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Are You Real ID Ready? Here Are the Deadlines and Domestic Travel Changes You Should Know!

Written by Tasmiah Rashid

This blog post was updated on April 13, 2021.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no… it’s the Real ID deadline approaching! So, what does that mean for you? With millions of Americans that still need to get their Real-ID-compliant driver’s licenses for domestic travel (and if you’re one of them), it’s time to get your Read ID Act together—pun intended. 

Maybe you’ve seen the big blue signs about new identification requirements if you’ve recently stood in an airport security line. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe, you have no idea what the Real ID Act is, or that your driver’s license or other state-issued ID could soon become obsolete for domestic air travel. Whichever it is, you probably have a ton of questions. That’s why you have us! Read on to see the most common questions, asked and answered, about the changing domestic travel rules and the upcoming deadlines for the Real ID Act. 

What’s the Real ID Act Again? 

Family Checking in at the Airport for the Real ID Act

What exactly is this law that’s changing domestic travel as we know it? The Real ID Act was passed in 2005 in response to the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation. As a measure to tighten security standards for identification used by any U.S. resident traveling by air, this law 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.

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

So what’s all this recent Real ID commotion about? It’s because the last phase of implementation of the Real ID Act finally kicked into high gear on January 22, 2018. With Phase 4 of the Real ID Act in full effect now, 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 flip side, 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. 

Simply put: if you want to fly domestically, a valid driver’s license or state-issued ID is no longer going to cut it. If you haven’t already, it’s time to get to the DMV for a compliant Real ID with all the new bells and whistles, or to get going on renewing that passport!

Why Should I Get a Real ID?

To go to the DMV or not, that is the question. If you’re still scratching your head about whether or not you should get a new, compliant ID, use this list as your guide.

If one or more of these points below applies to you, it’s time for you to get that Real ID: 

  • You don’t have a passport or TSA-approved form of ID.
  • Your passport or TSA-approved form of ID has expired.
  • You don’t have time to renew your passport or TSA-approved form of ID before you travel.
  • You need to visit a military base or another type of secure federal facility, and don’t have a military ID.

You May Also Like: Simple Steps for U.S. Passport Application and Renewal

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

Driver's License for Real ID Act

“Starlight, star bright”…look for the star to the right. Do you see a black or gold star on the front of your driver’s license? If you answered yes, your ID is compliant–hooray! But, if you don’t see one, don’t hit the panic button just yet. Some states issued compliant IDs without this star. So, if you’re not seeing stars or are still unclear about whether your ID is fit for domestic travel, contact your state legislator’s office ASAP and ask about compliance.

 Other changes to look for besides the star on your driver’s license: 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. 

How Do I Get One? 

No click-and-add-to-cart or mail-in option here, sorry folks. Unfortunately, you’ll have to get your Real ID the old-fashioned way ― an in-person visit to your local DMV. But before you go, make sure you have ALL these documents on you:

  • Passport or birth certificate, proving your identity (no photocopies) 
  • Social Security (SS) card or a document that shows your SS number such as a W-2 form 
  • 2 different forms of proof of residence (these are documents that includes your street address and name)
  • Something to pay with. You will need cash, a check, or a debit card to pay the fee. Costs vary from state to state, but it’s usually between $60-$80

When Do I Need a Compliant ID By? 

REAL ID Waiting on Line At Airport

October 1, 2021:  Every traveler will need a REAL ID-compliant license, state ID, or another acceptable form of identification to fly within the U.S. 

Ready or not, here it comes! On October 1, 2021, the REAL ID Act will go into full effect. This is the hard deadline for residents of ALL states, at which point every traveler must carry a Real ID for domestic travel. That means, even if you’re a resident in compliant states/territories, you’ll still need to have a real-life, Real ID in hand when you’re going through security at the airport. By this date, if your state is still not compliant and does not have an official extension, make sure you have an alternate form of compliant ID, or a passport (or renew it if it’s expired). Sorry folks, but you won’t be allowed to board a domestic flight without one!

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

Real ID Act Passport

You’re flying domestically tomorrow and you didn’t have a moment to spare this week to get to the DMV… uh oh, what now?! The good news is that you still have plenty of options to be able to board that flight. If you haven’t gone out to get your Real ID yet, the TSA lists many other forms of identification that you can use instead. Some of these approved security documents include: 

  • A valid U.S. passport/passport card
  • A foreign government-issued passport
  • A border crossing card
  • A permanent resident card
  • A DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license
  • A federally recognized, tribal-issued photo ID
  • A DHS trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST)
  • A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766).

Better hurry, folks! Before you know it, the October 1, 2021 deadline will be just around the corner. For those of you that haven’t gotten your compliant identification yet, it’s high time to get to the DMV as soon as you can to get your Real ID. Taking all the steps you need toward compliance now will help you avoid that last-minute scramble and be ready to go long before October 2021!

Did we miss any details about the Real ID Act? Tell us what you know in the comments below! Happy Travels! 

About the author

Tasmiah Rashid

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.

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