Social Security

You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your host city while on your program!
You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy your host city while on your program!
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

Social Security numbers are used to report your earnings to the U.S. government. Your Social Security number is unique to you and will never expire. Should you enter the U.S. on a future work or study program, your Social Security number would remain valid, so please keep your number and card in a safe place.

Important Information about Social Security

  • Protect your personal ID and confidential information. Your Social Security number is yours alone. Do not allow others to use your number. Record your number in a safe place in case your card is lost or stolen. Protect both your card and your number to prevent misuse.
  • If you are not receiving any payment from your host employer, you are not required to have a Social Security number. However, it is still recommended that you apply for a number, as you may need it for opening a bank account, renting an apartment, or applying for a U.S. driver’s license.
  • To avoid delays in obtaining a Social Security number, please remember to contact InterExchange Career Training USA to activate your SEVIS record; you will not be able to get a Social Security number until your SEVIS record is activated.
  • We recommend waiting at least 5 business after SEVIS activation before applying for your Social Security Number, as it sometimes takes a few days for SEVIS information to be updated in the Social Security Administration’s database.

Please review the Foreign Workers and Social Security Numbers for more information regarding your Social Security Number.

Applying for Social Security

NOTE: Due to COVID-19, all Social Security offices are closed to walk-in visitors.

You will need to call your local Social Security office to make an in-person appointment. Explain that you are an exchange visitor applying for your first SSN. You can look up the phone number for your local office by accessing the office locator. Please note that appointments may not be immediately available, depending on local health and safety conditions and staffing. You should be able to work and get paid even if you are awaiting an appointment with the SSA. Please contact InterExchange if you or your host employer have questions about this.

To apply for a first-time Social Security card, you will need to apply in person at a local Social Security office. Use the Social Security Office Locator, to find the closest office. Most Social Security offices are only open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and are busiest between the hours of 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Try to avoid going during this time, if possible.

Read our blog post about Four Common Mistakes When Applying for Your Social Security Number to avoid making the same mistakes.

When applying for a Social Security number, please bring the following items with you:

IMPORTANT: When you apply for your Social Security Number (SSN) you will get a receipt letter. Make a copy of it for your personal records. Give the original receipt letter to your employer when you arrive. The receipt is proof that you have applied for a Social Security number.

After you apply, it will take 4 to 6 weeks for your Social Security Card to arrive. You are allowed to intern or train and be paid while you are waiting for your card. If your employer has questions about paying you because your card hasn’t arrived, ask him or her to call InterExchange at 1.800.621.1202.

Remember! Read all instructions before you fill out the application. Here are some tips:

  • Use your employer’s address as your mailing address, especially if you have not yet arranged permanent housing.
  • For question #5 regarding Citizenship, check the box labeled “Legal Alien Allowed To Work.”
  • For questions #9b and #10b, you can leave the questions regarding your mother and father’s social security numbers blank.
Social Security Application Social Security Card

Checking your Application Status

After you apply for your Social Security number, we recommend checking on your application status after seven to ten days by calling the Social Security office. If you return to the office at which you applied, take all of your original documents as well as the receipt of application. Checking on your application status can minimize any delays or problems with your application. Your Social Security number may even be available to you prior to your card being mailed out. If you have any questions, please call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number: 1.800.772.1213.

If you have any questions or lose your card, please call the Social Security Administration’s toll-free number: 1.800.772.1213 or visit their website.

IRS Contact


Social Security Contact


Employer Responsibilities When Hiring Foreign Workers

International Students And Social Security Numbers

FAQS: Social Security

Why is a Social Security number needed?

Social Security numbers are generally assigned to people who are authorized to work in the United States. They are used to report your wages to the government and when filing your tax return. Also, when opening up a new bank account, most banks require either a Social Security number or proof of application for a Social Security number.

How long will it take to receive my card?

Your card should arrive in the mail within four to six weeks of your application date. It is important that your mailing address on Form SS-5 is accurate to ensure that your card gets delivered to you. If you change your mailing address after you submit your application to the Social Security office, it is your responsibility to inform the Social Security Administration of this change by calling or visiting any Social Security office. If you do not currently have a valid mailing address, you may have the card sent to InterExchange Work & Travel USA at: 100 Wall Street, Suite 301, New York, NY 10005, and we will forward it to you at a later point in time.

If I am a returning J-1 and have already been issued a Social Security number, do I need to reapply?

No, you do not need to apply for a new number. If you do not remember your number or have lost your card, you will need to apply for a replacement by visiting your local Social Security office, which can be found by visiting:

What if the Social Security Administration won’t accept my documents?

The Social Security Administration will not accept a student’s application and documents if you have not yet registered your housing address in SEVIS. We recommend going to the Social Security office at least three to four business days after initially registering your housing address in SEVIS. The Social Security Administration recommends waiting at least 10 days after arriving in the United States before applying. If they do not accept your application, take detailed notes of what the Social Security officer says and report this information to InterExchange by calling 1.800.621.1202.

What if my Social Security card never arrives?

If you put your employer’s address on the Social Security application Form SS-5, check with them to ensure that they have not received your card. The Social Security Administration can be contacted at: 1.800.772.1213. An update on the application status will usually be given over the phone. In the event that there is an issue with the application, take detailed notes and call InterExchange to help resolve the issue. You can also reapply in person at your local Social Security office, which can be found at:

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