The 69-year-old Democrat is expected to be easily confirmed by his Senate colleagues. He would be the first of what are expected to be several new faces on Mr Obama's national security team, including a new defence secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The president picked Mr Kerry for the post even though his nomination could create a political problem in Massachusetts. Republicans are eying the Senate seat Kerry will vacate after five terms, and recently defeated Senator Scott Brown would be a favourite in his party for the job.
Mr Kerry's nomination could bring to a close what has become for the White House a contentious and distracting effort to find a new secretary of state.
His only other rival for the job, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, faced harsh criticism from congressional Republicans for her initial accounting of the deadly September attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya. Mr Obama vigorously defended Ms Rice, a close friend and long-time adviser, but Republican senators dug in, threatening to hold up her nomination if the president tapped her for the post.
The Cabinet nomination of Mr Kerry is the first Barack Obama has made since winning a second term, and the first piece in an extensive shuffle of his national security team. The president is also expected to nominate a new defence secretary soon to take over for retiring Leon Panetta and a new director of the Central Intelligence Agency to replace former spy chief David Petraeus, who resigned last month after admitting to an affair with his biographer.