How to Get a Certified Copy of Your Birth Certificate

Birth Certificate protected in a notebook
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A certified copy of an original birth certificate is becoming increasingly important as a required form of identification.

A certified birth certificate copy is required for getting a US passport and when applying for Social Security benefits. It is also considered valid proof of US citizenship by federal, state and local government agencies. A birth certificate may be required when applying for some jobs and may, in the future, be required when getting or renewing a driver's license.

Best to Get a 'Certified' Copy of Your Birth Certificate

In most cases, a simple photocopy of your original birth certificate will not be considered as a sufficient form of identification. Instead, you will be required to have a "certified" copy of your birth certificate issued by the state in which your birth was recorded. 

A certified copy of a birth certificate has an official state registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office, which must be within one year of the person's date of birth.

NOTE: A certified copy of the applicant’s birth certificate is required when applying for the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) popular PreCheck program, which allows members to pass through the security lines at more than 180 airports without needing to remove their shoes, laptops, liquids, belts, and light jackets.

The importance of having a certified copy of your birth certificate should never be understated. Indeed, in the United States, it is considered the Holy Grail of proof of identity. Certified copies of birth certificates are one of the four "vital records" (birth, death, marriage, and divorce) that can be used to prove U.S. citizenship.

How to Get a Certified Birth Certificate

The federal government does not provide copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees, death certificates, or any other personal vital records. Copies of birth certificates and other personal vital records can only be obtained from the state or US possession where the documents were originally filed. Most states provide a centralized source from which birth certificates and other vital records can be ordered.

Each state and US possession will have its own set of rules and fees for ordering certified birth certificates on other vital records. Rules, ordering instructions and fees for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and all US possessions can be found on the Where to Write for Vital Records web page, helpfully maintained by the US Centers for Disease Control.

Do Not Order the 'Abstract' Version

When ordering, be aware that shortened (abstract) versions of birth certificates offered by some states may not be acceptable when applying for a US passport, driver's license, Social Security benefits or many other purposes. Be sure to order only the full, certified copy of the original birth certificate bearing the registrar's raised, embossed, impressed or multicolored seal, registrar's signature, and the date the certificate was filed with the registrar's office.

If You Need to Replace Your Original Birth Certificate

In some cases, you may need to replace your original birth certificate. Find the website of the vital records office in the state where you were born and follow their walk in, write in, or online application instructions. You will probably need a state-issued form of photo ID, like driver’s license. If you don’t have a state-issued photo ID, call and see what options may be available. One solution some states offer is to have your mother or father whose name is on the birth certificate submit a notarized letter with a copy of their photo ID for the request.

Your Birth Certificate, the Real ID Act, and Flying 

The need for original or certified copies of birth certificates became even more critical—especially to U.S. air travelers—with full implementation of the Real ID Act passed by Congress in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and signed into law by President George W. Bush on May 11, 2005.

The Real ID Act establishes minimum security standards for all state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. It prohibits all federal agencies from accepting licenses and IDs from states that do not meet the established Real ID standards. One of the main goals of the Real ID Act is to eliminate airline terrorism by increasing the requirements for obtaining documents that allow a person to fly on domestic flights. Due to the Real ID Act, state agencies such as the Departments of Motor Vehicles are requiring more paperwork regarding proof of residency and Social Security Number before they can issue a driver’s license or ID card.

In order to issue a Real ID-compliant driver's license or ID card, all state Departments of Motor Vehicles will require an original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate as one form of proof of identification.

The Real ID Act-compliant driver’s licenses and ID cards themselves are built using new technology making them more difficult to forge. It has taken the federal government almost 15 years to implement the act to its full extent. However, beginning October 1, 2020, every air traveler age 18 and older will need to provide a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or ID card, or a current U.S. passport at all airport TSA security checkpoints in order to be allowed to fly anywhere within the United States. 

Updated by Robert Longley