It is true that having a Social Security Number facilitates many things in the US. 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
Banks will allow you to open an account without a SSN. You will need to complete a form W-8BEN, which they will provide you. 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 an SSN to obtain a license or state ID card. The regulations only state that you must show proof of an 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 a 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. 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. Another alternative is to join a "family plan" with a friend who already has a plan.
Renting an Apartment
A SSN is not required to rent an apartment. If it 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 letter explaining the background check process that students undergo when obtaining a student visa.
Working On-campus at W&M or VIMS
You do not need a SSN to apply for a job. Once you receive a job offer, you can apply for your SSN.
Applying for Off-campus Jobs and Internships
You do not need a SSN to apply off-campus jobs or internships. For F-1 students, once you receive an offer you may apply for CPT or OPT work authorization and with that authorization, apply for your 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).