Applying for Social Security Benefits
Only general rules for applying for basic types of benefits are presented in this section. For more detailed information please visit the SSA website or contact the Federal Benefits Unit.
Who Can Apply - Retirement Benefits
When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn “credits” toward Social Security benefits. You need 40 credits (work in 10 calendar years) to qualify for retirement benefits unless you worked in a country that has a Social Security agreement with the U.S. Such agreement can help you if you have worked in both the United States and a country with which we have an agreement, but have not worked long enough in either country to qualify for Social Security retirement, disability or survivors benefits. Under an agreement, each country can count your work credits in the other country if this will help you qualify for benefits. Please go here (PDF 369 KB) to learn more about it.
Please go to our Totalization Agreements section to see if you can benefit from it.
Your benefit payment is affected by the age at which you decide to retire. If you retire at age 62, which is the earliest possible retirement age for Social Security, your benefit will be lower than if you wait until later to retire. This is explained in more details here (PDF 369 KB)
Who Can Apply - Disability Benefits
Social Security pays benefits to people who cannot work because they have a medical condition that is expected to last at least one year or result in death. Federal law requires this very strict definition of disability. While some programs give money to people with partial disability or short-term disability, Social Security does not. You also need to have worked long enough to qualify for benefits. Please refer to the SSA publication on disability (PDF 371 KB) if you want to read more about it.
Who Can Apply - Benefits for Dependents
Benefits may be payable to the following dependents of the insured Wage Earner:
- Spouse age 62 or older;
- Spouse below age 62 taking care of a child under age 16 (or disabled) who is entitled on the same record;
- Former spouses age 62 or older who had been married to the insured Wage Earner for more than 10 years and are unmarried;
- Unmarried children up to age 18, or up to 19 if they are full-time students who have not yet graduated from high school;
- Unmarried disabled children, even if they are age 18 or older if they became disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.
Who Can Apply - Benefits for Survivors
The following categories of survivors may be eligible for benefits on the deceased insured Wage Earner’s account:
- Widow or widower age 60 or over. Disabled surviving spouse can apply for benefits as early as age 50.
- Widow or widower at any age if she or he takes care of the insured Wager Earner’s child who is receiving Social Security benefits and is younger than age 16 or disabled.
- Unmarried children who are younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) also can receive benefits. Your children can get benefits at any age if they became disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.
- Surviving divorced spouses if they are age 60 or older and unmarried and had been married to the insured Wage Earner for more than 10 years;
- Dependent parents age 62 or older if the insured Wage Earner provided at least one-half of their support. One-half support has to be proven within 2 years of the Wage Earner’s death.
- Lump-Sum Death Payment of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse (regardless of the spouse’s age) if he or she was living with the deceased; or, if living apart, was eligible for certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record. If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record in the month of death. Application for this type of benefit has to be filed within 24 months after the Wage Earner’s death.
How to Apply - File online
How to Apply - Contact Federal Benefits Unit
If you do not wish or cannot file online, please contact us and provide the following information for us to be able to verify your eligibility and determine what supporting evidence will be required in your case:
- Your Social Security Number and, if you are filing for any kind of family benefits, also the Social Security Number of the person who worked in the U.S.
- Your full name and, if you are applying for family benefits, the name of the worker;
- Your date of birth;
- Your relationship to the worker, if applying for family benefits;
- The type of benefits you want to claim;
- Your detailed contact information to include address, telephone number and email address.
You can also fill out our Inquiry Form (PDF 53 KB) and mail it to us.
We will get back to you with further instructions as soon as possible.