If you’re wondering about how to get an initial Social Security number, you should know that the process is relatively straightforward. A Social Security number (SSN) is one of the most important identifiers of U.S. citizens or persons living in the U.S. who are legally allowed to work. A Social Security number is needed to open an account at a U.S. financial institution, obtain a driver license, or get health insurance. It’s also necessary for employment and filing taxes with the Internal Revenue Service. Finally, it’s essential in managing your Social Security account with regard to current or future benefits.
Most U.S. parents obtain a Social Security number for their children early in life. For U.S. citizens whose parents didn’t obtain a Social Security number for them, it’s important to apply for a SSN as soon as possible. Legal aliens should apply for a Social Security number if they’re eligible to do so. U.S. employers often use an SSN as the worker’s identifier. Relevant financial documents, such as an insurance policy or bank account, may be cross-referenced by the owner’s Social Security number. In addition, a Social Security number is essential to the individual’s credit history. In today’s world, it’s almost impossible to live without credit, and credit history is tracked and accessed by SSN.
U.S. Citizen: Getting an Initial Social Security Number
Requesting an initial Social Security number involves making an application with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Use the Social Security Office Locator tool to identify the SS Office nearest you or contact SSA’s general information number toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 as a first step.
If you’re a U.S. citizen, bring an original birth certificate or U.S. passport to your closest Social Security office. If you don’t have a birth certificate, religious records (before you turned five years of age) that show your birth date or U.S. hospital records may also be used. If you’re age 12 or older, you must request an in-person interview with a local Social Security office to obtain an initial Social Security number:
At that time, evidence must be provided to show that you don’t already have an assigned SSN. Social Security may ask for information about the schools you attended or copies of prior tax records to show you don’t already have a Social Security number.
You will also be asked for identifying documents that confirm and prove your identity. The document must show your name, date of birth/age, and a recent phot, such as a U.S.-issued driver license, passport, or state-issued ID (non-driver) card. If you don’t have any of these documents, Social Security may ask for a current employer identification card, school ID card, health insurance card (non-Medicare) or U.S. military service ID card.
If you’re a legal resident alien and working in the United States, you’ll need to take additional steps.
Legal Resident Alien: Getting an Initial Social Security Number
If you’re a legal resident alien and working in the U.S., start by finding the Social Security office nearest you or call 1-800-772-1213. You must have a legal passport and documents that prove your eligibility to work such as the EAD (work permit):
Begin by filling out the online SS-5 form by clicking on SSA Form SS-5, application form for a Social Security number.
The SS-5 form requires you to have a U.S. local mailing address to which SSA can mail the Social Security card.
The Social Security office will check eligibility documents, the SS-5 application, passport, and other documents as necessary before approving your request for a SSN. Once the presented application is in order, the Social Security Administration issues the new SSN within a few weeks.
Once the SSN is issued, the Social Security card must be kept in a safe place. Keep the envelope in which the SSN arrives because it may be used later to help prove your U.S. residence address in some situations. Don’t carry a Social Security card and your SSN with you. Your SSN is an important document, and losing your Social Security card can expose you to potential identity theft and financial loss.
If you previous applied for and were assigned an ITIN because you weren’t eligible for a Social Security number at that time, the ITIN should be rescinded as soon as possible once the SSN is received.
Types of Social Security Numbers
There are several types of SSNs, including unrestricted, restricted, and non-work cards:
Unrestricted SSN cards are given to citizens of the United States and permanent legal residents with green cards. The card has no annotation and the individual to whom SSA issues it may work legally in the U.S. for any employer at will without the need to obtain U.S. government agency permissions.
Restricted cards bear the legend VALID FOR WORK ONLY WITH USCIS AUTHORIZATION and provide temporary employees (e.g. H1 or L1 Visa workers) who are sponsored by a U.S. employer with an SSN number.
Non-work SSN cards bear the legend NOT VALID FOR EMPLOYMENT to certain individuals on a limited basis. If a worker legal resides in the U.S., he or she may be entitled to obtain this SSN card.
Non-working legal non-immigrant individuals may obtain a non-work SSN card in order to obtain a driver license but the card may not be issued for this sole purpose. H1B or L1 visa holders in the final stages of making a green card application (Adjustment of Status, Form I-485) may apply for a spouse’s I-485 (in addition to the work permit by filing Form I-765 or 766). The EAD card may be used to apply for a Social Security number at that time.
Effective September 2002, the SSA’s total verification policy requires applicants to submit to the document verification process under the USCIS’s Systemic Alien Verification for Entitlements program (SAVE). If SAVE information does not properly show each applicant’s information, the application must submit a manually prepared Form G-845 to SSA. The completed packet is submitted to the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for full verification.
Individuals entering the United States must wait fifteen days prior to making an application for a Social Security number. At that time, the individual’s information should be updated in the SAVE database and can avoid delays of four to twelve weeks in the manual verification process.
How to Get an Initial Social Security Number
After you’re assigned a SSN, you should learn about the Social Security number digits. Your nine-digit SSN is actually comprised of three parts that are separated by dashes. For example, the SSN is configured as 345-22-1289.
The “last four” of your SSN may also be used as an identifier. Your SSN reflects the state in which the number was issued. Your SSN isn’t reassigned if you die. Social Security benefits are payable to your survivors if you die and the SSN is then used in the administration of benefits payments to these individuals.