Applying for a Social Security Number for Your Adopted Child Print E-mail

Copyright© 1997, 1999 by Clark D. Pickett. All Rights Reserved.

One of the first things you, as a newly adoptive parent, will need to do for your adopted child is to apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). The SSN is used for many purposes, such as identification, wage reporting, and on income tax returns.

You must obtain an SSN for your child before you file any Federal Income Tax Return on which you list the child as a dependent. The following information was taken directly from the 1998 Form 1040 and 1040A Instructions for Line 6c Column (2), and from Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax.

You must list the social security number (SSN) of any person for whom you claim an exemption in column (2) of line 6c of your Form 1040 or Form 1040A.

If you do not list the dependent's SSN when required or if you list an incorrect SSN, at the time we process your return, we may disallow the exemption claimed for the dependent and reduce or disallow any other tax benefits (such as the child tax credit and the earned income credit) based on the depe ndent.

If a person for whom you expect to claim an exemption on your return does not have an SSN, either you or that person should apply for an SSN as soon as possible by filing Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Information about applying for an SSN and Form SS-5 is available at your local SSA office.

It usually takes about 2 weeks to get an SSN. If you do not have a required SSN by the filing due date, you can file Form 4868 for an extension of time to file.

To access the complete instructions contained in Publication 17 in the section entitled Social Security Numbers for Dependents, click here.

The process is relatively quick and painless. You must complete an Application for a Social Security Card (Form SS-5) and submit it to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can obtain the form in several ways:

  Visit, call or write any SSA field office.
  Call SSA’s national toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213.
  Download the form from SSA’s web site. The URL is:

As the instructions at that site state, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to read and print the form. If you do not have this program, there are instructions at that site on how to obtain it.

The form is also available at some Post Offices and other Federal Buildings.

You will complete the form on behalf of your child and sign it as parent.

You must submit the form, either in person or by mail, to any SSA field office. You can determine the location of these offices by looking in the blue pages of your phone book under United States Government, Social Security Administration. When you submit the form, you mus t also submit proof of age, citizenship, and identity for your child. The types of acceptable documents in each category are detailed on the form. For practical purposes, these are:

  Your child’s birth certificate.
  Your child’s adoption certificate or decree.
  The certified translations of both.
  Your child’s foreign passport.
  Your child’s Alien Registration Receipt Card (the "green" card).

If you have not yet received the "green" card, the INS registration number was entered by INS on your child’s foreign passport at the time you entered the U.S. This will suffice as proof of legal entry for permanent residence.

If you are signing on behalf of your child, you must also submit proof of identity for yourself, such as your driver’s licence.

You must submit the originals of these documents or certified copies obtained from the custodian. Uncertified photo copies are not acceptable. For this reason, it is advisable to complete the application process in person. The SSA representative you talk to will look at your documents, make any necessary photocopies, and return the originals to you.

You should be aware that SSA may require an independent translation of any documents you submit that are in a foreign language. This translation will be performed by an SSA employee, and it may require sending the photocopies of the documents to another SSA office, where the SSA-certified translator works. This requirement is independent of the acceptability of the documents and any translations you already have by any o ther agency, such as INS.

You should also be aware that SSA is required to spell your child's name on the SSN records however it is spelled on the proof of identity that you submit. If the only English language proof that you have to submit is the child's foreign passport, and if the name is spelled differently on the passport than you prefer to spell it, the SSN may initially be issued under the incorrect spelling. You can correct this later, once you have proof of identity showing the preferred spelling. The alternative to this is to wait until you have the child's "green" card before you complete the SSN application, assuming the name is spelled as you prefer on INS records.

If you have not obtained the form prior to visiting the SSA field office, the SSA representative will tell you whether they want you to complete the paper form first, or whether they will take the information from you orally and input it directly to SSA’s enumeration system. The actual interview normally takes about 10 to 15 minutes per application.

Once SSA has received and processed the application, you will receive your child’s SSN in the mail. This takes about 2 to 3 weeks.

In the future, you will need to recontact SSA when your child becomes a U.S. citizen. Your child’s record will initially be coded as "lawfully admitted for permanent residence". Once your child becomes a U.S. citizen, the coding should be changed. You or your child will need to follow the process explained above to update SSA’s records. When you complete this application, you will need to submit the child's Certificate of Citizenship, and proof of identity for yourself.

Clark Pickett has worked for the Social Security Administration for over 25 years. He is presently located at SSA Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, where he does statistical analysis for the Supplemental Security Income program. He has no access to SSA's enumeration system and cannot assist anyone with the enumeration process.

Clark is the adoptive father of siblings Sergei (04/28/86) and Nadia (10/14/92), adopted 09/24/96 in St. Petersburg, Russia. He is co-adminstrator of the EEAC website and mailing lists.


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