Social Security Number (SSN)

To work in the U.S. you must have a U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) for tax purposes. You may start working without an SSN as long as you provide evidence to your employer that you have applied for one.

If your employer is Harvard, between the time you apply for an SSN and when you receive your card in the mail, you may be issued a placeholder number for internal use only. The placeholder number is not an actual SSN and cannot be used in any other instance. If you have an SSN,  you should use it when completing your tax forms.

Your Social Security Number is an important identifying number, and should be kept in a safe place to avoid identity theft. Please do not give out this number to unknown parties, especially over the phone or email. For more information, please see Identity Theft.

SSN Eligibility

Your eligibility to apply for an SSN varies based on your immigration status. You may find details in the chart below:

Visa Status SSN Eligibility
F-1 Student Only eligible when authorized for work in the U.S. Students with on campus employment, CPT, or OPT work authorization may apply following the application instructions below.
J-1 Student Eligible with an authorization letter from the HIO. Students with visas sponsored by Fulbright must contact IIE for the authorization letter.
J-1 Student Intern Eligible with an authorization letter from the HIO
Scholars with J-1, H-1B, TN, O-1, E-3, etc. Eligible
J-2 spouses Eligible with employment authorization

SSN Application Instructions

The process to apply for an SSN is:

1. Review the SSN Application Instructions to verify that you have the proper documents to apply for an SSN.

  • F-1 visa holders with on-campus employment must first obtain a job offer letter from your on-campus employer following this format.
  • F-1 students with on campus employment, J-1 students (degree candidates sponsored by Harvard), and J-1 student interns require an HIO SSN authorization letter. To request the letter, submit the HIO's online SSN letter request form. Once submitted, the HIO will email you a copy of the SSN authorization letter. J-1 students on Fulbright's visa sponsorship must contact their Fulbright advisor for the SSN authorization letter.
  • J-1 Short Term Scholars, J-1 Research Scholars, and J-1 Professors do not require SSN authorization letters.

2.  Complete the Online Social Security Number Application on the Social Security Administration website. You may begin the process online to apply for a new or replacement Social Security card. After submitting the application, ensure you print, annotate or take a screen shot of your confirmation number. You must complete the application process by visiting your local Social Security office with your confirmation number and required documentation within 45 calendar days.

3. Once you have each of the documents ready, and have submitted the online SSN application, you must go in person to your local Social Security Administration office with hard copy immigration documents to apply for the SSN. You may find office locations on the SSA website.

4. After you complete your in-person application with Social Security, the SSN card will be mailed to you.

Please note that it is NOT possible to fully complete the SSN application process online or via an agency. You must have a personal interview with a Social Security Administration representative usually in a local Social Security office. Please be aware that there are no application fees for an SSN.

What To Do Upon Receipt of the SSN

Do not laminate your SSN card. Additionally, please note that the SSN is a secure number. Do not give this number out over the phone or email.

Harvard students receiving income from the University, including fellowships, stipends, on-campus employment wages, etc., must report the SSN to the appropriate payroll or student accounts office. Please note, the HIO does not collect or require your SSN. 

  1. Login to your Harvard Sprintax Calculus account
  2. Input the SSN
  3. Print the new Summary sheet, if your determination changes
  4. Upload the Summary sheet and SSN notice to the Harvard Office of the Controller

If you are working off-campus with off-campus work authorization, you must report the SSN to your employer's payroll or HR office.

If you have previously obtained an ITIN, you will need to contact the IRS to link the ITIN and SSN numbers. Please find the below information directly from the IRS:

What do I do when I am assigned a social security number (SSN)?
Once you receive a SSN, you must use that number for tax purposes and discontinue using your ITIN.  It is improper to use both the ITIN and the SSN assigned to the same person to file tax returns.  It is your responsibility to notify the IRS so they can combine all of your tax records under one identification number.  If you do not notify the IRS when you are assigned a SSN, you may not receive credit for all wages paid and taxes withheld which could reduce the amount of any refund due.  You can visit a local IRS office or write a letter explaining that you have now been assigned a SSN and want your tax records combined.  Include your complete name, mailing address, and ITIN along with a copy of your social security card and a copy of the CP 565, Notice of ITIN Assignment, if available.  The IRS will void the ITIN and associate all prior tax information filed under the ITIN with the SSN.  Send your letter to:
     Internal Revenue Service
     Austin, TX 73301-0057

SSN Denial Letter Instructions

The U.S. Government restricts the issuance of new SSNs to F-1 students who are employed. If you are not currently eligible for an SSN, and are hoping to apply for a MA State ID, you will instead need to apply for an SSN denial notice. 

Students who are NOT eligible for an SSN must go in person to your local Social Security Administration office to request the SSN denial notice. You may find office locations on the SSA website

Documents required for F-1 students who are NOT eligible for SSN:

  • Completed SS5 Application form with clear annotation at the top of request of denial letter
  • Copy of passport
  • Copy of Visa Page with most recent admission stamp
  • Copy of I-94 record
  • Copy of I-20

Is it Possible to Open a Bank Account, Get a Credit Card, or Purchase a Cell Phone Plan Without an SSN?

Generally, you will be able to open a bank account without a SSN. You will need to show at least two forms of identification. The Harvard University Credit Union usually accepts your Harvard ID and passport. 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 plan without a SSN, you may have to make a sizable deposit. For those looking to access mobile data, text, and calling upon arrival the HIO has free Mint Mobile sim cards available. Mint Mobile is an completely online company and requires you to download an app through which you can choose your phone plan. They have initial 3 month plans with the option to renew. Most major wireless carriers also offer prepaid plans with calling, text, and data with no annual contracts or credit checks.

You usually will not be able to get a credit card without a SSN. However, if you open an account at the Harvard Credit Union you should be eligible for a credit card with limited credit, even without a SSN.  When you open a checking account at a bank, you should receive a 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.