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Obtaining A Social Security Card

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at


101. Obtaining A Social Security Card

101.1 What is a Social Security Number?

A Social Security Number (SSN) is a nine digit number SSA assigns to individuals to identify their records of earnings in employment or self-employment covered by Social Security and to pay benefits.

101.2 How can you obtain a Social Security Number?

To obtain an SSN, you need to complete and submit Form SS-5 (Application for a Social Security Card) to your local Social Security office and submit certain documents. Form SS-5 is available for download at:, by calling 1-800-772-1213 or visiting any Social Security office. These services are free.

101.3 What documents do you need?

To apply for an SSN, you will need to provide at least two documents to prove your age, identity, and United States (U.S.) citizenship or lawful work-authorized immigration status.

Additional documents may be required:

  1. If you are a non-citizen lawfully in the U.S. without Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorization to work, you must also provide a document from the government agency requiring your SSN that explains why you need a number and that you meet all of the requirements for the benefit or service except for the number. A State or local agency requirement must conform to Federal law.

  2. If you are a non-citizen not lawfully in the U.S. or reside outside the U.S., you need to provide proof you are entitled to a federally funded benefit for which an SSN is required for you to receive payment.

  3. If you are applying for an SSN on behalf of someone else, you must provide evidence of your authority to sign the application on behalf of the person to whom the card will be issued and evidence of your own identity.

101.4 Is it necessary to apply in person?

If you are 12 or older and have never been assigned an SSN, you must apply in person for a Social Security card. It is important for you to provide complete and correct personal information so your earnings are credited properly and to prevent the unlawful use of your number by someone else. There are penalties for falsely obtaining or improperly using an SSN.

101.5 When is a Taxpayer Identification Number needed?

You need a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) if you:

  1. Have income that is reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); or

  2. You are claimed as a dependent on someone's Federal income tax return.

The IRS uses your SSN as your TIN if you have been assigned one. If you are not eligible for an SSN, you may apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from IRS. If you have any questions about use of TINs, contact the nearest IRS office.

101.6 How should you protect your Social Security number and card?

Protect your Social Security card and number from loss and potential identity theft. DO NOT carry the card with you. Keep it in a secure location and only take it with you when you must show the card to obtain a new job, open a new bank account, or obtain benefits or services from certain government agencies. Additionally, do not allow others to use your SSN as their own.

101.7 What should you do if you lose your Social Security card?

If you lose your Social Security card and you need another card, apply for a replacement card by filling out another Form SS-5. The new card will have the same number as the one lost. You must present evidence of your identity when requesting a replacement card. If you were born outside the U.S., you must also provide evidence of your U.S. citizenship or current lawful immigration status. If you are not a U.S. citizen or do not have current lawful immigration status, you must prove that you have a valid nonwork reason for a replacement card.

101.8 How do you update information on your Social Security record?

If you want to correct or update information that you gave on the original, or your most recent application for an SSN, you must complete a new Form SS-5 and submit supporting documents that show the corrected information (e.g., your birth certificate or other evidence of your age when the date of birth originally provided is incorrect). You must always report a change in your legal name, for example, upon marriage. The supporting evidence must identify you by both your old and new names and contain information about you that we can compare to our records (e.g., your date of birth, age, parents' names). If you were born outside the U.S., you must also provide evidence of your U.S. citizenship (if not already shown in our records) or current lawful immigration status.

101.9 Limits on Replacement SSN Cards

The number of replacement SSN cards you may receive is limited to 3 per year and 10 in a lifetime. In determining these limits, SSA will not count changes in legal name (i.e., first name or surname), or changes to a restrictive legend (i.e., Valid for Work with DHS Authorization, Not Valid for Employment) shown on the SSN card. In addition, we may grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis if you can provide evidence to establish a need for an SSN card beyond these limits (e.g., a letter from a social services agency stating that you must show the SSN card in order to get benefits).

Last Revised: Feb. 4, 2008

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