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Social Security Numbers

For information and regulations about Social Security numbers, see www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber 

Useful Social Security Administration Publications:

Do I qualify for a Social Security Number?

In general, only noncitizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a Social Security number.  Lawfully admitted noncitizens can get many benefits and services without a Social Security number.

There are only two valid nonwork reasons:

  1. A federal law requires you to provide your Social Security number to get a particular benefit or service.
  2. A state or local law requires you to provide your Social Security number to get general assistance benefits for which you have already qualified.

These are NOT valid nonwork reasons:

  1. Obtaining a driver’s license.
  2. Applying to rent/purchase a house or apartment.
  3. Applying for a bank account.
  4. Getting utility services or cell phone
  5. Registering for school.
  6. Obtaining health insurance.

What is the purpose of businesses wanting social security numbers?

The main use of Social Security numbers (SSN) by businesses and landlords is to check a person’s credit history.  International students usually do not have any credit history since they have recently moved to the U.S., so it is useless for businesses to run a credit check on a SSN or to even ask for a SSN.

Many businesses will say that it is a requirement for the customer to provide a SSN.  However, this is not true. Social Security numbers are the most common form of identification in the U.S., but they are not the only form of legal acceptable identification.

Where to go?

The Clarksville Social Security Administration office is located at 119 Center Pointe Drive which is off Wilma Rudolph Boulevard between 101st Airborne Parkway and Trenton Road---from Wilma Rudolph Boulevard, turn onto Center Pointe Drive at the US Bank sign (red, white and blue sign).

Get a map, phone number and hours here (enter ZIP code).

What to bring?

  • Completed Form SS-5 application (online)
  • Valid passport
  • I-20—for CPT, OPT or other off-campus employment, must show employment information on page 3
  • I-94--if last entered the country after July 2013, you will need to print your electronic record
  • Official school letter from employer—If you have a campus job, bring your job contract, photocopy of a completed job application or proof of employment authorization
  • EAD (Employment Authorization Document, Form I-766)—if you have been approved for off-campus employment or OPT (not needed for CPT)

You must bring ALL these documents, or your application will be denied.

When can I apply?

You will need to wait at least 10 days after you enter the country and 48 hours after your record has been activated (registered) in SEVIS for the current term.

Contact the Office of International Education to register your SEVIS record. You will need to be registered and confirmed for classes for the current term for your SEVIS record can be registered.

Additionally:

  • For on-campus employment: no earlier than 30 days before the start date listed on your employment contract or authorization letter.
  • For CPT: no earlier than 30 days before the CPT employment start date listed on page 3 of your CPT I-20
  • For OPT: no earlier than the employment start date listed on your EAD (I-766)
  • For other off-campus employment: no earlier than the employment start date listed on your EAD (I-766)

Can I work without a SSN?

Yes, you can start to work on the approved employment start date without a SSN. However, you will not be able to receive a paycheck without one. When you apply, it is recommend that you ask for a receipt from the SSA to prove that you have applied for a Social Security card.

For more information, please see Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers

How long will it take?

The Social Security Administration will verify your documents with the Department of Homeland Security before issuing a SSN. Once verified, SSA will send your Social Security card to you by mail. This typically can take 7-14 days. If it has been more than 30 days, return to the office in person to check, but do not apply for a second card.

What if I lose my card or it is stolen?

You can replace your card for free. You will need to bring the same original documentation used when first applied. Be sure to indicate on the application form that you are applying for a replacement card (question 11: check yes and answer questions 12-13).

What if I don’t qualify for a SSN yet?

The Tennessee Department of Motor Vehicles has an official memo to their employees listing all visa types that are not required to show SSN for driver’s certificate.  There is a Social Security Number Affidavit form that you will need to complete and use. 

Banks have a special form, called a W-8 that internationals use in place of Social Security cards. For more information, click here . 

For other purposes, such as setting up utilities, getting a cell phone or applying to rent an apartment, you can still qualify for services but may have extra procedures, such as paying a deposit.

There is another government-issued number that can work like a SSN.  It is called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and is issued through the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Some F-1 visa holders can get an individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) with appropriate proof and documentation. 

See link above for an application and more information on where to mail the application and the required documentation.

For in-person requests, the closest IRS office is in Nashville (address: 801 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203, phone: 615- 250-5656.