Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Getting a Social Security Card as a US immigrant and non US citizen

In this post I thought I would talk about my experience of getting a social security card as a US immigrant and non US citizen, once I had arrived in the USA on my K1 Fiance Visa.  After all my troubles with trying to open a non US citizen bank account, I will not pretend that I was not a little nervous about trying to jump another bureaucratic hurdle.  But a US Social Security Card is essential in America for many things: the social security card itself can be used as proof of ID, plus you need the Social Security Number (SSN) that comes with it too.

The closest thing to a US Social Security Number in the UK, where I am from, is the National Insurance number.  However, we only generally use that for work, tax, and claiming benefits in Britain.  As I mentioned, you need a US Social Security Card and Social Security Number (SSN) for all sorts of things in America.  In the UK, you often have to use your passport as I.D. and occasionally your driving license as I.D.  In the USA, your Social Security Card and Driving License are requested constantly for I.D. purposes and there is no assumption that you have a passport (many Americans don’t have passports).

How do I get a social security card?

You need to find out where your local social security office is.  If you are unsure, look it up on the internet.  I went down to my local social security office with my wife shortly after getting married in Florida.  There was no appointment system, we were told just to turn up and join the queue.  I took along some I.D.: my passport with the I-94 in it and my marriage license.  I also took along a social security form applying for a US social security card and SSN that I had filled out in advance.  The Social Security Office had a lot of similarities with its British equivalent - if you have ever had to make a claim for unemployment or another welfare benefit, you probably won’t be phased by the experience, a waiting room full of bored and demoralized people kept waiting for a long period of time.  The only major difference from Britain was that we were checked over for guns by the security guard on the way in.

Eventually we were seen by one of the ladies at a hatch.  She dealt with my case efficiently and I was told that I would receive my card in about 2 weeks, which turned out to be an accurate.  My social security card was a standard one, apart from it stating on the front that it was "Valid for Work with DHS Authorization Only".  This was because I didn’t have a US green card or EAD.  Once you get your work authorization documents, you can go back to the social security office and they will swap your social security card for one without the legend on it (you need a US green card or EAD).  The SSN stays the same.  Unlike most of the K1 Fiance visa stuff, the social security process was completely free at every stage.


  1. Thanks for the info. I may get this before I try the bank lol!

  2. The problem with the banks is that the person serving you is rarely clued up and is used to dealing with the same routine stuff over and over, they don't have any idea what the bank's policies are on the 2% of matters that don't crop up on a daily/weekly basis. They are more scared of getting into trouble for wrongly accepting you, than wrongly rejecting you - so they wrongly reject you! So frustrating!

    Ironically, most banks have far less restrictions for opening an account if you are just a temporary resident of the USA, rather than a permanent one! I think it is best to be honest though.

    I had no problems with opening a bank account once I had a social security card and ssn, however! (Despite this not being a requirement of the Patriot Act or the bank's regulations for non US citizens!)

    I am getting angry just thinking about it, so I had better stop now! :-)

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  4. I applied for a SS# when I arrived in the US as a grad student 26 years ago. It was supposed to arrive marked "Not valid for employment" as all my friends' did - but somehow they failed to do that! I didn't take advantage of it though. When I eventually had to get a new card with my married name on it, the guy at the SS office commented that he knew the number had originally been issued as a "not for employment" number and was intrigued as to why it didn't have that stamped on the card. It would have made life interesting though if it had been properly marked and I'd had to use that card when I was hired under first a J-1 and then an H-1 visa.

  5. That's an interesting tale, Almost American! :-)

    These beaurocracies are only human. When I got to my visa interview, they told me that they lacked a certain document. I had copies of everything and showed them the one that I'd sent. They looked through the stack of forms and found that they did have it after all!

    It's frightening that your life could be messed up by a mistake that is out of your control!

  6. Paul, so all you needed for a SSN was the marriage license and a photo id?

  7. I'm intrigued as to how you managed to do this. When I look at http://www.ssa.gov/ssnumber/ss5doc.htm it says, "In general, only noncitizens who have permission to work from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can apply for a Social Security number." I am awaiting my EAD but can I still go and get a SSN or were there special circumstances in your case?

    1. An SSN is useful in the US, even if you can't work, as you need an SSN for proof and ID in many circumstances. You are right that you need the EAD or green card to work. I had no problems getting an SSN, they will tell you what documents that you need to take to the office as ID etc on their website.

  8. Just for information to those following these steps like I had been doing.. I tried to apply for a SSN yesterday after I had got married in February and was told I cannot apply for one. I was told by the clerk (after a 1 hr 40min wait) that now I am married I can no longer apply for a SSN as a K-1 applicant as I am now married and the K-1 visa has now served its purpose. I can now only apply for a SSN once my conditional residency has been approved.. So for those who have entered the US but not yet married.. my advise would be to get your SSN card first!!

  9. Hey, I just arrived in the US on a K1 VISA and am looking to get a SSN. Do I require a marriage licence before applying for one? This blog has been real helpful to me, so thanks!