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 I-20 (for F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 students).

How can I apply for one?

  • Apply for a SSN or request a Social Security denial letter during the pandemic

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) suspended face-to-face service to public, except for limited dire need appointments. Please follow these steps listed below.

    1. Call the SSA at (866) 592-3734 to set up the appointment.
    2. Once the officer answers your call, you will need to:
      1. Inform the officer that you are international student or scholar and what type service you need (i.e. apply for an SSN, get a social security denial letter).
      2. Inform the officer what type of visa status do you have (i.e. F-1, J-1 or H-1b).
      3. Inform the officer of what type of immigration documents you have (i.e. DS-2019 or I-20 or H-1b approval notice, passport and I-94).
      4. Provide the officer with your contact information.
    3. The officer will contact you with the time and date for the in-person appointment within 24 - 48 hours.

    NOTE: If the officer has not contacted you within the time frame, repeat the same instructions listed above.

    For an ITIN applicant who needs to get a “Social Security Denial Letter,” please inform the SSA officer that you MUST obtain a denial letter in order to apply for an ITIN. You MUST obtain an ITIN for tax purposes.

    Once you receive your SSN, please make sure that you update your SSN to our office, One Stop Student Services, and your on-campus employer.


  • Step 1: Apply for on-campus jobs at UAB

    You cannot apply for a Social Security number without an on-campus job offer. Create a profile on Handshake, schedule an appointment with the Career Consultant for your major, visit the Director of Career Services for your school, look at bulletin boards on campus in your department and classroom buildings, or attend job fairs to learn about on-campus job opportunities. “On campus” means that the job takes place physically on property belonging to UAB and that you will be paid by an entity that directly provides services to UAB students as part of the university. Examples of valid on-campus employers (and examples of employers that are NOT considered “on-campus”) for F-1 students are listed here. Please read the list and be sure your employer qualifies as on-campus!

  • Step 2: Obtain an official job offer in writing from an on-campus employer

    After you receive a job offer letter from an on-campus employer and after your name appears on a weekly Oracle report ISSS receives from the Payroll office, ISSS will contact you to come pick up a Verification of Employment letter. Please do NOT contact ISSS to inquire about the status of the Payroll report. We will contact you as soon as the Verification of Employment letter is ready for you. You cannot apply for a Social Security number until you have been in the US for at least ten business days, since it can take that long for your electronic I-94 number to be processed through government databases. Let your on-campus UAB employer know that HR can generate a temporary ID number for you for up to 30 days while you wait for the Social Security card to arrive.

  • Step 3: Go to the Social Security Administration Office in Downtown Birmingham

    Due to COVID, the Birmingham Social Security Administration (SSA) office has suspended drop-in/walk-in visits except for limited, "dire need" appointments. You cannot just go to the SSA office. Please follow the steps listed below.

    1. Call the SSA at 866-592-3734 to speak to an SSA officer.
    2. Inform the officer that you are international student or scholar and why you are calling (i.e., to apply for an SSN, obtain a Social Security denial letter for ITIN purposes, etc.).
    3. Inform the officer what type of immigration status you have (i.e., F-1, J-1, H-1B, etc.).
    4. Inform the officer of what type of immigration document you can provide (i.e., Form I-20 for F-1, Form DS-2019 for J-1, Form I-797 approval notice for H-1B approval notice, passport, Form I-94, etc.).
    5. Provide the officer with your contact information as requested.
    6. Wait 24-48 hours for the officer to contact you with the time and date for your in-person appointment. If the officer does not contact you within 24-48 hours, call again and repeat the same process listed above.

    On the day of your confirmed in-person appointment, take the relevant 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 student 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.

    During non-COVID operations, you would need to 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 I-20 (for F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 students)
    • Completed Form SS-5 application
    • On-Campus Employer Verification Letter signed by your employment supervisor
    • Verification of On-Campus Employment letter signed by an ISSS staff member
  • Step 4: Visit the Records Office 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

Students in F-1 or J-1 status are eligible to apply for an Alabama driver license after entering the US and beginning coursework. Students must have at least 160 days remaining on their I-20 or DS-2019 and present either a Social Security card or a ‘denial letter’ from the Birmingham Social Security office along with their I-94, passport, and a good standing letter from the ISSS office. F1 visa students with a one semester pathway or Academic English I-20 will not be eligible to apply for an Alabama license until they progress to a new academic program and receive an updated I-20 with more than 160 days validity. Please know, a valid Alabama license is required to legally register a new vehicle in the state of Alabama. 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:

    • 10 days after you enter the US,
    • after UAB registers you in SEVIS,
    • the international student database (which is after the Drop/Add date), or
    • 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 until at least after the Drop/Add before applying for a license.

  • How many days do I need on my Form I-20 or DS-2019 to apply for a driver license?

    Your Form I-20 or 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
    • 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 I-20 or DS-2019 valid for at least 160 more days
    • Letter of Good Standing from ISSS (request one by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
    • Credit/debit card or cash for driver license fee (currently $36.25)
    • Cash or money order for the road test (currently $5)
    • Birth certificate (not required, but helpful)
  • 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 students is:

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

    Based on other students’ 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 his/her 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?

    Yes! A study guide is available on Alabama Law Enforcement Agency page.

  • 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 I-20 or 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, they must bring the same documents and have at least 160 days of validity remaining on their Form I-20 or DS-2019. It is very helpful if you, as the primary F-1 or 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..