No photo ID? No problem.
Whether you’re looking for an affordable option, need one fast, or don’t even know where to start, there’s photo IDs programs for Philly and Pennsylvania residents. Even if you’re undocumented or experiencing homelessness.
You need a photo ID card to do a lot of things in life, and having one can make certain transactions — like applying for a home, buying a car, or access into places — much easier.
If you live in Philly and need a photo ID to do basic activities like entering a government building or showing proof of residence — there are two options: State ID or PHL City ID.
You may also want to get a passport or REAL ID. But getting all these can be pricey, and take a lot of steps to complete.
Which do you need? What’s the difference? And what can you get if you’re undocumented?
Let’s breakdown what all these IDs allow you to do and how you get one.
PHL City ID
PHL City ID is the city’s photo ID program that’s inexpensive and easy to get. It’s the next best alternative to a State ID or driver’s license if you can’t afford or get one — which is the case if you are undocumented or don’t have the cash to buy a State ID.
Damaris Feliciano, the city’s director of community relations and strategic initiatives, says that city IDs help a lot of people buy a car or apply for jobs.
And even if you have a driver’s license, Feliciano says it can still be a good idea to have a PHL City ID. “I dropped my wallet in Target, with my driver’s license inside and my credit cards,” she said. “I didn’t realize it until the next day, and when I called Target, the first thing I said is, ‘Listen, that’s my wallet, I have another form of identification I can show you.’ I didn’t have to grab my passport. I took my PHL City ID with me and they were able to verify it.”
Benefits of PHL City ID
You can use your PHL City ID as a library card and also get discounts at participating museums, entertainment venues, and restaurants. (You can see a full list of PHL City ID benefits at phila.gov/programs/phl-city-id/partners.)
Note: Some partnerships were put on hold during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the program is being revamped. According to Feliciano, as restrictions are loosening in the city, more will become available.
How to get PHL City ID
You have to apply in person, either at City Hall in Room 167, or at an available pop-up mobile site. You can renew or replace your PHL City ID at City Hall. You have to pay with cash or a money order ($5 if you’re 13-17 years old, $10 if you’re 18 to 64 years old, or free if you’re 65 and older).
Make an appointment at the City Hall office (Room 167) by calling 3-1-1 and asking for the city’s PHL City ID office or schedule online at getphlcityid.com/Appt/Create.
Walk-in appointments are available at the City Hall office (Room 167) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis.
Make an appointment at an available pop-up mobile site. Find the next available pop-up mobile site at phila.gov/programs/phl-city-id/events.
You have to bring documents. You have to provide three documents that prove your identity and one that proves you live in Philly. At least one document needs to have a photo of you and one needs to have your date of birth. All documents have to be original, the city won’t accept copies.
Acceptable documents to prove identity include a U.S. or foreign passport, U.S. or foreign birth certificate, Social Security card, Veterans’ ID card, SEPTA Key senior ID card, U.S. or foreign driver’s license, student ID card, inmate ID card, consular ID card (CID).
Acceptable documents to prove residence in Philly include a utility bill, bank statement, current lease, vehicle registration, pay stub, or a letter from hospital, health clinic, shelter, or social service agency.
You can use the city’s Document Calculator to see if your documents are accepted.
You get your PHL City ID in about 30 minutes. Once you get your ID card, your information is deleted from the system except for the basic information needed to confirm that you have a valid PHL City ID.
📍City Hall Room 167, 🌐 phila.gov/programs/phl-city-id , 📞 3-1-1
PA State ID
Pennsylvania State ID is the official photo ID card for state residents. It’s the best form of photo ID to have if you don’t have a passport. It’s issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).
PA State ID can do what a PHL City ID does, and then some. It can be used as a photo ID card across Pennsylvania and all 50 states to prove your identity, residence, and citizenship. You can also use a state ID to board a plane for domestic flights until May 2023. Then REAL ID or a passport will be required.
How to get a PA State ID
The easiest way to get a PA State ID is to visit a local Driver’s License Center. In Philly, Driver’s License Centers are open Tuesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. You can also renew or replace your PA State ID at these locations.
Center City: 801 Arch Street
North Philly: 7121 Ogontz Avenue
South Philly: 330 W. Oregon Avenue
Southwest Philly: 2904 S. 70th Street, Unit 8
You have to fill out form (DL-54A). You can get one at a Driver’s License Center or download the form. You can pay with a debit/credit card, check or money order. Cash is not accepted. ($32.50 for the initial ID card, $32.50 for a renewal; $31.50 for a replacement.)
You have to provide documents. You need a Social Security number or Social Security ineligibility letter. (If you do not have a Social Security card and haven’t been authorized to work in the U.S. you have to get a waiver from a Social Security Administration office.)
