What Is A Social Insurance Number (SIN)?

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What Is A Social Insurance Number (SIN)?

Written by Corrina Murdoch
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood

What Is A Social Insurance Number (SIN)?

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SIN Social Insurance Number

An important step to keep your household prepared is to keep all essential documents secure. Each unique piece of identification serves a specific role. Your birth certificate shows your natal date, parentage, and birth location. It also states your legal name. A driver’s license proves that you can legally operate your car. Another essential document is your Social Insurance Number (SIN), critical to getting a job and proving your identity. If you’ve misplaced your card, are applying for one, or want to learn more, it helps to understand the finer points of this system. Let’s take a look at the different aspects of this important economic program. 

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What Is A SIN?

In 1964, the SIN was established as a client account number to administer the Canada Pension Plan and other social assistance programs. Three years later, Revenue Canada began to use the SIN number for tax reporting.  

Individuals in Canada are issued a Social Insurance Number (SIN). It is a unique nine-digit code that is necessary for everything from accessing employment to filing your taxes. The issuing body is Service Canada, offering the service to citizens, and permanent or temporary residents. It serves as your permanent identifier at the intersection of commerce and government. 

As of 2013, it became a legal obligation of workers to provide employers with their SIN. One year later, Service Canada stopped using plastic cards, opting instead for a confirmation letter stating your nine-digit code. 

Social Insurance Numbers And Their Meaning

Your Social Insurance Number carries a surprising amount of information about your origins. The first number depends on your province and whether you have immigrated or are a temporary worker. All digits except eight and zero are used; so, if you see these numbers at the beginning of a SIN, be aware that it isn’t valid. 

Check out what it means if your SIN starts with a 9

SIN Breakdown

First DigitWhen It’s Used
1For those born or residing in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, or Nova Scotia
2For those born or residing in Quebec
3For those born or residing in Quebec
4For those born or residing in Ontario
5For those born or residing in Ontario
6For those born or residing in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, or the Northwest Territories
7For those born or residing in British Columbia or the Yukon
8Never used
9For those who immigrated to Canada and temporary workers
0Never used

Check out what the minimum wage is in each province.

How To Use The Number To Verify Your SIN

Using some quick math, you can verify your Social Insurance Number. The Luhn algorithm follows a simple procedure to check whether it’s correct. 

EX: JANE DOE, SIN # 844 871 988

* For the purpose of this article, we are using a SIN number starting with eight (a non-valid number).

1. Line up the SIN number against this exact numeral: 121 212 121

2. Take each column of digits and multiply them one by one. 

844871988
121212121
8847*7297* 8
*If you get a two-digit result, simply add the digits together (Ex. 8 x 2 = 16 → 1 + 6 = 7)

3. Next, take the sum of all the digits: 8+8+4+7+7+2+9 +7+8 = 60

If the sum is divisible by ten, the number can be a true SIN, so based on the formula, it could be valid. However, since it starts with 8, we know that it is not valid.

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Who Gets A SIN?

A SIN shows that you are legally eligible to work and receive other social programs offered by the Canadian Government. To qualify for a Social Insurance Number, you must meet certain criteria. Categories of individuals who are eligible to apply for a SIN include:

  • Canadian citizens: Children over the age of twelve can apply on their own, though parents and guardians can apply on the behalf of individuals under their care. 
  • Permanent residents: In order to apply you must supply proof of your address and of your legal presence in Canada, along with substantiating documentation to prove your identity.  
  • Certain temporary residents: A temporary worker will have access to a SIN starting with the number nine. It also includes an expiration date to match the immigration document enabling them to work in this country. 
  • Certain refugee claimants: Refugees who are working must apply for a SIN. As with temporary residents, it comes with an expiration date that matches the date of your work authorization. If this information changes, inform Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as well as Service Canada to keep your details up to date. 

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Where Can You Find Your SIN?

Back in the day, Social Insurance Numbers were issued on white plastic cards with a red border and black print. However, in 2014, Service Canada moved away from the physical cards and began issuing Social Insurance Numbers via confirmation letter. If you got your SIN prior to this change (and there is no expiration date) it remains valid.

If you received your SIN after 2014, it appears on the confirmation letter sent by Service Canada. You can also find it on your tax returns and certain correspondence from the Canada Revenue Agency. However, on documents such as Notices of Assessment, all numbers are hidden except for the final four digits. 

When Do You Need Your Social Insurance Number?

