Social Security Frequently Asked Questions

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What is a Social Security Number?

A Social Security number (SSN) is an identification number that is assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. The SSN is used to post wages to Social Security records so workers can become eligible for Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration will only issue an SSN if you are working, have specific authorization to work, or have a government requirement to be issued an SSN.

Who can ask me for my Social Security Number besides my employer?

Only the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and state tax agency can require your SSN. However, many private service providers in the U.S. such as mobile phone and cable television companies ask you to provide a social security number in order to receive their services.

Legally, these companies cannot require you to provide an SSN. However, because many of these companies have policies and forms that ask for an SSN, they may be difficult to work with if you do not have one. Sometimes, international students encounter problems with these companies due to this issue. Be patient and search for a good company that will provide you the services you need even if you do not have an SSN. It may also be helpful to ask other international students how they overcame this problem.

How long should I be in the United States before applying for an SSN?

Your UW-Madison SEVIS record must be registered with the federal government before you can apply for your SSN at the Social Security Administration. This will happen no later than 30 days from the program start date as listed on your I-20/DS-2019. For transfer students, we recommend that you wait until your SEVIS record is registered and you have been given an updated I-20 that that says “continued attendance” instead of “transfer pending.”

What can I do if I need a number for tax purposes but am not eligible for an SSN?

You can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Please check the following website for more information:

https://www.irs.gov/individuals/individual-taxpayer-identification-number-itin

Can my dependent(s) apply for an SSN?

F-2 dependents are not eligible for an SSN.

J-2 dependents can apply for an SSN if they have work authorization in the United States.

Please speak with an ISS advisor for more details.

Do I need an SSN for other government services?

No. Lawfully admitted non-citizens can get many benefits and services without having a Social Security number. You do not need a number to purchase savings bonds, conduct business with a bank, register for school or apply for educational tests, obtain private health insurance, apply for school lunch programs or apply for subsidized housing.