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Social Security Number in the USA

The Social Security Number (SSN) is essential when you start a life in the USA. We explain what the Social Security Number is for and how to get the Social Security Card that goes with it.

What is the Social Security Number?

The American Social Security Number or SSN is a nine-digit number that is noted on the Social Security Card. The SSN is issued only once per person and is valid for life. The American authorities issue a Social Security Number to:

  • US citizens
  • Green Card holders
  • eligible nonimmigrants (e.g., visa holders in categories E-1, E-2, H-1B, L-1, or O-1)

The Social Security Card is a green paper card similar in shape and size to a credit card. The card itself contains neither a passport photo nor any personal data of the holder. Therefore, the Social Security Card alone is not sufficient as proof of identity. In most cases, you must also prove your identity with an ID card, passport, or driver's license.

Nevertheless, the possession of a Social Security Number is essential in the USA. When dealing with authorities, employers, banks, insurance companies, or utility companies, the SSN is usually required.

You will need the Social Security Number to:

Social Security Card of the USA

Step by step guide to the Social Security Number

Most US citizens receive their Social Security Number at the age of 12 and do not need to apply for it. Green Card Lottery winners and other immigrants, however, should arrange to obtain an SSN as soon as possible after entering the United States. This requires the following steps:

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Find a Social Security Office

The authority responsible for issuing the Social Security Number is the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is represented by Social Security Offices throughout the entire country.

To find the nearest office, you can use the search function on the Social Security Administration's website. To do this, click on the "Locate An Office By Zip" button and enter the zip code of your city of residence.

You do not need to have your own apartment to apply for a Social Security Number. If you have only recently arrived in the USA, the address of a temporary vacation home, for example, is also sufficient.

Submit required documents

To apply for a Social Security Card, you must complete Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card). Also, compile the following documents:

  • Proof of identity (e.g., passport)
  • Birth certificate, and if necessary, a certified translation
  • Residence permit (Green Card, visa), and if necessary, also work permit
  • Children under 18 years of age: proof of identity of the parents

Once you have all the necessary documents ready, make an appointment at a Social Security office near you and submit them.

Receive the Social Security Number

Once you have applied for the Social Security Number, you should allow for a waiting period of approximately two weeks to receive the Social Security Card.

Tip

You are not required to carry the Social Security Card with you at all times. It is best to keep the card at home with your other important papers. Do not give it out unnecessarily to avoid the risk of loss and possible misuse of your data.

FAQ

Do you have any other questions about the Social Security Number? You will surely find the answer in our FAQ.

The application for a Social Security Number (SSN) is free of charge.

If you have lost your Social Security Card, you can apply for a new one. To do so, follow the same application process as for a new application. Since the Social Security Number is personal and valid for life, it remains unchanged.

Foreign students who are in the USA on an F-1, M-1, or J-1 visa generally do not receive a Social Security Number. As a student, you can only apply for the SSN if you have a job that is allowed for your student visa.

In general, you must provide your Social Security Number on your tax return. If you are not eligible to receive an SSN, but you are required to pay taxes in the USA, you may apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) at the Internal Revenue Service, IRS.

You may be able to apply for the Social Security Number before you enter the United States. If the Social Security Administration has a branch in your home country, you can apply for the SSN there. In this case, however, you should expect longer processing times of four to eight weeks.

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