Applying for a social security number

If you are planning to relocate OR have recently moved from Europe to the USA as an nonimmigrant with a working visa: one of the first things you need to do is to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN).

Many people think they can do this right away. Wrong.  You need to wait (a minimum of) ten days after your date of arrival and admission by the Department of Homeland Security. The Social Security Administration site advises that:

We recommend you wait 10 days after arriving in the United States to apply for a Social Security number. This will make it easier for us to verify your DHS documents online, which will speed processing of your Social Security number application

The good news are that the process is quite simple and the site of the US Social Security Administration is very clear and useful. I actually haven’t seen any other government site so easy to navigate. Besides the officer and rest of the staff are very helpful (at least in the Mountain View office).

Screen Shot: US Social Security Administration site

Screen Shot: US Social Security Administration site

A brief summary of our experience when applying for the SSN:  

  1. We waited ten days since arrival;
  2. We arrived at 9:09 am at our closest Social Security Administration office (they open at 9am and we already found 32 people waiting before us…).
  3. We had all the required documentation with us (read the instructions). For our specific case: we needed the passports and visas; I-94 admission numbers and our international marriage certificate.
  4. We waited for one hour and twenty minutes to be called to a counter/table. Apparently you can make an appointment to speed up the process but they don’t offer this option online… so I didn’t know about it until I got there… An appointment can save you up to 60 minutes of waiting time! so be smarter than me and make the appointment by phone!
  5. After a very very very long time waiting… we were called to go to a counter. We then presented our documentation, responded to a few questions and left the building 20 minutes later with the confirmation that we applied for our Social Security number… and nothing else…
  6. Yes that’s right… we left the building without the number because we still need to wait another 7 – 10 days until our Social Security card arrives by mail.

On a funny note let me tell you that when you applied for a SSN you get a receipt. At the end of this receipt you can read that:

The Social Security Administration is required by law to limit replacement Social Security cards to three per year and ten per lifetime.

This last line made me laugh… a lot… apparently people lose their social security card very often in the US and they keep coming to request a replacement… hey! maybe that’s why there were so many people before us!

Have you recently relocated to the USA? What’s your experience applying for a social security number?


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