First Person

Tips for getting your NYC ID

The only piece of unexpired  photo ID left in my wallet.
The only piece of unexpired photo ID left in my wallet. by Sam Corbin

When we first ran that post about how to get the NYC municipal ID, it was just a roving blip on everyone’s radar. There were only a few enrollment centers around the city, and all that paperwork was enough to deter anyone who already had a driver’s license. Now, though, it’s a bigger deal: a piece of government-issued identification that doesn’t require immigration info or the ability to drive, and doubles as a library card? Everyone’s lining up for these sleek, snappy and free NYC IDs. I was in that lineup—for a surprisingly short amount of time, considering the heavy backlog—and I’m here to tell you that it’s totally worth it.


These IDs got popular, and trying to book your appointment through the online system will show you just how popular: some enrollment locations have a wait time of three months or more. When a friend and I first booked appointments at the Central Library location back in February, we couldn’t get anything earlier than May 1. Now, it looks like the earliest appointments there are in July. But there are plenty of other locations with earlier times if you’re prepared to cross the river — I ended up getting a slot within the week by re-booking at the Mid-Manhattan Library, moving the whole process up by two months.

Once you have an appointment, it doesn’t require much lining up or waiting—it’s actually relatively quick. The center I went to was terrifically well-organized, and the staff were all very accommodating. Had I not flubbed the documentation part, I would have been in and out within 20 minutes.


So yeah, I’d packed every document one could imagine needing: for identity, I had a machine-readable foreign passport. For residency, I’d packed two letters from my health insurance company, one from the City of New York, and an old pay stub. Everything had my current address on it. But when I sat down with a clerk to review my documents, she told me my documents were no good.

Here’s the thing to remember about the application: you can’t mix-and-match residency points. You need the specific type of document from the specific type of institution, within the allotted time-frame (my pay stub was too old.) Luckily, you only need one (1) point of residency proof, so I ran a few blocks over to Citibank and got a printed bank statement. It set me back about half an hour because they were nice, but I could have lost my spot in line. If you’re conscientious about the requirements, you might not have to do the runaround.


Even though you have to list your full legal name on the ID, the other stuff is pretty relaxed. My card says I’m 5’4″, which I’ve since been told by friends is blatantly untrue. The photo may require a neutral, passport-style expression, but I still wore my favorite sweater and smized a little. I like to think I came out kind of like young Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise.

Your address is on there à la driver’s license, so don’t lose the damn thing if you have any concerns about privacy. Alternately, maybe we should all start “dropping” our NYC IDs on the train as calling-cards, instead of posting missed connections on Craigslist. That’d be a meet-cute for the ages.

You can also list whomever you’d like as an emergency contact on the card—phone number and all. (Since it’s a municipal ID, I’d recommend picking someone who lives in the city and could hasten to your rescue, as opposed to a faraway Mum or Dad.) I picked a partner-in-crime, as opposed to a family member. Something about this ID, guys. It just makes you a bad-ass.

And once it’s all over, you have a shiny new card that earns you “fugeddaboudit” bragging rights, free 1-year memberships at some of the city’s most noteworthy cultural institutions and a piece of ID that won’t expire for the next 5 years. Maybe you’re thinking, “Eh, I already have plenty of photo ID. I could do without this one.” But can you, brokesters? Look at all those goddamn discounts. (Oh wait, you have to be a member to see them.) Essentially, you can design your own keys to the VIP by combining various memberships around the five boroughs, as well as hotel discounts at destinations around the country.

For my own part, I’m about to enjoy free rehearsal passes at Carnegie Hall, $9 movie tickets at BAM, a 50% discount on Yankees tickets and gratis admission to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for what’s shaping up to be the dreamiest summer to date. Can you say, “Card me?” You don’t need to be an upstanding citizen with good credit to get the ID; heck, you don’t need to be a citizen at all. You just have to live here, and make the goddamn effort to get out of bed. The card starts giving back as soon as you get it.


  1. carmen

    I really do not understand WHY people are being given free ID cards- with the government so keen on charging out the nose for absolutely everything, why all of a sudden this largesse? I mean, did it ever occur to anyone that perhaps there MIGHT BE SOMETHING A LITTLE STRANGE GOING ON HERE? I am certainly no conspiracy theorist, but this is just fishy. What benefit are they getting out of this? And why free? There must be a real, meaningful benefit behind the scenes here. If so, what? And why can’t I think of anything good? And oh, thanks for the free library card- now no cross-referencing isn’t even necessary to figure out what I m reading! I mean, really? People? Ask a few more questions. Honestly.

    • it’s a relatively simple way to document thousands of currently undocumented NYC dwellers and simultaneously provide benefits that might otherwise be unavailable to people who can’t get other forms of ID (undocumented immigrants, homeless, ex-cons, etc.). It’s brilliant, really.

      • Scooby Doosh

        so why are we giving “undocumented immigrants” (the new nice term for illegal aliens) an ID to receive free benefits of any kind when they don’t pay any income tax? to say nothing about the anchor kids we have to pay to feed & educate once they get here. there might as well be an express bus from Mexico to NYC at this point. SMH.

          • Scooby Doosh

            what taxes? sales tax? pray tell, how are you added to a legitimate, reportable payroll, have tax withheld, and given a W2 without a Social Security number?

            • @Scooby Doosh: you don’t need an SSN to file taxes. The IRS issues an alternative (called an ITIN) for people who don’t have social security numbers. And it’s not just for illegal/undocumented people. I’m in the US legally but not permanently, which means that I don’t have an SSN. But, I do need to pay taxes because I am currently a US resident for tax purposes.

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