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Social Security Numbers for J-1 Visa Holders

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

In the United States, a social security number, often something agencies will abbreviate as just an “SSN” number, is something that each citizen has. It is a means of identification, and each person born in the US gets one shortly after birth. Although other forms of identification do exist, and many people will obtain more than one over the course of their lives, the social security number allows government agencies to track data on all citizens from the moment that they start accumulating this information. Some personal records and financial information tie into the social security number.


Many foreign nationals visit the US every year for work purposes. Depending on what kinds of positions they will hold while they stay there, they will come to the country on a J-1 visa. We at J1Teachers specialize in helping prospective teachers from other countries find placement in schools all around the US. However, we have much experience in navigating the process for obtaining such a visa in general, and our information can help many kinds of people figure out what other information they might need before they travel. Some people in this program wonder if they might need to get a J1 visa social security number prior to being able to work somewhere in the country. We will provide some of the basic eligibility requirements and guidelines for this in the later sections of this article.


According to the Social Security Administration of the United States, holders of a J-1 visa may be able to get an SSN. However, in many cases, the country may not have a strict requirement that some visa holders do so. Typically, the country only requires numbers of this type for foreign nationals who would like to work while they are here. This can certainly apply to some J-1 visa applicants who will teach in the US, but it can depend on how they set up their funding. If the school in the host country agrees to pay you a wage, you may need to apply for and get a US SSN before you start working there. However, if you get all of your funding from sources outside the US, such as a sponsorship program in your home country, then it is unlikely that you will need a social security number.

How To Apply

In most cases, you should be able to apply for a social security number before you leave for the United States. You’ll need to follow some specific processes, but doing all of this early can help expedite everything once you arrive in the country. Further, most people who apply for a number this way will not need to visit a social security branch office once they arrive, although there can be exceptions to this.

How Does a J-1 Holder Obtain a Social Security Number?

In this section, we will outline some general instructions that most J-1 visa holders should be able to use in order to obtain their own social security numbers for use while they are visiting the United States. It is possible that you may need to go through some other steps, but these will be on a case-by-case basis. Here are the general guidelines you can follow for getting your own SSN:

• All J-1 visa holders must ensure they’ve obtained a valid visa before getting a social security number. Therefore, the US will have to approve your stay based on your J-1 visa status first.

• Once the country takes the above step, you can submit a letter from your sponsor that will further verify your status and present some of the details of the program on which you came to the US.

• The country may require you to submit or show an EAD, a document showing that you have certification as an exchange visitor, and it will show that you are on one of the programs the US authorizes for cultural or work exchange.

• You will also need to verify your age. You can do this with a birth certificate if you have one with you. If you do not, the US can consider other documents as valid for these purposes. Some of the main ones here include a passport, or you can use any papers the Department of Homeland Security may have issued you.

• If you’re using DHS documents, the Social Security Administration may want you to wait for a few days after your arrival in the US before you make an official application for a number.

• In any case, you’ll need to complete Form SS-5, which is an application for an SSN number and accompanying card.

What if My Card Is Lost or Stolen?

If you did get a card for your own use during your stay on a J-1 visa, and if you somehow lost it, you can request a replacement from the Social Security Administration. Be aware that their requirements for issuing a replacement are the same as the ones you had to meet when you applied initially. You will need to verify your age, immigration status, and work eligibility.

How Long Does It Take To Get an SSN?

The SSA itself should mail you your physical card as soon as it has verified all of the information you provided upon your arrival in the US. If there are no problems with verification or shipment, it is typical to receive your card within the first two weeks after the administration completes the verification.

What if My Immigration Status or Citizenship Changes?

Should your status change, you should notify the SSA immediately. Depending on what happened, nothing may change in terms of your SSN, but it is important to let the appropriate authorities know about the change.

Are My Earnings Taxable for Social Security Purposes?

In most cases, holders of J-1 visas are exempt from taxes on the earnings they make while performing the duties for which they gained admittance to the United States in the first place.

Can I Start Working Before I Receive a Social Security Card?

The SSA usually wants J-1 visa holders to wait several days before applying for an SSN and card. Therefore, it should be okay to start working before you get yours. This is particularly true if you receive payment from the sponsorship program rather than a US-based business. If your case is the latter, you can check with your employer before you start working.


Although some J-1 visa holders may not need a social security number of their own, it can be helpful to have one on file with the US government. It may be necessary to facilitate your payment, but that can depend on how your specific program works. If you do get a number, memorize it. Further, you should consider keeping the card itself in a safe place, only taking it with you when you are certain you’ll need it.

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