It is true that having an Social Security Number facilitates many things in the U.S. SSNs are often used for credit checks and this is why many businesses and applications ask for one. However, even if you cannot get a SSN, you can still function quite well!
Opening a Bank Account
The bank can allow you to open an account even without a SSN. You will need to complete a form W-8BEN, which they will provide you with. Most banks are familiar with this form. Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America both work with many international students.
Obtaining a Virginia Driver's License or State ID Card
You do not need a SSN to obtain a license or state ID card. The regulations only state that you must show proof of a SSN if you have one.
Renting, purchasing, registering, and insuring a car
You do not need a SSN for any of these transactions. Rental car companies only require a driver’s license and major credit card. To register a car you purchased, a SSN is requested but not required. Note: Although you do not need a SSN to insure a car, only a few companies will insure you if you do not have a SSN.
If you purchase a pre-paid phone, you do not need to have a SSN. The following companies offer pre-paid phones: AT&T, Boost Mobile, Net10, T-Mobile, TracFone, Verizon (generally has the best coverage in the Williamsburg area, but is often the most expensive), and Virgin Mobile. If you will use your phone a lot and want to have a plan (1-2 year contract), you can usually be exempted from the SSN requirement by paying a deposit ($400 or more). Another alternative is to join a "family plan" with a friend who has already has a plan.
Renting an Apartment
To rent an apartment, a SSN should not be required. If is is requested, it is probably for a credit or background check. Explain to the rental agency or landlord that you do not have a SSN because you are not yet eligible for one. If they wish, we can provide a handout explaining the background check process that students undergo when obtaining a student visa. This usually satisfies their requirement.
Working On-campus at W&M
You do not need a SSN to apply for a job or even begin working. However, before W&M can pay you, you must have a SSN. Once you receive a job offer, ask them to complete the F-1 Employment Letter (doc) and bring it to the Reves Center for a signature. You can then apply for a number and, once you receive your card, you can be paid.
Applying for Off-campus Jobs and Internships
As above, you should not need a SSN until you start working, but once you work you will need this for tax purposes, work verification purposes, and in some cases to get paid. For F-1 students, once you receive an offer you may apply for CPT or OPT work authorization and with that authorization obtain a SSN.
Receiving a Scholarship
You do not need a SSN to receive a scholarship since, by definition, scholarships are not given in exchange for work (unlike an assistantship).