Is your license Real ID–compliant? Here's how to tell and obtain one before the new deadline.

Advertisement

The deadline to swap your old license for a Real ID—the new, secure form of self-identification that will allow U.S. citizens to travel domestically by airplane—has officially been extended to May 3, 2023, according to a recent announcement by the Department of Homeland Security

The original deadline to secure a Real ID for travel had been October 1, 2020—then October 1, 2021—but circumstances were understandably complicated by the coronavirus pandemic. Since the new process requires applicants to visit the DMV in person, this extension allows states ample time to reopen safely and issue IDs to everyone who needs the update.

“Protecting the health, safety, and security of our communities is our top priority,” said department secretary, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, in a statement on April 27. “As our country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, extending the REAL ID full enforcement deadline will give states needed time to reopen their driver’s licensing operations and ensure their residents can obtain a REAL ID-compliant license or identification card.” 

What does that mean for travelers? Starting on May 3, 2023, the ID options that many Americans have been using (such as their standard driver's license or state photo ID card) at TSA security checkpoints and to board a plane will no longer be valid forms of identification for domestic air travel. Instead, jet-setters 18 years and older will need to acquire and present "a Real ID–compliant driver's license or identification card, state-issued enhanced driver's license, or another TSA-acceptable form of identification" in order to get through security and 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 theirs by the 2023 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.

Related Items

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 age-related purposes, including driving, voting, and buying alcohol. "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 an In-Person Trip to the DMV

Per the DHS, all 50 U.S. states, D.C., and four of five U.S. territories "covered by the REAL ID Act and related regulations are now compliant with REAL ID security standards and issuing REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and identification cards."

In every state that's 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. Hopefully this deadline extension provides you and your DMV location with enough time to plan accordingly and make appointments.

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.

You Might 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 May 3, 2023

"For a large majority, those who are not Real ID compliant by the deadline, 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

No one enjoys a trip to 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 May 3, 2023 deadline gets 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 when you can (finally!) travel again.