Does a noncitizen need a Social Security number?
You can download the official Social Security Guide PDF Here.
Unless you are a noncitizen who wants to work in the United States, you probably don’t need a Social Security number. Generally, only noncitizens authorized to work in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can get a Social Security number.
Social Security numbers are used to report a person’s wages to the government and to determine a person’s eligibility for Social Security benefits. You need a Social Security number to work, collect Social Security benefits, and receive other government services. Lawfully admitted noncitizens can get many benefits and services without a Social Security number.
Example of a U.S. Social Security Card
You don’t need a number to get a driver’s license, register for school, get private health insurance, or apply for school lunch programs or subsidized housing. Some organizations use Social Security numbers to identify you in their records. Most, however, will identify you by some other means if you request it.
We can’t assign a Social Security number solely for you to get a driver’s license or a service that requires a credit check. Although many companies, such as banks and credit companies, may ask for your Social Security number, you generally aren’t required to provide one if you don’t have one.
How can I get a Social Security number and card?
If you are an immigrant, you can apply two ways:
• You can apply in your home country before you come to the United States when filing an application for an immigrant visa with the U.S. Department of State. In almost all cases, if you apply for a Social Security number and card with your immigrant visa application, you don’t have to visit a Social Security office in the United States. (For more information, see www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnvisa); or
• You can visit a Social Security office in person. (See section below for what you need to bring with you to the Social Security office).
If you are a nonimmigrant, you can apply two ways, depending on your visa status:
• If you are lawfully present in the United States and plan to apply for work authorization from the DHS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you can apply for your SSN on the same USCIS application Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization). (For more information, see https://www.ssa.gov/ssnvisa/ebe.html).
• If you are lawfully present in the United States and your visa status allows you to work, then you must visit a social security office in person to apply. What do I need to bring to the Social Security office? You need to prove your identity and work-authorized immigration status. To prove your identity and work-authorized immigration status, show us your current U.S. immigration documents and your unexpired foreign passport.
Acceptable immigration documents include your:
• Form I-551 (Lawful Permanent Resident Card, Machine-Readable Immigrant Visa);
• Admission stamp showing a class of admission permitting work;
• Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record); or
• Form I-766 (Employment Authorization Document/EAD).
If you’re a J-1 or J-2 exchange visitor, we also need to see your DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status or EAD. If you are a J-1 student, student intern, or international visitor, you must provide a letter from your sponsor. The letter should be on sponsor letterhead with an original signature that authorizes your employment.
International students: If you’re an F-1 or M-1 student, we need to see your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status or Designated School Official (DSO) letter.
For information on other documents that students must provide, ask for International Students And Social Security Numbers (Publication No. 05-10181). You need to prove age. You must present your foreign birth certificate if you have it or can get it within 10 business days.
If not, we can consider other documents, such as your unexpired passport or a document issued by DHS, as evidence of your age. You need to complete an application. You will need to complete an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5). You can do this at the Social Security office or you can find a copy of this form on our website that you can print and bring with you.
Important: All documents must be either originals or copies certified by the issuing agency. We cannot accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents. We also cannot accept a receipt showing you applied for the document. We may use one document for two purposes. For example, we may use your DHS EAD as proof of both your identity and work-authorized immigration status. Your birth certificate or passport may serve as proof of age.
However, you must provide at least two separate documents. When should I apply? We recommend you wait 10 days after arriving in the United States to apply for a Social Security number to make it easier for us to verify your DHS documents online, which will speed processing of your Social Security number application.
We will mail your Social Security number card as soon as we have all of your information and have verified your documents with the issuing offices. How much does applying for a Social Security number and card cost? Applying for a Social Security number and card is free.
What if I need a number for other reasons? If you aren’t authorized by DHS to work in the United States, you can get a Social Security number only if you can prove you need it for a valid non-work reason. That might happen, for example, if a state or federal law requires you to have a Social Security number to get benefits to which you have already established entitlement. If you need a number for tax purposes, and you aren’t authorized to work in the United States, you can apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Visit the IRS in person, or call the IRS toll-free number, 1-800-TAXFORM (1-800-829-3676), and request Form W-7, Application For An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
If a business or government agency asks you for a Social Security number and you are not authorized to work in the United States, ask if they can identify you in some other way. In most cases, you’ll be able to get the service or license you need without a Social Security number.
Contacting Social Security The most convenient way to contact us anytime, anywhere is to visit www.ssa.gov. There, you can: apply for benefits; open my Social Security account, which you can use to review your Social Security Statement, verify your earnings, print a benefit verification letter, change your direct deposit information, request a replacement Medicare card, and get a replacement SSA-1099/1042S;
obtain valuable information; find publications; get answers to frequently asked questions; and much more. If you don’t have access to the internet, we offer many automated services by telephone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213 or at our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. If you need to speak to a person, we can answer your calls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. We ask for your patience during busy periods since you may experience a higher than usual rate of busy signals and longer hold times to speak to us. We look forward to serving you.
What is Form I-551?
If you are familiar with the U.S. immigration system, you’ve noticed that government agencies like U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have a form number for various documents. Form I-551 is simply the internal identification number given to a specific immigration document. You may also see it used as an I-551 stamp or ADIT stamp.
In this case, the document is a permanent resident card. Form I-551 is the form number for a green card. It is proof of a foreign national’s immigration status to live and work permanently in the United States. If you look closely, you’ll see that “I-551” is printed in the upper left corner of the backside of the current green card.
Temporary Form I-551 for New Immigrants
If you have been granted permanent residence at a U.S. embassy, a consular officer will place an immigrant visa inside your passport before you depart for America. A machine-readable immigrant visa (MRIV) usually has the following text on it: “UPON ENDORSEMENT SERVES AS TEMPORARY I-551 EVIDENCING PERMANENT RESIDENCE FOR 1 YEAR.
When a new immigrant first enters the United States, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will stamp the passport with an admission stamp that indicates you have permanent resident status. The stamp will also include the date you entered the U.S. Your foreign passport with the MRIV is evidence of permanent residence status for one year from the date of admission. However, you should receive your 10-year green card within approximately 4 to 8 weeks of entry.