What are acceptable forms of ID in the U.S.?

There are several acceptable forms of ID in the United States, they are all government issued IDs that people can obtain through the respective offices or government agencies. Identity documents in the United States include: regional state-issued driver’s license or identity card, the social security card (or the social security number) and the United States passport card. All three can be used nationwide as form of identification. To travel to Canada, Bermuda, the Caribbean and Mexico, U.S. nationals can use the passport card, however, for all other international travel, they will need a valid, unexpired passport.

Opposed to some countries, there is no official “national identity card” in the United States, as there is no federal agency with nationwide jurisdiction that will issue an identity document to all U.S. citizens. At this time, the only national photo identity document is the passport and the passport card which are both issued by the U.S. Department of State. However, U.S. citizens are not obligated to get a passport. According to a report by the BBC in 2018 about 42 percent of U.S. nationals had a passport.

The driver’s license is issued by each individual state. This document is issued by the department of motor vehicles (DMV) which is a state-level government agency that carries out driver licensing and vehicle registration. Each state issues a non-driver state identity card that fulfills the same identification purpose as the driver’s license, with the exception that it does not allow its holder to operate a vehicle.

For their part, social security cards do have federal jurisdiction, but cannot be used to verify a person’s identity on their own.

What are acceptable primary and secondary identification?

As previously mentioned, there are several valid forms of ID, a great number of them are state issued. Acceptable primary proof of identity in the United States includes original documents or certified documents that have a person’s full name and date of birth.

Primary Identification

  • U.S. photo driver license or photo ID card
  • Original or certified birth certificate
  • A unexpired U.S. passport
  • Marriage License/Certificate
  • Federal Census Record
  • Birth Certificate
  • Adoptive Decree
  • Legal Change of Name
  • Any confirmation of date of birth in 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)
  • Nonimmigrant 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.

Secondary Identification

Besides the primary forms of identification in the United States, there are secondary forms of identification as well.

  • Computerized Check Stubs
    • Must include the applicant's full name pre-printed on the stub.
  • Union Membership Cards
    • Must include the applicant's full name preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.
  • Work IDs
    • Preferably with photo and/or Social Security number.
  • Financial Institution Documents
    • Computer printouts of bank statements, savings account statements, loan documents, etc.
  • Social Security Documents
  • Social Security Card (original only not metal or plastic replicas)
  • Printout or benefits statements, etc.
  • Social Security Check or Direct Deposit Verification of Social Security Check
  • Health Insurance Card
  • TennCare, Medicaid, Medicare, etc.
  • Health Insurance Card
  • Insurance Policies or Payment statements
  • IRS/state tax form
  • W2 Forms, Property tax receipts, etc.
  • Military Records
  • Assignment orders, selective service cards, Leave & Earnings Statement, etc.
  • United States or Foreign

To obtain several forms of ID in the United States, U.S. citizens are required to present a certified copy of their birth certificate. For information on how to request a certified copy of your birth certificate, you can check out our articles where you will find the necessary information and requirements.