What is a Social Security Number?

A Social Security number is intended to accurately record your earnings in this country. International students in F-1 status have permission to work on campus and are therefore eligible for Social Security numbers. (Note: there are limitations to this permission -- consult an international student advisor for details.) Students or scholars in J-1 status are eligible for Social Security numbers provided that they have the J-1 sponsor's permission to work.

Most employees are required to pay a certain percentage of their earnings to the Social Security System through the Federal Insurance Compensation Act, otherwise referred to as the FICA tax. However, most F-1 and J-1 employees are usually exempt from the FICA tax.

Note: If you need a Social Security number for any of the reasons listed below but are not eligible for one, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Since the ITIN number itself is not issued by the ISSS, but by the United States government, you will not receive the number immediately. You may have to wait weeks or even months to receive the number.

Do I Need a Social Security Number?

Social security numbers are needed for:

  • Employment- You must have a Social Security number in order to work in the United States.
  • Fellowships- If you are going to receive a fellowship or scholarship payment from the University, you will need a Social Security number or an ITIN if you are not eligible for a Social Security number.
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Forms- All students and scholars in F-1 or J-1 status who are non-resident aliens for tax purposes are required to fill out an Internal Revenue Service form every year even if they have no U.S.-source income. A Social Security number or ITIN is required on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) forms. For additional information about these requirements, please consult ISSS.

Social security numbers are NOT needed for:

  • Class Registration
  • Banking- F and J-visa holders do not need a Social Security number to open a bank account or for most other financial transactions. The bank may ask F and J-visa holders to fill out Internal Revenue Service form W-8BEN to prove that they are exempt from the requirement of providing a Social Security number.
  • Driver's License- Although some states require that you have a Social Security number in order to obtain a driver's license, the State of Iowa does not have such a requirement.
  • Rental agreements

How to Apply for a Social Security Card

F-1 and J-1 Students

  1. You must have a job offer and an employment verification letter to be eligible for a Social Security Number. Your employer cannot provide this letter before your first day of employment.
  2. The next step differs depending on whether you are a student in the first semester of study, or a continuing student:
    • New Students:
      1. Register for classes.
      2. Log in to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Go to “Other Services” and complete the e-form application “Social Security Letter.”
      3. If you are applying at the start of your first semester, you will be told during orientation week when your Social Security Letter will be ready (usually toward the end of the second week of classes) – it cannot be created before this date, so please do not visit or contact ISSS to ask for the letter before this date.
    • Current Students:
      1. You may apply at any time.
      2. Log in to your iHawk account (click the blue login button) using your HawkID and password. Go to “Other Services” and complete the e-form application “Social Security Letter.”
  3. You will receive an e-mail from an ISSS Advisor as soon as possible, telling you that your letter is ready to be picked up in the ISSS office. This email will also include a map and directions to the Social Security Office. Schedule your visit with the Social Security Office only after receiving the letter from ISSS.
  4. The Coralville Social Security Office requires that you go to their office within 14 days of the date on the letter you received from your employer. If you wait too long to do this, your application will be denied and you will have to get an updated letter from your employer.
  5. Once you receive your Social Security card, show it to your campus employer. You do not need to bring the card to ISSS.

J-1 Scholars

The application process is different for scholars.

  1. Scholars should wait at least 10 days after your arrival and 3 business days after your ISSS check-in session. Applying too early may result in denial because the Social Security Administration's database may not be updated with the scholar's information.
  2. Scholars must take your immigration documents (passport, I-94, and DS-2019) to the Social Security Administration Office, located at 1100 6th St in Coralville.
  3. Take the social security card to your sponsoring department so the Human Resources representative can update your I-9 record with this number.

What is an ITIN?

An ITIN is an Individual Tax Identification Number. This number is different from a Social Security Number used by individuals earning a U.S. income ;and filing a U.S. tax return. This number is an alternative option for students and/or dependents who receive fellowship or scholarship funding during the tax year, but are not eligible for a social security number. It is also used to identify the dependents of the person filing a tax return. There are only a few cases where students and scholars can claim dependents on their tax return. ISSS advisors are not able to assist with applications for an ITIN. In many cases students/scholars will be able to apply for an ITIN simultaneously with filing their tax return in Spring. Students and Scholars can contact the VITA program at ip-vita@uiowa.edu for more information on this process. Please also review the ITIN information on the IRS site about how to apply for an ITIN.