Social Security numbers (SSN) are important, particularly if you want to get paid when working in the US. It is similar to that of a NIN in the UK or a Tax File number in Australia, we all need them to track earnings over our lifetimes. The SSN verifies the documents you provide with the Department of Homeland Security so that you are able to be paid and taxed correctly.
If you do not intend to work in the US, you do not need to apply. Banks and certain services may ask you for it though they can usually find another way of identifying you.
When initially moving to the US, the whole setup process can be a little tricky particularly when you are trying to figure out what to do first. Consider setting up your phone and address before you apply for an SSN as you will need these for the process.
You can start work while your Social Security Number is in process.
Note, you can not apply for a Social Security Number (SSN) without physically being in the country if you are a non-immigrant as most expats are so put this on your list of things to do in the first ten days of you being in the country as it takes around two weeks to process.
You can apply out of the country if you are an immigrant/permanent however, this article is for expat non-immigrants. See helpful links below for details.
To apply for the SSN you will need:
I did take along extra documentation for my SSN application meeting so I would suggest taking any other information you can think of
that will assist prove you are valid to live and work in the US such as a letter of offer from your work. This is up to you but the more the better in these situations.
Note, when first arriving in the country you may find yourself in a position
where you are moving around and looking for a permanent address. For this SSN you will require a safe mailing address – obviously, this can be changed after you received the letter or if you move locations in the future but please be aware, the mailing address you provide will be the one you SSN is sent to so make sure that it is safe. It is not necessary to report a change of address but if you wish you can report it to your local office.
How much does it cost?
Applying for a Social Security Number is free.
1. Find your local office
When you have all of the things you need together, find you local Social Security office. You can enter your zip code here to find it your closest office
2. Fill in application form
Download, print and fill out the application form ‘Application for Social Security Card’ (Form SS-5-FS)
If you don’t have a printer, the office will have multiple copies that you can fill out while waiting for your appointment.
3. Schedule an appointment
You currently can not schedule an appointment online, this must be done over the phone by dialing 1-800-772-1213 from Monday through Friday 7am to 7pm.
You can attend the office without an appointment and wait in line but they crowds may hold you up so I advise to call ahead.
3. Attend the application meeting
When you arrive, there will be a screen on a stand which will require you to check in or take an appointment number. Then wait for the number to be called.
You will have a meeting with an officer who is sitting behind a screen, they will check through your form, check your ID and your Visa. They may ask you a few questions and you can ask here if you have any.
If you fill out the form incorrectly make sure you take the form with you to discard of securely. The office has plenty of spares.
You should know if you have been approved for a SSN during the meeting.
4. Wait for your SSN to arrive in the mail
Your SSN will turn up on a piece of paper in a letter size envelope to the address you gave the SSN office.
That’s it. You will have a ‘Social’.
Remember to keep this number in a safe place and try to avoid giving it out.
Photo Feature Credit: Collin Armstrong
Photo plane: Louis Magnotti
Social Security Numbers for Noncitizens –