The REAL ID Act: Is Your Current ID Travel Ready?

You’ve probably been noticing signs at the airport recently about Real ID. Or maybe you’ve gotten a letter or an email with Real ID information, telling you to get ready. Ready for what? you ask.

Ready for the full rollout of the Real ID Act, which means you’ll want to visit your local DMV soon and get your driver’s license up to date. Or carry around extra documentation or your passport when flying domestically.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is REAL ID?

Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, each state and U.S. territory established its own list of required documentation to obtain a state-issued driver’s license or ID card. In 2005 and in response to 9/11, the federal government passed the REAL ID Act. The Act established uniform and minimum security standards for issuing driver’s licenses and state ID cards. These security standards include making applicants supply additional documentation including proof of identity, SSN, name (in the event of a legal name change), and address. Additionally, the government mandated the use of enhanced security features on the REAL ID cards, making them much more difficult to counterfeit. The idea is to counter terrorism by making it nearly impossible to forge the new cards so official state IDs stay out of terrorists’ hands.

The government set a deadline for all states and territories to either put the enhanced security into action or to file an extension. Currently, each is either REAL ID Act compliant or has filed for an extension. You can check your state’s status on the DHS website here.

Women handing over her REAL ID at airport

What Does This Mean For Me?

This means that starting October 1, 2020, you’ll need a REAL ID to enter federal facilities, nuclear power plants, and military bases. And – here’s the big one for travelers – to board domestic flights. The TSA will require all U.S. travelers flying domestically to have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or to present additional forms of ID. If you don’t have the proper documentation, you will not be permitted to pass through security.

Please note: Officially, you do not need a REAL ID, but in our opinion, not getting one could make your life more difficult, and who needs that? And while you may not be running to the nearest military base or federal building regularly, we’ll bet flying domestically is something many of you do quite regularly. If so, you will be able to fly using your valid U.S. passport.

If you don’t have a valid U.S. passport, you’ll have to take additional documentation along with your driver’s license. These include DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST), permanent resident card, and USCIS Employment Authorization Card (I-766), among others. Visit the TSA’s website for a complete list of acceptable documents.

Additionally, if you do want to enter a military base or federal building and do not have a REAL ID, be sure to check the documentation requirements ahead of time, as each facility may ask you for various forms of ID. Again, the easiest way to avoid all of this is to get the REAL ID.

How Do I Get a Real ID?

You’ll need to visit your local DMV field office. It’s always a good idea to schedule an appointment so you (hopefully) won’t have to wait long. Be sure to take the following:

Proof of Identity: Certified birth certificate, valid U.S. passport, employment authorization document, permanent resident card, or foreign passport with approved form I-94.

Proof of Social Security Number: Social Security card, W-2,1099 tax form, or a pay stub with your full SSN, not just the last 4 digits.

Proof of Name (If different from your birth name): Certified marriage license (if you were divorced and remarried you’ll need your divorce decree and new marriage license), or a certified court-ordered name change.

Proof of Address: Driver’s license or state-issued ID card, utility bill, voter registration card, bank statement, vehicle registration card, rental agreement, mortgage statement.

You will have to pay for the REAL ID license but the fees vary by state. Check your state’s official DMV website for the current fee schedule.

Security line at airport checking Real ID

Do You Know Where Your Paperwork Is?

Of course, you should have your vital documentation tucked away safely in a filing cabinet, fireproof safe, or a safe-deposit box at your local bank. However, sometimes life happens and things get misplaced.

Visit the Social Security Administration website for instructions on how to apply for or get a replacement Social Security card. You can also visit your local SSA office in person.

Lost your birth certificate? Need a copy of your marriage certificate or divorce papers? The CDC website offers a master list of where to solicit vital records in each state and U.S. territory.

If you would like to apply for or renew your U.S. passport, you can apply in person or renew by mail. Visit the the U.S. Department of State’s website for detailed instructions.

REAL ID Misinformation

It seems there’s no shortage of misinformation out there about what the REAL ID is and is not. You DO NOT need a REAL ID to do the following:

  • Vote or register to vote
  • Apply for or receive government benefits
  • Receive health care at a hospital or clinician’s office
  • File a criminal complaint
  • Apply for a concealed weapon permit
  • Cross the U.S. border with Canada or Mexico
  • Access services provided by the U.S. Postal Service

Women walking thru airport with Real ID

Final Thought

You may be thinking that the October 1, 2020 deadline gives you plenty of time to get your REAL ID. And you’re right. But just remember that if you can’t find your birth certificate, social security card, or marriage/divorce papers, requesting copies can take a while. And “a while” can mean weeks in many states or jurisdictions. So be sure to take that into account when getting ready. Also, it’s safe to assume that the closer the deadline, the more people at the DMV. You may be fortunate enough to schedule an appointment and receive a time slot within a week. On the other hand, your slot could be three to four weeks away.

Bottom line? Don’t procrastinate. Get your REAL ID as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary annoyances. The sooner you do, the sooner you can zoom through security towards that much-needed getaway.