Updated: Nov 25, 2022
The American Social Security Number (SSN) is used by the US government to track an individual's income and years of work, as well as a personal identification document.
Obtaining the nine-digit social security number is not mandatory for US citizens but becomes necessary if you are seeking to take up formal employment and register salaries with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for future services such as tax returns and pension payments. As a foreigner seeking an American work permit, the SSN is mandatory.
US citizens and qualifying US residents may apply with the US government for their American Social Security number with the social security card as an associated identification document. US citizens usually apply for the SSN as soon as their child is born.
For non-US citizens, there are two scenarios:
Within application for a U.S. Immigrant Visa:
When applying for a U.S. immigrant visa from abroad, you can already apply for the SSN in your home country on the same application. After approval and successful entry, you will receive your social security card in the mail.
Outside of application for a US immigrant visa:
In all other cases, the social security number is applied for in person with the necessary documents at the local social security office.
In this post, I will focus on the scenario of applying for an SSN as a non-US citizen outside of the US immigrant visa application. Read on to learn more about:
Who is eligible for an SSN?
In general, US citizens and foreign US residents with a work permit (Nonimmigrant Visa or Immigrant Visa, examples: Green Card, EAD, E-2) are eligible for a US Social Security Number.
All other foreign nationals traveling to the United States for business or pleasure who do not have a work permit are not eligible for a Social Security number.
Why do I need an SSN?
An SSN is required to legally work in the United States, to report your salary to the government, and to receive Social Security Benefits and other government services.
Without SSN, it is difficult and often impossible to get a loan, open a bank account, get insurance, buy a home or car.
How soon can I get an SSN?
After you enter the United States with your work permit, the US system begins to register your presence with the appropriate documents. Since this process can take a few days, it is better to wait at least a week after entering the country to apply for the SSN.
After applying for the SSN, all information and documents are checked at the issuing offices. After about 2-3 weeks you will receive your social security card in the mail.
Where do I apply for an SSN?
The SSN is requested from the local Social Security Office (Social Security Administration/SSA). In some cases, SSA offers to start the application online and then fill it out in person.
What do I need to apply for an SSN?
In addition to the actual application form (Form SS-5), original documents proving identity (valid foreign passport) and working immigration status (Green Card, EAD, Form I-94, US visa with approval stamp) are required.
Exchange and international students need additional documents, such as B. Form DS-2019.
How much does it cost to apply for a social security number and card?
Applying for and maintaining a US Social Security number and card is free.
How long is the SSN valid?
The personal SSN is assigned to the person for the rest of their life in the US. For individuals with limited U.S. rights (e.g. work visa), the SSN is only valid in combination with a work permit document.
What do I do if I lost my SSN or my information has changed?
If your information is lost or changed (change of name, etc.), you can use the same application form (Form SS-5) to request a fresh copy of your Social Security card.
Are there exceptional cases?
Yes, there is an acceptable alternative to a social security number. If you do not have a US work permit but need a Social Security number for tax purposes, you can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) with the IRS.
Since this is a legal matter, it can be reassuring to ask an expert for help.
If you want to know more or need more details, I'm happy to help!