Social Security Numbers
To work in the United States you must have a Social Security Number. You may start working without a Social Security Number as long as you provide evidence to your employer that you have applied for one. If you have a Social Security Number you should use it when completing your tax forms. For additional information on Social Security Numbers, read our informational flyer on Social Security Numbers.
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.
A Social Security Number 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 a Social Security Number 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 a Social Security Number
The U.S. Government restricts the issuance of new Social Security Numbers (SSN) to individuals who are employed. However, SSN's 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.
You will be able to open a bank account without a Social Security Number. 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 a Social Security Number, you may have to make a sizable deposit. However, an alternative is CellularLD.
You usually are not able to get a credit card without a Social Security Number. However, if you open an account at the Harvard Credit Union, on the ground floor of the Smith Campus Center (formerly Holyoke Center), you should be eligible for a credit card with limited credit, even if you do not have a Social Security Number. 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.