Three years ago, Fizz's CEO arrived in the US to start his freshman year of college as an international student. Between figuring out his schedule, long nights in the library, and the culture shock from being on an entirely new continent, getting a US Social Security number (SSN) wasn’t very high on his priority list. But it should have been.
When Carlo started Fizz in 2021, he needed to move off campus. The issue was that he couldn’t get approved for an apartment without an SSN. Managing the process of getting an SSN on the fly was a headache at a time when he wanted to be dealing with other, more important things. Here’s how you can go about getting your SSN so that you don’t find yourself in a similar situation.
What is an SSN?
SSN is short for Social Security number. It’s a unique nine-digit number assigned to all US citizens, temporary residents and visa holders. SSNs were originally used by the US Social Security Administration to track all individuals living in the US. Its purpose has since expanded to serve as a de facto national identification number. As a student, you'll typically need an SSN to:
Open a bank account, get a credit card, or download Robinhood
Work or intern in the US on or off campus.
Get off campus housing
Get a US Driver License or State ID (so that you no longer have to carry your passport around as a means of identification)
How do I get an SSN as an international student?
The easiest way to get started is to approach the person designated at your school for international students. In order to apply for a Social Security number, you must first complete a government form called SS-5. In addition to the SS-5 form, you will need to provide a copy of your visa and your passport. If you are an F-1 student, you must provide a letter from your school that identifies you and confirms your current school status.
Here’s where things can get tricky - you’ll also need a letter from a prospective employer. This is likely the most difficult part, as you must score a job in order to apply for an SSN. However, seeking on-campus employment is usually the easiest way to complete this step. Know that it’s worth doing so even if you don’t intend to continue working in the role after you’ve gotten your SSN. You can keep your SSN even if you leave the job.
The letter from your employer will have to include details about your place of work and the type of work you will be doing. Additionally, you will need a letter from your supervisor that describes your job, your start date, the number of hours you will be working, and contact information for your employer.
When you have all of these documents ready, you will need to fax (yes, fax) all these documents to your local Social Security office. You can find a list of these offices here. To make this part of the process slightly less painful, I’d suggest you use MyFax, a free online tool.
Roughly 2-4 weeks after submitting your documents, you will receive a call or letter from a local Social Security Administration official with an appointment time. You will need to bring all the documents you already submitted via fax to the appointment. The appointment shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes. After waiting another couple of weeks for the wheels of bureaucracy to churn, your should get your Social Security card the mail!
Getting your SSN is worth it
It sounds like a lot - and honestly it kind of is. But it's a good idea to get it out of the way early. You do not want to deal with the stress of finding out your dream internship or dream job wants you to provide your SSN by tomorrow, or that the landlord of your new apartment won’t accept your application without it.
Having an SSN also helps when it comes to building for your financial future. Most bank accounts, loans, and credit cards require you to submit your SSN when you open them or apply for them. Without an SSN, it’s difficult to budget, build credit, invest, save, and manage your money.
Luckily, Fizz has a plan for all these issues. Fizz can help international students with budgeting, credit, and learning more about finance - and it’s available to international students whether you have an SSN or not! While you have the option to use your SSN when signing up for Fizz, you can also use your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This is a number that you’ll receive the first time you file taxes in the US.
Fizz is here to help you build for your financial future - especially if you’re an international student like I was just a few short years ago. So don’t wait much longer. Get your SSN and sign up for a Fizz card today!
Sam is a Kenyon College alum and is head of content at Fizz. He's been a go to personal finance resource among his peers since getting his first credit card during his sophomore year of college. He hails from Washington, DC, loves all things aviation, and currently lives in Los Angeles.