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With all of the recent FATCA press, more and more US citizens living in Canada are now learning that, although they no longer live in the US (or maybe they haven’t lived in the US for 40 years or longer), they are still required to file US tax returns and report their worldwide income.

In order to file a US tax return, as a US citizen, you  need to have a Social security card. Helping individuals who are working towards becoming compliant with their US tax filing requirements, one of the most common things I hear is “How do I get a Social Security Number? I’ve lived in Canada my whole life since I was an infant/child/teen, etc. I don’t think I’ve ever been issued one?” The other unfortunate thing I often hear about are the struggles that people go through trying to obtain a Social Security number (in most cases so that they can file their tax returns to become compliant).

As a result, the following aims to help those who need to apply for an original social security card (never have been issued one) for an adult over 12 years old.

Step 1: Complete form SS-5.

Step 2: Gather documents to support proof of citizenship, age and identity

It’s important to note that the following documents must be either originals or certified copies from the issuing agency and the Social Security Administration will not accept photocopies or notarized copies of documents.

Proof of Citizenship & Age– the IRS requires either a US birth certificate or a U.S. Passport as proof of US Citizenship.

In cases where neither a US birth certificate exists, either a U.S. hospital record of your birth or a religious record made before the age of 5 showing your date of birth may be accepted.

For those people that have lived outside of the US for an extended period or for most of their life, you will need documents showing long-term residence outside of the US. These include the following:

1) School records and employment records showing a history of living outside of the US. This is sometimes referred to as showing ‘decades’, which essentially means that they want you to show/prove that you’ve been living outside of the US each of the decades that you have indicated. For people who’ve been in Canada 30, 40, 50 years or more, this can be a challenge. Documents such as high school and university transcripts, report cards, year books, school registration documents all can be used as proof of residence. Employment records from previous jobs, employment letters, letters from previous employers stating when you were employed with them can all be used. This is a very important requirement that tends to get overlooked and often results in being sent home to get more documentation and another meeting. Depending on how far you need to travel to the nearest Social Security office, this can not only become a huge inconvenience, but also can become very costly and time consuming.

Other documents or records that show you were a long-term resident could also be  used such as medical history, immunization records, tax returns, marriage certificates, divorce records, home purchase/ownership documents, children’s birth certificates.

I recommend obtaining as many possible documents that show you were a resident outside of the US for each decade that you’ve lived outside of the United States. It is also advisable to contact the Social Security Administration prior to travelling there to see if the information you have gathered will be sufficient.

Identity- The IRS will only accept certain documents, such as a U.S. Driver’s license, a state-issued non-driver identification card or a US passport.

If you do not have any of these and are not able to get a replacement, they may accept other documents such as employee ID cards, School ID cards, Heath Insurance Card (Not a Medicare card) or US military ID.

All documents must be current and not expired. The Social Security Administration will require at least two separate documents, for example you may use your U.S. Passport as both proof of citizenship and identity.

Step 3: Book appointment with Social Security.

Note:  All Individual over 12 years of age who are applying for an original Social Security number must appear in person for an interview.

In these interviews, the agent at the Social Security Administration will require examples of documents to prove that you’ve never been assigned a Social Security Number.

If you live in Canada, please click HERE  for the Social Security office that serves your Province.

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7 years ago

Can you confirm whether these requirements have changed? The Vancouver US consulate appears to now be issuing SSNs, and without the necessity of proving long- term residency outside the US.


8 years ago


The State Department now rejects passport applications that don’t have SSN’s. The US requires all US citizens enter the US on a US passport. How is one to travel to the US to get a SSN without a US passport?

9 years ago

Would I have to get a SSN before catching up on my US tax returns? Seems like it would take a long time. Can i apply for a ITIN using a W7?

Tony Theaker

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The information contained in this article is for general use only and should not be viewed as professional advice. Accounting and tax rules and regulations regularly change and individuals should contact a competent professional to obtain accounting and tax advice based on their specific situation.


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