Everything You Need to Know About the Real ID

The Real ID Act modified the standards for photo IDs, and if you’ve been through the United States airport in the past years, you may have seen signs along the security checkpoint informing travelers of this.

Effective May 3, 2023, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will require passengers to provide a driver’s license that complies with Real ID to travel domestically in the United States. This is significant because you will only be permitted to board a flight if you have a Real ID, a passport, or a card from a trusted traveler program.

The law’s implementation date was initially set for October 1, 2020, but due to the pandemic, former President Donald Trump prolonged it by an additional 12 months. This extension is quite helpful, especially in light of the current crisis.

Here are all the important things you should know about getting the correct ID and how to obtain one.

What Does Real ID Mean?

A Real ID is a driver’s license or identification card that meets a set of minimum security standards established by the Real ID Act in 2005. This was in response to a suggestion made by the 9/11 Commission. The new requirements are meant to make identification cards safer.

How Does Real ID Work?

After September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Real ID Act to establish stricter official photo identification standards. The law created a common set of security requirements for identification cards issued by the government, including driver’s licenses.

Most crucially, it is unlawful for government organizations to accept identifications that do not adhere to the Real ID Act’s requirements. One of the objectives is to strengthen commercial airport security by making it more challenging for individuals to get fake identification and use it to board flights.

When issuing Real IDs, government entities will want additional supporting evidence from the cardholder, and the cards themselves are more sophisticated and hence more difficult to counterfeit. 

Where Can You Get a Real ID?

The new driver’s licenses are not significantly different from previous ones. And, obtaining one is now consistent across states. You will need to physically visit a DMV office with an identification demonstrating your legal name, social security number, residence, and citizenship or immigration status.

The Real ID-compatible license can be obtained for no more cost than a standard license renewal.

What Are the Requirements for Getting a Real ID?

Driver’s licenses and identification cards are issued by each state separately, and each state has its Real ID laws. Because of this, each state has slightly different requirements. But often, the only distinction between applying for and receiving a license that complies with Real ID and one that doesn’t is in the supporting documentation required.

For example, to get a Real ID in California, you must schedule a visit at the California Department of Motor Vehicles office, present identification—such as a passport or birth certificate—and give proof of your Social Security number.

When Is the Deadline for Obtaining a Real ID?

More time was given from the original deadline of October 1, 2020 because the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for states to provide compliant licenses and ID cards. As of now, the deadline for full implementation of the Real ID Act is May 3, 2023. Starting on that date every air traveler over the age of 18 will be required to present a Real ID-compliant identification or some other TSA-acceptable form of documentation at security checks for domestic routes.

Licenses issued by the state prior to the implementation of its Real ID program may still be legitimate for driving or overall identification, but they are non-compliant and will not be accepted at TSA airport security checkpoints.

How to Determine if You Have a Real ID?

TSA claims that compliant cards are often identified by a star (either a black or gold one) in the card’s upper corner. Those who are unsure whether they have a compliant ID should contact their state’s licensing authority to learn how to obtain a compliant card.

As states started issuing Real ID-compliant licenses, they also designated non-compliant IDs with tags that stated things like “not for federal ID,” suggesting that it is not a Real ID. The District of Columbia, four of the five U.S. territories, and all 50 U.S. states currently provide licenses and identification cards that comply with Real ID standards.

What Does Real ID Entail for Airline Travelers?

Travelers will not be permitted through TSA security checks without a Real ID. If you don’t want to get a compliant driver’s license, you can still fly with a U.S. passport or any of the following types of identification that the TSA has accepted:

● DHS trusted traveler card

● U.S. passport card

● U.S. Department of Defense ID

● State-issued enhanced driver’s license

● Foreign government-issued passport

● U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services employment authorization card

● Canadian provincial driver’s license

● U.S. merchant mariner credential

● Border-crossing card

● Transportation worker identification credential.

It should be noted that the Real ID Act will not modify that passengers under 18 do not need to present identification while flying domestically with an adult companion. And, unlike your TSA PreCheck card, a Global Entry card will be recognized as a legitimate form of compliant photo ID. Before you reserve a flight, discuss the requirements with a travel agency to prevent issues with your travel itineraries.


If your driver’s license is already Real ID-compliant, you don’t need to worry about upcoming changes, as they will have no effect on you. However, if your license does not meet the Real ID Act’s requirements, you should consider updating it as soon as possible.

You still have a few months before the official implementation to make plans and process the proper documentation. This way, you can ensure you can board your flights without any problems. Hopefully, we have emphasized what a Real ID is and why you should get one.

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