An SSN is required for everyone who works in the U.S. It is a unique, nine-digit identification number valid for life, and is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to maintain an accurate record of wages. Its primary purpose is to track individuals for tax purposes; it is not a work permit in and of itself. All students and scholars lawfully employed in the U.S. are required to apply for an SSN. There is no provision in the law that requires you to have an SSN before you start work. However, the IRS does require employers to report wages using an SSN for you to get paid.

Alternatively, some students or dependents not yet eligible for SSNs can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). This is a unique identification number valid for 5 years or until you receive an SSN, whichever is first. Currently ITINs take approximately 6-8 weeks to process. Detailed information on ITIN can be found on the IRS website.

Back to Top




  • F-1 students who have an official employment offer AND work permission from ISSS and/or U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services
  • J-1 students who have an official employment offer and written work permission from their DS-2019 program sponsor
  • J-1 scholars with an appointment letter
  • J-2 dependents with work permission from USCIS

Note: F-2 dependents are not eligible for an SSN.


  • F-1 or J-1 students who are receiving a fellowship, scholarship, or award, but do not yet have bona fide employment.
  • F-2 or J-2 dependents being claimed on a tax return.

Back to Top

When to Apply


You will need to be in Santa Cruz, complete the required visa check-in and have all the necessary documentation in order to apply. Because of the time required to process ITINs, we urge you to have additional funding available to you to cover your first quarter while you await your ITIN and payments.


You must be physically present in the U.S. to apply for an SSN. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will verify your legal presence in Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE) before issuing an SSN.

Newly Arrived Students

    • Must wait at least 10 calendar days after arriving in the U.S.
    • Must wait at least 2 business days after initial registration of your SEVIS record. A student advisor will register your record after you have completed the visa check-in process, enrolled full-time, and updated your U.S. address in MyUCSC.
    • No more than 30 days before your employment start date.

Newly Arrived Scholars

    • Must wait at least 10 calendar days after arriving in the U.S.
    • Must wait at least 2 business days after initial validation of your SEVIS record. A scholar advisor will validate your record after you have completed Scholar Orientation and submitted the necessary documents.

Continuing Students

    • No more than 30 days before:
      • On-campus employment start date as written on job offer or J-1 On-Campus Authorization form
      • F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) start date on I-20
      • J-1 Academic Training start date on DS-2019

Students on Post-Completion Training

    • OPT: no earlier than the start date indicated on EAD
    • AT: no earlier than 30 days before AT start date on the DS-2019

Back to Top

How to Apply


Refer to the ITIN Presentation for step-by-step guidance.

Anticipated wait time for an ITIN is 6-8weeks


SSN (for F-1 and J-1 students only)

1. Complete the Social Security Authorization Form (F-1 students only) or the J-1 On-Campus Employment Authorization (J-1 students only) with signatures from your Hiring Supervisor.

2. Obtain an ISSS support letter. Submit the authorization form above to the ISSS office and an advisor will issue this letter for you.

3. Complete the SSN application Form S-5, available on the Social Security Administration website or at the Social Security Office.

4. Bring your Form S-5 and required documentation (outlined below) to the Social Security Office. The local SSA office is at 169 Walnut Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. They are open Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm, with the exception of Wednesdays, when they close at 12pm instead. You will be informed at the time you apply if the card will be processed.

5. Once approved, request a verification receipt of your application. The UCSC Career Center and many departments can accept the receipt in order to give you your blue card or set up your account.

6. Wait between 2-3 weeks for the Social Security card to arrive in the mail. Sometimes students and scholars can get the SSN itself before receiving the card by going to SSA to ask for it.

7. Show the Social Security card to your employer for review. Don't forget to input your SSN into your GLACIER account, if necessary. ISSS does not need a copy.

8. Store your original SSN card in a safe place. Avoid carrying it with you in your wallet.

Required Documents


Refer to the ITIN Presentation for step-by-step guidance.


  F-1 Students J-1 Students F-1 OPT Students J-1 AT Students J-1 Scholars J-2 Dependents
I-94 record or passport admission stamp
I-20 (if on CPT/OPT, then the CPT/OPT I-20 itself)
DS-2019 (if on AT, then AT DS-2019 itself)
ISSS SSN Support Letter, or J-1 On-Campus Authorization Form
Employment Authorization Document (EAD)



Back to Top