Many people find they need to change or correct Social Security information when they get married or divorced and change their names, or need a replacement when they realize they’ve lost their Social Security card or it's been stolen. Some people have never had a card or number and need to apply for the first time. This and other problematic questions have answers. Be advised: social security regulations do change yearly.

Key Takeaways

  • If you need to request a new Social Security card or just need one for the first time you must fill out form SS-5.
  • You will also need supporting documentation proving your identity, such as a birth certificate or passport.
  • While this can be done in person at a Social Security office, form SS-5 can also be mailed in for quicker turnaround.

Requesting a Social Security Card

The steps to replace or update your card involve filling out the Social Security Administration’s form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card,” and gathering supporting documents to prove your age, identity, and citizenship status. Also, follow these steps to get a Social Security card for a child younger than 18 or an adult dependent—or to apply for your first Social Security card as an adult.

Form SS-5 is a one-page form with 18 items. Most of these items will be easy for you to complete. This form can be printed and filled out by hand or filled out on a PDF form and then printed.

Steps to Complete Form SS-5

Here's how to complete the 18 items on the form.

1. Provide your first name, full middle name, and last name as you want them shown on the card. If you had a different name at birth or previously went by another name, provide those here.

2. If you already have a Social Security number, write it here. If not, leave this section blank.

3. Enter the city and state or foreign country where you were born.

4. Provide the month, date, and year when you were born.

5. Check the appropriate box to disclose whether you are a U.S. citizen, legal alien allowed to work, legal alien not allowed to work, or “other.” If you fall into one of the latter two categories, you’ll need to submit extra documentation with your form SS-5 because, as a noncitizen, the government won’t give you a Social Security card unless you can prove that you need one. You might need to contact the Social Security Administration to see if you qualify for a number and ask what documentation is required in your situation.

6 and 7. You don’t have to fill out items 6 or 7, but if you want to help with the government’s informational and statistical analysis of SS-5 form users, you can check the boxes that best describe your race or ethnicity.

8. Do you identify as male or as female? Check the appropriate box.

9 and 10. Provide the names and Social Security numbers of your birth parents, or check the “unknown” box if you don’t have this information for one or both parents. If you’re applying for the card on behalf of a minor, you must supply the parents’ Social Security numbers unless they don’t have Social Security numbers.

11. Have you ever filed for or received a Social Security card before? Or, if you’re applying on behalf of someone else, has that person ever filed for or received a Social Security card before? Check the appropriate box: yes, no, or don’t know. If the answer is yes, you’ll need to answer questions 12 and 13 providing the name and date of birth associated with the previous card. Otherwise, you can skip to question 14.

14. Provide today’s date.

15. List a phone number at which you’re willing to have someone from the Social Security Administration call you during the day.

16. Give the mailing address where you want your new card to arrive, which should occur in one to two weeks.

17. Sign the form.

18. If you’re filling out this form for yourself, check “self.” This step exists to help prevent confusion, for example, in a situation where John Smith is filling out the form for his son, also named John Smith. If you’re filling out this form for someone else, check the box that identifies how you’re related to them.

Documents to Include with Form SS-5

Once you’ve completed the form, you’ll need to gather the documents you’re required to submit with the form to prove your identity, age, and citizenship status, those of the person you’re applying for a card on behalf of, or both. These documents typically include:

  • An original birth certificate or other permissible proof of age such as a passport, final adoption decree, or religious record of your birth 
  • An unexpired driver’s license, passport, or state ID card to prove your identity, or if you don’t have one of those, a military ID, employee ID, or another identity card
  • Additional evidence of citizenship if you are not submitting a birth certificate or ID, and if you aren’t a U.S. citizen, evidence of immigration status

The Social Security Administration will only accept originals or copies that are certified by the agency that issued the original. You can’t use photocopies, even notarized ones. The agency also requires you to submit at least two documents, even if one of your documents (for example, your passport) can serve more than one purpose.

The final step is to mail the form and your original or certified documents to your local Social Security office or card center. You can find the address online at the Social Security website using its zip code search tool. The office or center will mail your original documents back to you along with your new Social Security card.

If you are mailing your documents to the Social Security Administration, get a certified copy of your driver's license from your state department of motor vehicles instead of sending the original.

Your other option is to take the form and your original documents to the office yourself, which eliminates the possibility that sensitive personal documents like your original birth certificate will get lost or stolen in the mail. Also, if you make an appointment to go to an office, you can use your driver’s license as one of your supporting documents, but if you’re mailing your documents, you won’t want to send your original driver’s license. Get a certified copy of your driver’s license from your state department of motor vehicles, send your passport (also a risky idea), or call your nearest Social Security office and ask what identity document they will accept instead.

The Bottom Line

The steps to replace or update your Social Security card aren’t complicated, but they do take time and attention to detail. Scheduling an appointment to visit the office in person can be a hassle, there is some risk involved in sending the documents in the mail, and it may be a more challenging process if you don’t have originals of required supporting documents like your birth certificate.