Social Security Number (SSN)

All local Social Security offices will be closed to the public for in-person service starting Tuesday, March 17, 2020 until further notice. Please review the SSN Application Instructions below for details on applying for an SSN during the office closures.

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 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.

You 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. For more information, please see Identity Theft.

SSN Application Instructions

You may find the instructions for the application process, as well as additional information on nearby Social Security Administration offices, their operating hours, and documents you will need to bring with you to apply below.

SSN Application instructions

If you are an F-1 visa holder with on-campus employment, please you must first obtain a job offer letter from your on-campus employer following this format.

Please note that it is NOT possible to apply for a SSN online or via an agency. You must have a personal interview with a Social Security Administration representative usually in a local Social Security office.

Special Application Instructions During COVID-19

While the Social Security offices are closed during COVID-19, it may still be possible to schedule an appointment by calling your local Social Security office. They will need evidence in the form of a letter from your employer, on campus supervisor, or department that an SSN is urgently needed for payroll purposes. Once you make the appointment and obtain the letter from your employer, please review the general HIO SSN Application Instructions for more details on the full list of required documents needed for the application.

Not Eligible for an SSN?

The U.S. Government restricts the issuance of new SSNs to individuals who are employed. However, SSNs have come to be used for many other purposes such as opening a bank account, buying a cell phone and/or obtaining a credit card.

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 located at 104 Mt. Auburn St. in Cambridge 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.

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

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. Another alternative for making international calls is CellularLD.

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 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.