Social Security Number (SSN) – Everything you need to know

As soon as you arrive in the US on a work visa, you must get a Social Security Number (SSN) immediately. The SSN is required for the following purposes:
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  • Working in the U.S.
  • Getting Social Security benefits, and,
  • Getting services from banks and other financial institutions
  • Pay taxes or be listed as a dependent on a tax return
  • Receiving some other government services

How to get the SSN?

Getting the SSN is a simple procedure.

  • Go to the nearest Social Security Administration (SSA) office
  • Fill up an Application For A Social Security Card (Form SS-5)
  • Show original documents or copies certified by the issuing agency proving your immigration status [including a work permit by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ], passport, identity card (ID)
  • Get a receipt
  • Receive the SSN in 2-3 weeks via mail on your residence address.

On the H1B visa you are an immigrant to the country and not a citizen. You will be asked for the following papers by the Social Security:

  • Form I-551 (includes machine-readable immigrant visa with your unexpired foreign passport);
  • I-94 with your unexpired foreign passport; or
  • Work permit card from the Department of Homeland Security (I-766 or I-688B).

Why Should I Apply for Social Security Number?

Merely getting the H1B visa is not enough. Without a social security number you are not allowed to legally work in the U.S. The SSN is a unique number given by the social security administration (SSA). Every individual is required to be registered with government by law. Your social security number is a 9 digit number made up of 3 parts called the AREA (XXX), GROUP (XX), and SERIAL (XXXX). The first 3 digits represent the state where you applied it. The other parts are unique.

Why is it important to keep the Social Security Number private?

You must protect your SSN like other important documents such as passport, I-797, etc. You are not required to show your Social Security card everywhere and you must not carry the card with you. Initially you will need the SSN to work in the U.S., open a bank account, and obtain benefits from U.S. agencies. Since it is a unique number consider as your own ‘tracking number’. The Social Security number is used by the Internal Revenue Service as an identifier in processing your tax returns. You will also need it to apply for a drivers license, phone, internet, or cable connection.

Your Social Security number is frequently used as an identification number to access many computer databases like your bank account, credit report, tax information, etc. As such it is like your complete life sketch. Anyone with your SSN can access all your personal and professional information. There is a risk of fraud and anyone can use your SSN to access your bank account, credit accounts, utilities records, and other important information. Therefore you must protect your SSN.

Social Security Number For Green Card Holders

This section is for those people who have come to the US as permanent residents or Green Card Holders. SSN is required for a permanent resident to live in the US. There are 2 ways you can apply for the SSN:

  • You can apply for a Green Card along with the Visa application before coming to the US.  You will be required to fill the US Department of State (DoS) Form DS 230 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) or the electronic Form DS 260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application). You need not go to a SSN office or fill out a separate SSN application form. The DoS and the Department of Homeland Security will coordinate to issue you an SSN card. The card will be issued to you after you come to the US. You will receive the SSN card by mail 3 weeks after you arrive in the country. Please contact the SSN office if you do not receive the card within 3 weeks or if you change your address.
  • if you do not apply for a SSN with your visa then go to the SSN office to apply for a card. This process will take minimum 2 weeks. The following documents are required:

    • Your passport with the Machine-Readable Immigrant Visa (MRIV) or Permanent Resident Card (Form I-551).
    • Your birth certificate and a birth certificate for each family member applying for a SSN.

Social Security Number For Non-Immigrants

Here are the required documents for SSN Application at Social Security Administration (SSA) for non-immigrant visa holders like students, H1B, etc.:

  • Application for SS-5 (available at a SSA office or online)
  • Valid Passport
  • Original SEVIS I-20 (for F-1 visa holders) or DS-2019 (for J-1/J-2 visa holders)
  • A printout of your I-94 Arrival/Departure record
  • Proof of employment eligibility such as an job offer letter, I-20 endorsed for CPT, or Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card
  • Social Security letter from OIS

I have lost my SSN. What do I do to replace a lost card?

You must inform the SSA about a stolen or lost SSN card. You can replace your card without any additional cost if it is lost or stolen. You can only replace your SSN three times a year and up to ten times during your lifetime. You must note that legal name changes and other updates do not count toward these limits. For example, if changing your non-citizen status will not count towards these limits. If you get a green card and want to change your non-citizen status in the SSN card you can do this at any time.

To get a replacement card, you will need to:

You will not get a new number. Your replacement card will have the same details and number as your previous card.

How to find the closest SSA office near you?

In order to find the nearest Social Security Administration office, follow the below steps.


Do not give your social security number to anyone unless you are convinced it is required. You will be required to give the last four digits of your social security number on many occasions. For example if you call the customer service number for your cable account, the associate will definitely ask for this number. Giving your number is voluntary even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you must verify:

  • Why your number is needed;
  • Can you supply some alternate information;
  • How your number will be used;
  • What happens if you refuse; and
  • What law requires you to give your number

The answers from the associate can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number or not. If you suspect something you can simply refuse to give this information.

  • Never print your Social Security Number on your checks, business cards, address labels etc.
  • Do not carry your SSN card in your wallet.
  • Do not throw any paper with your SSN information. Always use a shredder before disposing important papers. Identity theft is a big problem in the U.S. You can protect yourself by protecting your important documents.
  • The local social security office is listed under U.S. Government agencies in your telephone directory or you may call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
  • If you do not have a telephone directory, you may locate the nearest Social Security office on the Internet at

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