It happens to the best of us: One minute you're going about your day, problem-free, and the next minute you realize your ID is gone and you need to deal with the annoyance of figuring out how to get a new ID. Maybe you lost your wallet at the bar. Or maybe you can’t find your birth certificate ever since you moved across the country and forgot which box you packed it in for safe keeping. Whatever the reason, a lost ID is a major problem since you need it to travel, get a job, and (in some states) vote, among other things.
In general, it's a good idea to have a few key forms of identification: a social security card, your birth certificate, and a driver’s license or state ID card. It's also helpful to have a passport to ensure you can easily cross borders or prove citizenship.
If you lose any of these key forms of ID, it’s best to act as quickly as possible to get a new copy — especially because you need some kind of proof of ID in order to get other missing IDs replaced. If you’re missing just one kind of ID but have other proof of who you are, getting that one replaced is much easier than if you have no ID at all.
Here’s how to replace the most important forms of ID:
What to do if you lose your birth certificate
Your birth certificate is one of the most important types of identification because you usually need it to get other forms of ID. Typically, you can obtain a copy of your birth certificate from the vital records office in the state where you were born. This list of vital records offices is broken down by state so you can find your relevant office.
In some states, you can get a certified copy of your birth certificate even if you don’t have any other ID, according to USA.gov. In states where no proof of ID is necessary, there are other requirements such as making a sworn statement of your identity, submitting utility bills, showing a letter from the government addressed to you, or having your parents submit a notarized letter and a copy of their own photo IDs.
Keep in mind that there are fees associated with getting a new copy of your birth certificate — though fee waivers may be available for military members, their spouses, and dependent children. It can also take a long time to get a copy — around nine to 15 weeks in Pennsylvania, for example.
What to do if you lose your Social Security card
You can easily request a replacement Social Security card online if you’re at least 18, a U.S. citizen, have a U.S. mailing address, and have a state ID or driver's license from one of the many participating states (and Washington, D.C.). Unfortunately, this service isn't yet available if your license or ID was issued in Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, West Virginia; or U.S. territories like American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Provided you have these documents available, create a my Social Security account (or log into your account if you already have one) and request a replacement Social Security card.
If you don’t have these documents or your ID is from one of the non-participating states, you’ll have to go to your local Social Security office. You’ll need to bring proof of your identity with you, including either a U.S. passport, driver’s license, or state ID card. If you don’t have these forms of ID, other acceptable proof of identity includes an employee ID card, a school ID, a health insurance card from an insurer other than Medicare, or a U.S. military ID card. The proof of your identity you provide must not be expired and must show your name along with age or birthdate; preferably, it should also include a recent picture.
You’ll also have to provide proof of citizenship, which the SSA indicates must be a passport or birth certificate. To prove your age, you need to provide your birth certificate or — if it doesn't exist — a U.S. hospital record of your birth, a U.S. passport, or a religious record created prior to your 5th birthday that shows your date of birth.
What to do if you lose your driver’s license
The exact protocol depends on the state you live in — but if you lose your driver's license or state ID card, you can typically get it replaced online, by mail, or by visiting the local government agency that issues licenses. Your options for getting a replacement depend not only on the state you live in, but also factors including your age and whether you’ve recently had a license replaced. You will need acceptable proof of your identity and will have to pay a fee ($38 in California, for instance) for the replacement license.
While state laws can vary on providing proof of identity and proof of eligibility to drive, you'll also likely need original copies of documents like your birth certificate; a non-expired permit, license, or state-issued ID card; a passport; a certificate of citizenship; a professional license; a utility bill; a health insurance card; or a union card.
If you have a passport or birth certificate, this is typically sufficient to get your lost license replaced. But, if you don’t have an official form of ID, you’ll likely need several other documents with your signature, full name, address and picture.
What to do if you lose your passport
If you lose your passport, it’s important to immediately report it lost so you don’t become a victim of identity theft. You can report a lost or stolen passport online, via phone, or by mail, according to the U.S. Department of State.
If you are in the U.S. and need a replacement very quickly because you’re traveling within two weeks, you can get your passport replaced by visiting a passport agency or center (you'll need proof of travel and will have to pay a rush fee). If you aren’t traveling within two weeks, you can get your replacement by going to a passport acceptance facility. You will be required to submit Form DS-11, application for a U.S. passport, in person.
Proof of citizenship is required and could include a birth certificate, hospital certificate, notarized affidavit of birth from older relatives, or a published birth announcement. You'll also need a proof of ID — such as a current or former passport, a driver’s license, or government employee ID card — according to the DS-11 Form. A new passport also requires a recent color photograph that meets the U.S. passport photo requirements. The fee for the replacement of a lost and stolen password is $110 for an adult (16 or older, in this case) or $80 for a child under 16.
What to do if you have no ID at all
Getting replacements for many of these forms of ID will require you to already have another form of ID. That’s the catch-22 many people fall into.
If you have absolutely no identification, Connecticut 2-1-1, a service from the United Way of Connecticut that facilitates connections to local government programs and resources, recommends that you start with replacing your birth certificate. Then, you can use that to get a new license or state ID, which you can use to get your Social Security card.
Unfortunately, there are costs associated with all of these processes. Some states do provide the opportunity to get a free ID card, but you’ll likely need documents like your birth certificate to get one. Programs like the Foundry’s ID Ministry, if they exist in your area, can help you if you cannot afford the costs of obtaining an ID or if you don’t know where to start with the process.