This blog post was updated on October 3, 2019.

The lines at the DMV are about to get a whole lot longer for the rest of the year. Why you might ask? Well, with the Real ID Act deadline looming above us, the roughly twenty-seven million outstanding Americans that still need to get their Real-ID-compliant driver’s licenses for domestic travel are gearing up to get their acts together (pun intended).   

Whether you’ve seen the big blue signs about new identification requirements coming up in 2020 while recently standing in an airport security line, or you have no idea that your driver’s license or other state-issued ID could soon become obsolete for domestic air travel, you probably have a ton of questions. So, read on to get the full low-down on everything you need to know about the changing domestic travel rules and the upcoming deadlines for the Real ID Act. 

What’s the Real ID Act Again? 

In the past, if you wanted to fly domestically, a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID was all you needed to get through security. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Back in 2005, in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendationCongress passed the Real ID Act. This new law institutes additional security standards for identification used by any U.S. resident traveling by air and inhibits all federal agencies from accepting any ID that doesn’t meet the required specifications; the idea being that it would amplify national safety and help make identity theft more difficult 

If you’re wondering what all the recent commotion regarding Real ID is about, it’s because several states were slow to comply due to privacy concerns, inconvenience and costs, so implementation only kicked into high gear on January 22, 2018. Now, with Phase 4 of the Real ID Act in full effect, residents from states that are not yet compliant are required to carry a valid passport or other TSA-approved ID to board a domestic flight. On the flipside, if your state is compliant but you just haven’t got your Real ID yet, you’re in the clear and can travel with the driver’s license or ID that you have. 

REMINDER: A Real ID is only good for domestic travel, so don’t forget your passport for your international flights 

How Do I Know if My Driver’s License Is Compliant? 

Remember Peter Pan’s directions to Neverland “second star to the right…”? The very same directions will help you find out whether your ID is compliant or not. If you see a gold or black star on the front of your license, your ID is compliant and you’re good to go. But in case your head isn’t spinning already, here’s some more confusion: a few states (Hawaii, Ohio, Utah and Tennessee) issued compliant IDs without this star. So, your best bet to confirm whether your ID is fit for domestic travel and the new laws surrounding it is to contact your state legislation office and find out if it’s compliant. 

Other things to look for: much like a passport, the new security requirements include features such as holograms and a scannable barcode to pull up travelers’ information (full name, birth date, Social Security number, etc.) to add to domestic driver’s licenses and other state IDs. 

Why Should I Get a Real ID?

Still confused about whether or not you need to get a new, compliant ID? If you can identify with any (or many) of these categories, it’s time for you to head to the DMV for that Real ID: 

  • I don’t have a passport or TSA-approved form of ID 
  • My passport or TSA-approved form of ID expired 
  • I don’t have time to renew my passport or TSA-approved form of ID before I travel 
  • I need to visit a military base or another type of secure federal facility, and don’t have a military ID 

RELATED: What You Need to Know About US Passport Application and Renewal

How Do I Get One? 

Sorry folks, obtaining a Real ID online or through the mail isn’t an option ― you’ll have to pay an in-person visit to your local DMV office. Here’s what you’ll need to bring: 

  • A passport or birth certificate, proving your identity (no photocopies) 
  • Your Social Security (SS) card or a document that shows your SS number such as a W-2 form 
  • Two documents that prove your residency, including your street address 
  • A form of payment. Whether it’s cash, check or a debit card, you’ll need to pay the fee. Costs vary from state to state, but it’s usually less than $60 

When Do I Need a Compliant ID By? 

Write it down, save the date on your mobile calendar; heck, if you’re an avid domestic traveler, tattoo this date on somewhere: 

October 1, 2020: Every traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license or state ID or another acceptable form of identification to fly within the U.S. 

Ready or not, here it comes! On October 1, 2020, the full enforcement of REAL ID Act will go into play. By this date, residents of ALL states must carry a Real ID. So, for those of you living in compliant states/territories, you’ll need to have a real-life, Real ID in hand when you’re going through security to board any commercial aircraft – yup, that’s even for domestic flights. If your state is still not compliant and does not have an official extension, time to consider getting a passport (or renewing it if it’s expired). Without an alternate form of compliant ID, sorry folks, but you won’t be allowed to fly domestically! 

What Do I Do If I Need to Travel and Don’t Have a Real ID? 

You’ve packed your bags, you’ve driven to the airport and you’re all set to jet set. But then you get to the security line and then, after all that, you’re denied access to your gate because you don’t have a Real ID…uh oh! Luckily for you, you still have options. If you still don’t have the Real ID yet, the TSA lists other approved forms of identification that you can use instead such as a:  

  • valid U.S. passport or passport card 
  • border crossing card 
  • permanent resident card 
  • DHS trusted traveler cards (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST) 
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766) 

Time is ticking! The October 1, 2020 deadline is just around the corner, folks. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you know your requirements and get to the DMV as soon as you can to get your Real ID. By taking steps towards compliance now, you’ll avoid the last-minute scramble to get on and even be ready to go long before October 2020!

Do you have more questions about Real ID Act? Ask us in the comments below! Happy Travels! 

8 Responses

  1. Robert Jewell, LTC, U.S.Army, Retired

    What about United States military ID .
    My wife and I are retired (24 years ) service.
    We have retired ID cards with indefinite expiration.
    We had to produce all required information then.
    Are these cards not enough ?

  2. Marie Byrski

    My drivers license expires in August. Can I just wait till then and avoid the double payment.

    • Mary in Michigan

      Yes. When you renew your license in August you will need to go to your department of motor vehicles to renew. Take all your documents with you that are required (original social security card, original birth certificate, etc.). Check your states DMV web site to be sure you have everything they will need. Hint: it’s better to check that now so you can round up the required documents before your renewal date.

  3. Patty Dockham

    I went to the Sec of State in Rogers City, MI with my birth certificate (with gold seal), soc sec card and my marriage license. The woman told me I had to have a birth certificate from the county I was born in and she gave me a site to order one (it was $75)…wth. Believe me I left a little upset.

  4. Vana

    I just got my license renewed and provided all that needed information but was told that the compliant license for Oct 2020 wont be available till then. Why do I need another license next year when they required tjat same information this year and got a new driver’s license number and all?

  5. bill boyer

    I am 66 years old. I have no plans to ever fly or enter a federal building. Can i keep using my Louisiana drivers lic. as id ?


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About The Author

In a past life, Tasmiah was either a Bollywood actress, renowned ethnographer or master chef; no questions asked. In this one, she is a shower-singing, croissant enthusiast, who also writes content for Fareportal, in that order.