After you are born and your birth is registered, you receive your U.S. birth certificate. This is typically the first government-issued document that a person receives. A birth certificate is a vital document that you will use to prove your identity and citizenship throughout your life.
What can a birth certificate be used for?
You can show your U.S. birth certificate any time you need to show evidence of your identity, date of birth, or citizenship. It’s a good idea to make sure you have a certified copy of your birth certificate and keep it in a safe, secure place, so that it is available when you need it.
For example, you might need your birth certificate when you apply for other types of official, government-issued identification documents, such as a:
You may also need a certified copy of your birth certificate (or your child’s) when applying for social programs or government benefits, enrolling yourself or your child in school, or starting a new job.
In these instances, ordinary photocopies or pictures of your birth certificate are not acceptable. If you are ever asked to provide your birth certificate, they mean a certified copy, which you can only get from the Vital Records Office in your birth state.
You should also be aware that there are two different types of birth certificates: long-form and short-form birth certificates. While they can be used for different purposes, the Vital Records Office is the only place to get both types.
Check out more information on long-form and short-form birth certificates, how they are different, and what you can use each one for.
Fortunately, if you need to order a certified copy of your birth certificate, it’s easy to order one online. If you already have a copy, but aren’t sure if it is certified, click here to learn how to tell if you have a legally valid birth certificate.
When will I need my birth certificate?
We already mention a few instances where you will need a certified copy of your birth certificate to prove your identity or citizenship. Here is a more in-depth list of situations where you may need your birth certificate:
- Applying for a passport: You must show your U.S. birth certificate when applying for a passport card or book.
- Traveling: If you are taking a cruise or traveling to a country that does not require a passport, you may still need to show your birth certificate to reenter the U.S.
- Getting a driver’s license: Most states require a birth certificate to get a driver’s license.
- Replacing your Social Security card: You will need to show your birth certificate and another government-issued ID to prove your identity when replacing a lost, stolen, or damaged Social Security card.
- Applying for government programs or benefits: Yours and your children’s birth certificate will serve as proof of identity, age, and relationship when applying for social benefits.
- Enrolling yourself or your child in school: Schools must see a birth certificate or another government-issued ID proving a minor child’s identity and age when they are enrolled in a new school.
- Enlisting in the military: To enlist in the U.S. military, you must provide, at minimum, a certified copy of your birth certificate, as well as your Social Security card.
- Drawing Social Security, pension, or insurance benefits: The issuing agency will require birth certificates and Social Security cards to prove identity, age, and relationships between family members.
- Genealogy: A certified copy of your birth certificate will help you access the birth records of your family members when researching your family history.
- International use: If you are a U.S. citizen living abroad, you will need a certified copy of your birth certificate to get married, apply for citizenship or residency, get a new passport, etc.
- Legal proceedings: You may need a certified copy of your birth certificate for various legal matters, from getting married to changing the gender on your identification documents.
- Signing up for sports: Parents must typically show a copy of their minor child’s birth certificate to enroll them in a sport, to ensure that they are placed in the right age group.
- General identification: Your birth certificate is a convenient way to prove your identity to financial institutions, new employers, healthcare providers, insurance companies, etc.
It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to get a certified copy of your birth certificate in the mail. So, we recommend that you order and store several certified copies of your birth certificate in a safe and secure location, so that you always have one available if you need it.
It’s important to keep your birth certificate copies in a secure location that only you and trusted family members have access to. If someone with ill intentions gets a copy of your birth certificate, especially if it is a certified copy, they can do a lot of harm. For example, with the information on your birth certificate, someone could steal your identity and fraudulently open credit cards in your name. They could also use it to access other sensitive information. So, after you get a copy of your birth certificate, be sure to keep it safe and secure.
The simplest way to get a certified copy of a birth certificate is to order one online. All you have to do is fill out a short application form, print and sign it, then mail it to the Vital Records Office, along with all required documents and fees. We’ll provide you with personalized instructions to make sure your application is submitted correctly and accepted the first time.