What is an SSN?

The Social Security number (SSN) is the most commonly-used identification numbering system in the United States. First introduced in 1936 to track U.S. workers’ wages to determine their Social Security benefits, it’s now used almost as a universal identification number, and is required for legally obtaining a job. Read on to learn about the history of this important document, its functions and how to obtain it if you have not yet been assigned one.

What is a SSN Used for?

A Social Security number is essential for obtaining a legal job in the United States. This number allows you to file taxes, entitles you to benefits in case of an accident or illness, and is necessary for receiving monthly retirement payments. The SSN is also used to record a person’s credit score.

What Services Does Social Security Provide?

The SSN is a nine-digit number issued to by all U.S. citizens the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). This organization is responsible for retirement funding programs, provides benefits to surviving family members of workers, and gives support to disabled people in the U.S. Being enrolled and in good standing with the SSA is very important to securing your financial future.

How do I get my Social Security Number?

If you don’t already have a SSN, you should apply for one from the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. This will allow you to pay your taxes on time and receive the benefits mentioned above. It’s important to note that non-citizens generally must have a work permit issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to apply for a Social Security Number

Keep in mind: If you don’t have a legal work permit, you can apply for a Personal Taxpayer Identification Number to pay your taxes. This number doesn’t provide the same benefits as a SSN, but it is necessary in order to establish permanent legal immigration status.

If you’re a U.S. citizen or a resident with a work permit and you don’t have a SSN, you'll need to follow the steps below:

Step 1. Gather the Required Documentation

The documents you’ll need to apply for a SSN depend on whether or not you’re a U.S. citizen. The required documentation required is:

For U.S. citizens:

  • Proof of citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. you can present your birth certificate or a U.S. passport. If you were born abroad, you can use your U.S. passport or one of the following documents: 
    • Certificate of naturalization (N-550 or N-570), 
    • Certificate of citizenship (N-560 or N-561), 
    • Birth report certificate (DS-1350), or a consular birth 
    • A consular report of birth abroad (FS-240).
  • Proof of age. A birth certificate can be used to prove your age. If you don’t have this document, you may use your passport or any document issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Other options for people born in the U.S. are: a religious record issued before age 5 showing your date of birth or a medical record from a U.S. hospital.
  • Proof of identity. Regardless of where you were born, you can prove your identity by presenting a U.S. driver's license, state identification, or a U.S. passport. If you don’t have any of these documents, an employee or school ID, a health insurance policy (except Medicare), or a military ID will likely be accepted.

For residents U.S. with work permits:

  • Proof of immigration status. You can present any of the following documents: 
    • A Permanent Resident Card (I-551) along with your foreign passport 
    • An Employment Authorization Card (I-766) 
    • Your arrival/departure record in your valid foreign passport (I-94).
  • Work Permit. Foreign nationals with permission to work in the U.S. must show their arrival/departure record (I-94) or an admission stamp in their valid passport showing that they have permission to work. If you’re a student with a work permit, there are other options which can be found here.
  • Proof of age. A foreign birth certificate will be enough to verify your age. If you don’t have this document, your foreign passport or a document issued by the Department of Homeland Security showing your age will probably be valid.
  • Proof of identity. Any of the following documents that prove your immigration status are also valid to prove your identity: I-551, I-766 or I-94.

Keep in mind: You can use one document for two purposes—for example, a Green Card to prove your identity and immigration status, however, you must present at least two documents in total.

Step 2. Complete Your Application

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary documents, you’ll need to complete the SS-5-SP form. Print the form and fill out the information on page five using black or blue ink and legible print.

Step 3. Submit the Documentation 

Because the documents are sensitive, the Social Security Administration offices don’t receive them by mail. You must call 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

How do I Find my Social Security Number?

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If you already have a Social Security number, you can find it on your Social Security card. You can also find it on your tax returns, W-2 forms, and bank statements. If you're an immigrant, you may also find it on USCIS forms that you filed for residency or citizenship. It’s worth mentioning that most people on nonimmigrant visas don’t have Social Security numbers.

Keep in mind: You can also find your SSN by asking your employer. Employers are required to keep Social Security information on file for all employees.

Can I Receive Social Security Benefits Abroad?

U.S. citizens can receive their Social Security benefits even if they’re in a different country (regardless of whether they’re visiting or permanently residing). There are some exceptions. To find out if you can receive your benefits in the country where you are or plan to be, you can use the payment verification tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Will it Take to Receive my Social Security Card?

Your Social Security card will be mailed by the SSA as soon as they receive all the necessary information. If you apply using a I-765 form (Application for Employment Authorization), your card will be issued when USCIS has approved your employment authorization. In general, the it takes 10-14 business days from the date your application is processed.

How Much Does it Cost to Get an SSN?

There is no cost to obtain a Social Security number. There may be a fee to get some of the necessary documents. If you already have all the required documentation, obtaining an SSN is free.

Can Non-Citizens Receive an SSN? 

You don’t have to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible to obtain an SSN. However, non-citizens must demonstrate that they have permission to work legally in the country.

Does the SSN Authorize me to Work in the U.S.?

A Social Security number is not considered a work permit. In most cases, individuals with a SSN have permission to work in the U.S. There are some circumstances (such as eligibility for benefits that the Federal Government requires an SSN for) where you can have an SSN without a work permit.

Does the SSN Expire? 

A Social Security number doesn’t expire. In most cases, once you have been assigned an SSN, it will be your number for life. There are some cases where your SSN may change, such as in cases of identity theft.

What if I use a Fake SSN or Someone Else's SSN?

Using a false SSN is a federal crime with a penalty of up to fifteen years in prison. This may make it impossible for you to establish regular immigration status in the future. It’s extremely important that you avoid using a false number.

Can I use Someone Else's SSN?

Using a Social Security number that doesn’t belong to you is considered identity theft, which is a federal crime. Some people "sell" or "rent" their SSN, but doing so can lead to many problems, for example:

  • The SSN owner's credit score can be severely affected.
  • If the SSN is used to obtain medical care, the owner's medical records will be incorrect. This can be life-threatening and cause health insurance premiums to increase.
  • The owner of the SSN may be responsible for paying taxes on income that is not their own,
  • If the person using the number commits a crime, the SSN holder will have a criminal record that doesn’t apply to them.

What do I do When an SSA Beneficiary Dies?

If a person enrolled in Social Security dies, family members should notify the SSA as soon as possible for two reasons:

  • The family members may be eligible to receive benefits.
  • If the deceased person was receiving SSA benefits, this notification will let the SSA know that benefits are no longer needed.

Being Enrolled in Social Security is Very Beneficial!

Now you know how important having a Social Security number is, apply for one right away if you don't have one and are eligible! The SSN provides you with many benefits and since it’s free, there’s no excuse not to get one. If you have any questions about this process, feel free to contact our team and we’ll be happy to provide you with the information you need.