Do you have to carry an ID in the US?

Last updated December 16th, 2022

People often wonder whether they are legally allowed to leave the house without their government issued photo ID. This seemingly simple question has a more or less complex answer.

In short, it depends on multiple factors, including:

  • Your nationality
  • Where you are heading
  • What activities you will partake in

US citizens are required to carry a national ID card in certain circumstances outlined in the following section.

In what situations are you legally required to carry identification?

From May 7th, 2025, US nationals as well as residents are required by law to have a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card when entering federal facilities, boarding commercial aircraft as well as entering nuclear power plants.

Nevertheless, there are other circumstances under which an individual would be obligated to produce a legally valid identification document in the United States.

Are you required to carry ID when purchasing something in a store?

It depends on the product you are purchasing. Buying items regulated by law requires a government ID to verify your identity and age.

Certain stores are legally required to ask customers for ID when purchasing items such as:

  • Guns
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Cold medicine

In many states, it is against the law for pharmacists to provide customers with over-the-counter cold or cough medicine that contain dextromethorphan or pseudoephedrine without them showing their ID.

Are you required to have a driver's license to drive in the US?

Driving without a license in the US is not only illegal, it is actually considered a crime in all states as well as in Washington, DC. This means that all drivers must have a valid driver's license on hand in case they are stopped by an officer while driving.

Do you have to show Photo ID to vote in the United States?

Voter identification requirements in the USA vary from one state to another. Certain states accept a certified copy of a birth certificate to vote, whilst others allow citizens to vote without an ID.

Please refer to our article on voter ID laws and voter identification requirements for more detailed information on your state of residence.

Other situations where you need government-issued ID

Obtaining a passport also required citizens to present proof of identity and citizenship.

Citizens called to serve on a jury, must provide proof of identification with acceptable forms of ID.

Checking into a hotel or opening a bank account are other examples of situations where one is usually asked to produce a valid ID.

Crossing US borders may require presenting an ID, depending on the border and direction.

Felons are required to carry registration cards and present them to law enforcement authorities on request.

Stop and Identify Laws in the United States

Laws known as "stop and identify" exist in 24 states across the US. This means that people are required to identify themselves and in the event that a police officer has reasonable suspicion that they are involved or about to engage in criminal activity.

Which states have stop and identify law?

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri (Kansas City only)
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

These laws allow police officers to arrest criminal suspects who refuse to identify themselves. Although no state has a provision that requires all individuals to carry ID at all times, it is still a good idea to do so, just in case.