Social Security Numbers

To work in the U.S. you must have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN). You may start working without an SSN as long as you provide evidence to your employer that you have applied for one. If you have an SSN,  you should use it when completing your tax forms. For additional information on SSNs, read our SSN informational flyer.

If you are an F-1 visa holder with on-campus employment, you must first obtain a job offer letter from your on-campus employer following this format.

An SSN card is an important document and should be kept in a safe place to avoid identity theft. Please read our flyer on how to avoid identity theft.

Please note that it is NOT possible to apply for an SSN online or via an agency. You must have a personal interview with a Social Security Administration representative usually in a local Social Security office.

If You Are Not Eligible for an SSN

The U.S. Government restricts the issuance of new SSNs to individuals who are employed. However, SSNs have come to be used for many other purposes such as opening a bank account, buying a cell phone and/or obtaining a credit card.

Generally, you will be able to open a bank account without an SSN. You will need to show two forms of identification. Your Harvard ID and passport are usually acceptable. If you do not have your ID yet, the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 should be acceptable along with your passport. You will also need to provide a local address.

If you want to purchase a cell (mobile) phone without an SSN, you may have to make a sizable deposit. However, an alternative is CellularLD.

You usually are not able to get a credit card without an SSN. However, if you open an account at the Harvard Credit Union, on the ground floor of the Smith Campus Center, you should be eligible for a credit card with limited credit, even if you do not have an SSN.  In addition, when you open a bank account, you should get a bank debit card that can be used in many stores and restaurants. The difference between a debit card and a credit card is that the money you "charge" using the debit card is drawn directly from your bank account.

Sample Employer Letter for F-1 Students