Banking and Finance

What is a SSN & How to Get One

July 27, 2021

Since 1936, the Social Security Administration has issued over 450 million SSNs. And, that’s not just including those issued to people who weren’t born in the United States. Oh, you didn’t know that you can apply for a SSN without being born in the US? Of course you can!

In fact, numerous immigrants wishing to work in the US and receive social security benefits apply for a SSN card each year. However, just because you’re moving to the US doesn’t mean that you need (or even are eligible for) a SSN.

Read on to learn more about what exactly a SSN is, how to get one, and if it even makes sense for you to go through the paperwork needed to get one in the first place.

What is a SSN: The History of Social Security

In the United States, SSNs are issued by the Social Security Administration to track information of workers and their dependents who work for a federal or state government agency. 

SSN cards were first used as a way to accurately record a person’s social security contributions so that they could be easily looked up at their time of retirement. They were first issued in later 1936 and now, a SSN is pretty much a part of living an American life. For example, SSNs are needed for working, filing taxes, getting a loan or credit card, and even becoming an organ donor. 

It’s difficult to do anything without a SSN because so many organizations ask for SSNs as verification. This is particularly true for banks, which is why we’ll talk a bit about applying for a debit card without a SSN below!

How to Get a SSN

Need to learn how to get a SSN? SSN requirements are different for everyone. SSNs are given to dependent children, immigrants applying for permanent residency, and even adopted children who need SSNs. There is no age limit on SSNs so your SSN card will not be denied based on age if you already know your SSN.

For the most part, the requirements to get a social security card include:

  • Proof of US citizenship (this includes a US birth certificate or a US passport).
  • Proof of age (this could be a birth certificate as well; anyone age 12 or older requesting a SSN must appear in person for an interview).
  • A second form of identity, which can be anything from an employee identification card or a US military identification card to a school ID card.

With those documents, you’ll fill out the SSN application form (more on that below). If there are no issues with the application, you should receive your SSN card within two weeks. Here is a page full of resources for those who might fall under different categories when applying for a SSN (like applying without a US birth certificate, for example).

Do International Students Need a SSN?

In most cases, no, international student’s don’t need an SSN. You’re not required to have one (and actually aren’t allowed to) if you’re just living in the US on a visa and aren’t a full citizen of the country. 

In fact, the Social Security Administration requires that you are a citizen of the United States to apply for a SSN card in most cases. If you’re not, the Social Security Administration notes, “You need to prove your identity and work-authorized immigration status.” To prove your identity and work-authorized immigration status, you’re required to show your immigration documents and passport.

As an international student, the visa and documents you have often don’t qualify you for this. So, what are your options? You can look into getting an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (otherwise known as an ITIN). Or, depending on what you need the identification card for, you might be able to get away with just a Permanent Resident card or a Resident Alien Card.

Having an ITIN is necessary if you pay taxes in the US. However, if you’re just studying abroad for a semester or are only in the US to get your master’s degree, for example, it might not make sense to go through the process of applying if you know you won’t be here long-term.

Frequently Asked Questions About Social Security Numbers

While the above information should help you understand what a SSN is and how to get one (if you need one), here are a few more of the most frequently asked questions we receive regarding SSNs:

How many numbers are in an SSN?

How many numbers are in an SSN? A social security number is made up of nine digits.

The first three are called the "area number" because they were assigned by geographical region. The next two are called group numbers, because they were assigned in alphabetical order within their region. And the last four are serial numbers, assigned in random order to individuals within each SS group.

How can you get an SSN office appointment?

You can request a social security number online or in person at your local SSA office or SSN office. Here is more information straight from the Social Security Administration on the process that you’ll need to go through in order to get your SSN online.

How do you apply for an SSN online?

It doesn’t appear that the Social Security Administration is currently offering appointments online, and expect things to change as COVID-19 restrictions and rules change as well. We recommend creating an account on the platform listed above (here again for reference) and going through the steps that they lay out for you. They are pretty clear and try to make the process as easy as possible!

Where can I find the SSN application form?

The application form needed to apply for a SSN is called the SS-5 application. While there are many ways you can complete the form in terms of the necessary requirements, each requires you to prove your age and immigration status in the United States.

Here is the link to the SS-5 form.

How to Get a Debit Card Without a SSN

No SSN? No problem. If you’re an international student and don’t need a SSN or are an immigrant who doesn’t yet qualify for one, you’ve still got options when it comes to proving your identity for certain applications within the US.

When it’s time to set up a bank account, you can get your Cheese Debit Card with just the following (plus other perks):

🧀️ No SSN Required

🧀️ You can apply for a Cheese Debit Card with an established US address, passport, and valid visa.

🧀️ You can receive a $5 sign-up bonus (that you’re also able to donate to one of our partner charities to support the Asian American community).

🧀️ There are no annual fees, no overdraft fees, and no ATM fees.

🧀️ You can earn 0.25% cash back on all purchases and up to 10% at certain retailers.

Ready to get started saving and spending with a Cheese Debit Card? Click here to apply, or download the app for either iOS or Android