You need one document that proves your identity and two documents that prove you live in Pennsylvania. All documents must be original, copies won’t be accepted.
Acceptable documents to prove identity (on top of Social Security card): U.S. passport, U.S. birth certificate (including U.S. territories and Puerto Rico), Certificate of U.S. Citizenship (USCIS Form N-560), Consular Report of Birth Abroad (DOS Form FS-240), Certificate of Naturalization (USCIS Form N-550 or N-570).
For non U.S. citizens: Original U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services immigration documents indicating current lawful immigration status, valid passport, Social Security card or SSA ineligibility letter.
Acceptable documents to prove residence: Tax records, lease agreements, mortgage documents, W-2 Form, current weapons permit, current utility bills.
You get your PA State ID within the next hour, depending on the line.
Getting a State ID by mail
You can also mail in your form and fee to Bureau of Driver Licensing, P.O. Box 68272, Harrisburg, PA 17106-8272. If you mail your forms in, then PennDOT will mail you back instructions on how to proceed.
REAL ID is the new standard of verifying your identity with the federal government. Starting in 2023, it will be the only ID you can use to board a domestic flight or enter a secured federal facility — unless you have a passport or military ID.
After 9/11, U.S. lawmakers enacted a policy in response to events that day enforcing stricter standards for getting a state photo ID or driver’s license nationwide. States that didn’t already meet those standards needed to upgrade their system. The law was originally written in 2005, but the federal government gave states more time to prepare their residents to transfer to this new ID system.
REAL ID is a regular state photo ID or driver’s license, except there’s a star in the upper right-hand corner signifying that the ID card is a REAL ID. (If you don’t have a star on your ID, you don’t have REAL ID.)
How to get REAL ID
The easiest way to get a REAL ID is to visit a local Driver’s License Center or REAL ID Center.
You have to provide documents. One document that proves your identity and two that prove your residency. All documents have to be originals, certified copies won’t be accepted. You also need your original Social Security card. You can check if your documents are valid through PennDOT’s online REAL ID Document Check here.
Accepted documents to prove identity include U.S. birth certificate (including U.S. territories), U.S. passport, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA), certificate of citizenship or naturalization, and valid immigration documents that prove your identity.
Accepted documents to prove residency include State photo ID or driver’s license, vehicle registration card, auto insurance card, utility bill showing your name and address, W-2 form, tax records, and lease agreements or mortgage documents.
The name on your Social Security card has to match the name on your documents. If you don’t have a Social Security card or need to replace it, visit ssa.gov/ssnumber or Philly’s SSA office at 1500 John F Kennedy Blvd #2000A.
Getting a REAL ID online
You will receive the ID in the mail within 15 business days.
Getting a REAL ID in-person
Go to a PennDOT REAL ID Center with your documents and payment and you’ll get your new ID the same day. The center is at 2904 South 70th Street, and open Tuesday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Go to a PennDOT Driver’s License Center with your valid documents and payment to receive your new ID in the mail within 15 business days, from Tuesday through Saturday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. at the following locations:
Center City: 801 Arch Street
North Philly: 7121 Ogontz Avenue
South Philly: 330 W. Oregon Avenue
Can I get an ID if I’m an immigrant?
You can get PHL City ID, regardless of your citizenship status. You can use valid documents from outside the U.S. — like a foreign passport or birth certificate — to prove your identity. PHL City ID doesn’t share or store information like your photo, name or address. You also don’t need a Social Security number.
“That’s something very important,” said Feliciano. “PHL City ID is inclusive to all. We want to really welcome in marginalized community members, so we don’t save any information from any individuals. So, I think PHL City ID is the perfect alternative.”
You can only get PA State ID or REAL ID if you are documented. You will need to bring your immigration documents with you to prove lawful immigration status. You also need a Social Security card or ineligibility letter from a Social Security Administration office. You can see if your documents are accepted by PennDOT here.
To get a Social Security ineligibility letter, visit Philly’s SSA office at 1500 John F Kennedy Blvd #2000A and request a denial letter (SSA-L676). This letter does not affect your ability to request a Social Security number in the future.
Can I get an ID if I’m experiencing homelessness?
Yes. You can get a free PA State ID and/or a PHL City ID if you are referred by a case manager.
You have to get a referral from a case manager. You can visit an emergency shelter, housing organization, or a social services organization that directly works with people experiencing homelessness. Both Prevention Point Philadelphia (PPP) and Broad Street Ministry partner with PHL City ID and offer case management services that can connect you to either the state or city ID programs. Otherwise, you can visit a city-funded intake center.
You’ll need valid documents that prove your identity, like a Social Security Card and birth certificate. For proof of residence, you can use the address of your case manager’s organization. Once you have your documents and receive a referral from your case manager, PHL City ID or PennDOT will work with you and your case manager to get you a free photo ID.