Expat Life: The American Love Affair With the Social Security Number

The Social Security Number (SSN).  Just like the British National Insurance Number right?  WRONG!  In the UK, our National Insurance Number is literally used on an employment sign up/contract and then it’s never to be seen again.  Just a number to help with taxes.  In the USA it’s very different, everywhere LOVES the Social Security Number!  Not only is it a tax number but it also acts as a background check!

Can An Expat Work Without A Social Security Number?

I had looked around on Google for the answer before I left the UK.  Once I discovered I was going to be in the States in time for the new school year, I had my heart set on a position that had come up, that way I knew I’d have the time off to visit home in the summers for as long as I want!  The only probably is that I knew I wouldn’t receive my Social Security Number in time.  After some Googling, I found on the SSN website that you CAN start work without it, you just might have to supply the employer with a letter from the Social Security office letting them know that the number is on route.

Typically I had to go for possibly the only job that wanted it straight up to be able to do a background check.  I went to the local office and found out that it had been posted just 4 days after landing in the States so would arrive in 7-10 days.  I had read horror stories on numbers not turning up or being passed on at the point of entry at the border.

*TIP* I was advised to ‘register’ at my local post office.  As it is an important document, it may not be forwarded on unless they know you actually live there.  I just had to fill in a card.

I rung up my potential employer and explained the situation.  Thankfully they were happy to accept a copy of my UK Police Certificate that I had needed for the visa until my SSN arrived.  This showed I wasn’t a criminal and is also what the Social Security know as my background anyway

It took just 11 days after arriving in America for my Social Security Number to be delivered.

So Why Do They Have a Love Affair With it Then?!

As an new arrival in America, don’t expect to be able to do ANYTHING within the first 2 weeks.  I couldn’t get:

  • A bank account
  • A rolling 30 day PHONE CONTRACT!
  • An Iowa Driving License
  • Health Insurance said they’d rather arrange cover once the number arrived

Today I went in a regular clothes shop and the number was even required to complete the purchase.

But here’s the thing…

When it comes in the post it says DO NOT carry it around with you in a wallet.  You have to keep it under lock and key…it even says don’t laminate.  I was expecting it to be like a plastic credit card like the UK National Insurance Numbers used to be, but it’s literally just on a little slip of paper.

So now I have to remember: a new phone number, a new zip code, my work clock in/out code and a Social Security Number!  So many different numbers I think my head might explode!

What’s the strangest things you’ve had to give your Social Security Number for?

7 thoughts on “Expat Life: The American Love Affair With the Social Security Number

  1. I can remember my SS# but not my kids’ or my husband’s! I remember my ex-husband’s tho cuz he was in the military and I needed it for everything lol.


  2. just an FYI, unless you are using credit for your purchase… you should never require you SSN when shopping. Watch out for people trying to steal your number, especially because of your British Accent.


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