What should I do? What should I do? Where should I go? Once you are eligible, getting a social security card is a pretty simple and quick process, usually taking 7-10 business days.

But first and foremost, let’s dive into the basics of the Social Security card and its importance in planning the future.

About the Social Security Number

The Social Security card was created in 1936 as a part of a program designed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist American citizens in recuperating after the great depression. At first, the sole purpose of assigning Social Security cards was to keep track of U.S workers for Social Security entitlement and benefits calculation.

The Social Security number comprises 9 unique digits assigned by the Social Security Administration Office to each US citizen and other eligible individuals.

The Social Security numbers enable government agencies to identify individuals and track their financial records and years of contributions to determine eligibility and calculate retirement, and disability incomes, among other Social Security benefits.

The purpose of the Social Security Number (SSN)

Throughout the years and the evolution of American society, Social Security’s significance has expanded exponentially and nowadays has turned into a record identifier for both government and private sector.

The primary uses for the SSN card:

  • To apply for a passport;
  • To file tax returns;
  • To get a driver’s license;
  • To enroll in medicare;
  • To get hired for a new job;
  • To open a bank account at a U.S financial institution;
  • To register for public school;
  • To apply for a federal loan;
  • To apply for public assistance;

Eligibility to apply for an SSN and types of SSN cards

U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and non-citizens legally living in the United States are eligible to apply for the SSN.

Therefore, there are 3 different types of Social Security cards.

1. A Social Security card with no restrictions – issued for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

2. A Social Security card that imposes restrictions and is only valid for work only with Department of Homeland Security authorization – this type of SSN is issued to individuals lawfully admitted to work temporarily in the United States.

3. The most restrictive type of Social Security Card is NOT valid for employment – this type of SSN is issued to individuals lawfully admitted into the country. However, they are not authorized to work by the Department of Homeland Security, but have presented a valid non-work reason for having an SSN card issued.

For natural-born citizens, the Social Security Number is assigned at birth. Non-immigrants authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to work in the U.S. must apply to get their number and card issued as soon as they become eligible for Social Security.

Ways to apply for a Social Security Number and Card

Ways to apply for a Social Security Number and Card

There are different ways to request an SSN card. The easiest is to apply while applying for your visa.

Applying directly to the Social Security Administration (SSA)

If you are an O-1 holder, you must complete the application form online, and once submitted, you will need to visit a Social Security office to complete your application.

Please note that you must wait 10 days after the immigration status change approval to apply for the Social Security Number. 

When a foreign worker applies for an SSN card, the Social Security Administration has to verify the information provided by the worker with the Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. government systems can take up to 10 days to sync, which means if you apply for your SSN meanwhile, most likely that the verification won’t happen automatically, causing additional steps to the process and consequently delaying the SSA to issue your SSN card. In some instances, this delay can take months.

Application for SSN is pretty straightforward. Below are the application steps:

  1. Complete and print out Social Security Application Form SS-5
  2. Collect the additional required forms and documentation (see the list below).
  3. Submit the application and the required documents in person at the Social Security Administration’s office.
  4. Request a verification receipt of your application.
  5. Wait approximately two weeks for the Social Security card to arrive in the mail.
  6. Store the original Social Security card in a safe place. Do not carry it with you.

You should bring with you:

  • Social Security Application Form SS-5
  • Passport with a visa stamp
  • I-94 record or passport admission stamp
  • Original copy of the I-797 O-1 Approval Notice

Don’t feel comfortable filling up Form SS-5 by yourself? Don’t stress out about it at a local SSA office, and a Social Security representative will help with everything needed to process your application. You may call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security Administration website with any questions.

If you go through this process, expect to receive your Social Security Card within 2 weeks, it may take longer depending on case specialties.

Please note that F-1 and J-1 visa holders or dependents that receive non-wage income while in the United States cannot apply for SSN cards, but they must apply for a Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

Immigration Status Change

It can be requested at the same time as you apply for your employment authorization or lawful permanent resident card. This way, you can save a visit to the Social Security Office. To apply for employment authorization, you must file Form I-765. If approved by the USCIS, you will receive the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card), also known as a work permit, and your Social Security Card.

Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) must be filed when applying for Permanent Residence. You can now apply for your first Social Security Card or a replacement card. If USCIS approves your application, they will mail your SSN card and Green Card.If you don’t receive your SSN card, please contact a Social Security office within 7 business days of receiving your Green Card.

Applying from Abroad

When applying for an immigrant visa from your home country, you can request your Social Security Card as part of your visa application process with the U.S. Department of State.

To take advantage of this method, you must fill out Form DS-230 (Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration) or the electronic Form DS-260 (Immigrant Visa Electronic Application). You will save time and avoid lines at the Social Security Office. Now, the United States government can use the information already provided by you to the immigration services and share that information with other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, to assign you an SSN. Once admitted into the U.S., you can expect to receive your Social Security Card within 3 weeks. Please contact the Social Security Administration if you don’t receive it after 3 weeks.


  • What is the SSN card?

    The Social Security number is 9 unique digits issued by the Social Security Administration to US citizens and other eligible individuals to track their lifetime financial records to determine their Social Security benefits.
  • Why do I need a Social Security Number as an immigrant?

    To file for tax returns, register at public schools and medicare, and apply for federal loans and public assistance.
  • Who is eligible to apply for a Social Security card?

    U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and non-citizens legally living in the United States.
  • How can I apply for a Social Security Number?

    You can apply from abroad, as well as while in the United States, at the same time as you apply for your immigrant visa or change of status. If you didn’t do everything simultaneously, once in the U.S., you could apply directly at the nearest Social Security office.
  • How can I locate the nearest Social Security office?

    You can use the SSA Field Office Locator or call Social Security’s toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 to find your closest office.
  • As a non-immigrant visa holder, when can I apply for an SSN card?

    It is advised to wait 10 days after your change of status approval to apply for SSN in order to get all information provided up to date in the Department of Homeland Security. If applying too soon, SSA may need to confirm the information manually, which can cause delays.
  • How much does it cost to get a Social Security card?

    The Social Security Administration issues the SSN card free of charge.
  • What documents are needed to apply for the Social Security card in person at a local SSA office?

    Passport, birth certificate, permanent resident card – Form I-551 (if applicable), or other immigration documents issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
  • How long does it take to get a Social Security Card after a visa approval?

    It depends on how you apply. In most cases, you can expect to receive your card within 2-4 weeks.
  • Can I start working while waiting to receive my Social Security Card?

    Although the SSA does not require having a Social Security Card before starting to work, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does require employers to use the Social Security Number to report wages. While waiting for the SSN card, the employer can use a letter issued by the SSA stating that you have applied for an SSN.
  • Is the Tax ID number the same as Social Security Number?

    No. Although they both are used for tax purposes, the tax id number is issued for people who need to pay taxes in the United States, regardless of whether they live or not. For example, a foreigner that invests in the United States must have a tax id number to report earnings from those investments in the U.S. Now, if eligible, you should be able to apply for your Social Security Number with ease. But just one more thing to keep in mind, since the SSN is one of the most important documents issued by the U.S. government and, as mentioned, has become a universal identifier, it should be kept in a safe place, avoiding falling into the wrong hands. If you lost or had your Social Security Number stolen, aka “identity theft,” you must contact the Social Security Administration to file a complaint and inform the Internal Revenue Service. Handling the visa proceedings can be a hassle, and adding the Social Security application to the equation can make it even more complicated for some. To make your life easier, contact us at PassRight and let our team of experts guide you through this critical process. Schedule a call today!