Apply for a Social Security Number

The Social Security Number (SSN) and the corresponding Social Security Card are essential for living and working in the USA. We explain everything you need to know about the SSN and how to get it.

What is the Social Security Card?

The Social Security Card (SSC) is one of the most important documents in the USA. In size and shape, the small blue-green paper card resembles a credit card. It contains neither the holder's personal data nor a passport photo. Only the name and the nine-digit Social Security Number are printed on it.

Therefore, you cannot use the Social Security Card alone as proof of identity; you must also identify yourself with an ID card, passport, or driver's license.

American Social Security Card

Why do I need a Social Security Number?

The American Social Security Number or SSN is used to identify individuals for Social Security purposes and is often required as proof of identity when dealing with government agencies, employers, insurance companies, and banks.

You need the number, for example, for:

Who needs to apply for a Social Security Number?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) issues the Social Security Card with its Social Security Number to American citizens, Green Card holders, and others who have a valid work or non-immigrant visa for the United States.

Because of the many different occupations, there are three different categories for the Social Security Card:

  • Card with name and SSN: entitles all US citizens and Green Card holders (e.g., Green Card Lottery winners) to work in the United States without restriction
  • Card with name, SSN, and remark "Valid for Work only with DHS Authorization": is given to anyone working in the United States on a temporary basis only
  • Card with name, SSN, and remark "Not valid for Employment": will be given to all who have a residence permit but no work authorization for the United States

While American citizens usually receive their Social Security Number automatically from the age of 12, immigrants should apply for a Social Security Number as soon as possible after entering the United States.

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Where can I apply for a Social Security Number?

You can apply for a Social Security Number at a local SSA office in the United States. You can find an office near your home using the official SSA Office Locator on the Social Security Administration's website.

Just click on the "Locate An Office By Zip" button and enter the zip code of where you live. By the way, you don't have to have rented your own an apartment yet to apply for an SSN. The address of a temporary vacation home is also sufficient.

What documents do I need to apply for my SSN?

Before your appointment at the SSA office, you must download and complete Form SS-5. Additionally, gather the following documents for yourself and all eligible family members:

  • proof of identity (e.g., passport)
  • birth certificate (if necessary, also a certified translation)
  • valid residence permit incl. work permit (Green Card, if already existing, or visa)
  • for children under 18 years of age: proof of identity of the parents

After submitting the application, you should expect a waiting time of about two weeks until you receive the Social Security Number. Occasionally, however, there may be delays due to further checks (e.g., by the USCIS).

My Social Security Card has been stolen: What now?

The Social Security Card with the corresponding SSN is an extremely important document and should not be handed out unnecessarily. If at all, only authorities, banks, and insurance companies should know the complete number. However, it may happen that someone asks for the last four digits of the card. This is usually not a concern.

If you nevertheless lose your Social Security Card, you must apply for a new card at the Social Security Office. You will go through the same process as for a new application.

How can I avoid identity theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime. The term refers to the stealing of personal information such as social security or bank account numbers. This data can be used to withdraw money from a bank account or to obtain a credit card in the name of another person.

Here's what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Keep the card at home and do not carry it with you. You are generally not required to keep the Social Security Card with you.
  • Give personal information only to companies and people who are trustworthy, in particular by phone or Internet.
  • Only take identity documents or credit cards with you that you really need. Leave everything else at home for safety.
  • Tear up paper and application forms that have personal information on them into tiny shreds before throwing them in the trash bin.

Do you have any other questions about the Social Security Number that have not yet been addressed? You will surely find the answer in our FAQ.

You can apply for your Social Security Number free of charge. This also applies to a newly issued card, for example, after loss or theft.

Spouses without a work permit and children can also apply for a Social Security Number. The applications are processed separately and can also be rejected

If your application for a Social Security Number is rejected, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayers Identification Number (ITIN) at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The processing time for this can take a little longer, as the authority only processes the application together with other important documents, such as a submitted tax return of the applicant.

Some Social Security Cards are issued with the imprint "not valid for employment." If your US visa is later approved by the USCIS along with a work permit, you must apply for a new Social Security Card without the restrictive imprint. However, the Social Security Number will remain the same for life. Only the endorsement will change.

International students are usually not required to apply for a Social Security Number. Students without an SSN will receive their own internal number from the university. However, there is one exception: students need a Social Security Number if they are employed in a job that is permitted under their student visa.

The legal provisions regarding Social Security do not apply to the employment of non-immigrants who are in the USA for a limited period of time. Accordingly, there is no Social Security tax for visa holders in the F-1 (student), J-1 (exchange program), and M-1 (vocational school) categories.

This means that no social or health insurance contributions are withheld from their salary. However, employment opportunities for these three visa categories are very limited anyway and usually only include on-campus work, internships, and, in some exceptional cases, when a work permit is issued for economic reasons.

If you are in the application process for an immigrant visa, you can apply for the Social Security Number in parallel to the ongoing visa process. The condition for this is that you are at least 18 years old at the time of application and that you basically qualify for the residence permit.

On the immigrant visa application form (DS-230, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration), you should answer "Yes" to questions 33a and 33b. For question 33a, you agree that the Social Security Administration should issue a Social Security Number and the accompanying card. Question 33b authorizes the USCIS, the Social Security Administration, and other government agencies to obtain the information necessary to issue a Social Security Number.

According to the Social Security Administration, the card will be mailed to your designated US address within three weeks of your first entry into the United States. If your US address changes in the meantime, you must notify the SSA immediately.

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