Must-Have No. 2:
A Photo ID (aka Driver's License)

A ‘government issued photo ID’ is Must Have No. 2 (second only to a Social Security Number). This is something you need to carry with you regularly. Not because the US is a totalitarian state where a Gestapo equivalent will stop you and ask for it (far from it ). But because it’s the quickest, most convenient form of identification in day-to-day life. Very specifically, it is used as proof of age, and you need that to get alcohol, tobacco or even entry in some places.

Ask me.

When I first came to the US, I went to a fancy night club in Washington DC - without an ID. They didn’t let me enter, period. I begged and pleaded (it was 11 pm and I was all dressed up and with a bunch of friends), but the club manager wouldn’t budge. It didn't matter that I was well over the legal age for drinking alcohol. Rules were rules, he said. In the end, we all had to turn away (my friends had their ID, but couldn’t leave me out alone). Sob, sob.

Now for the good news.

The most commonly used ID by almost everyone in the US is their driver’s license. Since you will most likely drive, you’ll surely get a driver’s license. Once you get one, you’ll almost always keep it in your wallet. And that's what doubles up as your photo ID!

Here’s more good news. If you don’t want to drive or get a driver’s license, the same motor vehicle authority that issues licenses in every state also issues “photo IDs”. These are cards that look like a driver’s license (with your picture, state of birth and address) but don’t permit driving, and don’t require you to clear any driving tests – written or otherwise. They’re specially useful to get for children, older parents or a non-driving spouse.

By the way, your passport (any country) also qualifies as government issued photo ID. So the moment you land in the US, you already fulfill this must-have automatically. But since carrying your passport around is cumbersome (it doesn’t fit your wallet like a license card does), risky (getting a replacement is tougher, if you lose it) and unnecessary (if you drive, you anyway need to carry your driver’s license), it does make sense getting a card ID.

The following links provide some excellent resources to guide you through the process of getting a driver's license or photo ID.

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