Whether you can legally leave your home without a government-issued photo ID is a tricky question. The answer varies depending on where you are and what you will be doing. In some situations, U.S. citizens must have some type of official ID on them. We’ll explain what those situations are, and when you may be required to show your ID.
In what situations are you legally required to carry identification?
In addition to the ones listed below, the REAL ID will be adding some additional situations where it will be necessary to show a valid, government-issued ID. Starting October 1, 2021, all U.S. citizens and residents must show a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or state-issued ID card to enter a federal facility, fly domestically, or enter a nuclear power plant.
Every state is currently REAL ID-compliant, so if you need to get a new REAL ID, you should be able to in your state. However, you may have one already. Most REAL IDs have a gold or black star in the corner, designating them as compliant. If your current ID is not compliant, you will need a new one if you plan to do any of the things listed above. You will need to go to the DMV in person and bring proof of identity and citizenship, proof of your Social Security number, and two different documents showing proof of residency. However, if you don’t want to get a new ID right now, you can use your passport to fly domestically or access federal facilities, since passports are already REAL ID-compliant.
Are you required to show ID when buying something at a store?
If you are purchasing products that have a minimum age requirement or other restrictions, then yes, you will likely need to show proof of your identity and/or age.
Stores are legally required to check your ID when buying things like:
- Medicines containing dextromethorphan or pseudoephedrine
State laws vary, so you may need to show ID in order to purchase other items, as well. Some stores also require your ID when you use a credit card, however, that is becoming much less common.
Do you have to have a driver’s license when driving in the U.S.?
It is illegal everywhere in the U.S. to operate a vehicle without a driver’s license. You must have your current driver’s license with you anytime you are operating a vehicle, so that you can provide it to the officer if you are pulled over.
Do you need to show a photo ID when voting in the U.S.?
It depends completely on your location, since voter ID regulations vary by state. Some states will let you show a certified birth certificate copy when you vote, while others don’t require any ID at all.
For more information on your state laws, check out our article on voter ID laws and requirements.
Other situations where you may need a government-issued ID
You will need to show proof of identity and citizenship when applying for a passport.
You must provide one of these acceptable identification documents to serve as a juror.
When you check into a hotel or when you’re opening a bank account, you will be asked to show ID.
You may also need to present your ID when entering the U.S.
All convicted felons must carry registration cards and show them to law enforcement authorities if requested.
Stop and Identify Laws in the United States
You may have heard of “stop and identify” laws, which currently exist in 24 different states. These laws state that all individuals are required to identify themselves if a member of law enforcement has reasonable suspicion that they are involved in or are planning to engage in criminal activity.
Which states have “stop and identify” laws?
The following states all enforce some type of “stop and identify” law:
- Missouri (Kansas City only)
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
In these states, police officers can arrest suspects who will not identify themselves. There are not any states that require people to carry their IDs at all times, however, there are many situations where you may find yourself needing it, so it’s a good practice to always have ID on you.