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AARP Bulletin

Social Security Mailbox

Can I Get a Social Security Card If I'm Not a U.S. Citizen?

Here legally? Yes, but not all cards allow you to work

En español | Q. I'm not a U.S. citizen. Can I get a Social Security card?

A. Yes, you can, provided you're in the country legally. But be aware that there are three different kinds of Social Security cards, issued according to a person's work and immigration status, and not all of them let you work.

See also: How would you strengthen Social Security?

The first type is the basic one known to hundreds of millions of people. It gives your name and Social Security number and allows work without restriction. This card is issued to U.S. citizens and to noncitizens to whom the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees immigration, has given permission to live and work in the United States permanently. These include green-card holders as well as refugees and people granted political asylum.

The second type of card carries the words "valid for work only with DHS authorization." It's issued to people who have permission to live and work here only for temporary periods.

The third type has the words "not valid for employment." This type is issued to noncitizens who don't have work permission but need a Social Security number for other reasons, such as to apply for government benefits or services.

You can download a card application (pdf) or get one at a Social Security office.

Whether you're an American citizen or a foreigner, you'll have to give Social Security certain documents when you apply:

  • Evidence of age. Generally a birth certificate will suffice. You can also prove your age with a record of your birth from a U.S. hospital, a U.S. passport or an adoption record.
  • Evidence of identity. Your documents must show your legal name and, preferably, include a photograph and physical description such as height, weight, hair and eye color. It must be a U.S. driver's license, a U.S. state-issued nondriver identity card, or a U.S. passport. If you're not a U.S. citizen, Social Security will need your current immigration documents and your foreign passport.
  • Evidence of U.S. citizenship. These documents include a U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a certificate of naturalization or a consular report of birth.
  • Evidence of immigration status. If you're a foreign citizen, you must provide the documents issued to you by DHS showing your immigration status and whether you're authorized to work in the United States.

All documents must be originals or certified copies from the agency that issued the document. Social Security will return them to you. Photocopies or notarized copies are not accepted.

Social Security will mail you the card as soon as it's able to verify your documents. Generally that takes about 10 days, the agency says.

For more information, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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