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How to get a Social Security card

If you've never heard of a Social Security card, don't worry—we'll walk you through why and how you should get one.

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Karina Parikh
Content and Public Relations Professional

If you're getting ready to move to the U.S., you're probably keeping busy thinking about how you're going to set up your bank accounts, get a credit card, and obtain your U.S. driver's license. In order to get your financial life set up in the States, there's one thing that you'll need first: a Social Security card.

If you've never heard of a Social Security card or Social Security number before, don't worry—we'll walk you through why and how you should get one below.

What is a Social Security Number?

Social Security is a federal insurance program to help those who are retired, unemployed, or disabled. A Social Security card contains a Social Security number (SSN), a unique nine-digit number that every U.S. citizen (or eligible U.S. resident who applies for one) receives from the U.S. government.

Your Social Security number helps the U.S. government keep proper track of the amount of years you've worked and how much money you've earned to determine if you are eligible for Social Security benefits. Whenever you apply for a new job, your employer will ask you for your Social Security number in order to report your income figure and Social Security wages to two government agencies: the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and the SSA (Social Security Administration).

Your Social Security number doesn't just help you secure employment in the U.S. Having a Social Security number will help you open any account with a U.S. financial institution (although keep in mind you can sometimes do this with an ITIN, or individual taxpayer identification number, or apply for one internationally), get a driver's license, apply for a federal student loan, apply for a U.S. passport, and fill out your tax return (an ITIN works for tax returns too), among other things. In other words, getting a Social Security card is a must if you want to properly settle down in the U.S. and enjoy all that American life has to offer—aside from baseball, which doesn’t require an SSN.

Social Security Numbers also allow you to apply for credit cards more easily. It's quite possible to get a credit card with no SSN but it is much more difficult to find good offers.

How to Get a New Social Security card

A SSN corresponds to legal immigration statutes. In turn, opening a bank account is easier, and can often be done online. It makes it easier to build credit in the U.S., file medical forms, and apply for student loans. Additionally, with anSSN, you are paying into the U.S. Social Security system. If you remain in the United States, this means as a retiree you are eligible for retirement benefits.

Applying for Social Security card online

Non-U.S. citizens cannot apply for a Social Security card or replacement Social Security card online, but as we outlined above, you have a couple of different ways to obtain your Social Security card depending on your age and immigration status.

Download Your SS-5 form

Now that we've covered why it's important to get a Social Security card and the basics of how to get one, it's time to go over the types of forms you'll need in order to get your Social Security card.

The main form you should know about is Form SS-5, which you can download here. Form SS-5 lists documents that you will need in order to successfully obtain a Social Security card.

First, you must be able to provide proof of age. There are quite a few different documents that you can provide to prove your date of birth, including a religious record, passport, or final adoption decree.

You must also provide a proof of identity. For U.S. citizens, this means ID cards, Medicare cards, religious records, health insurance cards, and military IDs, school IDs, non-driver identification cards, and employee ID cards, to name a few. For non-U.S. citizens, you can provide your current U.S. immigration documents and your foreign passport that contains your photograph and biographical information.

You will also need to provide documentation to prove your immigration status, including Form I-551, I-94, or I-766. For students or exchange visitors, additional documentation may be required, including a letter that authorizes employments from your school or employer (F-1 or J-1).

One important thing to note is that you cannot bring copies of documents—only the original documents!

After you fill out Form SS-5 and have your other documentation in order, you can bring them to your nearest Social Security office to apply for your new Social Security card!

The takeaway

Applying for a Social Security card may seem like a daunting task, but there are different ways that you can go about it depending on your situation and plenty of resources to help you along the way. Once you receive your new card, it will be easier than ever to settle in the life in the U.S. You'll be able to open up a bank account, apply easier for a credit card, get your driver's license, and enjoy your experience in the U.S. to the fullest!

One of the most important things landlords, banks, and credit card providers will consider is whether an applicant has a U.S. credit score. This requirement also applies to other basic living requirements like apartment rentals, phone plans and car leases. But as a newcomer, how are you supposed to have a U.S. credit history, let alone a credit score? 

There is a way around this predicament. Nova Credit’s Global Credit Passport® essentially translates your credit data from your home country into a U.S. equivalent score which can then be used to support your application for credit products and services in the States. Building U.S. credit is an important aspect of financial management and having a U.S. credit card is a great way to get started. By using your Credit Passport to apply for credit services, you have a better chance of success.  ‍ Nova Credit also partners with a number of established lenders and credit service providers in the U.S. to offer a variety of beneficial newcomer products. This is in line with our commitment towards helping newcomers to the U.S. arrive and thrive. Want to learn more about how to navigate your new life in the U.S.? Visit Nova Credit’s resource library where we provide insights and tips about everything from renting an apartment to choosing the best credit cards as a noncitizen. Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

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