Social Security Card (SSC)

How to obtain a Social Security Number

The Social Security Card (SSC) is a very important document in the U.S. It is used to identify individuals for social security purposes. In particular, a person needs a social security card to prove their identity when contacting government authorities, employers, banks, and insurance agencies. However, the social security card is not a substitute for the primary proof of identity, such as an identity card or passport. This is because the social security card does not come with a photo of the card holder, and it also lacks personal information, such as the date of birth.

All U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders), and certain visa holders (e.g., E-1, E-2, H-1B, L-1 or O-1) are able to obtain a social security number (SSN) in the U.S. upon request. This number consists of 9 digits (XXX-YY-ZZZZ). The Social Security Number can only be requested once in a lifetime, and it permanently retains its validity. The social security number is printed on the Social Security Card, which is issued by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and is similar in size and shape to a credit card.

Application Process

Eligible applicants are U.S. citizens and persons who have a residence permit in the form of an employment-related non-immigrant visa or permanent residency permit (Green Card).

In order to obtain a Social Security Number, an application form must be completed (Application for a Social Security Card).
Moreover, the application as well as the following accompanying documents must be submitted in the original or in certified copies:

  • Proof of age, such as, for example, a birth certificate (translated or international) or any other official document showing the date of birth
  • Proof of identity, such as a passport or driver’s license
  • Evidence of (non-)immigration status, such as a work permit

The application must be submitted in person at a competent Social Security Office in the U.S.

Loss of Social Security Card

If you have lost your Social Security Card or it was stolen, you can apply for a new card.

It is recommended that you not keep the Social Security Card on your person, but rather in a safe place, because it is a very important document and considerable harm can be done if the card falls into the wrong hands.

Frequently asked questions about the Social Security Card and Number

What does the Social Security Number cost?

The initial issuance of a Social Security Card, as well as the re-issuance after a loss, for instance, is free of charge.

Do international students need a Social Security Number?

Some universities or colleges in the U.S. require their students to present their Social Security Number. However, normally the number is not issued to persons who are temporarily in the United States on an F-1, J-1 or M-1 visa. In this case, the universities should be able to assign a different identification number to the foreign students concerned.

If you want to take up employment that is permitted under the respective student visa, you can apply for a Social Security Number.

Is the Social Security Number the same as the tax number?

It is true that U.S. citizens and holders of certain visa categories can file a tax return by providing their Social Security Number. However, this is not identical to the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This applies primarily to people who have to pay U.S. taxes even though they do not live in the United States permanently, for instance because they invest in U.S. real estate.

Does the Social Security Card always have to be carried along like an identity card?

No, the Social Security Card is only requested for presentation in very rare cases. Therefore, it does not always have to be carried, but is best kept safely at home.

Is there a proof of application for the Social Security Card?

Previously, the old procedure provided that applicants for a Social Security Card would receive proof in the form of a printout as long as the original Social Security Card was not available. On average, it takes up to two weeks to issue the card.

Applicants can create a social security certificate directly online, provided they are registered for a personal "My Social Security" account. Alternatively, applicants can request a postal social security certificate by calling +1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778); it takes approximately 5-7 business days to deliver the letter.

Employers, Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and other institutions that require a social security certificate can obtain it immediately or overnight via the Social Security Administration's Business Services Online or via E-Verify.

What happens if the applicant's name is too long for the application form?

In some cases there is not enough space for applicants on the form "Application for a Social Security Card". The total number of characters is 16. Although a (too) long name does not necessarily lead to an exclusion, it can certainly prolong the application process. If you have a particularly long name and apply for an Social Security Number, you should be prepared for considerably longer waiting times. The actual issuance of the Social Secrutiy Card can take up to eight weeks, compared to an average of one to two weeks.

The reason for this is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has to short-circuit with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in order to match the record. The solution to the problem is simply to sit back and wait.