Getting a Social Security Number in the USA

Expats moving to the United States will need a social security number (SSN) before formally starting a job. Employers will use your social security number to report your earnings to the government, and in this way it is similar to the National Insurance (NI) number in the UK.

If you are not an American citizen and do not plan to work in the US, you do not necessarily need a social security number, though it is still recommended to apply for one in order to receive certain government services that you are entitled to as a resident. Generally speaking, though, you can only get a social security number if you are authorised to work in the US.

Some businesses, such as credit companies and banks, will ask for your social security number, but most can identify you by some other means if you ask. You will not need a number in order to get a driver’s licence, register children for schools, or to get private health insurance.

You should keep your social security card in a safe place, but it is possible to get a replacement should you lose this card.

How can I get a social security number and card?

There are two ways to get a social security number depending on whether you are an immigrant or non-immigrant:
  • If you are an immigrant/permanent resident, you can apply in your home country before you depart for the United States when filing for an immigrants visa with the U.S. Department of State or you can visit a Social Security office in person on arrival in the US.
  • If you are a non-immigrant, then on arrival in the US, you will need to visit the Social Security office to apply for your number and card.
There are offices in all towns and cities. You should wait at least ten days after arriving in the US before applying at a social security office to allow time for your DHS (Department of Homeland Security) documents to be available online. There is no charge for a social security number.

It takes about two weeks to get a Social Security number, which will be printed on a small card.

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