IDs that are accepted in the U.S. include nearly any identification document that is issued by a government agency or office. U.S. government issued IDs include state-issued driver’s licenses and non-driver ID cards, Social Security cards and Social Security numbers, and U.S. passport books and cards. These are the most popular forms of ID and can be used as proof of identity throughout the country. U.S. nationals can also travel to Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean, and Mexico with a passport card. However, all other international travel requires a standard, valid passport.
Unlike many other countries, the U.S. does not have a federal agency that issues a standard photo ID nationwide to all citizens, so there is no such thing as a mandatory “national identity card” in the United States. The only comparable national photo ID is the passport card. The U.S. Department of State issues these IDs, however, U.S. citizens are not required to get them. In fact, according to a 2018 survey conducted by BBC, only around 42 percent of Americans have a passport.
States are responsible for issuing driver’s licenses, through their Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV is a state-level government agency that is responsible for licensing drivers and vehicle registration. Each state also issues a non-driver state ID card. A state-issued ID card can be used in place of a driver’s license as a form of ID, but it does not permit the holder to drive a vehicle.
Social Security cards are federally-issued, but since they do not contain a photo, they are not typically accepted as a sole form of ID.
Acceptable primary and secondary forms of identification
There are many different state-issued forms ID that are accepted as proof of identity. These include both photo and non-photo IDs. However, different types of identification documents may be required in different situations. For example, if you are pulled over by the police while driving, you must show them your physical driver’s license. If you want to travel internationally, you must show your valid U.S. passport. In addition, if you are not a U.S. citizen, there may be times where you specifically need to show your immigration papers or visa. However, for general proof of identity, the following documents are typically acceptable. As a general rule, all IDs must be original documents or certified copies and include the individual’s full, legal name and date of birth. They must also be unexpired, if applicable, and plain photocopies are not usually accepted.
Primary Identification Documents
- U.S. driver’s license or state-issued ID card
- Original birth certificate or certified copy
- Valid U.S. passport
- Marriage License/Certificate
- Federal Census Record
- Adoption Decree
- Court documents showing a legal change of name
- Any confirmation of date of birth in a court of law
- Military Identification
- Active Duty, Retiree, Reservist military ID card (DD Form 2 or 2 A)
- Discharge papers (DD-214)
- Military Dependent ID card
United States Citizenship and Immigration Service
- Certificate of Naturalization N-550, N-570, N-578
- Certificate of Citizenship N-560, N-561, N-645
- Employment Authorization card (I-766)
- Northern Mariana Card
- American Department of Indian Affairs Tribal Card
- S. Citizen Identification Card (I-179, I-197)
- Temporary Resident Identification Card (I-688)
- Travel Documents Record of Arrival and Departure (I-94)
- Border Crossing Identification (I-586)
- Non-immigrant Visa/Border Crossing Card (DSP-150)
- S. Re-entry Permit (I-327)
- Refugee I-94 Record of Arrival and Departure stamped “Refugee”
- Refugee Travel Document (I-571)
- Canadian Immigration Record and Visa or Record of Landing (IMM 100)
- Canadian Department of Indian Affairs-issued ID card.
If none of the primary forms of ID are available, there are some secondary forms of identification that can be used, as well.
- Computer generated check stub with the applicant’s full name printed on the stub.
- Union Membership Card stating the applicant’s full name, preferably with a photo and/or SSN.
- Work ID, preferably with photo and/or SSN.
- Financial Institution Documents (computer printouts of bank statements, loan documents, etc.)
- Social Security documents
- Original Social Security card
- Printout of benefits statement
- Social Security check or direct deposit verification
- Health insurance card
- Insurance policy or statement
- IRS/state tax form
- Other tax documents (W2 form, property tax receipts, etc.)
- Military Records (assignment orders, selective service cards, Leave & Earnings Statement, etc.)
Citizens must provide a certified copy of their birth certificate when applying for nearly any type of official identification document. If you need to get a certified copy of your birth certificate, we can help! You can also check out our other articles to see what the requirements are and how to apply.
You can also check out: Real ID birth certificate requirements