The clock is ticking for travelers to update their government issued driver’s license to a REAL ID compliant ID. However many travelers are confused about what a REAL ID is, how to get a REAL ID and the specifics of when travelers need a REAL ID for flying.
Fear not, traveler. We’ve got your back. In this Guide to the REAL ID Program we answer all of your burning questions about this new identification including:
- What is a REAL ID?
- When do travelers need the REAL ID for flying?
- Is the REAL ID a separate and new form of Federal ID?
- How do I know I have a REAL ID?
- How much does a REAL ID cost?
- Can I use something other than a REAL ID for travel?
- Does everyone need a real ID by 2020?
- Can I use a passport instead of real ID?
- Can I use Global Entry as real ID?
- Is Real ID mandatory?
- What is the REAL ID Act?
Before we answer the burning question of when travelers need the REAL ID for flying let’s reorient ourselves to the REAL ID and the REAL ID Act of 2005.
What is a REAL ID?
The REAL ID Act of 2005 established minimum standards for Driver’s Licenses and ID cards accepted by Federal agencies for official purposes. The law is the result of a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission to improve the strength of state-issued identification cards that Federal agencies can accept as valid forms of ID.
Specifically, REAL ID compliant ID cards will be required for certain types of Federally governed activities or for accessing Federal facilities including:
- Boarding commercial aircraft
- Entering nuclear power plants
- Accessing Federal facilities
Federal Agencies, State ID issuing agencies and citizens must comply with the REAL ID Act by October 1 2020.
For travelers, this means that you must have a REAL ID compliant ID card (typically a driver’s license) in order to travel on or after October 1, 2020. Or, another form of TSA approved ID (like a passport or Global Entry Card, or if in the military, a military ID).
For more information on REAL ID and the TSA, please watch this TSA video:
When do travelers need the REAL ID for flying?
REAL ID compliant ID cards will be required when flying commercial aircraft starting October 1, 2020. Travelers in possession of other forms of acceptable ID (like a current passport) can pass through TSA without a REAL ID compliant drivers license.
Is the REAL ID a separate and new form of Federal ID?
No, the REAL ID is not a separate and new form of Federal ID (or “national ID card”). Instead, state-issued driver’s licenses must be REAL ID compliant. States, who issue driver’s licenses, must update their issuing standards to be compliant with the REAL ID Act so that residents can obtain a new ID card.
To be clear, the REAL ID is NOT a new and separate ID card issued by the Federal government in addition to your existing driver’s license. It will, however, require citizens to obtain a new state-issued REAL ID compliant driver’s license.
How do I know I have a REAL ID?
REAL ID compliant ID cards are clearly marked with a star at the top of the ID card.
How do I get a REAL ID?
You can obtain a REAL ID compliant drivers license through your state’s driver’s license issuing agency. Applicants will need to provide documentation showing:
- Full Legal Name
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Two Proofs of Principal Address
- Proof of Lawful Status
When in doubt consult your state’s driver’s license issuing agency for more details.
Given that obtaining a REAL ID must be done in person travelers are encouraged to start their REAL ID application process as soon as possible. During the preparation of this article I started my application (January 3rd 2020) and the earliest appointment I could get (at my second choice of CA DMV locations) was March 13th. OUCH.
How much does a REAL ID cost?
The cost of obtaining a REAL ID will vary by state. For example, in CA a REAL ID will costs $35. In NY a REAL ID costs $65. Consult your state’s driver’s license issuing agency’s website.
Can I use something other than a REAL ID for Flying?
Yes, the TSA will accept other forms of ID in place of a REAL ID including a passport, military ID, and even a Global Entry card. Consult the TSA for a full list of approved forms of ID.
Exceptions to the REAL ID policy for New York, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont
The TSA’s website notes this about the REAL ID program and New York, Michigan, Minnesota and Vermont:
“Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, and New York states issue REAL ID and state-issued enhanced driverâ€™s licenses, both of which are acceptable. Washington state issues enhanced driverâ€™s licenses only. State-issued enhanced driver’s licenses are marked with a flag. These documents will be accepted at the airport security checkpoint when the REAL ID enforcement goes into effect.” Ref: tsa.gov/real-id
Example of the EDL vs REAL ID vs Standard ID from New York are noted below in an image from the NY State DMV.
Does everyone need a real ID by 2020?
Currently, REAL IDs will only be required to access Federal facilities, fly commercial air, and enter nuclear facilities. If none of these activities are planned an individual could theoretically avoid getting a REAL ID for some period of time. It’s suspected that other entities (e.g. State Agencies) may require REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses for state-related activities at some point in the future.
Its worth noting that other forms of TSA approved IDs (like a Global Entry Card or Passport or Military ID) could potentially be used in place of a REAL ID.
Can I use a passport instead of REAL ID for flying?
A passport is a TSA approved form of ID and can be used in place of a REAL ID for flying domestically. Travelers who may not have passports and are flying domestically would still need to get a REAL ID or a passport (or some other form of approved ID).
Can I use Global Entry as REAL ID?
A Global Entry card, according to the TSA, is an approved form of ID. Thus, it could be used in place of a REAL ID when traveling.
Is Real ID mandatory?
REAL ID compliant IDs will be mandatory for people who wish to enter a Federal facility, fly commercial air or enter a nuclear facility. If a person intends to do any of this (and does not have a form of alternative ID) then the REAL ID is mandatory.
The REAL ID for Travel is coming…are you ready?
The REAL ID is coming…best to get ahead of it knock our your replacement ID as soon as possible. If you have travel plans for on or after October 1, 2020 a REAL ID will be required, so don’t delay!
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