Is your driver's license Real ID compliant? Here's how to tell.

By Maggie Seaver
Updated March 09, 2020
Advertisement

The deadline to swap your old license for a Real ID—the new, more secure form of self-identification that will allow U.S. citizens to travel domestically by airplane—is coming up on October 1, 2020.

Starting on the first of October, what many U.S. travelers have been using to get through airport security and board a plane (such as their standard driver’s license or state photo ID card) will no longer be valid forms of identification for domestic air travel. Instead, jet-setters (18 years and older) will be expected to have a Real ID–compliant driver’s license in order to fly domestically.

Here to walk through everything you need to know, including the best way to get a Real ID and anticipated travel restrictions for anyone who hasn’t obtained one by the deadline, is travel industry expert Werner G. Kunz, the co-CEO of Fareportal, the travel tech company behind global travel brands like CheapOair and OneTravel.

Why You Need a Real ID in the First Place

This topic seems especially prevalent now that the deadline is almost here. However, per the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation, Congress passed the Real ID Act back in 2005. As Kunz explains, it establishes additional security standards for identification for U.S. residents traveling by air, and prevents all federal agencies from accepting any ID that doesn’t meet the new requirements. “The idea is to amplify national safety and help make identity theft more difficult,” he says.

The Real ID will fully replace your current ID and serve all the same purposes. However, Kunz says for non-travelers in some states, the standard ID will still be valid for all other purposes including driving and voting. “It’s worth noting that some states, such as Maryland, are initiating a permanent transition to Real ID,” he adds. When in doubt about what’s valid and where, contact your state legislation office for clarification.

Keep in mind, too, that the Real ID is only valid for domestic travel in the U.S., and that a passport or passport card is still required for all international travel, as before.

It Requires a Trip to the DMV

“As of now, 48 of 50 states are Real ID ready,” Kunz says. “Oklahoma and Oregon have been given extensions.”

In states that are compliant to issue Real IDs, the DMV is the only place to obtain one—and you do have to go in person. It can be a drag, but it’s a necessary evil and everyone who needs one is in the same boat.

How to Get One as Efficiently as Possible

Kunz says, while there’s no mail-in option to obtain one, there are a few ways to expedite the process.

One simple thing you can do to make your life easier is book an appointment, since the DMV will already have long lines and wait times from others hoping to upgrade their ID. Another common-sense tip that Kunz cannot stress enough: Come prepared with all the right documentation.

Here’s a list of all physical documents to bring with you to the DMV:

  • Passport or birth certificate (no photocopies!)
  • Social Security (SS) card OR a document that shows your SS number (like a W-2 form)
  • Two documents proving your residency and street address (such as utility bills)
  • A form of payment: cash, check, or a debit card are all acceptable. (“Please keep in mind that the fee could vary from state to state, but will almost certainly be under $50,” Kunz says).
  • Certain states may require additional materials, so check your state DMV website for details

Finally, see if you can send in your necessary documents online before you head to the DMV. The Department of Homeland Security has allowed some states to accept required documents for Real ID applications digitally ahead of people’s in-person interviews. Applicants who submit their docs digitally still need to go to the DMV in person, but this capability can hopefully help speed up the process significantly.

Do You Already Have a Real ID? Here’s How to Check

Good news for some: There’s a chance you already have a Real ID and don’t realize it, so you’ll be spared an extra trip to the DMV. How can you tell if your current ID is in fact an eligible Real ID?

“If your license or non-drivers ID has a gold or black star on the top right corner, you’re all set,” Kunz says. “Unfortunately, a small number of states including Hawaii, Ohio, Utah, and Tennessee issued compliant IDs without the star, so it’s best to contact your state legislation office if you’re unsure.”

Potential Travel Restrictions If You Don’t Have a Real ID Before October 1

“For a large majority, those who are not Real ID compliant by October 1, 2020, will not be able to board a commercial aircraft for domestic travel,” Kunz explains. “States such as Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York offer enhanced driver’s licenses that can be used in lieu of a Real ID. Other forms of acceptable ID will include a passport or passport card.”

For a complete list of acceptable forms of ID, including Real ID–compliant driver's licenses, visit TSA.gov/travel/security-screening/identification.

Don’t Put It Off

Yes, the calendar keeps inching toward October 1, and no, no one likes the DMV—but don’t let this task burn a hole in your to-do list, making you anxious and want to keep procrastinating.

“My main piece of advice is to start the process ASAP,” Kunz says. “DMV wait times are only going to get longer as the October 1 deadline looms closer. I would also strongly recommend researching the specific requirements in your state, as they can differ. It’s always best to be over prepared than surprised when dealing with any sort of identification process.”

Just get it done—you’ll thank yourself later.