Clock is Ticking for Travelers to Obtain REAL IDs

Author: Curt Wagner       


Travelers have until Oct. 1 to obtain their REAL ID-compliant cards or driver’s licenses, or other acceptable forms of ID such as a passport, in order to take domestic flights in the U.S. (DHS)

After more than a year of COVID-19 lockdowns, U.S. travelers are flying again, according to recent reports. In less than six months, however, travelers will have something other than the pandemic to think about when heading to an airport: They will need to have REAL-ID compliant ID cards — or another accepted form of identification — by Oct. 1 for domestic flights.

The REAL ID-compliant identification cards or driver’s licenses have a star on the front. Travelers who present a driver’s license that is not REAL ID compliant at airport security checkpoints will not be permitted to go any further — unless they have another form of acceptable ID. Acceptable identification for domestic air travel includes:

  • Passport
  • Passport card
  • Military ID
  • Federal government PIV card
  • Tribal ID
  • Trusted traveler cards such as the Global Entry cards for U.S. travelers returning from overseas
  • Enhanced driver’s license (for Michigan, Vermont, Minnesota, New York, and Washington state)

Compliant IDs — the result of new federal rules stemming from the 9/11 terror attacks — are intended to create “minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards,” the Transportation Security Association (TSA) has said.

The enforcement date for REAL ID had been Oct. 1, 2020, but the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) postponed it a year in response to the pandemic. Since many of the licensing operations where travelers could obtain the IDs were closed during lockdown, the delay didn’t necessarily translate into providing extra time to get one.

Those travelers who have yet to get their REAL ID — about 156 million American drivers according to the DHS — should get a move on. As anyone who has ever had to wait to obtain their regular driver’s license knows, it can take time. In some states, the process is taking longer than expected. Other states are gearing up for a rush over the summer that could slow things down considerably.

In addition to the time issue, obtaining a REAL ID can be frustrating because applicants need to bring a number of documents with them to their Department of Motor Vehicles or whatever office in their home state is issuing the IDs. These include:

  • Proof of citizenship or legal residency (one document): an official birth certificate, a passport, a permanent resident card, or certificate of citizenship
  • Proof of a Social Security number (one document): a Social Security card or W-2 form
  • Proof of current residency (two documents): an income tax return, a current driver’s license, a utility bill, or a credit/debit card statement

Before you head out to get your ID, however, make sure these documents are in the correct form. Photocopies won’t work. A Social Security card that is laminated won’t work. Those souvenir birth certificates that hospitals sometimes give new parents won’t work. Bills or statements must be less than three months old or they won’t work.

Each state has its own process, so head to the DHS website. Here you’ll find an interactive map that will send you to the proper office in your state, where you can follow the procedures required to obtain your REAL ID. And remember, if you have one of the other acceptable forms of ID, or you don’t plan on flying, you could save yourself the headache.

For further information, visit the TSA website.