I am a US citizen who has spent most of their life abroad, but who currently is studying in the US. I do have a foreign ID card, since I was required to own (and carry) one in the country I used to live in.

I have a US passport because I often need to travel internationally (along with my SSN card and some copies of other documents), but other than that, I do not own any government ID. (I don't drive.) By force of habit, I also carry my foreign ID card on my person. However, this has raised some issues in the past few years:

Some US-based relatives have claimed that it is strongly recommended that I own a state ID, particularly if I am planning to take driving lessons. (They claim that carrying the examination permit will not be sufficient.)

Is this true? Does it still hold if I am not taking driving lessons? I remember asking a senior at my university if getting a state ID card was useful, and getting a response of "it's not really necessary." It's also worth noting that I attended some events for international students during orientation a few years ago, and this was never stated to me. However, Wikipedia gives an inconsistent picture, and suggests that it might essentially be necessary in some cases.

2 Answers 2


If you're not a US citizen, you must always carry your proof of status (your passport or green card), that's the Federal law.

There's no other law with regards to IDs, and Americans take pride in their lack of a proper identification system (which leads to the ease with which you can have your identity in the US stolen).

However, many places/actions require picture IDs, which are usually required to be State-issued. For example, you cannot identify yourself to a notary public with your green card (at least not in California, I tried). You'll need a State-issued ID card or driving license.

  • 1
    US passports and social security cards are not state issued and are always accepted, although the SS card is obviously not a photo id.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 15, 2015 at 11:34
  • @StrongBad well, I don't have a US passport, so can't say about that, but I have been refused service by a California notary public when presenting my US-Government issued green card, and he said that he can only accept State-issued identification.
    – littleadv
    Aug 16, 2015 at 0:42
  • According to notary.cdn.sos.ca.gov/forms/notary-handbook-2012.pdf passports are fine but green cards are not. SS card would not be okay since it is not a photo id.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 16, 2015 at 1:09
  • 1
    Actually, federal law requires aliens to carry their registration receipt, but says nothing about a passport. Not all aliens have a registration receipt, and many of them just have the I-94, which is for most only an electronic record in a database.
    – phoog
    Dec 16, 2015 at 19:00
  • As I said - proof of status. But it includes, implicitly, proof of identity.
    – littleadv
    Dec 17, 2015 at 3:25

It is not a legal requirement to carry identification in the US, but it can be useful. If you have a run in with the police, there may be delays while they verify your identity. Further, a lot of businesses ask for identification. This falls into 2 categories, proof of identity and proof of address. I have never had a problem proving my identity with my passport and social security card, but these do not prove your address. I usually use a pay stub and a utility bill to prove my address. Instead of carrying all of that on the off chance you need it, a state issued ID proves both identity and address.

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