Social Security numbers are used to report an individual's wages to the government and to determine a person's eligibility for Social Security benefits. You need a Social Security number to get a job, collect Social Security benefits and receive some other government services.

If you are temporarily in the United States to work, your employer will ask for your Social Security number. In general, only noncitizens authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work in the United States can get a Social Security number.

Although many other businesses, such as banks and credit companies, also ask for your number, you are not required to provide it. You can get many services without a Social Security number, including a driver's license.

How do I apply for a Social Security number and card?

Applying for a Social Security number and card is free. To apply:

  • Complete an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5); and
  • Show us original documents proving your:
    • Identity;
    • Work-authorized immigration status; and
    • Age.
  • Take your completed application and original documents to your local Social Security office.

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 work permit as proof of both your identity and work-authorized immigration status. Your birth certificate or passport may serve as proof of age. You must provide at least two separate documents.

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;
  • Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) showing DHS work authorization; or
  • Form I-766 (work permit from DHS).

Exchange visitors: A J-1 visitor also must show us a DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. Additionally, J-1 students, student interns and international visitors must show a sponsor letter to prove employment. The letter should be on sponsor letterhead with an original signature that authorizes your employment.

International students: An F-1 or M-1 student also must show us a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Additional documentation proving work eligibility may be required. For more information, ask for International Students And Social Security Numbers (Publication No. 05-10181).


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 passport or a document issued by DHS, as evidence of your age.

How long will it take to get a Social Security number

We must verify your documents with DHS before we assign you a Social Security number. After receiving verification from DHS, we will mail your Social Security card. Most of the time, we can verify your documents quickly with DHS online. If your documents cannot be verified online, it may take DHS several weeks to respond to our request. We are working closely with DHS to reduce these delays.

Do I need to have my number before I start working?

We do not require you to have a Social Security number before you start work. However, the Internal Revenue Service requires employers to use your Social Security number to report your wages.

While you wait for your Social Security number, your employer can use a letter from us stating you applied for a number, and your immigration documents can prove your authorization to work in the United States.

Employers can find more information at Employer W-2 Filing Instructions & Information.

Contacting Social Security

Our website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security’s programs. There are a number of things you can do online.

In addition to using our website, you can call us toll-free at 1-800-772-1213. We treat all calls confidentially. We can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call during the week after Tuesday. We can provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day. (You can use our automated response system to tell us a new address or request a replacement Medicare card.) If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number, 1-800-325-0778.

We also want to make sure you receive accurate and courteous service. That is why we have a second Social Security representative monitor some telephone calls.