To get a Social Security card, either for the first time or as a replacement, you have to complete Social Security Form SS-5 and submit at least two supporting documents to prove your identity, age, and citizenship status. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the process, don’t worry—we’ll walk you through the steps to complete it.

Key Takeaways

  • You must fill out Form SS-5 to obtain a Social Security card, whether it be a new card or a replacement card.
  • You must provide supporting documents that prove your age, identity, and citizenship status, and those must be original or certified by the agency that issued them, not photocopies.
  • Unless you are applying for a replacement card with no changes, you can only submit your application by mail or in person at a Social Security office.

How Do I Recognize Form SS-5 and Why Would I Need It?

At the top it says “Social Security Administration: Application for a Social Security Card.” Here are some specific situations when you might need to complete this form.

  • You’ve never had a Social Security card before, perhaps because your parents never applied for one on your behalf, and you need one now to get a job.
  • You’ve had a Social Security card before, but you’ve lost it, it was stolen, or it’s become too damaged to use.
  • You’ve changed your name because you’ve gotten married or divorced, or for some other reason, and you need a new card with your new name.
  • Your citizenship status has changed—for example, you’ve gone from holding legal residency (green card status) to becoming a U.S. citizen. 
  • You have a card, but it contains a clerical error, such as a misspelling of your name or an incorrect birth date, and you want to get a new card with accurate information.
  • You’ve just given birth or adopted a child, and you want to get a card for them so you can claim your child as a dependent on your tax return, open a bank account in their name, and handle other tasks that require your child to have a Social Security number. 
  • You’re caring for an adult dependent, and you need a Social Security card for them so that you can obtain government benefits and manage finances.

    Here are some details about how to use form SS-5 for each of these situations.

    To request a replacement Social Security card online, you will need to set up a my Social Security account on the SSA website and have a driver’s license or state-issued identification card from a participating state or the District of Columbia.

    How to Apply for a Card

    If you are applying for a Social Security card for the first time, or for a change in your card, you’ll have to apply the old-fashioned way. You must mail form SS-5 and your supporting documents to your nearest Social Security office or take them there in person. While you can get a copy of Form SS-5 online—and even fill it out on your computer—you cannot submit the form online. If you find a website that says that it can do this for you, it’s a scam.

    However, if you only need a replacement card, you can do this online once you have set up a “my Social Security account” on the Social Security Administration (SSA) website. Such an account allows you to, among other things, ”receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest Statement, and review your earnings history,” according to the SSA website.

    One caveat: This service is not yet available to residents of the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia, nor is it available in U.S. territories, such as American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. You will need a driver’s license or state-issued identification card from the participating states or the District of Columbia.

    Supporting Documents Needed

    You always have to submit supporting documents to prove the applicant’s age, identity, and citizenship status when applying for a Social Security card for any reason. This step can be a hassle, because you might not have these documents on hand, and even if you do, the SSA won’t accept photocopies. It will only accept originals or copies certified by the agency that issued the document. Even if you take a photocopy and an original to a notary to get the photocopy notarized, it won’t be good enough. The SSA is strict about its requirements.

    Getting Your First Card as an Adult

    As noted above, most American parents get a Social Security card for each baby, in order to, among other things, claim that child as a dependent on their taxes. If you are 12 or older and have never had a Social Security card, you must take an extra step beyond filling out form SS-5 and submitting supporting documents.

    You will have to appear in person at your local Social Security office for an interview. You’ll also have to prove that you have never been assigned a Social Security number. Documents the government might accept as proof include records demonstrating that you lived outside of the United States long term or, if you haven’t been outside the country long term, your school records.

    Replacing Damaged, Lost, or Stolen Cards

    You’ll also need a new Social Security card if yours is damaged, lost, or stolen. In these cases the Social Security Administration (SSA) limits you to three replacement cards per calendar year and 10 per lifetime.

    Getting a replacement card is straightforward: just fill out form SS-5 and gather the required supporting documents. You can apply for a replacement card by mail, in person, or online through a “my Social Security account” as described above.

    Replacements Due to a Name Change

    Have you changed your name because you got married, divorced, or for some other reason? If so, you’ll need a new Social Security card. In addition to the basic requirements for form SS-5, you’ll need an original or a certified copy (not merely a photocopy or notarized copy) of your marriage license.

    Changing your name on your Social Security card is one of the first steps in completing the name-change process, so do it as soon as possible. Your updated Social Security card will help you change your name on your driver’s license, with your employer, and with your bank.

    New Card for Immigration Status Change

    You might also need a new card if your immigration status has changed. The SSA issues three types of Social Security cards, and two of them limit your ability to get a job. If you’ve changed your status, you might need a new card before you can work or change jobs. You’ll need to submit additional supporting documents, such as your certificate of U.S. citizenship.

    Replacements to Correct an Error

    Getting a replacement Social Security card to correct an error is basically the same as getting a replacement card for any other reason. There is no place on form SS-5 to indicate that you are requesting an error correction, so include a brief note with your application to make sure that the replacement card is issued accurately.

    Getting a Card for a Dependent

    Another common reason for applying for a Social Security card is because you just gave birth or adopted a child. The SSA recommends getting your child a Social Security number as soon as possible; in fact, you can apply for it at the hospital when you apply for a birth certificate.

    If you are filling out an application on behalf of someone else, including a child younger than 18, you’ll have to prove your identity as well as the identity of the applicant. You’ll also have to prove that you are related to or responsible for the person, which may require additional documents. Otherwise, the application process is the same as if you were applying for your own card.

    Cautions About Your Private Information

    While there are businesses you can pay to fill out a Social Security card application for you and tell you which documents to submit, the SSA doesn’t recommend taking that route. We don’t recommend it either because it’s best to limit who gets your sensitive personal information. What’s more, if you complete the paperwork yourself, it’s free. That’s right: There’s no charge to get a Social Security card, even if it’s your 10th replacement card.

    The Bottom Line

    Social Security Form SS-5 is required any time you request a new or replacement Social Security card from the government. Filling out this one-page form is straightforward. Just make sure to double-check your work, so a careless mistake doesn’t delay your application, and carefully follow the requirements for submitting supporting documents. Make photocopies of everything you submit for your records and expect to wait 10 business days to receive your new card once all your paperwork is squared away with the SSA.