You may or may not be aware that in the United States we do not have a national identification card or ID*. Although national ID cards are compulsory** in many countries and often must be carried with a person at all times, this is not true in the United States. In the United States a person is not required to have identification documents on them at all times, although most adults do have some sort of ID card on them. So, you may be wondering what type of national and local identification documents we do have in the United States and what are these IDs are needed for? Here is a list of the most common types of IDs that Americans have and their different purposes. As you will read below there is a national identity number that everyone born in the United States is issued. This number is issued on a printed card, but this card does not contain a picture and it is not necessary to have this card with you all the time.
A passport is an official government document that certifies one’s identity (name, birth date, and birthplace) and citizenship information. This is a document that permits a citizen to travel abroad, but is not needed to travel within ones own country. Because the United States is such a large country and most citizens of the United States do not live near an international border or need to cross an international border on a regular basis, the number of people who have passports in the United States is low. Only about 20-30% of Americans have passports and almost no one uses their passport as an identification document except when traveling abroad. It costs money to obtain a passport in the United States; it costs over $100 for a passport.
A diver’s license is a photo ID certifying one’s identity (name, address, and birth date) and stating what type of motor vehicle a person is allowed to drive. A person must obtain a license from the state in which s/he lives, but a driver’s license issued in any state in the United States is recognized as valid in all other states. Because driving is so much a part of American culture somewhere around 75% of driving age adult Americans (those over 16 years of age) have driver’s licenses. Driver licensing authorities (i.e. the Department of Motor Vehicles) can also make photo based identification cards for adults who do not drive, but need an ID card for other purposes. A driver’s license is what most American’s use as their primary form of identification. Obtaining a driver’s license is often costs a small fee, which varies among the different states.
Social Security card
A Social Security card is a paper card that indicates a person’s full name, social security number***, and contains the person’s signature. This card is issued by the national government upon the request of a baby’s parents when a child is born. Parents generally request a Social Security card for their child soon after s/he is born, but this request does not have to be done immediately. The parents of the child need this number in order to report the baby to the Internal Revenue Service as a dependent as this will reduce the amount of taxes the parents will have to pay. A child will need their Social Security number later in life, sometimes for school purposes, but definitely to apply for jobs, and later to pay taxes or receive tax and other governmental benefits. All citizens of the United States are issued Social Security numbers and cards upon request, but most people to not carry their Social Security card around with them as an ID. Most people simply memorize their Social Security number to use it when needed to fill out official documents.
* ID = identification document
** compulsory = required by law, an obligation
*** Social Security number = a number in the format 000-00-0000, that is unique for each individual born in the United States, this number is used to track government issues social and health benefits and for other identification purposes