Everything you need to know about getting a Real ID

Sep 12, 2019

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If you’ve traveled through a U.S. airport in recent weeks, you may have noticed signs near the security checkpoint reminding passengers that photo ID requirements at airports are going to change soon due to the Real ID Act. There’s been a lot of confusion about what exactly this law entails, whom it affects and what you need to do about it. That’s why we’re going to take a deep dive through everything you need to know about Real ID to ensure that your travels continue to be as uneventful as possible.

In This Post

What is the Real ID Act?

In the wake of 9/11, Congress passed the “Real ID Act” to set clearer standards for government-issued photo ID. The law established a uniform set of security standards for driver’s licenses and other government-issued ID cards, and most importantly, prohibits government agencies from accepting identification that does not meet the standards of the Real ID Act. One of the goals was to add an extra layer of security to commercial aviation by making it more difficult for people to obtain false documents and use them to access airplanes.

Government agencies will require more documentation from an individual when issuing Real IDs, and the cards themselves are more advanced and therefore, harder to forge. Because each state currently has different standards and processes for issuing photo ID, the law has taken over a decade to implement. Several states and the ACLU have pushed back on the law, claiming that it constitutes overreach by the federal government. Yet Real ID will officially go into effect on Oct. 1, 2020, giving you just under a year to make sure you have a compliant Real ID — or have plans to obtain one.

How to tell if you have a compliant Real ID

This law has been on the books for a while now, and many states have started issuing compliant Real IDs well before they’re federally required to do so. This means you might already have a Real ID, but there are a few easy ways you can check. Generally, IDs with a star or star cutout are Real ID compliant

Image courtesy of the TSA

However, if your ID is missing the star or says something to the effect of “federal limits apply” or “not for federal identification,” then you do not have a compliant Real ID.

As of now, every state in the U.S. is issuing compliant IDs, with the exceptions of Oregon, Oklahoma, New Jersey and Maine. These four states have all received extensions through Oct. 10, 2020, meaning you can continue to use your driver’s license at the airport through that date. But just because you live in a state that issues a Real ID doesn’t mean you’ll automatically receive it. You may need to provide extra documentation, wait longer to receive the ID or even pay a higher processing fee. This means you should double check your ID right now to see if it’s compliant.

What Real ID means for airline passengers

Beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, passengers will not be allowed through TSA security checkpoints without a compliant Real ID. If you aren’t interested in upgrading your driver’s license to a compliant version, you can still travel with a U.S. passport or any of the following TSA-approved forms of identification:

  • U.S. passport card
  • DHS trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • Permanent resident card
  • U.S. Department of Defense ID
  • Border crossing card
  • State-issued Enhanced Driver’s License
  • Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • HSPD-12 PIV card
  • Foreign government-issued passport
  • Canadian provincial driver’s license or Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card
  • Transportation worker identification credential
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766)
  • U.S. Merchant Mariner Credential

Note that travelers under 18 do not need to provide identification when traveling with a companion, and this will not change under the Real ID Act. And while a Global Entry card will constitute a valid form of compliant photo ID, your TSA PreCheck card will not.

Related: The top credit cards for Global Entry and TSA PreCheck

When does the Real ID Act go into effect?

Beginning on Oct. 1, 2020, you will need a Real ID-compliant ID to pass through a TSA security checkpoint or to enter secure federal facilities such as military bases.

Do I need a Real ID if I’m enrolled in TSA PreCheck or Global Entry?

Yes! While your Global Entry card will count as a valid form of ID, you’ll need to bring it with you (or another compliant photo ID) when traveling even if you’re enrolled in one of these programs. Your TSA PreCheck card does not qualify.

Do I need a Real ID?

In most cases, Real IDs are not necessary. You can still vote, drive and access healthcare facilities like hospitals with noncompliant IDs. If you never fly and aren’t going to visit secure government facilities, you don’t need to upgrade your ID.

My state is compliant with Real ID. Does this mean my driver’s license is OK?

Not necessarily. Just because your state issues compliant IDs, doesn’t mean you received one. Make sure to check for the star or star cutout to confirm your ID is compliant.

Do I need a Real ID to fly if I’m under 18?

No, minors traveling with a companion do not need to present photo ID (though their companion does).

How much does it cost to get a Real ID?

The cost varies by state, ranging from approximately $10 on the low end all the way up to $85 to get a compliant ID.

Bottom line

If your driver’s license is already Real ID-compliant, you have nothing to worry about, as these upcoming changes won’t affect you at all. However, if your license isn’t up to the standard of the Real ID act, you should strongly consider upgrading it before the October 2020 deadline to make sure you’re able to board your domestic flights without any problem (or needing to pack your passport). If you live in one of the four states that still hasn’t complied, your licenses will work at TSA checkpoints through Oct. 10, 2020, though it’s possible that these states will receive further extensions to avoid massive travel disruptions.

Featured photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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