Expat Guide: Obtaining a US Social Security Number or SSN

Expat's Guide to Getting a Social Security Number

If you are an expat relocating to the US for a work assignment or as a student this article will ensure you have everything in place to obtain a Social Security Number (SSN).

In the US, Social Security Numbers act as a form of identification and are used to report a person’s earnings to the government.

Read on to learn what to do before leaving your home country, how to contact the Social Security Office once you land, and what documentation is needed.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Before Traveling

Once you decide you will relocate to the US, it is important to complete the necessary documentation. All foreign applicants for an SSN must have the Department of Homeland Security’s permission.

Applying for a Social Security Number

Expat Social Security Number

Either of the following two forms will need to be completed:

  1. A successfully approved I-765 form will provide an I-766 Employment Authorization Document (EAD) or “work permit.”
  2. Or an approved I-485 form will provide an I-551 Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) card or “green card.”

It is recommended to complete the section to request an SSN card available on each application. Completing an SSN card application simultaneously will save time and eliminate the need to visit a field office of the Social Security Administration. You will receive your SSN card in the mail at your new residence.

Social Security Administration

Social Security Office

If you decide not to apply for an SSN card on an I-765 or I-485, you must complete the SS-5 FS (Application for a Social Security Card) form and deliver it to a local social security field office located throughout the country.

Only apply for an SSN card after receiving either an EAD or LPR card.

Visit the Social Security website to find an office location near you.

Alternatively, you can call the national number 1-800-772-1213 to speak to a representative.

Social Security

Documentation that Expats Need for Getting a Social Security Number (SSN)

To receive an SSN card as an expat, documentation is needed to prove your age, identity, and lawful non-citizen status. Please review the following list of what documents are necessary:

  • Completed SS-5 FS form
  • I-551 Lawful Permanent Resident card


  • I-766 Employment Authorization Document
  • Unexpired foreign passport
  • I-94 Arrival/Departure Record or admission stamp in the passport
  • Foreign birth certificate (if you have it or can retrieve it in 10 days)

Documentation in the United States

Photo Credit: Boundless Resources

For additional assistance, you may go directly to the Social Security Department website to learn more. And always remember, obtaining a US Social Security Number is free. There are no fees associated with obtaining a number.

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