In Canada, your Social Insurance Number (SIN) is necessary if you wish to work, and if you wish to receive government benefits or have access to government programs. It is free to apply for one and if possible, you should do so in person, as soon as you “land” in Canada, as explained below.
But your SIN is also your personal identifying number. Think of it as your digital identity for Canada. Your SIN, once you have one, is a unique number assigned only to you and no one else. And that means making sure you keep your SIN safe. In today’s hyper-connected digital world, you should never share your SIN unless absolutely required to. For example, under Canada’s Privacy Act, employers no longer have a right to ask for your SIN in a job application. (Although after you have been hired, they do have a legal right to ask for your SIN.) These restrictions on using a SIN are in part due to the fact that SIN numbers can be stolen and used by criminals to commit identity theft. They can then be used to attempt to access things like bank accounts, etc.
In other words, while it is fairly straightforward to apply for a SIN, as you’ll see below, you should make sure you keep your SIN safe. You will usually use it at tax time and for certain government programs. Here are some other steps you should follow in safeguarding your SIN.
- Do NOT give out your SIN unless you are absolutely sure that an actual government agency or department requests it.
- When you receive your Confirmation of SIN Letter store it in a safe place. (Service Canada no longer issues plastic SIN cards but if you have a card and the expiry date has not passed, it is still valid.)
- Never carry your SIN on your person the way you would a Drivers License, for example.
So, with that in mind, let’s do a deep dive into Canada’s Social Insurance Number, or SIN.
Who is Eligible for a SIN?
The following should obtain a SIN for working or to access government benefits or other programs in Canada:
- Canadian citizens
- Permanent Residents of Canada
- Temporary Residents of Canada (generally, those with either work permits or study permits).
Anyone of the above groups over 12 years of age can apply for a SIN, although parents will often apply on behalf of their children, as explained below.
Parents – in Canada’s Provinces but not yet in the Territories – can register their newborn child for a SIN at the same time they register their child’s birth. This is done through each province’s Newborn Registration Service. Go here for a list of provincial Newborn Registration Service websites.
What Documents Do You Need to Apply for a SIN?
There are two types of documents you may need to apply for a SIN:
These are documents that prove your identity and legal status in Canada. You must always provide a primary document when applying for a SIN. What kind of primary document will depend on your status in Canada:
Canadian citizens must provide an original of one of the following:
- Certificate of Birth/Birth Certificate issued by vital statistics agency of a province or territory in Canada if you were born in Canada
- Certificate of Canadian Citizenship issued by IRCC if you became a Canadian citizen (naturalized)
- Certificate of Registration of Birth Abroad issued by Canada’s immigration authorities before 1977.
Canadian Permanent Residents
Permanent Residents must provide an original of one of the following:
- Permanent Resident Card issued by IRCC
- Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) along with either a travel document like a passport or a provincial/territorial official photo ID like a driver's license
- Record of Landing (IMM 1000) issued by IRCC before June 28, 2002
- Verification of Status (VOS) issued by IRCC when a Record of Landing has been lost (Only allowed to amend a SIN record or to confirm an existing SIN, NOT to apply for one so you will need to apply for your PR Card if you only have a VOS and are applying for the first time).
Temporary Residents of Canada
Temporary Residents must provide an original of one of the following:
- Work permit issued by IRCC.
- Study permit issued by IRCC indicating you are authorized to work in Canada in addition to studying. It should say that the permit holder “may accept employment” or “may work” in Canada. If issued before February 11, 2015 it should be accompanied by a Confirmation to Work Off-Campus Letter issued by IRCC.
- Visitor record issued by IRCC indicating you are authorized to work in Canada.
- Diplomatic identity card and work authorization issued by Global Affairs Canada.
- Canadian Birth Certificate, OR
- Foreign Birth Certificate AND Certificate of Indian Status issued by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC).
People Outside of Canada Eligible for Canadian Benefits
Individuals residing outside of Canada who are neither citizens of Canada nor have legal status in Canada, but who are eligible to receive Canadian government benefits (OAS, CPP, or RRQ from Quebec):
- Birth Certificate from your home country translated by a certified translator if not in English and/or French, AND
- Letter confirming eligibility for pension or benefits from the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Old Age Security (OAS), or Quebec’s RRQ.
These are only required if your current name is not the same as your name on your primary documents. They must be provided along with your primary document and must be originals. They must be one of the following:
- Certificate of Marriage (or similarly titled document): to support family name after marriage.
- Divorce Decree or Certificate: to support family name that does not appear on primary documents.
- Legal Change of Name Certificate or Court Order.
- Adoption Order: certified by a Canadian Court (for Canadian adoptions ONLY).
- Notarial Certificate or Notarial Adoption Certificate: issued by country of origin for a child adopted abroad to support SIN record in the child’s Canadian name.
- Request to Amend Record of Landing: used to amend a Record of Landing or Confirmation of Permanent Residence.
What Documents Do You Need to Apply for a SIN for Somebody Else?
There are several cases where you may be applying for a SIN for another person. The required documents are as follows:
Parents applying for their child:
- The child’s primary document as listed above.
- The parent’s SIN if they have one.
- The parent’s primary document as listed above, if they don’t have a SIN or are applying by mail.
- The child’s primary document as listed above.
- Original or certified copy of a document confirming your legal guardianship.
- The legal guardian’s own SIN.
- The legal guardian’s primary document as listed above, if they don’t have a SIN or are applying by mail.
- Applicant’s original primary document.
