What is a Social Security number?
A Social Security number (SSN) is a unique, nine-digit identification number assigned upon request to you by the US government. Please note that having a Social Security number does not indicate that you are a US citizen or permanent resident, nor does it convey authorization to work in the US.
What is an individual taxpayer identification number?
An individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) is a unique identification number assigned by the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS). ITINs are used to track tax payments by persons who are not eligible for a Social Security number.
Do I need a Social Security number?
As an international student, you are not required to have an SSN or an ITIN. Contrary to what you may have heard from friends, you do not need a Social Security number to do any of the following:
- Open a bank account: F-1, F-2, J-1, and J-2 visa holders are not required to provide an SSN to banks or other financial institutions. Instead, you may request that the bank provide you with IRS Form W-3, the Certificate of Foreign Status. Once this form has been completed and filed, the bank will open an account in your name without a Social Security number. You may use an ITIN to open a bank account if you have one.
- Apply for a Massachusetts driver’s license or state ID: When applying for either document, you may request a Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) identification number. This number will appear on your license and be used to identify you in the RMV database instead of a Social Security number. You will need to provide the RMV with a Social Security denial letter to get a driver’s license or Massachusetts ID. See an advisor for more information on this process.
- File United States income tax returns: You can use the ITIN in place of a Social Security number when conducting business with the US Internal Revenue Service, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, and other financial institutions.
While it can be easier to complete the above processes with a Social Security number, the government will not issue a Social Security number to an applicant for the purposes of opening a bank account, obtaining a driver’s license, or other business matters such as purchasing a cellular phone or signing up for a credit card.
How to Obtain a Social Security number
Social Security numbers are only available to international students who are currently employed or have been offered a job. The Social Security Administration will not allow any F-1 or J-1 students to obtain a Social Security number without a letter from a current or future employer.
To apply for a Social Security number, visit the Social Security Administration. The closest office to Suffolk is located in the Thomas P. O’Neill Federal Building at 10 Causeway Street (next to the TD Garden). The office is open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm. You can reach the Social Security Administration general information line at 1.800.772.1213 from 7am to 7pm.
When applying for a Social Security number, bring the following documents:
- A Social Security application letter from an immigration advisor
- An employment letter from the Office of Student Employment/CPT authorization/OPT card
- Your current Suffolk University I-20 or DS20-19
- Your passport and I-94 card
- A letter, available from the registrar, verifying that you are enrolled in full-time study
In addition to showing these documents, you will be asked to complete a brief application.