable for J-1/J-2 visa holders)
  • Social security letter from OIS
  • Proof of your eligibility for employment, e.g. a job offer letter, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card, I-20 endorsed for CPT.

How to Apply for an SSN as a Visa Holder

After finding out about the documents required for SSN, you can start the application process. There are several steps you should follow in this respect.

Be in the US for at least 10 days

If you are an F-1 visa holder, or an H-1B or J-1 visa holder, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must have access to your data. The data should basically confirm your status, which effectively confirms your eligibility to apply for an SSN. This should be accessed online at the date of your application.

In order for the data to be transmitted from the Immigration Service to the SSA, there are two essential conditions that should apply. First of all, you should have been in the US for 10 days, at the very least. Also note that it could last roughly 10 days until the SSA system is updated and monitors your entry in the US.

Concurrently, this is applicable to any entry or re-entry to the US. This is also applicable if one returns from a vacation when you are given a new I-94 entry number/record.

The second condition is being validated or registered in SEVIS. Essentially, you have to meet this condition if you are a J-1 or F-1 visa holder. When you will get to the US for your new job or program, you are required by the law to check in with OIA. Generally speaking, you will do this easily by filling out an online check-in form.

As soon as the check-in procedure is carried out, your record will be validated. This will confirm your arrival at the university. Typically, until registrations are updated in the SSA system, it can last up to three days.

To that end, if you check in with the OIA when you first arrive, your record will thus be validated.

Elicit Proof of Employment Eligibility

In order to apply for an SSN, you must demonstrate to the Social Security Administration that you are to be employed in the US. This is something you should have prior to applying for an SSN – bear this in mind because this is important.

Depending on the type of work authorization you are eligible for, your specifications will vary. For instance, in the case of F-1 and J-1 students who pursue on-campus employment, your employer has to supply an employer letter. It should feature the original signature of the job provider and it should be dated correctly.

This letter is to be brought to the OIA. According to official specifications, you may apply for an SSN up to 30 days prior to the actual employment date recorded on the letter from your employer. At the same time, it is perfectly acceptable to follow the same steps fewer than 30 days before your work date.

In the case of curricular practical learning, which is applicable to F-1 students, getting authorization for work is possible on the second page of your I-20. This won’t require you to provide a letter from the office or from your employer. The authorization on your I-20 will demonstrate your job offer and authorization.

Go to a Social Security Administration Office

Since you have to apply for the SSN in person, you must locate the Social Security Administration Office that is closest to you. Then, you will have to bring the documents required for SSN, as specified beforehand.

Elicit a Receipt

You will be given a receipt, which is basically a letter that confirms the fact that you have applied for an SSN. If you aren’t given one automatically, make sure that you elicit one. Depending on your individual circumstances, you might get one out of the three types of available receipts.

The first type of receipt states that your application has been accepted and it will take between 10 and 14 days until it is processed. The second type will state that it is under processing and it will take between one and three months to be reviewed. And lastly, that it has been rejected.

In the first two scenarios, you have the possibility to start working right away. All you have to do is provide a copy of the receipt to your employer and that’s about it.

SSN Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have some questions about SSN and the entire process, you can check out the FAQs below:

How do I find the nearest SSA office?

This is simple, you have to go to this source. After typing in your postal code, you will be given specific directions.

Why should I apply for an SSN?

Some immigrants might think that getting a visa is enough, but this isn’t the case. Without an SSN, the law doesn’t allow you to work in the US. The law requires each individual to be registered with the government.

Is it important to keep my SSN private?

Yes, it is mandatory to do so, as this is the number you use in order to access vital, private information such as your credit report, bank account, tax information, and so on. By protecting your SSN, you minimize the risk of fraud.

Is it possible to utilize my SSN for I-9 purposes?

This isn’t the case as SSN cards don’t indicate eligibility for working in the US, in the case of foreign nationals. You should discuss this with your HR department to get more insight into the topic.

Must I have an SSN to apply for jobs?

Basically, the SSN is used primarily for tax purposes. Therefore, it won’t impact your capability of applying for jobs.

Read More


All in all, we hope that this article on the documents required for SSN has answered most questions you had in mind. As you can see, the steps you are expected to follow may differ depending on your status in the US. This is why you should closely consider this aspect before pursuing the application process per se. Once you do that, you will most likely accomplish what you’ve set your mind to.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the Basic Documents Required to Apply for a Social Security Number (SSN)?

To apply for a Social Security Number, you generally need:

  1. Proof of Identity: Typically a valid passport or a government-issued ID.
  2. Proof of Age: Usually your birth certificate.
  3. Proof of Immigration Status: For non-citizens, this includes your lawful non-citizen status documents, like a permanent resident card (Green Card), work permit, or visa.

Can Non-Citizens Apply for an SSN?

Yes, non-citizens can apply for an SSN. They must provide proof of their lawful immigration status, work eligibility, and identity.

Do Children Need Documents to Apply for an SSN?

Yes, children need documents to apply for an SSN, typically a birth certificate for proof of age, a passport or another ID for proof of identity, and relevant immigration documents if they are non-citizens.

Is a Driver’s License Sufficient for Proof of Identity?

In many cases, a driver’s license can be used as proof of identity for applying for an SSN. However, additional documentation may be required to prove legal immigration status and work eligibility.

How Can I Prove My Work Eligibility for an SSN?

Work eligibility can be proven with documents like an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), an admission stamp showing a nonimmigrant worker visa, or a Green Card.

What Documents Do I Need if I’m on a Work Visa?

If you’re on a work visa, you need your passport, visa, admission stamp or Form I-94, and a document proving your work eligibility, like an employment offer letter or contract.

Can I Apply for an SSN with a Student Visa?

Yes, you can apply for an SSN with a student visa if you have an authorized job offer. You need to provide your student visa, I-20 form, and proof of employment or employment offer.

How Do I Prove My Age for an SSN Application?

To prove your age for an SSN application, use an official document like a birth certificate. If that’s not available, other documents like a passport may be accepted.

What if I Don’t Have All the Required Documents for an SSN?

If you don’t have all the required documents, contact your local Social Security office for assistance. They may accept other forms of documentation or provide guidance on obtaining the necessary documents.

Is a Social Security Card Proof of Citizenship?

No, a Social Security card is not proof of U.S. citizenship. It only indicates that you have been issued an SSN and are authorized to work in the U.S.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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