- Valid Photo ID or Provincial/Territorial Employee ID of Legal Representative.
- Original document or certified copy confirming your legal representation.
- Provincial/Territorial employees must provide original letter of authorization issued by their agency and signed by their agency’s director or administrator.
Please note that all documents not in English and/or French must be accompanied by a translation done by a certified translator. Translation by family members are NOT acceptable. "Family members" means the following people: Parents, Spouses, Guardians, Siblings, Children, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Nieces, Nephews, or First Cousins.
What are 900-Series SINs?
Any Temporary Resident who receives a SIN will receive one that begins with a “9”. These are called 900-Series Social Insurance Numbers. They are temporary unlike the SINs issued to Canadian citizens or Permanent Residents of Canada.
Your 900-Series SIN will have an expiry date that corresponds to the expiry date on your work or study permit (or other travel permit) issued by IRCC. You must update your SIN record if you extend your stay in Canada or your SIN will expire.
Once you have updated your SIN record to ensure that your 900-Series SIN’s expiry date coincides with the expiry date on your travel document, you will receive a SIN with the new expiry date.
Please destroy your old SIN in a safe manner and only use the new SIN.
How to Apply for a SIN
This is the easiest part, if you’re applying in person, as most people do.
- Having gathered the originals of all your required primary and (if necessary) supporting documents, find the nearest Service Canada office. Go here to find which office is nearest you.
- If your documents are in order, you will receive your SIN during your visit to the Service Canada office and will be able to take your originals of your documents back home with you afterwards.
Applying by mail is only allowed in the following situations:
- If you live over 100 km from the nearest Service Canada office in a remote area with poor access. Go here and enter you address in the box to see if it qualifies you for a SIN mail application.
- If you have other extenuating circumstances that mean you are unable to apply in person or are unable to have someone else apply for you must call the following number to see if you can apply by mail: 1-800-206-7218.
- Individuals applying from outside Canada must apply by mail if they are unable to return to Canada to apply.
Applying by mail requires the following to be sent to the address below:
- A completed SIN application form. Go here to download it. If you do not have online access and need to order a form call the following number: 1-506-548-7961 (long-distance charges will apply).
- The required original documents – primary and if necessary, supporting. Photocopies will NOT be accepted. Make sure they are original documents.
Mail your completed application form along with the original documents to the following address:
Social Insurance Registration Office
PO Box 7000
Bathurst, New Brunswick E2A 4T1
If your application is complete with all the necessary documents, you should receive a letter within 20 business days. If you haven’t heard back for more than 25 business days, please contact the SIN program at:
- 1-800-206-7218 toll-free in Canada only
- 1-800-9269105 TTY in Canada
- 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM local time
- 1-506-548-7961 from outside Canada (long-distance charges apply)
- TTY 1-800-926-9105
Now that I’ve got my SIN, how do I protect It?
As the world becomes more connected, identity fraud is becoming an ever-greater concern. If someone gets a hold of your SIN, they can potentially commit fraud and essentially ruin your credit profile, which will take you a lot of time and trouble to restore to its previous state. Don’t let this happen. Here are some tips on how to protect your Social Insurance Number:
- If you still have a SIN Card do NOT carry it in your wallet/purse/handbag etc. Store it in a safe place.
- NEVER use your SIN as a piece of Identification.
- Provide your SIN only when legally required:
- After being hired by your employer (generally this is for tax purposes)
- When completing income tax information for the federal/provincial/territorial governments
- When opening an account at a financial institution (a bank, credit union etc.)
- When accessing government programs or benefits such as:
- Canada Pension Plan benefits
- Quebec Pension Plan benefits
- Old Age Security benefits
- Employment Insurance benefits
- Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)
- Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP)
- Canada Child Benefit
- Canada Student Loans
- GST/HST claims
- Social Assistance benefits
- Veteran’s benefits and programs
- Workers Compensation benefits
- Child Support payments
- You are NOT legally required to provide your SIN in the following situations:
- Proving your identity – except for certain government programs
- Applying for a job
- Applying to rent a property
- Negotiating a lease with a landlord
- Applying for a Credit Card
- Cashing a cheque
- Completing a banking transaction (mortgage, line of credit, loan)
- Completing a medical questionnaire
- Renting a car
- Signing up for Cell phone, Internet, or TV
- Writing a Will
- Applying to College or University
- If you are requested to provide your SIN in a situation where it is NOT legally requires, such as the ones listed above:
- Request why it is needed and with whom it will be shared.
- Explain it is not required by law and that you don’t want to provide it.
- Offer an alternative piece of identification.
- If the company/organization insists on your SIN, ask to see the manager and explain the situation. Many companies are unaware of when a SIN is legally required and when it is not.
- If the company/organization’s response is not satisfactory, file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Find out more:
- Calling 1-800-282-1376
- Visiting their website here.
- If you suspect someone has stolen your SIN and is using it for fraud (unusual Notice of Reassessments from the Canada Revenue Agency is often a clue):
- File a report with your local police or whatever number they provide you. You should make sure you provide your personal information, as well as your SIN to the police.
- Report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. Go here to see their website or call: 1-888-495-8501
- Report the fraud to Canada’s main Credit Agencies to ensure your credit rating can be protected from further damage:
- Equifax Canada: 1-800-465-7166
- TransUnion Canada: 1-877-525-3823
So please remember, your SIN is not like your other pieces of ID. It is only used in a relatively narrow set of circumstances as we’ve outline above. Keep it stored in a safe place at home and only use it when you are legally required to do so.