What is a Social Security number?

Essentially, a Social Security number is a unique number assigned to you by the federal Social Security Administration so that employers know you have valid work authorization. It is also necessary for employers to be able to tax your income appropriately. A Social Security number by itself is NOT a “work card” or “work permit” and must be used in conjunction with other documents establishing lawful immigration status in the US, such as your Form DS-2019.

Your J-2 spouse is also eligible for a Social Security number, but needs to apply for and obtain a work authorization first. The new Form I-765 for work authorization includes an automatic application for a social security number. Therefore, if granted, both the work authorization and SSN will come in the mail at the same time or few days apart.

How can I apply for one?

Step 1: Go to the Social Security Administration Office in Downtown Birmingham

Gather the following documents for your Social Security Number (SSN) application:

  • Unexpired passport
  • Your electronic Form I-94, printed from the CBP website
  • Signed, valid Form DS-2019
  • Completed Form SS-5 application
  • Copy of your offer letter from UAB listing your salary

Take the documents listed above to the Social Security Administration (SSA) office, located at:

Social Security Administration
1200 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL 35285

The office is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and from 9:00 a.m. until noon on Wednesday. The parking entrance is on 12th Street. When you arrive, take a number from the computer in the lobby and wait for your number to appear on a screen in the waiting room. Bring your documents to the window number on the screen to speak to an SSA officer, who will review and return your documents. If your application is accepted, it will take approximately three weeks to receive your Social Security card in the mail. If your application is rejected, ask for a supervisor. If a supervisor is unavailable, call ISSS at (205) 934-3328 and ask the SSA officer to speak with one of our international scholar advisors. The SSA officer will not be able to tell you your Social Security number that day. You must wait for the card to arrive in the mail.

More Information About Applying for an SSN →

Step 2: Bring your Social Security card to ISSS in Sterne Library or the Records Office on the first floor of the Administration Building to update your Form I-9.

Once you receive your Social Security card in the mail, UAB officials must update several databases and change your temporary ID to your permanent Social Security number. This is very important so that you can continue to be paid! When your card arrives in the mail, you MUST take the physical card (not a copy of it) to the Records Office on the second floor of the UAB Administration Building (701 20th Street South) so that they can update your Form I-9 in the Guardian database so that you can continue to be paid. You will receive an email from perfectcompliance.com saying “Your assistance is needed.” Do not delete this email! It contains important instructions about how to finish the hiring process so that you can be paid.

You must also inform the ISSS office of your Social Security number so that we can update Windstar, our tax database. If you do not notify both the Records Office and ISSS of your new Social Security number, you may experience significant delays in payment.

Applying for an Alabama Driver License

International exchange visitors in J-1 status are eligible to apply for an Alabama driver license after entering the US. You must have at least 160 days remaining on your Form DS-2019 and present either a Social Security card or a ‘denial letter’ from the Birmingham Social Security office along with your I-94, passport. Below are frequently asked questions about the license application process.

Do I need a Social Security number to apply for an Alabama driver license?

No. If you happen to have a Social Security number for on-campus work authorization, bring it to your driver license test appointment. If you do not have employment, you must obtain a “proof of denial” letter from the Social Security Administration in order to apply for a driver license or state ID. The Social Security Administration building is located at the following address:

1200 Rev. Abraham Woods Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL 35285

The office is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and from 9:00 am until noon on Wednesday. The parking entrance is on 12th Street.

How soon can I apply for an Alabama driver license after arriving in the US?

You must wait until the later of a) 10 days after you enter the US, b) after UAB registers you in SEVIS, the international scholar database (which is after your orientation session), or c) after your information appears in the SAVE system, another federal database, which the Alabama DMV consults before issuing a driver license. If your record is not active in SAVE, the DMV will not issue the license. UAB has no control over how long it takes for SEVIS to communicate with SAVE for your record to become active there. We recommend waiting at least ten business days after arriving in the US before applying for your license.

How many days do I need on my DS-2019 to apply for a driver license?

Your Form DS-2019 must be valid for at least 160 calendar days beyond the date your driver license is issued. If you do not have 160 days remaining and need to drive while in the US, you should obtain an International Driver License (IDL) in your home country. An IDL can be valid for up to a year.

What documentation should I bring when applying for an Alabama driver license?

Please read the list below carefully and bring the documents that apply to you:

  • Valid passport
  • Most recent Form I-94 (download here)
  • Original paper Social Security Card (not a copy), if you have employment
  • “Proof of denial letter” if you are unemployed (see above – question 1)
  • Form DS-2019 valid for at least 160 more days
  • Credit/debit card or cash for driver license fee (currently $36.25)
  • Cash or money order for the road test (currently $5)

Where do I go to apply for an Alabama driver license?

While there are many offices in Alabama that issue driver licenses, the only office in the Birmingham area that will issue a license to international scholars is:

908 Bankhead Highway
Birmingham, AL 35204
Phone: (205) 252-7445

Based on other scholars’ experience, the best time to go is on a Wednesday morning before noon. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 11:00 am and from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

Make an Appointment

What should I expect during the driver license tests?

You must pass both a written test and a road test and present all documentation listed in question 3 above. You will also have to pass a vision test. You must provide a vehicle to take the driving test—the DMV will not provide a vehicle for you. If you do not have an International Driver License, you must have a licensed driver take you to the driver license office. This licensed driver must be willing to let you use the vehicle for the road test and must be able to provide proof of auto insurance for the vehicle. The officer will inspect the vehicle to make sure it is fully functional (i.e., working turn signals, horn, etc.) before beginning the road test. Practice driving the vehicle in an empty parking lot to become comfortable driving before being tested.

How can I have a successful experience at the DMV?

Be very nice and patient with the DMV officials, even if they are not nice and patient with you. Prepare for the tests, bring all of the documents listed above, and listen carefully to DMV officials’ instructions. It will take a long time and may be very stressful and frustrating, but be cooperative and kind, and everything should go well. If you pass the tests the first time, you won’t have to come back!

Should I study for the written test?

What is the cost for an Alabama driver license?

The fee for the Alabama driver license is $36.25 in cash or debit/credit card. No checks!

When will my license arrive in the mail?

It should arrive within 30 calendar days. If it does not, call (334) 242-4400.

How and when can I renew my driver license?

To renew a license, you must have at least 160 days (not including grace periods) left in your immigration status as reflected by the program or status end date on your Form DS-2019. You can apply to renew the license within 180 days of its date of expiration.

Can my spouse get a driver license?

Yes! However, your spouse must bring the same documents and have at least 160 days of validity remaining on the Form DS-2019. It is very helpful if you, as the primary J-1 visa holder, accompany your spouse to the DMV. Request a letter of good standing for your spouse by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..