Social Insurance Numbers are personal and should be guarded carefully. However, there are certain situations where you are required to provide your SIN. These situations include:

  • Upon being hired by an employer: Though you don’t need to show your SIN during the application process, you must supply it upon being hired. In order for the employer to legally have you working, the SIN must be valid, so they require it for verification.  
  • Completing tax forms for work: When you complete your provincial and federal tax forms, your SIN goes right at the top. It is used to track your earnings and taxes owed
  • When filing your income tax return: Every year at tax time, you must use your Social Insurance Number to complete your filing. 
  • Opening a bank account: Whether at a credit union or a big bank, if you are opening an account that can accrue interest, then you must provide your SIN. 
  • To access government programs: In order to access everything from Employment Insurance to Child Tax Benefits, you must provide your Social Insurance Number. 

Situations Where You Aren’t Required To Provide Your SIN 

While there are many situations that compel you to provide your Social Insurance Number, there are just as many situations where it isn’t an obligation. Often, people can feel pressured into giving their SIN, despite it not being mandatory. Knowing when you can refuse to offer your SIN is important in keeping your personal information secure. Some examples include: 

  • Proving your identity: Unless it is required by a specific government program, you don’t need your SIN to act as identification. 
  • Applying for a job: Only upon hiring must you supply the employer with your Social Insurance Number. 
  • Rental applications: If you are applying to rent a property, you do not have to offer your SIN to the lessor. 
  • Landlord negotiations: When dealing with your landlord to discuss a lease, it is not necessary to provide your SIN. 
  • Credit card applications: You do not have to provide your SIN on credit card applications, though most will ask for it. 
  • Cheque-cashing: When cashing a cheque, you are not required to provide your social insurance number, though you will need identification.
  • Certain banking transactions: Except for opening your interest-earning account, you don’t usually need to provide your SIN. 
  • Medical paperwork: Many forms for medical providers, particularly insurance companies, may ask for your SIN. You do not have to provide it. 
  • Car rentals: If you apply to rent a car, you don’t have to offer your SIN (though you will need a driver’s license and credit card).
  • Telephone plans: Cell phone companies do not require your SIN number when you are signing up for plans. 
  • Estate planning: When completing your Will and Testament, you don’t need to supply your SIN. 
  • Post-secondary applications: Though federal funding will require a SIN, the application to a university or college does not. 

What Happens If You Lose Your SIN Card? 

If you lose your SIN document, Service Canada will not provide a new Social Insurance Number. Your nine-digit code is with you forever. If you’ve forgotten the numbers, check your previous income tax return. Contact the agency that filed them previously. You will need identification to access the records, and likely have to get the documents in person. 

Alternatively, you could reach out to Service Canada directly. It offers online, telephone, and in-person services. There is a verification process to prove your identity. It is meant to prevent the risk of giving personal identifying information where it isn’t warranted. Details such as your previous addresses, information from Notices of Assessment and tax return are often used as ways to verify who you are. 

Check out if credit monitoring actually protects your identity

How To Protect Your SIN 

There are a lot of measures you can take to keep your SIN secure. The key is to store your documents in a secure location. Do not provide your Social Insurance Number if you are not obligated to do so. 

Issues With Fraud 

Should your SIN be used by someone else or be subject to a data breach, contact the police. Get a case number, officer information, and a copy of the report which includes your name and SIN. Next, contact the Anti-Fraud Centre and let Service Canada know. 

Contact Credit Agencies

Inform both credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, of the breach. You may be required to supply proof that you were not involved in the transactions. Inform your financial institution and any creditors, keeping records of all your communication. If you plan to visit Service Canada in person, be sure to bring an original piece of identification such as a birth certificate. 

Getting a New SIN

Only if you can prove your SIN was subject to fraud may you request a new number. It does not, however, offer you protection since creditors can still pursue you for any wrongful debts. As such, the best way to protect yourself is to follow the above procedure. By taking the proper measures, you can secure your SIN and reduce the risk of damage to your credit profile.  

Final Thoughts

Your Social Insurance Number is a personal identifying piece of information that lives at the crossroads of the government and the economy. The system in place is so widespread that it is very difficult to get the full advantage of living in Canada without one. Everything from the Canada Pension Plan to the recent CERB assistance relied on individuals having this paperwork. 

If you don’t have one already (or yours is lost or forgotten), it’s worth the effort to get your documents in order. This way, when you land that dream job or need to claim EI, paperwork won’t stand in your way. 


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